March 16, 2016
“Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds… They covet fields, and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.” Micah 2:1-2
Our city has been enveloped by a moral crisis. It is a beast with many heads, but the core issue is that TRUST between the people of Chicago and its elected leaders is broken. And the devastating impact of this broken trust has now escalated to the point that educational resources, access to social services, employment opportunity, public safety, and even confidence in law enforcement itself are all threatened.
And yet, despite this critical failure in the foundational trust fabric of community life, we are once again witnessing a city government breaking faith by converting the Lathrop Homes on the north side from low-income housing to “mixed income” housing with no reliable plan and no credible evidence of any commitment to provide alternative housing for the poor, who are being relentlessly displaced by this new development plan.
No matter what the arguments regarding theories of urban planning, the inescapable truth is that what has been happening at Lathrop represents a policy built on lies and broken promises over many years. Promises have been broken in our relationship with the federal government, which has been paying millions of dollars into the CHA, trusting that these dollars would be used for their intended purpose. They have not. Promises have been broken to the residents of Lathrop, who have left, either by eviction or persuasion, with an unfulfilled expectation of new housing that has never been built. Simultaneously, those residents have been barred from returning to the home left behind. Promises have been broken to all the taxpayers of the city who have trusted elected officials who seem to have forgotten that government exists to defend the well-being of the vulnerable, the broken, and the marginalized, against the crushing oppressive force of unrestrained wealth and unaccountable social privilege.
The one essential structure of all social, communal, or civic life is the capacity to make, to keep, and to honor promises. Without the honoring of promises there is no integrity. Without integrity there is no credibility. Without credibility, there can be no trust. And without trust, there is no community. This is no longer a matter of public policy. It is a matter of public morality.
It is therefore incumbent upon Christian leaders, not merely as a matter of civic responsibility, but as a matter of evangelical necessity, to speak and act in a way that places the Church clearly and unambiguously in communion with the God who always stands in solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable whose trust has been betrayed, even if doing so puts us at personal risk. My hope is that there is still time for civic leaders to recognize the destructive effect of these choices, to turn, and to choose a better path.
Bishop Wayne N. Miller
Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA