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“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” —Song 2:13

Challenging charity


Dr. Robert Lupton’s book Toxic Charity will change the way you view your relationship with those in need

Editor’s note: On August 1, Dr. Robert Lupton will speak at the World Mission Pre-Conference before Big Tent. His presentation centers around his book, Toxic Charity, which challenges typical U.S. ideas of how we give to non-profit organizations. Rev. Mary Gene Boteler, Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, wrote to tell us about her Session retreat, in which they discussed the book Toxic Charity. It challenged the group to think differently, and she shares her own insights here with us. Thank you, Mary Gene, for sharing! – Hunter Farrell, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

By Rev. Mary Gene Boteler

By Rev. Mary Gene Boteler
Second Presbyterian Church, St. Louis

Prior to our spring retreat, our session had been asked to read the book Toxic Charity which certainly takes aim at some of our hallowed ways of doing mission at 2PC.  I heard some grumbling around the edges that made me initially doubt my decision to assign the book.  It was helpful to report, at the session meeting prior to the retreat, that Lupton had been invited to speak at Big Tent.

To prepare for our discussion, I reviewed the 2003 policy statement Presbyterians Do Mission In Partnership.  We began our meeting in worship where I had the opportunity to speak about the biblical/theological framework for partnership.  I was particularly helped by Philip Wickeri’s Partnership, Solidarity, and Friendship: Tranforming Structures in Mission.  His quote from Philip Potter is right on target and Koson Srisang’s statements about “incarnational solidarity” expands the concept.  We ended worship with a litany based upon Guideline for Sharing WCC Consultation on Koinonia, El Escorial, 1987.

The first hour of conversation took place in small group around Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership where the groups listed on newsprint the identifying marks of mission in the PCUSA.  Prior to the conversation, we watched a very brief video about Mark Hare’s work in Haiti.  It brilliantly set the stage.  Folks were energized.  Often heard comments, “Why didn’t we know about this document before this?”  “Our entire congregation needs to read this.”

Dr. Robert Lupton

That set the context for Toxic Charity.  This is a pretty progressive congregation and the Lupton book initially hit some as an uncharitable view.  When they put it in the context of the marks of Presbyterian mission, it was read with different eyes.  We had small group conversations around the points of agreement and the challenges in the book, followed by a lengthy large group discussion.

The final block of the day (20 minutes) was spent in silent, personal discernment.  “What is God calling us to do with this?” was the question they took into that silence.  When we gathered together and shared out of that place of silence, it was agreed that we would do the following things:

  • encourage every member of the congregation to read Presbyterians Do Mission In Partnership and Toxic Charity;
  • ask each group involved in outreach to the community to discuss Lupton’s two questions on page #182 about bringing the people we seek to serve into decision-making and report the results of the conversations to session at its August 2013 meeting;
  • develop appropriate metrics for evaluating all of our outreach ministries;
  • hold a congregation-wide Mission Consultation in September to discuss these issues. 

In addition, they have asked me to write a letter to the congregation about the meeting and to preach a sermon dealing with the biblical/theological understanding of partnership.

Wow.  The spirit just takes over in such amazing ways, and we are learning together to take those principles that have been honed in the global community and apply them to the holy ground where God has placed us.


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