The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What Advice Do People Ask You For?

As a religious leader, what is the most common problem people seek advice for?

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].

/The Rapidian

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

“Underneath every problem that people seek advice for, is the question: Am I okay and am I accepted? I love my job! I get to tell people the good news that yes, they are okay; and yes, God accepts them—just as they are. He accepts and loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there. I get to teach people that the greatest way that we can contribute to their transformation is by accepting and receiving his love—which is in itself a transforming fire. Jesus did not come only to rescue us from eternal condemnation; he also came to rescue us from who we are so that we can be like Him. God’s love changes us from the inside out. Slowly but surely, we are changed into his image. His transformation affects the way we relate to others, the way we relate to ourselves, and the way we relate to God. As we learn to receive his love our imperfect life gives way to His life in us and we begin to understand what Paul meant when he said: ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). From the moment we put our trust in Him, the Spirit of God begins to work a radical transformation in us which doesn’t stop until the end of time. ‘Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6).”

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

“I am most directly asked about how to navigate through relationships, whether with family, friends, or partners. Interestingly, though, one study I recently read suggests that only a little over ten percent of regular churchgoers seek advice from their religious leaders about ethical dilemmas or big decisions. What’s more, the staggering eighty-eight percent of occasional churchgoers rarely or never seek input from us.

“With trust and public regard for ministers at a historic low in America, religious leaders would do well to better understand the criteria for how to best serve a religiously disenchanted public. These days, deep relationality, humility, self-awareness, demonstrated vulnerability, and emotional security are what earn people’s trust, dare I say far more than expertise, authority, or ecclesiolatry. I always say that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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

“The most common conversations I have are with people who are new to the congregation. Most of them are seeking a true place of belonging, not a place to fit in but a place where they can be their authentic self. They want a place where they feel sincerely welcome and free to express themselves without judgement. They are looking for acceptance and a place that helps them to feel good about themselves. Often our conversations are about building trust and navigating some of the natural anxieties that surface when one finds a new faith community. It is really quite wonderful to witness people finding their faith home.”

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

“Hands down, most counseling that I do revolves around meditation. As many people know, contemplative practice is a cornerstone of the Hindu tradition. Not every member of the Hindu fold includes it in their life (far from it!), but those who do tend to take it seriously.  However, this spiritual routine is fraught with challenges that must be overcome for it to truly take root in our lives and provide the results that are assured by the scriptures.

“The main concerns have to do with mastering methods that calm the ‘monkey mind’ which often rebels against any attempt to contain it and move it toward divinity. Sometimes frustration with results can affect one’s self worth. Therefore, it is important to have guidance as one proceeds on this path.”

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

“Most people seek advice from me through the sacrament of reconciliation (confession). For me to respond to this question with specific examples would be a violation of the sacred seal of the confessional.

“What I can say is that individuals struggle with the two greatest commandments which are: 1) to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself.

“Human beings need boundaries within which to live freely. The commandments above chaff because they are designed by God to challenge human beings to use the gift of reasoning given them. In other words, not everything is meant to be aired outside of one’s self, let alone one’s family, and certainly not on social media.”


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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