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Ethics and Religion Talk: Does Your Religious Community Feel Under Attack?

How concerned are you about violence being directed at members of your religion at this very fragile time?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

Sadly, random, and targeted violent acts have become commonplace in our society. I am concerned for the safety of my congregation and others of my faith, but I am also concerned for our neighboring faith communities. The best thing we can do is to be vigilant, educate our communities on safety and security, and to keep living our lives fully. We cannot live in fear because that only creates more opportunity for violence to occur. If we shut ourselves inside and hide, we are also dismantling our best safety net, a thriving connected community. Engaging in life and creating caring communities is the best way to protect ourselves. 

Rev. Salvatore Sapienza, the Senior Pastor at Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ in Saugatuck/Douglas, responds:

In the past few years, our church has been the target of online bullies. Not only have they attacked us on social media, but they have also written negative reviews of our church on the internet. 

None of these people have ever stepped foot in our church, but they seem to take issue with our progressive theology and LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Sadly, these hate-filled comments all come from people who proclaim to be followers of Jesus and profess the same faith as we do. 

In order to protect the safety of our congregation, our church leaders have received security training from both our denomination’s national office, as well as from our local police department, who have instructed us in dealing with protestors and have offered to be a physical presence at church functions and events. 

I’m sure that most of those who disagree with our theology would also support religious freedoms guaranteed to us in the U.S. Constitution, so it’s curious why they are so bothered with people who worship and believe differently from them. 

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

There is a great deal written about Islamophobia and antisemitism recently. There is no question that these are real and destructive; especially the latter. Not as many people are aware of Hinduphobia. While Muslims have challenges in certain communities, their enemies are entirely from the far-right wing. Jews and Hindus have the burden of suffering the slings and arrows from both of the extreme fringes of the social/political spectrum. We are concerned about White Christian Nationalists seeing us as heathen immigrants; and Leftist movements on college campuses that are attempting to paint Hindu Americans as supporters of fascism. While at this point most of the activities of concern are at the rhetorical stage, we know that this is often the precursor to something more frightening. 

In the past, when there were more overt acts of violence directed towards Muslims, both Hindus and Sikhs were attacked as well, being mistaken for Muslim. Thankfully, these instances are not as prevalent now. But there is no question that we are concerned about the possibility of an eruption at any time. 

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

The Catholic Church has a long history of persecution. People of faith have suffered death for at least two millennia.

I am not particularly concerned about violence. I know human beings are capable of atrocities. Although I do not have a “death wish,” I choose to suffer the consequences for my faith. I refuse to live life in fear!

Linda Knieriemen, former Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

On a scale of 1-10, about 6-7, significantly higher than 20 years ago. My concern is not with violence from other world religions, but from other branches of Christianity. While I myself have not been threatened, I am aware of other progressive pastors and their congregations who have been.  And Jesus wept.

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

Presbyterians are seldom targets of violence, but it does happen. The first martyrs for Christ in the last century were Presbyterian missionaries laboring in Colombia. Presbyterians are sometimes faulted for their lack of emotion in worship (“God’s frozen people”), and their system of theology and ethics is denounced as coldly rational and harsh. Calvinists and Puritans are often blamed for all that is held to be wrong in American life, but so far at least no one is burning our churches down.

But this Presbyterian is deeply troubled by the resurgence of anti-Jewish attitudes and activity in our country. Gentile Christians are deeply indebted to the Jews historically (“Of whom concerning the flesh Christ came,” Romans 9:5). So deep is the influence of Judaism on the theology, worship, and church government of historic Presbyterianism that one could describe us as a Messianic sect of Judaism.

Americans are indebted to the Jews who have been present in the US from the beginning, and have made a contribution to the nation vastly larger than their numbers would suggest. Sadly much of the prejudice against the Jews was imported by our forebears from whatever part of Europe they left behind. It was everywhere in the old world, and may have traveled here on the Mayflower. In more recent times, Muslims and their houses of worship have been targeted for attack in this country. This campaign of violence contradicts everything taught in the gospel of Christ, and every provision of our constitution and laws. The simple fact is, if Jews and Muslims are not safe in this country, neither is anyone else.

My response:

Acts of antisemitism are on the rise worldwide and in North America. I subscribe to an daily email listing attacks against the Jewish community. Not a day goes by without several reports of some kind of antisemitism. I choose not to live my life in fear, but like many in the Jewish community, I am hyper-vigilant of my surroundings.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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