If generosity is a Christian discipline marked by an open willingness to give, what is charity?
I’m reading Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, and I find myself disagreeing with much of what he says. Our disagreement stems from differing views on what generosity looks like, and how charity is defined. In fact, I think that Lupton lumps generosity and charity together, but are they really the same thing? I would argue that they are not.
Where I see generosity as an act with no stipulations about need and future use, charity is full of qualifications of neediness and stipulations about how gifts must be used. Where generosity requires giving AND receiving, charity is a one way street. Generosity lifts the spirits of the people involved, leaving everyone feeling good. Charity leaves the recipient feeling dirty, beggarly. In this way, I would argue that ALL charity is toxic, and that churches should restructure their charities to be avenues of generosity. Instead of sending people, money, or other resources out to help others, churches should use their leverage and dedicated volunteer base to create systems of mutual giving.
Let’s make an example. You and I are neighbors. I have a mansion and you have a cottage. You like your cottage quite well, and while you don’t really mind that I have a mansion, you don’t really feel a need to upgrade either. I, however, cannot imagine how someone would possibly be content to live in a cottage, and so I take pity on you. I start bringing you gifts so that you, too, can have a mansion like I do. I make the plans for the mansion, and I hire the construction company, and I let you stay in my mansion while yours is being constructed. You don’t get much say in the matter. Then, when the construction is complete, I say ‘Ok, time to go to your new home!’ ‘Where’s the furniture?’ you inquire. ‘Oh, well, you don’t really need furniture,’ I say. ‘You have a mansion, that’s all you really need.’ You’d be pissed, and rightly so. What you really needed wasn’t a mansion, it was furniture for the cottage you already had. But instead of asking you what you need, or what you want, I made these decisions for you. This is charity, and this is how people receiving charity feel about the things they receive.
So what would generosity look like? Well, first of all, I would have to leave my mansion and actually get to know you. I would enjoy the flowers growing around your cottage, and then you would invite me in for tea. I would notice that you don’t have any furniture, and I would casually offer you some of my furniture. You would take me on a tour of your house, detailing what furniture you would most like to have. I take your words and wishes in, finding the perfect pieces from my mansion to place in your cottage. I invite you for dinner later that week and show you the things I have that I think would meet your criteria. You say yes to some and no to others. We decide on a date for the furniture to be moved. When all is said and done, you have a beautifully furnished cottage. I continue to visit for tea. You bring flowers to my famous dinner parties. Everyone has given, everyone has received, and everyone is content. See the difference?