Religious values motivate moral positions

  •  February 09, 2016



This year’s Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS) Annual Gathering of Stakeholders convened at Concordia University Chicago to tackle the topic: “Poverty: a Moral Issue.”


In introductory remarks, LCFS Board Chair Brenna Woodley assured stakeholders of the importance of the meeting topic to her personally and to the entire LCFS board of trustees. LCFS Chief Executive Officer Gene Svebakken, further set the context for the day, saying, “Our religious values motivate our moral positions.”


The keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Calvin Morris, noted minister, historian and human rights advocate, opened his address with gratitude for those adults in his childhood, at home and in church, who “saw things that I did not see in me,” and provided encouragement, safety and caring. Dr. Morris cautioned stakeholders that the inaction by Illinois’ governor and legislators to enact a state budget holds hostage the lives of those LCFS works with. He challenged stakeholders to speak out in a loving, nonviolent, caring fashion. Dr. Morris drew on inspiration from the civil-rights advocacy of the 1960s and the community of advocates who worked without compensation: “We called ourselves that ‘kaint heppits’ because we couldn’t help ourselves (from acting).” He closed by quoting the Lucie Campbell hymn, “Something Within,” which both challenged and inspired stakeholders: “Have you got that something, that burning desire?” (


A distinguished panel responded to Dr. Morris.

The Rev. Dr. Scott Bruzek, senior pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Wheaton, noted that Christians are to know right from wrong – “we don’t make it up as we go along.” Christians are to touch other things with the touch of Jesus, and this includes those who are marginalized. Rev. Bruzek noted that Christians disagree regarding strategy. So in order to find unity, he advised that Christians tell the truth and set a goal to maximize the good, rather than to win.


Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, imam and director of the Prayer Center in Orland Park, shared his vision: “we serve God by serving his servants.” He made a call for unity on these values: food, safety; healthcare and jobs. He urged investment in addressing causes – to bring employment, honorable living and remedies to poverty and discrimination.


Rabbi Max Weiss of the Oak Park Temple conveyed a basic truth: “there shall be no poor among you.” He spoke of Musar, a Jewish spiritual practice that encourages ethical conduct. Rabbi Weiss noted the obligation to serve, of which we have no choice, and he quoted “Pirkei Avot” (“Ethics of the Fathers”): “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (2:21)


With this encouragement, the eighty stakeholders in attendance formed discussion groups to consider the implications of what was said for LCFS. Each group offered up a big idea:

  • Be morally driven to help others
  • When there is an opportunity to share or give grace, give grace
  • For the work of social justice, devise strategies to attract passionate, motivated staff
  • Give concrete, winnable ways to make a difference to our circles and networks
  • Convene a similar gatherings in central and southern Illinois
  • Remember that all can contribute to impacting poverty – build on partnership
  • Partnership with all faiths
  • Keep praying – spread the word – convene congregations across faith communities to address needs
  • Explore new funding formulas for public education
  • Have more events like this one and include those who may disagree


The Trauma Care Coalition received the LCFS Advocacy Award, in recognition of organizing led by youth and communities directly affected by gun violence and the lack of trauma care, to achieve a commitment by the University of Chicago to build and operate an adult level-1 trauma center. Daniel Kaplan of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs accepted the award on behalf of Coalition members, Fearless Leading by the Youth, Southside Together Organizing for Power, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Students for Health Equity, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, National Nurses United, Interfaith Leadership Committee and Trauma Center Prayers.

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