This is the last of a four-part series on local outreach. We’re sharing the ten “plumblines” that guide our local outreach philosophy, as explained by Matt Mig, our Pastor of Local Outreach. Be sure to also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
9. The Best Way To Avoid Paternalism Is To Seek Friendship.
Paternalism happens when someone who has authority or resources restricts the responsibility or choice of another person in the perceived “best interests” of that second individual. It is the result of defining our neighbors by their situation or need instead of by God’s design for them. These unhealthy relationships can occur when we enter into potentially positive relationships like mentoring or coaching without valuing the other person, and even a well-meaning church can accidentally fall into this trap when working with people in material need.
In the book Toxic Charity, Bob Lupton describes the shame and embarrassment an unemployed father feels when materially rich church members provide gifts to his children that he can’t afford and the dependency that misguided aid can create in entire communities. Paternalistic attitudes often result in services that temporarily alleviate material need, but do nothing to help someone discover who God created them to be.
We’re all susceptible to this trap: it is the “default setting” for prideful people who happen to have more of something than the person next to them. We must actively try to befriend our incarcerated or homeless neighbors. It won’t just happen on its own. Building relationships of real equality between people of unequal power isn’t easy, but there are a few habits we can develop that can help us to avoid the trap: