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Ethics and Religion Talk: Is Family Important? Why?

Faith asks, “Is family important, and if it is, what makes it important?”

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

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].

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

“I can’t imagine any of my colleagues arguing with the spiritual, social and evolutionary reasons why family is critical to our existence. I am sure that if we all compared our scriptures on this subject we’d come up with many common denominators. 

“From a social/evolutionary standpoint, families exist to encourage procreation and the rearing of healthy progeny that will continue the process. Sociologists tend to agree that cultures that place a great value on family duty are highly developed. In addition, children who have the sense of belonging to a tribe are more apt to thrive. Of course, a balance between the needs of the family and its individuals must be struck. 

“In the highest spiritual sense, the scriptures tell us that our karmas (former states of consciousness that impel our actions) often place us in families where we’ve had connections in previous lives. This gives us the opportunity to come to terms with any unresolved issues that may have kept us from growing spiritually. My wife had a contentious relationship with her father growing up. However, as an adult she once said to him, ‘I know you don’t believe in rebirth, but I do. And I’m not coming back just to have to straighten things out with you!’

“As a side note, their relationship did thrive after that conversation.”

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

“The family is important as the basic unit of human society, and therefore the foundation of both church and state, for two reasons. First, we humans need life companions and co-laborers, as our Creator noted at the beginning: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’ (Genesis 2:18). Second, the long process of human development from conception and birth, through childhood and adolescence to adulthood, requires havens of safety, care, nurture, and education for our offspring. So it is the will of God that there be marriages and families, homes and households, for the propagation and well-being of our kind in the world.

“Presbyterian and Reformed churches count the children of believers as heirs of God’s covenant and members of His church. They are baptized as infants and received into the fellowship of the church. Christian parents have a duty to bring up their children ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4). They must be taught what God has promised to them, and what God requires of them, as those who belong to Jesus Christ. Believing parents must show their children how to live in the world as followers of Christ, all the while laboring in prayer to God to work by His grace and Holy Spirit in their lives and the lives of their offspring. The stakes are high and the task is demanding; the prize to be won is nothing less than salvation and eternal life.”

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

“Yes, I think having a supportive family is important. I also expand the view of family to include, biological, adoptive, blended, family by choice, or however you have defined family for yourself. This is important because families can become toxic. Working with LGBTQ youth I have witnessed many biological families behave in toxic, non-supportive ways towards their own children. I have seen the youths create their own new family of supportive friends, peers and adults. What makes a family good is true unconditional love, that is what is most important.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“As a single person who lives far from their blood family, I will admit that I have a tough time with the focus on ‘traditional family values’ (and specific emphasis on the flourishing of the white, heteronormative ‘nuclear family’) in American Christianity. Much of modern, particularly conservative Christianity would describe the family as the essential component of a person's faith. But as the scholar Dale Martin describes in a Yale New Testament course, ancient Christianity was actually mostly ascetic. For centuries—up until the Reformation—the Church even maintained that celibacy was superior to sexuality. It was not until the popularization of the nuclear family archetype in the 1950s that the notion of ‘traditional family values’ entangled itself with Christianity. This history is not good or bad but simply worth noting.

“One of the reasons I love the Christ metaphor is the notion of adoptive kinship, namely that God grafts all people into what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. describes as the Beloved Community of believers. We can turn to one another as siblings, regardless of blood relation. It remains to be seen whether churches effectively embody this practice as well as they peach it. Still, the idea of this kind of community has always been particularly compelling to me.”


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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