The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Leaving a Group or Working for Change?

Where do you draw the line between helping to improve or change a group you are a part of, and leaving the group?

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 http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org 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].

/The Rapidian

Laura W. asks:

“Where do you draw the line between helping to improve or change a group you are a part of, and leaving the group? For me personally, I would leave an extreme group but wonder about less extreme groups where people hold harmful beliefs I disagree with. People will never have a chance to grow and learn about new things if we segregate ourselves into groups where everyone is in agreement.”

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

“If you mean the church you belong to, the answer is, if ‘harmful beliefs’ are taught or accepted in that church, you have a duty to leave it and seek another church to join. Harmful beliefs always involve false teaching, that is, any doctrine that adds to, takes away from, belies or distorts the truth of God’s Word. False teaching includes false ways of interpreting Scripture or applying it to the lives of God’s people.

“Presbyterianism holds that ‘truth is in order to goodness.’ It is a mark of true Christian doctrine that it only does good to those who believe it, and makes them better people. False doctrine is poisonous, doing great harm to those who teach it and those who believe it. So, as Solomon says, ‘Buy the truth, and sell it not’ (Proverbs 23:23).

“But there should be room in any church for different kinds of people, different views on issues of the day, and different approaches to living the Christian life (Romans 14:1-23). Presbyterianism affirms ‘Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience,’ the enjoyment of ‘the liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers’ (Westminster Confession, Ch. XX). Our doctrinal standards set forth the common faith that unites us, but leave ample room for each church member to do his or her own thinking and work out how best to live that faith day by day.”

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

“This is an important question with the present status of dialogue in our culture. I employ the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice when addressing controversial issues using three questions. These questions are: is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary? When conversations are no longer constructive then I extract myself from them.

“Yes, it is unhealthy to segregate one’s self from those with whom we may disagree. But, do we separate from those with whom we are in dispute because the other persons are not willing to listen, learn, and grow? Even if I might be willing to discuss the pros and cons of the issues, there is no point in trying to continue a one-sided argument. Remember, a person does not need to remain in such conversations at personal expense. In other words, others refusing to enter constructive dialogue may not be worth expending the necessary time and energy because one is not willing to listen to any point of view opposed to what is held dearly regardless of whether it is objectively true or not.”

Dr Sahibzada, the Director of Islamic Center and Imam of the Mosque of Grand Rapids, responds:

“Like minded people form groups under common approach and understanding of set principles. Groups exist and promote their objectives in accordance with mission statements. These groups will be functional and motivational if every member is satisfied to enjoy its membership and required aims are met.

“Whenever deviance occurs, expectations of a member are shattered. Objectives are not furthered in set manner. Results are not fruitful. Members focus most of time on irrelevant subjects ending in waste of time. They do not give weight to well-established expressed opinions. Honor and feelings are hurt. If it is extremely hard situation and unbearable circumstances are happening to carry on, then it is the time to make decision. However, if someone still willing to give chance to avail positivity putting the efforts in for the best. It is recommended to stay on until time is appropriate to draw the line for leaving the group. God has given us lifetime opportunity to reform ourselves and come back to Him finally.”

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

“What is important in this question is your ability to be heard and respected. It is very brave and vulnerable to speak to a group particularly about change, beliefs, and disagreements. If there is an atmosphere of healthy and respectful dialogue I would do my best to say what is on my heart and mind and commit to staying through the change if it does occur. But if the group is so entrenched in their extreme beliefs that they will be unable to hear what is being said I would advise stepping away. I would however suggest that you let them know why you are leaving, so often people tend to drift away from groups without saying why. Saying why or speaking your truth is always important. This question speaks to your integrity and your willingness to have a difficult conversation with others; we need more of these conversations to happen.”

 

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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