Can Philanthropy Save Democracy?

People today are throwing stones more than ever at democracy. I was with some friends recently when a friend’s wife said, “Well, what’s wrong with socialism anyway? Maybe it is a better way.”

I asked her if she knew of any success stories in history where a socialist or communist state thrived for a long period of time. She wasn’t sure of any.

I said, “Well, as it is, there are too many failures to list. Socialism has never succeeded anywhere, including the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, and Venezuela. Marx’s ideal of a classless society has never been achieved.”[1]

She leaned forward and said, “Is this true?”

History is destined to repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. But we have to learn from the present, too. The writing is on the wall that democracy and capitalism don’t need guardrails as much as they need a guiding heart and the Holy Spirit to convict them to steward their prosperity well.

A Case Study: The Early Church

Let’s use the early church as a case study. The first believers were sacrificially generous in ways our fellow church members would be uncomfortable with today. They went to unthinkable measures, including selling real estate and possessions just to provide for the poor (Acts 2.45 and Acts 4.34-35).

Let’s compare this to forms of government:

  • Democracy: Democracy’s shortfall is that it doesn’t encourage you to sell your home and lands. No, it inspires you to add value by keeping your land and buying your neighbor’s home to fix and flip it or rent it out—which is beneficial but has no eternal impact.
  • Socialism: Socialism’s shortfall is that it says you need to take care of your neighbor—which is great in theory and draws in those who have bleeding hearts. But in practice, it requires that you artificially keep the rent low for your neighbor via rent control to make the burden easier on them.
  • Communism: Communism’s shortfall is that it questions, “Why have anything under your control in the first place? You and your neighbor’s house should belong to the state. You can’t be trusted. Only the state knows what is best for the people.” It removes the right to own private property, so you have no home or lands to call your own.

Of all these forms of government, democracy alone empowers its citizens and allows for individual choice and responsibility. Coupled with capitalism, democracy also supports free enterprise and opportunity for all.[2] But it’s not perfect. Although capitalism is the only economic system that gives everyone a shot,[3] it can lead to a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Warren Buffett once said, “The free market’s the best mechanism ever devised to put resources to their most efficient and productive use…. The government isn’t particularly good at that. But the market isn’t so good at making sure that the wealth that’s produced is being distributed fairly or wisely.”[4]

So how do we fix it?

The Answer: Radical Generosity

I believe the only way forward is democracy—but with an emphasis on philanthropy. Philanthropy alone has the capacity to transform democracy and temper its weaknesses.

Historical documents recorded the Romans being in awe of the counter-cultural generosity of the early Christians. The Roman emperor Julian complained about them, saying, “The impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”[5]

The Romans were so shocked that the early church was selling their homes, lands, and possessions in order to give abundantly. They weren’t being coerced, guilted, or led into woods by a charismatic lunatic. No—they were willingly giving up what they had.

Why did the Romans take note? Rome was curious because they had to enslave, pillage, and tax citizens to get them to comply for the overall good of the Roman empire. Yet here were citizens giving freely out of the overflow of their changed hearts.

Call to Action: The American Dream vs A Giving Revolution

As followers of Christ, what if we lived out radical generosity? It would have implications far beyond what we could ever realize. This was one of the key factors that made the first-century Christian movement spread so rapidly. In today’s consumeristic society, the best witness we can have is our generosity.

Change starts with us. What if we viewed what we have as not “mine” and “yours” but “ours”? How would that change our communities? How would it improve our witness? If we want spiritual revival to take place in our country, then we must not only preach about revival, pray about revival, and worship hoping for revival. We must give sacrificially toward a revival!

What could happen today if hardworking Christian families decided to no longer idolize the American dream and instead replaced it with a dream of seeing the gospel preached and lived out? A revolutionary gospel will beckon a response. People will have to ask, “Why?” because giving away money and possessions—instead of gathering more—is so shocking.

So where do you start? Change your mindset. Generosity isn’t a pay-it-forward, one-time deal. It’s a habit, a way of life. Like the early church, make giving a pattern, a lifestyle. And don’t think this is about how much you make, because you can give if you have a lot and you can give if you have a little. Jesus had so little from a worldly perspective, yet he gave so much.

No matter what your net worth and what you’re bringing in, this is about living with purpose and using your time, resources, and funds to make a difference and help others. So be intentional. Tithe to your local church. Give wherever and whenever you see a need. Give sacrificially to support Gospel ministries. Live with openhandedness. Recognize that all you have belongs to God and that you are here not as a consumer, but as a steward that wealth passes through.


It’s concerning that so many young people today are being lured by the false promises of socialism.[6] Half of millennials say they’re open to living under socialism and see capitalism as greedy and exploitative.

The future of democracy is at stake. But I’m not the first person to raise the alarm. Our Founding Fathers had these same concerns. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In a democracy, you have the freedom of choice, including the freedom to give. And that makes all the difference.


[2] Ibid.





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