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Could Government Welfare be Undermining Compassion?

This is the first of 7 installments in our series, “Compassion, Not Compulsion: Why the Welfare State Fails to Lift the Poor.” This guest post is by James Whitford, and was originally published on TrueCharity. Learn more about TrueCharity here. 


I love our fight for civil society.

It’s not just Joplin. Communities throughout the Midwest fight to retain hospitality and restore neighborliness while volunteers care for their community members struggling in poverty.

The fight for civil society is a worthy one, too. A recent Barna Group survey revealed that Americans are twice as likely to say they’re lonely compared with 10 years ago, and several studies conclude isolation is an epidemic that affects health at a number of levels, including heart disease and mortality.

The death of civil society is literally deadly.

How do we preserve it?

It’s a question we must wrestle with in a society where social media interrupts conscientious parenting, drugs are prescribed to merely numb broken hearts, and a person can somehow survive in a sea of people yet remain isolated.

The cornerstone of civil society is compassion. Without compassion, we simply won’t care enough to engage the young parent who needs guidance and encouragement. Without compassion, we won’t care enough to pray with or comfort the brokenhearted. And without compassion, we’ll give no time to the lost and lonely in our downtown who’ve learned to survive in seclusion but never thrive in healthy relationships.

Then is it a lack of compassion that eats at the fabric of civil society?

If giving is a measure of compassion, then it’s a valid argument. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Culture and Opportunity reported that Americans are giving less of their time and volunteering fewer hours since 2005. Citygate Network, a national association of gospel missions, reported that two-thirds of their membership saw a decrease in donations during the last quarter of 2018 compared with the prior year.

What gives?

There’s reason to believe that compassion wanes because of government “solutions” that too often meet a need but fail to meet the person. Could America’s welfare state be driving a wedge between one’s compassion and another’s plight?

In his 1835 “Memoirs on Pauperism,” Alexis de Tocqueville studied Europe’s growing welfare programs, noting their disruption of civil society and the vital, compassionate, charitable transaction:

“Individual alms-giving established valuable ties between the rich and the poor. The deed itself involves the giver in the fate of the one whose poverty he has undertaken to alleviate. The latter, supported by aid, which he had no right to demand … feels inspired by gratitude. A moral tie is established between those two classes whose interests and passions so often conspire to separate them from each other … This is not the case with legal charity (that) allows the alms to persist, but removes its morality. The law strips the man of wealth of a part of his surplus without consulting him and he sees the poor man only as a greedy stranger invited by the legislator to share his wealth. The poor man, on the other hand, feels no gratitude for a benefit which no one can refuse him. Far from uniting … the rich and the poor … it breaks the only link which could be established between them.”

“Removes its morality … feels no gratitude … breaks the only link.” I’ve seen that during nearly two decades of poverty-fighting. It’s why our True Charity Initiative educates our community and others concerning the importance of private, local, compassionate charity. Privately funded charity is the only charity that stems from individual compassion — and without individual compassion, civil society is lost.

Keep up the fight, Four States. It’s worth it.


James Whitford is co-founder and executive director of Watered Gardens Ministries and True Charity Initiative.

This article was originally published in the Joplin Globe on September 1st, 2019.

Want to learn more about the principles of True Charity?  You can at True Charity University, an online learning platform offering interactive at-your-own-pace courses that help fine-tune your charitable practices, ensuring they help rather than hurt those in need. Visit university.truecharity.us to get started!

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