In Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It), Robert Lupton describes the harmful unintended consequences of the way we usually do charity.
In 1981, he moved into the neighborhood where he was serving. On Christmas Eve, he was visiting the home of some new friends.
Mom, dad, and the kids were anxiously awaiting visitors. There was one strand of lights on the small artificial tree in the corner. The nicely dressed people from the suburbs arrived with armfuls of nice presents wrapped so pretty.
In the midst of the unwrapping, the father slipped out of the house. Later one of the kids asked where he was. Mom said he had to go to the store.
Actually, he was embarrassed that he could not provide nice things to his own children and rich people from far away had to take care of his kids.
The message he heard loud and clear? He’s not capable of providing for his family.
In my family, we have the economic capacity to take care of my wife and son on just my earnings. We are so blessed. I could not begin to imagine how much it would hurt me to have other people provide to my son all that nice stuff that I put under the Christmas tree all these years.
I am positive the visiting family had nothing but the best intentions, high compassion for the unfortunate, and an intense desire to make life better for disadvantaged people. They walked away feeling good about what they had done.
On page 32, Mr. Lufton says:
But after organizing these kinds of Christmas charity events for years, I was witnessing a sight I had never noticed before: a father is emasculated in his own home in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family, how his wife is forced to shield their children from their father’s embarrassment, how children get the message that the ”good stuff” comes from rich people out there and it is free.
Destroying a father’s sense of manhood. Showing his wife that he’s not a good provider. Creating an entitlement attitude in their little children. How’s that for a great set of unintended consequences?
What’s the alternative? Here is Mr. Lufton’s suggestion.
How about the people in the community organize a Christmas gift co-op? They could arrange for suburban families to drop off all those wonderful gifts, provided so graciously, at the co-op. Members of the co-op could arrange the gifts, manage the operation, staff the store, and sell the goodies. Price them at five cents or ten cents on the dollar. Let members of the co-op shop there and invite people from the community to shop as well.
That way the dad who is barely making a living sufficient to put food on the table can go to the co-op. He and his wife can buy some really nice gifts for a few dollars, wrap them, and give his children Christmas presents that he bought with his own money.
On Christmas morning he will have the joy of seeing his children open presents that he and his wife provided. Thet kids get nice stuff from their mom and dad.
Ladies, you may or may not understand the punch-to-the-gut from this story. The men reading this already got it.
We need to come to terms with the unintended consequences of our charity. There are alternatives. Read Toxic Charity for a new way to see the world.