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"Justice We Pursue" Blog

This letter, signed by 127 religious leaders, was delivered to Governor Dayton and all Minnesota Legislators on May 12th in the midst of budget and conference committee negotiations. The letter was drafted in cooperation with Catholic Charities, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, and the Prosperity for All Campaign. Over 100 signatories were obtained in 3 days.

May 12, 2015

Dear Governor Dayton, Speaker Daudt, Leader Bakk and all Minnesota Lawmakers,

First, thank you for your efforts to protect the dignity of all Minnesotans. This principle is central to our public life and in the work of Minnesota’s faith communities. We stand with you to accomplish even more, so that every Minnesotan feels the effect of justice-inspired public policies and a true prosperity for all.

With some urgency, we are writing because we sense there may be a “parting of the Red Sea” with respect to raising the basic cash assistance level for poor families participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). As you know, and as anti-poverty advocates and those experiencing poverty are acutely aware, the basic MFIP cash assistance has not been raised since 1986, and has been stuck at $532 for a family of three despite nearly thirty years of rising costs for housing, food, transportation, and other basic needs.

We are encouraged that both the Governor’s Supplemental Budget and the Senate’s Omnibus Health and Human Services Finance Bill include a $100 per month increase in the basic MFIP cash assistance.

As leaders in the faith community, we work every day with our congregations responding to Minnesotans in need who are looking for pathways out of poverty. We see heroic efforts on the part of families to secure work and to provide for their children. To maximize all of our efforts, we strongly urge you to act this year and pass a $100 per month increase in the MFIP basic cash assistance. Please remember, about 70 percent of MFIP recipients are children.

Our support for a cash assistance increase recalls the early creation of MFIP and the social contract that we Minnesotans laid forth: expect work, support work, and reward work. It simply is no longer possible to support or reward work with an ever-shrinking 30 year-old cash assistance amount that serves to trap families in deep poverty.

Please seize this historic opportunity to raise the MFIP cash assistance level by $100 per month this year. Together, let us protect human dignity, fight poverty, reward work, and build prosperity for all.


Judicatory, Statewide, and Regional Leadership

Mr. Jason Adkins, Minnesota Catholic Conference

Bishop Jon Anderson, Southwestern Minnesota Synod - ELCA

Mr. Owais Bayunus, Islamic Center of Minnesota

Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, Minnesota Council of Churches

Ms. Patrice Critchley-Menor Diocese of Duluth, Duluth

Rev. Robert T Cuthill, Presbytery of Twin Cities Area

Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner, Diocese of Crookston

Mr. Steve Hunegs, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas

Bishop John M. LeVoir, Diocese of New Ulm

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Minnesota Conference - United Methodist Church

Rev. Sharon Prestemon, Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ

Bishop John M. Quinn, Diocese of Winona

Mr. Brian Rusche, Joint Religious Legislative Coalition

Ms. Lee Stuart, CHUM, Duluth

President Noya Woodrich, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches


Congregation and Faith Community Leadership

Dr. Larry J Alderink, St Luke Presbyterian Church, Wayzata

Rabbi Morris J. Allen, Beth Jacob Congregation, Mendota Heights

Rev. Laurie Boche, Hope United Methodist Church, Duluth

Ms. Nancy Bratrud, Minnesota Friends, Preston

Rev. Richard Buller, Valley Community Presbyterian Church, Golden Valley

Rev. Sarah Campbell, Mayflower United Church of Christ, Minneapolis

Rev. David Carlson, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Duluth

Rev. David E. Cobb, Spirit of Joy Christian Church, Lakeville

Ms. Courtney Mae Cochran,Duluth-Superior Friends Meeting, Duluth

Rev. Dr. James E. Cook, Valley Community Presbyterian Church, Golden Valley

Rev. Anita Cummings Presbyterian Church of the Way, Shoreview

Rabbi Alexander Davis, Beth El Synagogue, St. Louis Park

Rev. Michael A DeKraai, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church, Duluth

Pastor Doug Donley, University Baptist Church, Minneapolis

Rev. Dave Donnay, OSC, Crosier Community, Onamia

Pastor Laurie Eaton, Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Pastor Jerome Evavold, Trinity Lutheran Church, Duluth

Rabbi Jeremy Fine, Temple of Aaron, St. Paul

Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

Pastor Mark Fugere, Salem Evangelical Free Church, Moorhead

Rev. Buff Grace, Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Stillwater

Rev. William C. Graham, St Michael Parish, Duluth

Pastor Josias Hansen Third Way Church, St. Paul

Rev. Cheryl Harder, Trinity Episcopal, Hermantown

Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Herring Consulting Network, Minneapolis

Mr. Noah Hobbs, Our Savior's Lutheran, Duluth

Rev. T. Ewen Holmes, Plymouth Presbyterian Church, Plymouth

Rev. Alfred Joseph Hopwood, Saints Martha & Mary Episcopal Church, Eagan

Rev. Eliot N Howard, Linden Hills United Church of Christ, Minneapolis

Ms. Jane Jarnis, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Duluth

Rev. Dr. Vaughn R. Jefferson, Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, Maplewood

Rev. Timothy M. Johnson, Cherokee Park United Church, Saint Paul

Rev. Bruce Johnson, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Duluth

Rev Deborah Kielsmeier, Christ Presbyterian, Edina

Rev. Judith Allen Kim, Westminster Presbyterian, Excelsior

Rev. Brian Konkol, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter

Ms. Linda Kotschevar, First United Methodist of the St. Cloud Region, Waite Park

Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minnetonka

Rev. Mark Kuether, Congregational United Church of Christ, Detroit Lakes

Rev. Mary Leisman, North Presbyterian Church, Oak Park Heights

Rev. David M Liddle, Westminster Presbyterian, Minneapolis

Rev. Robert Lundberg, Presbyterian Homes & Services, Eden Prairie

Mr. Malcolm Macaulay, St. Michaels Catholic Lakeside, Duluth

Ms. Patti Maguire, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Duluth

Rev. Catherine Malotky, Edina Community Lutheran Church, Edina

Rev. Barbara Martin, Union Congregational UCC, St. Louis Park

Rev. Dr. Edwin Martin, Westminster Presbyterian, Burnsville

Rev. Dr. Margaret McCray, Westminster Counseling Center, Minneapolis

Ms. Lisa McDonald, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, Moorhead

Ms. Shivon Miller, Trinity Lutheran, Duluth

Rev. Doug Mitchell, Westminster Presbyterian, Minneapolis

Ms. Lucy Mungai, Messiah Church, Minneapolis

Rev. Jen Nagel, Salem English Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Ms. Vivian Jenkins Nelsen, Westminster Presbyterian, Minneapolis

Rev. Kathryn Nelson, Peace United Church of Christ, Duluth

Mr. Jake Nelson, St Michael's Catholic Church, Duluth

Rev. Dr. Paula Nordhem, Spirit of Joy Disciples of Christ, Burnsville

Rev. Helen O'Brien, St. Paul Mennonite Fellowship, St. Paul

Rev. Ellen O'Neill, Peace United Church of Christ, Duluth

Rev. Clay Oglesbee, United Methodist District Superintendent, Northfield

Pastor Craig Pederson, Grace Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Pastor Melissa Pohlman, Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Rev. Riz Prakasim, New Life Presbyterian Church, Roseville

Pastor Gwin Pratt, St. Luke Presbyterian Church, Wayzata

Rev. Dr. Robyn Provis, Salem Evangelical Lutheran, Minneapolis

Rev. Ingrid Rasmussen, Holy Trinity Lutheran, Minneapolis

Ms. Linda Riddle, St. Mark AME, Duluth

Rev. Paul G. Rider, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, Mankato

Rev. Don Rudrud, Calvary Lutheran, Minneapolis

Pastor Joetta Schlabach, Faith Mennonite Church, Minneapolis

Rev. Dean Seal, Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Chaska

Pastor Joy Smith, Presbyterian Church of the Apostles, Burnsville

Rev. Robert Smith, Spirit of Life Presbyterian, Apple Valley

Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker, Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul

Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian, Chaska

Dr. Don Streufert, First Lutheran, Duluth

Pastor Jeff Teeples, Hawley Lutheran Church, Hawley

Rabbi Adam Titcher, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minnetonka

Mr. Matt Traynor, Peace Church, Duluth

Ms. Shannon Wagner, CHUM, Duluth

Rev. Jason Wahlstrom, Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, New Hope

Rev. Deborah Walkes, Vineyard United Methodist Church, Hutchinson

Pastor Gary Walpole, Peace United Methodist Church, Shoreview

Rev. Wayne Walther, Woodbury-Peaceful Grove United Methodist, Red Wing

Rev. H G Wardlaw Jr, House of Hope Presbyterian, St. Paul

Rev. Suzanne Wasilczuk, Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church, Virginia

Rev. Marilyn (Casey) Wells, Central Presbyterian, Saint Paul

Rabbi David Wirtschafter, Temple Israel, Minneapolis

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Temple Israel, Minneapolis

President Renee Zurn, Holy Rosary Society St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth


