'The Toxic Gospel', a letter in support of local charity & compassion

The below op-ed is written by Deacon Peter M. Casamento, the Executive Director, Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach as a response to the recent changes in policies and philosophies on helping those in need in the city of Myrtle Beach. For more information on that, please head over to our post, "Homeless need to pay for their meals? #MYR thinks so".

The Toxic Gospel 

One cannot speak of helping the poor on the Grand Strand without someone proclaiming the “Good News” according to Robert D. Lupton. Robert Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity, How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How To Reverse It) has become for many the new “Gospel.”

I personally met and spoke with Robert Lupton and read his book twice. In his lecture and book he states that our “Compassionate instincts and generous spirits aren’t enough.” He believes that charity “has become toxic, devastating to the very people it’s meant to help.” “Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency.” The sad part to Robert D. Lupton’s “Toxic Charity” is that many of the people who have heard Mr. Lupton speak or read his book have allowed his philosophies to become the motivating factor in how to deal with the poor among us. Robert D. Lupton is the President and founder of FCS Urban Ministries. Lupton agrees with one of the major underlying facts regarding the poor. He says, “Forty years of serving in the inner-city has given me at least one clear insight: the poor will not emerge from poverty unless they have decent jobs.”

Charity is defined as generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless. Charity is something given to a person or persons in need; a voluntary act without expectation. When we speak of charity in terms of living our faith, it is our way of becoming Christ like to our sisters and brothers in need. Charity is good. There is no evil in one who does charity. Charity is a God given gift that each and everyone one of us are called to practice. Therefore, I ask you, how “Charity” can be “Toxic” if it is in our faith giving teachings to practice as the most important virtue. The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children, and the poor as Christ himself.

Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, he did not ad-lib and say charge the hungry because you will diminish the dignity of the poor. As an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, I am appalled to learn that there are many priests, deacons, pastors, and congregations, of all faith denominations, that have put aside the Gospel teachings of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, regarding assisting the poor to hold fast to this new “Toxic Charity.” This new outlook has taken the position to give no more handouts 

and to track and charge those in need. Churches are now following this trend of charging for clothing and food, believing that they are restoring one’s dignity. The problem I have with this philosophy is what about the poorest of the poor, who do not have a dollar to pay for a meal, or the time to work off their debt in service, because they are working, and need to care for their families. What about the physically and mentally challenged? The fight to end hunger and the fight to end poverty are intertwined. If one does not have the proper nourishment, obtaining and keeping jobs as well as concentrating in school, becomes difficult if not impossible! The new nemesis among poor families is "food insecurity." This occurs when people have to choose between buying food, paying the electric bill, paying a medical bill, or paying the rent.

My sisters and brothers, scripture tells us that the poor will always be with us and we are to take care of them. We need to be conscious of the present economic times especially on the Grand Strand where our primary economy is supported by tourism. I encourage all of you to come to the “Community Kitchen” and witness those we serve. It is not only the homeless, it is the working poor, senior citizens, children, veterans, and individuals like you and me, who need temporary assistance and come to us for a nutritious hot meal. The City of Myrtle Beach recognizes the problem, but now fails to assist in the feeding of the hungry without mandates. The City is demanding that we “Track” our clients and “Charge” them for a meal. As Robert D. Lupton said, there is “No quick fix.” To eliminate homelessness and the issues that surround it you need to have jobs. This Toxic Charity mentality is just a façade to allow people once again to discriminate against the poorest of the poor in our society.

The Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach, located in an area of concentrated poverty, has made a commitment to our sisters and brothers in need that we will “Never” charge for a meal or for the fellowship that we provide. We will continue to live the Gospel message in living out the commandment given to us by Jesus who made “Charity” the new commandment. If you call yourself a faith filled-person or a “Christian” and you are truly concerned about the dignity of those who we serve, then help us “feed the hungry” so that they can have the ability to learn, work, and break the vicious cycle of poverty.

Peace and All Good!

Deacon Peter M. Casamento
Executive Director, Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach