Faith, Leadership, and Building Community
Growing up Lutheran on Chicago’s South Side, Greg Lewis, MDiv ’07 has long followed a path of intellectual and ethical exploration. His journey to becoming an LSTC alum and the vice chairperson of the LSTC Board of Directors (BOD) is a testament to his passion for learning and deep commitment to serving the Church.
From the time Lewis was a child, his parents instilled in him the importance and value of education and faith in God. As an educator, Lewis’s mom knew that attending the best schools mattered and always sought out and guided her children toward the best academic opportunities. Lewis’s mom grew up in Bronzeville in the 1940s, but when it was time to raise her children, she wanted a better neighborhood and better-quality schools, so they moved further south to the Chatham neighborhood just four blocks away from the home of famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
“When my parents bought their first house, the practice of housing segregation was deeply embedded in Chicago,” said Lewis. “[Integration] was really considered to be something that just wasn’t done. [Segregation] was the rule of the day.”
This was during the 1960s at a time in Chicago and in America’s history when racist housing policies like redlining, racially restrictive covenants, and blockbusting were in full effect as part of a broader system of housing discrimination and segregation that has since shaped the city’s demographic, economic, and social landscape.
When the Lewis family and other African American families moved into the Chatham neighborhood, white families were persuaded to sell their property cheaply because they feared living amongst Blacks, leading to the phenomena known as white flight. For many Chicago neighborhoods in the 1960s, this turnover generally led to property and neighborhood decline. But in Chatham, residents fought and succeeded in forming a solid black middle-class enclave that survived for nearly half a century.
This is where Lewis grew up, and in this community his faith was formed under the leadership of renowned pastor Rev. Robin Skiles at St. James Lutheran Church. Lewis served as an acolyte for the church, carrying incense at the start of liturgy, and while other children played during Sunday school, he took the messages so seriously that he was asked to teach a class at the tender age of 12.
Thinking back on his experiences, Lewis reflected, “As a child and adolescent I struggled with finding a rational explanation for white flight. Of course years later I realize that racism and bigotry simply are not rational. In recent years I have thought more carefully and studied the reparations movement as a path toward a more unified and loving society.”
The Road to LSTC
After completing his bachelor’s degree and embarking on a successful football career at Oberlin College, Lewis attended law school at Northwestern University and became an attorney in the private and public sectors for nearly three decades. He served as a race relations attorney for the Legal Assistance Foundation, tackled trade issues on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, and dealt with matters related to healthcare fraud and abuse for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the midst of this success, Lewis continued to be drawn towards leadership positions within various Lutheran churches. He held roles such as president of church councils, where his experience and education served him well in making informed decisions and providing guidance to his congregations.
Still, with a background in law, a successful career at HHS, and having a family and children to raise, Lewis might not have seemed like the typical candidate for theological education. However, his passion for faith and the gospel called, and in the early 2000s, Lewis enrolled as a part-time student at LSTC.
Balancing work, family, and his studies was challenging, but Lewis and his wife made it work. Lewis delved into history, theology, and biblical interpretation despite his many responsibilities. His passion for learning in these classes was inspired by intellectual curiosity and a desire to explore the complexities of faith. His motivation was not to enter parish ministry but to find other ways to serve the Church.
Although law and theology may seem like very different professions, Lewis believes the skills needed for each profession share commonalities. Both attorneys and theologians must engage in rigorous critical thinking; they must interpret texts, grapple with ethical dilemmas, communicate effectively, be skilled researchers, and engage with and advocate for their communities. His experiences as a lawyer honed his skills in ethical decision-making and the art of persuasion, which he found applicable in ministry and theological education.
In 2007, Lewis completed a Master of Divinity degree and continued to work as an attorney, never realizing that his theological education would eventually lead him back to LSTC in another role.
Serving on the Board of Directors at LSTC
In 2021, when Bishop Yehiel Curry recommended that LSTC alum Greg Lewis serve as a Board of Directors (BOD) member, Lewis jumped at the chance. He believes in the importance of effective governance and sees the board’s role as one of oversight and guidance rather than micromanaging an institution.
As a member of the BOD, Lewis brings his legal and theological training and his love for LSTC, ensuring that the institution’s challenges are met with a thoughtful, informed, and considerate approach.
As a member of the Anti-Racism Transformation Team, Lewis is determined to address racial injustice within the institution. His experiences growing up Black in segregated Chicago have made him aware of the realities of racism, and he approaches the work with an open mind and a dedication to change.
Lewis is also a key member of the Reparations Task Force, a working group of the BOD responsible for examining and proposing a reparations plan for the seminary. Drawing on his legal background, Lewis has researched various definitions and forms of reparations, helping the group to seek just and ethical ways to address past wrongs.
As Lewis continues to serve on the BOD and contribute to the transformation of LSTC, he remains a steadfast advocate for education, ethics, and justice. Looking ahead, Lewis says that he believes LSTC has the opportunity to be a leader in theological education. “We are involved in an historical move,” he says. “God has a much brighter future ahead for us, and I want to be a part of that plan.”