Toxic Charity

By Dwight Longenecker Published on July 16, 2020

Understand: the proposal to “defund the police” is not that the protesters wish to abolish the police. Instead, they want to divert the funds to a “renovated system of community care.”

Writing in the Washington Post, Christy Lopez explains,

Defunding and abolition probably mean something different from what you are thinking. For most proponents, “defunding the police” does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.

Lopez is a professor at Georgetown and the co-director of their Innovative Policing program. She clearly knows what she’s talking about.

Or does she? The proposals to replace police with more mental health care, better housing, more social workers and “violence interruption programs” are the same weary liberalism that believes society’s problem will be solved if only we throw more money and more tenderhearted experts at the problem.

We can give people all the material assistance possible, but if we don’t give them the power to change that faith provides, the rest of the help will be like the chaff that the wind blows away.

We’ve already done that, and it doesn’t work. Repeating the same action but expecting a different result is the classic definition of insanity. It’s akin to putting orange juice in the tank of your car, and when it doesn’t run concluding that you must not have dumped in enough orange juice, so you open the windows and fill the interior with orange juice too.

Bright Ideas, Dark Truths

Progressive liberalism suffers from two underlying problems: it is far too optimistic about human nature and it always seeks a materialistic solution. Rather than face the dark truth that human nature is deeply flawed and prone to pride, prejudice, rivalry and revenge, the progressive liberal writes off the problems as a lack of education, good housing, community mediation, psychological counseling and good health care.

They mistake the symptoms for the cause; therefore the stream of bright ideas they talk about endlessly are rarely put into action, and when they do materialize, the programs fail or, at best, succeed for a short time, then crash and burn.

No doubt better health care, schools, jobs and social workers will help, but it is naive to imagine that materialistic solutions will solve the underlying dark hole within human nature.

Tough and Tender

Robert Lupton is a seasoned urban activist who has lived and worked with the poor in inner city Atlanta for decades. In his book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It), Lupton explains just how ignorant but well-meaning middle class white people botch things up.

I’ve seen it in my own parish in South Carolina. The social workers and charity organizers roll up in their BMWs in smart business suits, armed with laptops and PowerPoint presentations to discuss what to do about the problems of crime, drugs, gangs and homelessness. After a nice lunch they talk together for an hour and a half and decide to commission yet another demographic study, a survey or a fact-finding commission. Then they set the date for the next meeting.

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In the meantime ordinary pastors and their people are rolling up their sleeves and manning the food pantries and rescue missions, running the local Alcoholics Anonymous group, the rehab course and the parole rehabilitation program. They’re raising money to help women in crisis pregnancies, funding scholarship programs for needy kids to attend their church schools and developing good relationships with their local police departments to bring peace and prosperity to their neighborhoods.

They’re working on material solutions, but they don’t believe that is the only answer.

Christian Common Sense

Some time ago I met with the pastor of the Church of Christ around the corner from our parish. He was a young African American guy, working as a carpet fitter as he did his theological training part time. I asked to meet with him to see if the folks in his church wanted to join with our people and the other churches in the area to promote our food pantries and social welfare ministries.

He listened politely then said something I will never forget, “Brother” he began, “We don’t give people stuff. That’s not our job. We don’t give them sandwiches. The only thing we give them is Jesus Christ the Bread of Life. If they join our church, you know what? Soon they find a friend who has also quit the gangs and quit the drugs. Maybe a man from our church offers him a job. Then he and his friend get an apartment and share the rent and watch out for each other. Then maybe he finds a good woman in our church and he becomes a husband and father and decides to go to tech and get a better job. See. We don’t give people stuff, but we give them what really matters. We give them the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our food pantry is still open, but I took a lesson from that Church of Christ pastor. We can give people all the material assistance possible, but if we don’t give them the power to change that faith provides, the rest of the help will be like the chaff that the wind blows away.


Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest working in South Carolina. His latest book Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness explores the root causes of personal and social unrest.

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