Retired and Independent Clergy, and Lay Leaders

Rev. Lindsay Biddle, Saint Louis Park

Ms. Sharon Binger, Stillwater

Rev. Dr. John R. Buzza, Saint Paul

Ms. Joann Chesser, Duluth

Ms. Alice Delawyer, Our Saviors Lutheran, Duluth

Ms. Jean Esler, Holy Family Catholic, Duluth

Mrs. Sharon Grugel, St. Joseph’s Parish, Moorhead

Rev. Dr. Sheila Gustafson, Oak Park Heights

Rev. Robert Hamilton, Northfield

Rev. Keith Homstad, Northfield

Rev. Robert Hudnut, Cottage Grove

Ms. Charlotte Juntunen, First Lutheran, Duluth

Mr. Charles Keller, St. Joseph’s Parish, Moorhead

Ms. Lorene Liddle, Westminster Presbyterian, Minneapolis

Rev. Robert E. Lucas, Edina

Rev. Richard Lundy, Excelsior

Ms. Kim Randolph, McGregor

Rev. Dr. Mary Bigelow McMillan, Roseville

Rev. Elizabeth Raitt, Woodbury

Rev. Gale Robb, St. Paul

Brian Rusche announced his decision to leave the position of Executive Director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition in the Spring of 2016.  His letter to us is below. While we are sad to see him go, we will use this transition time to move forward and search for a new leader for the JRLC.  Under Brian's leadership, we have built a wonderfully diverse, powerful, and well-respected voice at the Minnesota Capitol.  Our new leader will have a great foundation on which to advance our interfaith social justice agenda.

God willing, before the end of June, I will be naming a Transition Team made up of two representatives from each of JRLC’s Sponsors. You will receive regular progress reports from this Team and, after some time for a formal organizational assessment process, a Job Announcement for our Executive Director position will be made public in early Fall, and then we will be ready to receive applications.

We will have an opportunity to thank Brian and welcome a new leader over the course of the next 9 months or so. Everyone of us has a role to play in this transition. It is a time to be grateful, hopeful, and supportive. I encourage you to include JRLC in your prayers and to help us remind the people of Minnesota of the indispensable work of the unique coalition that is JRLC.

Fatma Reda, M.D.
Chair, JRLC Board

 Dear Friends,

This Fall I will have served as Executive Director of JRLC for 27 years! It is time for me to move on — I will be leaving in the Spring of 2016. I’m incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to give staff leadership to JRLC, and to have worked with you and justice-minded people in faith communities across the State.  

Each and every year, JRLC has made an impact on Minnesota laws and policies in areas ranging from income assistance to hate crimes, from tax policy to affordable housing, from affordable health care to ending human trafficking, from a higher minimum wage to lower child care costs, from gun safety to restorative justice — the list goes on and on. Though social justice is an elusive goal, we have moved Minnesota ever-closer, and we’ve done it working side-by-side. It has been a joyful journey dating all the way back to 1988.

It is hard to leave an organization and mission that I love, but it is time for me to seek new challenges and it is time for JRLC to bring in a new leader with fresh ideas.

As I prepare to leave, I want you to know that I am incredibly proud of the leadership shown by our Board Members, District Leaders, our staff, our Legislative Network, and iCAN sponsors, all of whom give vision and energy to the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition. JRLC is a beacon of hope. JRLC is one of the reasons Minnesota remains above average!  I am 100% confident in our Coalition’s ability to gain strength during this transition and in the years ahead — and I look forward to working with all of you to make this transition a success.

Dr. Fatma Reda will soon announce an eight-member Transition Team to guide an organizational assessment and search process, and you will receive regular progress reports from this Team.

On a personal note, I'm not sure what's next for me.  Right now my focus is on preparing for the 2016 legislative session, and for a healthy transition for JRLC.  Then my plan is to take a little time off to enjoy a blank slate and see what God calls me to do next — it’s a scary and exciting prospect.

Thank you for your support and friendship. Thank you for raising up your voice on behalf of justice. Onward!

With immense gratitude,

Brian Rusche

Mother’s Day is a holiday that is rooted in justice. The idea was born of Julia Ward Howe's "Mother's Day Proclamation" which called for us to honor mothers by working for peace. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson's Mother's Day Proclamation said that the holiday should be "a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

The faith traditions of JRLC hold mothers in high esteem…from the Catholic reverence of Mary as Holy Mother, to the Old Testament commandment to respect one’s parents, to the saying of the Prophet Muhammad that “Heaven lies under the feet of your mother.”

This holiday is not only a great chance for us to focus on expressions of love and gratefulness to our own mothers, but also to work towards more just policies for mothers in Minnesota, especially those who struggle mightily to nurture their families and keep them safe against tough odds presented by poverty, domestic violence, illness, and disability.

The Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) is the state workforce development program for low-income families which provides basic economic assistance for approximately 70,000 children and 28,000 parents to help them move out of poverty. Yet, as costs keep rising for families, the basic grant level for MFIP has not been increased in 29 years. An increase of the basic grant by $100/month is included in the budgets proposed by the Governor and the Minnesota Senate, but not the Minnesota House.

Join us this year, as we express our love and reverence for ALL mothers in Minnesota by raising our voices in support of policies that help ensure they can build a better future for themselves and their families.

