Robert Lupton on Charity Detox
Robert Lupton speaks on how Christians can transform charity work for the better at the 2017 Restoring Evansville Conference.
Lupton begins his presentation by explaining the framework that serves as a backdrop for his charity work against poverty. He says most charity provides betterment—immediate improved conditions. This work fosters dependency over time, whereas charity work focused on development does the opposite.
Development involves teaching individuals necessary skills to encourage independence. Lupton says all charity work is more effective when completed on a community-wide level, instead of on an individual basis.
Lupton continues by saying Americans are some of the most generous people on the planet, with nearly 90% of the population giving tax deductible donations each year. Despite these donations, the poverty needle has not moved.
Lupton believes this is because charities and churches have been monitoring outputs, not outcomes. Whereas some organizations are focused on how many members they have involved in a particular event, Lupton says this method does not create lasting change.
To be truly effective, an organization must clarify if their work is treating chronic or crisis need. Crisis need arises when a calamity beyond human control happens and warrants immediate, emergency response. Chronic need arises as a result of a series of decisions an individual makes and mandates a development response to help that individual move out of that condition. Unfortunately, most charities today are knowingly and unknowingly responding to chronic needs with a crisis need approach.
Lupton says this is problematic because it can be very difficult to take back handouts once individuals become dependent on them. The good news is that a seismic shift in social change is happening. Lupton sees a wave of charities realigning their work to encourage impoverished individuals to work toward independence. He says it may take generations to get all charities on board—especially when it means they might have to abandon practices and programs that have been around for years.
Lupton gives the example of a couple who found themselves in need of monetary assistance. While on the receiving end of charity, they realized how demeaning the system was toward those being “served” and vowed to work to change it if they recovered financial stability. This couple eventually started United Against Poverty, a food store that sells all of its good for 30% of retail value. Instead of providing handouts, United Against Poverty allows those in need to purchase their groceries for a fraction of the cost while maintaining their dignity.
Ultimately, Lupton says the major cause of poverty is isolation. When individuals live in environments with poor schools, costly grocery stores, and other individuals in the same economic situation, they are pulled down by their surroundings. Creating sustainable programs to help these people are good, but programs don’t fix communities. Neighbors fix communities. Lupton says the quality of neighbors in a community deeply affects the neighborhood.
Though his thinking may seem counter to what we know as charity, Lupton believes the paradigms are shifting. City transformation has a lot of moving parts, takes a long time, and doesn’t have a clear structure. One thing is clear, however. Change is coming.