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Civil Society

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Kerby Andersonnever miss viewpoints

Anyone looking at charitable giving can see that individuals and voluntary associations are very effective. Don Eberly talks about this in his book. The Rise of Global Civil Society. He points out that during recent disasters around the world, private voluntary organizations had the capacity to raise more funds than government. They were also able to mobilize resources and manpower with a speed and efficiency that matches (if not exceeds) the that best government aid agencies could do.

Private, voluntary associations have always been a part of American society. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1840s, he marveled at the “tendency to form or join” voluntary associations of “a thousand kinds.” That is why he was optimistic about the future of this new republic. He saw that such organizations formed the bedrock of civil society. These associations, Tocqueville wrote, “were the things upon which progress toward all the rest depends.”

Don Eberly says that in Tocqueville’s day, there were 27 associations with an international focus. Today there are 40,000 such associations, with a very large number of them based upon a Christian foundation. He also reports that 50 million Americans are continuously engaged as “social networkers” with a person or community outside of the United States.

For years now, my wife and I have sponsored children in Africa and South America through groups like World Vision and Compassion International. You have probably done the same. And your church has no doubt provided you with an opportunity to visit the mission field or engage in short-term missions. These are just some other examples of what Don Eberly is talking about when he says we are building community from the bottom up rather than from a bureaucratic governmental top down. It is exciting to see what is happening in the world.

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