Modern ‘Little Platoons’

One Sunday afternoon in February, a few dozen women gathered at McLean, Virginia, home. Walking through the door, they saw Chinese lanterns and they heard the sound of classical Chinese music. In the dining room, the ladies found a mouthwatering spread of Chinese pastries and savories.

It was a fundraising tea party for a Chinese human rights group. But it was something else as well. It was an example of what the great British statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons.”

The fundraising teas are a brainchild of one of my colleagues. The teas take place very few months at the homes of members of the group. The organizers look around to see what local charities, schools, and private agencies need help. If they’re doing good work, the ladies hold a fundraiser for them.

Since they first began holding the teas last year, they’ve raised thousands of dollars. The beneficiaries include a pregnancy care center on Capitol Hill, a Christian school that serves poor children in the District of Columbia, and a group that helps the persecuted church in China.

I think these tea parties are a terrific idea. These ladies are not asking government to solve the problems of society; instead, they’re rolling up their sleeves and doing something about those problems themselves. And they’re having a good time while they’re doing it.

I wish more people would do the same thing. Too many Americans are slipping into the insidious trap of looking to the government as the solution to every human need—which is exactly how tyranny takes root,  strangling community spirit and works of charity.

It’s in our families, churches, civic associations where we meet people face to face, and form the most intimate relationships. In healthy communities, when people face problems, they’re helped by neighbors who know them—not by some faraway, uncaring bureaucrat.

We need a fresh reminder of what the Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper drew from the Reformation called “sphere sovereignty”—that is, society gives equal respect to all the social structures ordained by God. Family, church, school, business—each has its own distinctive task that no other group can do. The role of the state is to protect these little platoons so they can carry out their God-given tasks.

But today, the state seems determined to do just the opposite. As we’ve just witnessed with the massive health care bill, the state is trying to usurp these tasks.  And more and more often, we’re seeing government actually interfere with the work of volunteer societies.

When the government oversteps its bounds, people are right to take to the streets and protest loudly but peacefully—just like the good folks in the Tea Party movement we’re reading so much about. That’s a necessary and legitimate response to a government that wants to take over every aspect of our lives.

But just as legitimate a response is what these ladies in Virginia are doing—holding tea parties to raise awareness and funds for causes that do good, that do the good work of meeting social needs ourselves. What a great way to benefit the community, to help those in need and to look government square in the face and say, “No thanks. We’ve got this one covered.”

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