Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “toxic charity”

How Should Our Response Be Different?

Photo Credit: kugel.mozart via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kugel.mozart via Compfight cc

In this insightful article, Deborah Hancox looks at some key principles we as Christ-followers should all be applying when we respond to the needs of those around us.

Across the world, people from all religions, world views, cultures, economic conditions and political persuasions are living and working to end poverty and injustice. As Christians, we can join hands with these people and see in our common human concern that we are all created in the image of God and thus can work side by side to eradicate poverty and injustice in all its forms. However, as Christ-followers, there are certain distinctions that we should seek to include in the way we respond:

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice with the power of Jesus.

Christians the world over have access to something beautiful and life changing – the power of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to heal physical, spiritual, economic and relational brokenness. Remember the words of Peter and John when they said to the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” You can read the full story of this miraculous healing in Acts 3, 1-11. In our work to end poverty and injustice, we must create the place for the power of Jesus to change people’s lives.

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice by facilitating reconciliation.

The devil is the lord of diabolos – apart-ness, separation, disorder. Our God is the God of shalom. Shalom is an interesting word to meditate on and refers to dwelling at peace with God, with self, with others and with nature. It is the “life to the full” that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. Our God reconciles all things to himself and to each other through Jesus Christ: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19&20). As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18 – but do read verses 11 – 21). Our work to end poverty and injustice needs as its outcome… people reconciled to one another, to God and to the world.

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First, Let’s Do No Harm

A letter from Common Good executive director, Sarah Binos, introducing our March newsletter. 


How do we make sure that our response to people that are in need is not doing more harm than good? As Christians our hearts are often in the right place but because we haven’t fully thought about the long-term consequences of our actions, or because we so often get involved based upon our own preconceived notions and ideas without having true knowledge of the person or situation involved, we can do harm.

Our March newsletter is all about how we can learn how to first do no harm. It’s a very helpful read with some useful principles around how we can make sure that our “doing social justice” isn’t toxic.

Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question of how we as Christians involved in social justice should be and act differently to those working in secular development agencies. I’ve been feeling sad about the fact that so much of the work that has been done in Africa and around the world in the name of development has failed. Surely as Christians there must be an approach that would result in more of God’s Kingdom coming?

The majority of us know that part of following Christ involves loving and serving vulnerable people, but we often get stuck when it comes to how we’re supposed to do this, especially in light of the fact that we so often get it wrong.

We need to begin by understanding the fundamental differences between what it means to be a Christian doing social justice in comparison to the world doing it. In Robert Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help”, he proposes a very sound “Oath for Compassionate Service” for the charity industry to adopt, much as the medical community has adopted the Hippocratic Oath.

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Toxic Charity: Lessons from The Field

What happens when our good intentions do more harm than good? We asked three Christian development practitioners to share what they’ve learnt about how we can help people without hurting them or ourselves.

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Lindsay Henley, Director of Beth Uriel, a home for previously disadvantaged young men

“Be constantly aware of what you are bringing into the relationship/acts of service in terms of your own expectations, needs and attitude. Giving can be ‘toxic’ on both ends.  Over helping to the point of ‘other reliance’ is toxic for the recipient.  It creates issues of dependency and perpetuates cycles of poverty.  While giving out of your own un-met needs and with unrealistic expectations of transformation is toxic to the giver and unfair to put on the recipient.  If the result of your service is not life-giving to yourself as well as the recipient, then hit the pause button and take some more time to think it through.”

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Colleen Saunders, core member of The Warehouse‘s Church Mobilisation team

“It’s easy for the well-resourced church to give of what they have to help ‘the poor’. But unless the recipients themselves recognise the possibility of change and acknowledge the need to change, that help will always be paternalistic and led by the giver – no matter how pure the heart behind the giving. Transformational development is a long, slow walk alongside another, helping them to recognise their own resources, worth and potential, and together with them seeking to restore what was lost.I value this scripture in realising how much this is on God’s heart … ‘The Son of man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10).”

Dave (centre back) and Liz (right) with their son Robin (left) and their grand daughter, Paige (centre front)

Dave (centre) with family

Dave Barnes, manager of Westlake United Church Trust

“Hand outs create dependency and usually don’t help people to move above their circumstances. The toxic spin off for the giver is that one can create a patronizing/paternalistic relationship with recipients where you see the person as someone always wanting something from you, not as a someone who is struggling but who could have some of their own idea(s) of how to try to improve their situation. Our help or charity can rob a person of their own initiative or enable them to maintain bad habits and remain in negative situations.

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