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Poverty. The word itself sounds hollow and hopeless. I have long been intrigued by the reality of poverty, the fact that it plagues nearly every city and after numerous relief efforts and campaigns to eradicate it, every community still continues to deal with it.

I read an account of two great American journalists who grappled with this same issue. As I studied the men, their distinct approaches to this problem exposed two warring paradigms that revealed interesting ideas on the root of poverty.

Horace Greeley


Photo credit: r4di0sil3nc3 / Foter / CC BY-SA

In the Spring of 1841 in New York City Horace Greeley was about to take an extraordinary risk.

Born to poor parents on a small farm in New Hampshire, Horace ran away from home at age 11 and began looking for work as a printer’s apprentice, but it wasn’t until he turned 15 that he was able to find someone who was willing to employ him.

Horace worked throughout Vermont and Pennsylvania, gaining experience and a feel for the world of journalism.

And finally Horace felt he was ready for his next big step. On April 10th, 1841, Horace published the first issue of a paper he titled the New-York Tribune.

After initially struggling to turn a profit, the publication gradually increased in circulation. Greeley hired a young man, Henry Raymond, to be his chief assistant and within 10 years his publication reached a circulation of nearly 200,000.

Henry Raymond

Henry Raymond had tremendously different beginnings than that of his boss, Mr. Greeley. Henry learned to read at three years of age and at 12 began attending Genesee Wesleyan Seminary (known now as Syracuse University).

Henry got his job with Horace Greeley after graduating from the University of Vermont with honors. Henry worked for Greeley until September of 1851 when he was able to raise $100,000 in capital and founded the New York Times along with his friend, George Jones. Raymond envisioned a non-reactionary, politically neutral publication.

The Debate On Poverty

About five years after parting ways and running their respective businesses, Greeley and Raymond began exchanging in published debate, giving their perspectives on various issues and rationalizations on the legitimacy of their respective worldviews.

Greeley was a Unitarian who believed that while God is the author of creation, He is uninvolved in current affairs. Thus the progression of life in the universe continues unaided and uninterrupted by divine intervention.

Greeley’s presuppositions were grounded in the Utopian Socialistic ideas popularized by Charles Fourier. Greeley saw man as inherently good and therefore man himself was the key to societal salvation.

He wrote to Raymond, insisting that the root of poverty and evil was the direct result of a corrupt and oppressive government.

In one of his articles addressing Raymond, he writes regarding human nature,

Evil flows only from their repression or subversion. Give them full scope, free play, a perfect and complete development, and universal happiness must be the result . . . create a new form of Society in which this shall be possible . . . then you will have a perfect Society; then will you have `the Kingdom of Heaven . . .

Henry Raymond on the other hand, was a Presbyterian and as a result of his Judeo-Christian worldview, held the belief that human hearts are evil. He argued that in order to create a free society, the individual must first be free.

Raymond didn’t deny that governments and institutions could be evil, he simply saw systemic corruption as a result of the iniquity of individuals.

When he was pressed by Greeley with the aforementioned quote, Raymond replied,

This principle is in the most direct and unmistakable hostility to the uniform inculcations of the Gospel. No injunction of the New Testament is more express, or more constant, than that of self denial; of subjecting the passions, the impulses of the heart to the law of conscience.”

Finding A Remedy

A #worldview that prescribes #institutionalprograms as the cure for #poverty creates slaves. Click To Tweet

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I see the entire Greeley-Raymond debate pointing to one question: What is the remedy for poverty?

If we follow each presuppositional thread all the way out, we end up with two vastly different worlds. If an individual is not freed, he or she cannot live freely.

A worldview that prescribes institutional programs as the cure for poverty creates slaves. These slaves become dependent upon human “saviors.”

As a result, they breed amongst themselves, entitlement and mindsets of victimization, which leaves nothing to future generations but massive social debt.

Conversely, a community can lay a platform for the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish and for wealth to be created by having the courage to recognize poverty as an expression of sin in the hearts of humankind, liberating those hearts, and recognizing the inherent dignity of each individual.

The Sin Problem

What we believe about sin matters. I can take the easy route and deny the evil intentions in the shadowy depths of my heart, but looking inward and confronting my natural reality takes courage. I only have two options. I must either be ruled internally or externally.

poverty church manI can humble myself, call sin what it is, give it up, and obtain the ability to live life internally governed, or I can clash with my inherent iniquity for the rest of my life and be forced to surrender to the bondage of an external governor.

We were created to live freely and to create communities that thrive in freedom. But if we neglect repentance, we remain captives.

The root of poverty is sin, and its remedy, the Gospel. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that if you are in poverty you are an unrepentant sinner, I am simply stating that societal poverty is the fruit that has manifested from the seed of sin in the hearts of mankind.

Until we treat poverty as a sin issue, we will continue to expand homeless shelters and multiply soup kitchens. We will cry out for mercy while holding the keys of justice.

God has created each person for greatness. The boldness and potency of William Wilberforce, Joan of Arc, St. Patrick, and Harriet Tubman can be the norm in our societies.

Common greatness can be the standard in our communities, but the more we search for other remedies for poverty outside of the Gospel, the longer we put individual’s destinies on hold and delay the real world change that we all long to see.

Societal #poverty is the fruit that has manifested from the seed of #sin. Click To Tweet


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