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Former Hopkinsville Mayor Wally Bryan was the guest speaker at a recent Wide Open Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church. He spoke about the very successful Challenge Houses that he helped create throughout our inner-city neighborhoods.

During the presentation, he mentioned the book, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It),” by Robert Lupton. I had never heard of the book or Lupton, but the title piqued my curiosity. We, like most Hopkinsvillians, respond to good causes and gladly open our wallets to provide assistance for the needy. Using Lupton’s words, this kind of concern is “almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise.” That kind of attitude can lead people, both givers and receivers, to become ensconced in the “compassion industry.”

Years of charitable giving at home and abroad, Lupton contends, have made barely a dent in reducing poverty and often encourage dependency. Before you label him as a radical right-winger, you must know that he is apolitical.

Lupton has been an urban activist in Atlanta for 40 years. He is the founder of Focused Community Strategies (FCS) Urban Ministries. Through this ministry, he has developed mixed-income subdivisions that house hundreds of families.

Josef Kuhn, journalist for Religion News Service, a nonprofit secular organization committed to an ongoing conversation about the role of religion in public life, interviewed Lupton and asked, “Is your book a justification for libertarian politics?” To which Lupton replied, “I don’t think it is a political book at all. It is a practical book — it has to do with the practice of charity. It calls for responsible charity, examined charity, rather than mindless charity.”

Even though Lupton’s message is not political, mine is because the “compassion industry” became entrenched in politics when President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964. That war has been a hotly debated partisan issue for 50 years and has become fodder for the “compassion industry” as well.

Charity, all kinds of giving, and even government welfare are needed for short-term relief. Charitable organizations and FEMA need to be in place so that, when a disaster strikes, benefits are available.

“One-way giving” is defined as those with resources giving to those without the resources — no strings attached; however, if this kind of giving continues for a long period of time, it can be counter-productive. Continuous one-way giving may result in the giver viewing the receiver with pity. The receiver can become dependent and his dignity is lowered and his motivation vanishes.

Lupton makes the case that Americans’ charitable giving “is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.” Page 130 of his book says: “Give once and you elicit appreciation; Give twice and you create anticipation; Give three times and you create expectation; Give four times and it becomes entitlement; Give five times and you establish dependency.”

Charitable giving and government entitlements need to be monitored because often the same people receive benefits over and over again. Being the recipient of continuous one-way giving erodes one’s work ethic and produces a kind of enslavement. This is unhealthy for both the giver and the receiver.

Peter Greer, President and CEO, of Hope International believes: “Repeatedly offering charity to the poor can create dependency rather than breaking the cycle of spiritual and physical poverty.” Constant giving, with no sign the receiver is trying to remedy the situation, lowers the receiver’s self-esteem and potential.

Lupton does offer ways to make the “compassion industry” palatable. He suggests an “Oath of Compassion” similar to the Hippocratic Oath. Here are three of the six ideas that he proposes: (1) Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves; (2) Limit one-way giving to emergencies; (3) Empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing (etc).

One major political party continues to demand more and more welfare entitlements. Those who embrace that kind of thinking do so because it elicits a feel-good experience. They feel they are meeting a crisis for unemployed families and others. President Obama, through Executive order, took away the work requirement for able-bodied welfare recipients. Our government continues on with endless entitlement programs.

The other major political party sees poverty and unemployment as a chronic issue and aspires to empower people by developing their skills so that they may become contributing community members. When people work, even at menial tasks, they are sharing ideas and talents, and that enhances their self-esteem.

Which political party best conveys your ideology?

WILLEE COOPER is a former teacher and military spouse. A Hopkinsville resident, she is past president of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Her column runs twice a month. Reach her at

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