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Ethics and Religion Talk: What Do People Misbelieve about your Religion?

Please offer 3-5 examples of what you surmise many people outside of your faith might believe about you that are either entirely wrong or often taken out of context.

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:

The 3 misbeliefs about Unitarian Universalism are – 1. We can believe whatever we want. There is some truth in this statement, but it misses a major point of who we are. We welcome all believers and non-believers so in this regard the statement is true. We will not be told what to believe but we cannot believe something that is unethical or causes harm. We do hold one another accountable for our behavior towards others.

2. We are not a church but a social club. Again, there is truth in this because most of us come to church for the community and social relationships with one another. But we do share common values and we hope to help create a better world that treats all people equitably.

3. We are Christians. It is true the main roots of our religion comes through the Protestant faiths but most of our members of our denomination would not say they are Christian. A large number of us are Humanists or even Agnostics. In fact, many of our members grew up in Christian faiths and have walked away from those beliefs. They found their religious home and UUs because we are not Christian.

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

That I am particularly “holy”, pietistic, never swear, and are less sinful than they are.

That my prayers are more efficacious than theirs (I’ve literally heard this)

That I steal my sermons.  (did your actually write that?) 

That it’s unusual or even wrong to be a female ordained pastor.  

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

Catholics believe baptism removes the stain of original sin, although the effects remain. Catholics are born again into eternal life at baptism. The fact the individual’s proxies, i.e., godparents, speak for the individual at infant baptism is often misinterpreted. Because some Protestant and Evangelical religious traditions baptize at older ages, I believe they often assume individuals baptized at infants are incapable of living a life in Jesus Christ.

Catholics do have statuary in their churches. The history behind this comes from the early church. Individuals of faith lost their lives for following Jesus. The life they lived was highly revered. The testimony of their lives witnessed the power of God to those who remain. These faith stories are later portrayed in artwork and still later in statues. People of faith do not worship the statue, but they recall the life of holiness the individual witnessed in hopes that all might emulate that life.

The scriptural foundation for praying to Mary is in Luke 1:31, 38, and 42. When the angel reveals to Mary that “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” Mary responds, “let it be to me according to your will.” Later, Elizabeth greets Mary by stating, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” 

Rev. Laurie Crelly, Senior Pastor at East Congregational Church UCC, responds:

I find this difficult to answer since I don’t often inquire what others think or believe about the United Church of Christ. I know many people will comment that they have never heard of us before, because we are a rather small denomination with around 800,000 members. 

Things I most often hear is that we are a gay church. I think this comes from critics wanting to discredit our openness to loving and affirming LGBTQIA people. We welcome LGBTQIA people to participate in the full life of the church, including ordained ministry and getting married. In reality only about thirty-five percent of our congregations have officially become “Open and Affirming”. Many more would say they function as an Open and Affirming congregation and have many active LGBTQIA members. 

Our name can be confusing. People think we are the Church of Christ or Church of God in Christ denominations. These two denominations would be considered much more conservative or fundamentalist in their worship, culture, and theology. Which is quite different from the United Church of Christ.  

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

If you were to ask most Americans if Hinduism was polytheistic, I assume well over 90% would answer in the affirmative. The problem is that it’s way too simplistic to agree to this and close the conversation. Yes, there are multiple deities in the pantheon. However, our scriptures are emphatic that the “gods and goddesses” are representative of the various aspects of the one divine reality known as Brahman, or God. So, one could say there was a level of polytheism at work here, but to claim that ultimately it is the prevailing theology is highly inaccurate.

Then there is caste. Yes, Hinduism does teach that societies tend to be hierarchical. And we would all agree that it takes a variety of talents and intelligences for a community to function efficiently. But we know that historically, often the people on top of the “food chain” can look upon others with disdain, holding an air of superiority. And this has clearly happened in Indian/Hindu culture. And to be clear, this is morally wrong. But many believe that caste bigotry is inherent to Hinduism; as if one couldn’t be Hindu without this mindset. Many, many Hindus condemn this practice and even refuse to identify with any caste label whatsoever.

Let’s not forget the “fact” that India is on the brink of a genocide of its Muslim population. There is plenty in the news these days that would make one believe that Indian Hindus are akin to German Nazis and Muslims are now Jews. Utter nonsense. A recent Pew Research poll indicates that almost equal numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Christians (in the 90% range) say that they are able to practice their religion freely in India. News reports from many western sources would have us think otherwise. Yes, there are Hindus with anti-Muslim sentiments, but they are not great in number. And there are plenty of Muslims who return the “favor.”


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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