We ran across something interesting today. For some time we have known of the United States Christian Commission, a charitable organization begun during the Civil War as an outreach ministry of the Young Men's Christian Association (better known as the YMCA), which iteself began on 1844. The USCC, as it was known, took on the work of providing for the moral as well as the physical and spiritual welfare of the soldiers.
Of particular amazement was the amount of relief this organization contributed - $6,000,000 worth of aid donated by the American public. From the current website for the USCC:
"Monetary values listed are about 100-150 times more in today’s dollar value. The dollar value is most striking. Over $6,000,000 contributed and donated in the 1860’s is valued today to be between $600-$900 million dollars in four years, almost 1 billion dollars!"
“That the people of the United States should have voluntarily contributed six millions of dollars for the moral welfare of the soldiers employed, in addition to other vast and other charitable contributions, is one of the wonders of the world.”
General W.T. Sherman
January 19, 1866
An attempt to understand the makeup of the American people without looking at the contributions of her populace in charitable works falls short. In this case, it is evident the charitable works of the church in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ and His message of forgiveness of sins as well as servanthood to fellow men was considerable.
How does this compare to today? Americans are still the most generous people on the planet and it is still the work of the church in leading those efforts!
For comparison, the donations to the USCC in the period from 1860-1865 was $6,000,000, or the equivalent in today's dollars of nearly $1 billion. Considering the population today is roughly 10 times that of the 1860s, equivalent donations would exceed $30 billion in a five year period ending in 2008. And this is just to a single charity. In 2007, Americans gave over $295 billion in charitable donations.
Overall charitable giving of Americans has not changed much over time.