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Helping that helps

Christ-followers who give of their own resources to help the poor may be doing more harm than good.

Jonathan Holmes, a former benevolence minister for a Church of Christ in Chicago, explored the topic in our February “In the Word” devotional.

Related: The dark side of giving: Our resources must honor God, not exploit the poor

“The problem often is not the heart behind the giving,” Holmes said, “but rather the unintended consequences of the charity in which Christians partake — both inside and outside of the church.”

Jonathan Holmes

Several Christian Chronicle readers requested more information on the topic.

“I’d like examples of your premise that we can be exploiting and marginalizing those in need,” one reader commented. “How, exactly, is that being done?” The Chronicle reached out to Holmes for a reply. Here is his response:

“One of the biggest examples of the dark side of giving is what Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbet, authors of the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself,’ refer to as resource paternalism. Resource paternalism is the belief that the core solution to problems in low-income communities is the donation of money or material resources, regardless of the impact.

“For example, donating clothes to help children in Haiti can have a detrimental impact on local clothing businesses that struggle because of the influx of free clothes from American churches. Churches should, instead, build connections with Haitian congregations and businesses to help them launch sustainable development programs that will improve lives and help the local churches reach out to their communities.

“Giving can reinforce poverty. Many churches participate in toy or food drives, which may serve as reminders for poor parents of their inability to afford or choose gifts for their own children. Churches could instead adopt a client-choice model that allows those in need to choose the items they would like to own as if they were in a grocery or thrift store.

“I am always encouraged by the great work that Christians do in following Christ through their giving and serving of others. Yet it is important that in our giving we do not harm those that Jesus has called us to serve.”

Find Jonathan Holmes on Twitter @jdholmes1990.

Filed under: Top Stories Views From our readers Jonathan Holmes When helping hurts

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