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Ethics and Religion Talk: Navigating New Realities of Marriage and Family

This current generation has somewhat upended traditions on marriage and family. How is your faith navigating these currents?

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 Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

I believe that the only way we will withstand the ever-changing views on marriage and family that we are navigating at this time, is to stand firm on our Biblical convictions on the bases of a God who does not change and whose truth does not waver in order to cave in to the whims of this present society.

The Bible clearly states that God is the same one yesterday, today, and forever and those who embrace His truth and proclaim His ways will be able to stand firm. Those who don't, will eventually fall and fade into the abyss of uselessness. Therefore, if we want to make an impact through our lives, we must stand on the side of truth and proclaim the Biblical truth about marriage and family that God proclaims in His Word. May we have the courage to do so is my prayer!   

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

The Presbyterian and Reformed churches of our land remain firmly committed to marriage and family as institutions ordained by God for the good of humankind in general, and Christians in particular. Our views and practices in regard to both institutions could be taken for granted in the past, but have had to be revisited, examined and reaffirmed in more recent days. The issues of divorce, remarriage after divorce, cohabitation of unmarried persons, sex before or outside of marriage, and same-sex marriage have engendered many debates, always lively and sometimes endless, but no great alteration in church teaching or practice has resulted. 

It is remarkable that such topics can be addressed in preaching the Word nowadays, without giving great offense. Only a generation ago, a code of silence prevailed. I was launched into adult life as a Christian without any instruction or guidance from my church on the topic of sex. I attended a world-class seminary, but such topics were never addressed in the course of my training for the ministry. The shock waves generated by the Kinsey Reports (1948, 1953) on human sexual behavior were still reverberating in those days, but the only serious Christian response to Kinsey was to question his methods and discount his results. 

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

Unitarian Universalism’s primary concern is [that] the adults involved are in a consenting healthy relationship. Beyond that, our religion does not judge or dictate what constitutes the definition of a marriage or family. 

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

For the most part, Hindus who are ethnically Indian have struck a wonderful balance between maintaining the marriage and family traditions of the faith, while being open to alternative approaches as well, such as accepting gay marriage. While “arranged” marriages are on the wane, family, friends and community are often still a part of the mix in finding a spouse. While divorce is not unheard of, Hindu Americans have a lower divorce rate than the national average. 

For those non-Indians who embraced Hindu Dharma as adults here in the US, the picture is a bit different. Raised in American culture, adherents often have multiple romantic/sexual partners before getting married. Cohabitation is not out of the question either. Fortunately, my experience is that no one is shunned from fold for not following tradition perfectly.

Linda Knieriemen, a retired pastor of the Presbyterian Church (USA), responds:

Traditions relate[d] to marriage and gender roles existed for a reason, for a specific time and purpose largely because of the rules about property (wife, children) in [the] ancient world. For a healthy society, yes, boundaries of some sort, if not marriage, are essential, and a faith community should promote alternatives which offer similar contexts of wholeness, growth, and stability. 

Experimenting with new traditions cognizant of present cultural realities as well as spiritual principles can help with these times of uncertainty. For example:

Faithfulness is a moral and spiritual principle contributing to stability of relationships whether or not vows have been said. Exclusivity reduces communicable sexual disease in a population, promotes stability in the relationship, family and in society, and contributes to optimal parenting of children.

If a religious group chooses to accept relationships outside of marriage, the expectation of mutuality and respect offers some protection for both partners from power abuses related to gender, age, and status.

My response:

Judaism continues to believe in marriage, although the non-Orthodox movements have expanded the definition of marriage to include a wider definition of partnership, based on the notion that human beings were not created to be alone. Jewish communities typically take a pragmatic, realistic, and non-judgmental position on non-traditional families. While it is best to raise children in a two parent home in which the partners are married and exclusive, every child and every family is precious, no matter what the configuration of that particular family. Divorce, remarriage, and blended families, are a reality recognized from Biblical times onward. Rather than alienating cohabitating couples and singles raising children, we’d rather embrace them and show them a supportive Jewish community.


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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