With all the hype over the presidential election, it is easy to think that that the nation’s future hangs in the balance. Sure, the election is important, and your vote is important; but the battle for our culture is really fought by what 18th century English statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”-private, voluntary groups of people that shape the conscience of a nation.
For example, in 1727, Benjamin Franklin founded the Junto Society, a group of 12 people from a variety of backgrounds: printers, surveyors, a cobbler, a cabinetmaker, and a merchant. The group named Junto-after the Spanish word for “assemblies”-met regularly on Friday nights for 40 years. They discussed what they could do to improve themselves and their communities.
And that they did. The Junto Society developed a library and established volunteer fire and police departments, as well as a public hospital. They even helped found the University of Pennsylvania.
William Wilberforce-the great British parliamentarian, and one of my heroes-did much the same thing. In London’s Clapham suburb, Wilberforce gathered a group of friends who met constantly. Some referred to this powerful group of people as “the Cabinet meeting” that never ends. Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, said of Wilberforce, “He is always planning some benevolent scheme or other and not only planning it but executing it.”
While you probably know that Wilberforce is credited with the abolition of the slave trade, you might also want to know that voluntary associations established by Wilberforce and his associates included the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as the British and Foreign Bible Society, as well as prison reform. Wilberforce was involved in 69 such societies to improve the community.
One of our Centurions, Chuck Stetson, has latched on to this vision of small groups affecting change. He and a team of others have developed tools to facilitate the formation of even more “little platoons.” You can find these tools and resources on the Web at BetterHourGatherings.org.
And this week, why not gather a group of friends to view the documentary film, The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce. It airs June 27th, 28th, and 29th on many PBS stations across the country. If it is not on in your area, you can purchase the DVD through our website at BreakPoint.org. You can also go to BetterHourGatherings.org for group discussion questions about the documentary.
The film’s central theme is how Wilberforce beat the odds to rid the British Empire of slavery. But it also shows how he and his friends changed the morals of England.
As a Christian member of Parliament, Wilberforce knew full well that Christians could not sit back and expect government to reform the culture and care for the needy. He also knew that a purely private faith is hardly any faith at all.
As believers, we gather often to worship. We can also gather in Christ’s name for action-to support one another as we work to transform our communities and reform the culture.
So plan to watch The Better Hour this week. Perhaps it is time for you to gather some of your friends together and join the ranks of the little platoons changing society.