A Question about the Potential Dangers of Charity

I have a bit of an obsession with Cornel West. It's a serious man crush. I recently took a brief online class that he taught on being Called to the Common Good. There are brief video's with some helpful notes, great content (naturally), small quizzes, and class discussion boards. Some of the discussion boards are questions about the class content for processing and a few are student generated discussion. Below is one such question that was asked by another student. I did my best to write a quick answer to his question and thought I would go ahead and share that here too.

How can we address issues of dependence which can hinder personal growth while trying to enhance the common good by being supportive of those who cannot get by?

Recent books such as "When Helping Hurts" and "Toxic Charity" have taken on the issues of dependence that are formed when people with the intention of helping provide financial or other assistance. This question is a big stumbling block to me, as I think Jesus was pretty clear "Give to anyone who asks of you."

This is a good question. The books you mentioned draw pretty heavily on Myers' Walking with the Poor which is an outstanding book and I can't recommend it enough. When we only understand poverty as a material deficit then we mistakenly conclude that it can be fixed by giving. If I can give the poor what they lack and therefore make them non-poor then I can easily embody a savior kind of posture. This kind of understanding of poverty leads to what has been called toxic charity. It is not good for the poor to passively receive from the non(materially)poor, as though from a benevolent santa clause. It is not good for the non(materially)poor either. The truth is that for there to be common good it will benefit all involved. Many of us who are not experiencing material poverty are still in desperate spiritual poverty and need our prejudice eroded, our entitlement exorcised, our addiction to security and comfort confronted. Those who live each day depending on God for their material needs to be met can heal us in so many ways as we learn to see them as brothers and sisters and share with them what it is we do have. We must recognize our own poverty and realize that we need the poor maybe more than they need our resources.

I can't help but think of James chapter 5:1-6

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

If we could really see the peril we are in because of our luxury we would heed the advice Jesus gave that rich young ruler and we would share everything we have with those who need it. We might then clothe our neighbor as we clothe ourselves, feed our neighbor as we feed ourselves, then be free to take Jesus seriously