  • Share this post and/or the image of our Mother’s Day statement posted on our Facebook & Twitter pages via your own social media pages.

  • Download and print the half page Mother’s Day MFIP statement to distribute among your faith community.

  • Request that your clergyperson or faith community leader sign this letter that will be sent to Minnesota lawmakers in support of MFIP increases, or sign yourself if you are clergy.


Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, from the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.

Yesterday I filed my federal and state income taxes, joining thousands of others who wait for the last minute. And for good reason -- unlike most years, I needed to cough up some April dollars because last year’s withholdings were a little short.

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, “ said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and I can say I paid mine
honestly and with some civic pride. I want to contribute to the public good and I feel good about my fidelity to the democratic processes of our national, state, and local governments, even when I intensely dislike some of the expenditures that make their way into earmarks or unaccountable government contracts.

But nagging in the back of my mind is the sense that maybe I’m a chump. My faith in civic duty is rattled when I think about millions of tax cheaters, and that vast amounts of tax revenues are lost mostly because people with great resources routinely figure out ways to shield income and avoid taxes. Naive wageearners like me have to pay full-freight because, unlike Leona Helmsley, we cannot hide behind complex loopholes and hidden havens. Like most of us I’m a wage earner. My W-2 is pasted on my forehead and the IRS knows where I work and where I live.

The nominal amount I pay could fluctuate quite a bit before I’d feel differently about my taxes. More than anything I want to know that I’m carrying a fair share of the load. I guess that makes me a relativist. The idea that people with more income pay less than me or that people with less resources would pay more violates my sense of justice. I don’t want to feel like a chump. I want the system to be fair.

Is Minnesota’s tax system fair? Every two years our Revenue Department publishes a “Tax Incidence Study” (historical note: JRLC successfully lobbied for the creation of this report back in 1990) that attempts to show how the state and local taxes in Minnesota are shouldered by households in various income categories. The report is 155 pages of analysis, tables, and charts. The focus is on what we know about tax year 2012, and what we predict for tax year 2017 under current tax law, using the November, 2014 forecast.

Read the report here. Or if you just want a quick visual summary, look below. I’ve tried to sum it up in a graph and a table. Bottom line: Compared to 2012, every income group will pay a little less as a percentage of income in 2017. The exception is the richest 10 percent of households — their overall tax rate rises from 10.5% to 10.7% in tax year 2017, due in part to the new 4th tier income tax rate that passed in 2013. It should be noted, however, the richest 10 percent of households still pay less than the statewide average tax rate of 11.4%.

Comparing 2017 to 2012, the slope of the chart’s line is a little less regressive. So, the tax system in Minnesota is getting a little more fair. Happy tax day!

Brian Rusche, Executive Director


I’ll admit, when I started at JRLC I was a bit on the cynical side and mistrustful of our political process. I wrote papers throughout seminary critiquing systems that persisted in disenfranchising minority groups, and suspected power was actually consolidated among an elite few. Before joining JRLC, I’d most recently managed a crew of canvassers during election season that door-knocked for labor-endorsed candidates in targeted districts. Canvassing was a good experience but I still felt removed. Seminary and canvassing hadn’t directly exposed me to the policy world and I still hadn’t seen how accessible our government actually was.

A Better View
These past five months at JRLC I’ve witnessed the political process differently from the inside. After the election resulted in a split legislature, I feared JRLC’s agenda would flop, not enjoying near its 2014 success. But our Organizer Jennifer, ever the optimist, impressed upon me this simple refrain: never see anyone (from either party)—as more than merely temporary opposition—because people and circumstances can always change. We’ve all had front row seats to that very phenomenon this year with bi-partisan bill authorship on all four of JRLC’s major initiatives!

Even more I’ve been influenced by our generous and active membership. You’ve won me over. From my desk as Office Manager I’m struck by your sheer numbers and by how frequently you support us; I get checks in the mail every day. Last month, at Day on the Hill, I oversaw your registration and was inspired by your warm and engaged energy. Nearly 700 of you went up capital hill to lobby in all but two of Minnesota’s 67 senate districts. For over 30 years many of you, old and new, return each Spring because your work influences Minnesota policy! I can’t stay cynical when I see how your tireless efforts improve quality of life for those who can’t find a seat.

Through my work at JRLC I’ve learned that advocacy is not only effective, but also a fundamental pathway to justice.  I’ve discovered the political process is penetrable, fluid and ever changing, and yet it requires collective collaboration to harness. The committed involvement of groups like ours change policies and provide greater access to seats at the table here in Minnesota. Although many marginalized segments of our community still lack access, and have good reasons for mistrusting the system, the rest of us sense a responsibility to stand with them and advocate for their rights. While for many of our veteran members this is old-hat, for a young, fresh first-timer like me, this clear view into advocacy has been a revelation.

Steven McCormick, JRLC Office Manager