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Ethics and Religion Talk: When Your Dreams Conflict with your Principles.

Are my dreams and goals to be pursued even if it means sacrificing some of my principles?

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

Note: Several responses noted that it might depend on what the dreams and goals are, that it would have been helpful to have an example. Despite the vagueness of the question, I think the responses are excellent.]

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

“It is true that the world we live in often encourages us to compromise. But it’s important to look at the bigger picture here. Are your dreams and goals noble ones? Are your principles well thought out, or are they simply dogmatic traditions that have been handed to you? Let me try to envision a scenario from the Hindu point of view. Let’s say you are a passionate vegetarian, but have a desire to enter a profession where you’ll need to provide meat based meals to others. I can certainly see the challenge there, and would probably admire a person who ultimately refused such a job. Yet I could also see the virtue in taking that position with the hope that over time he or she might be able to reduce meat consumption through education and example. In addition, it’s possible that this job might be a temporary stepping-stone to a position that would be more in line with the person’s higher aspirations.”

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

“Because ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9), the dreams we humans cherish and the goals we pursue need to be discerned and tested by the light of God’s Word. The Christian’s prayer should be, ‘Not as I will, O Father, but as Thou wilt’ (Matthew 26:39). It is never wise or right to sacrifice principles in order to achieve some personal goal or ambition; the end does not justify the means. To cut corners in life is to sin against conscience and the law of God. An aggrieved conscience is a heavy burden to bear.

“Integrity is one of the core life values upheld in Scripture. Though we all fall short, Christians should strive for consistency between the faith we confess and the lives we live.  Always keep in mind that ‘The LORD shall judge the people,’ and pray, ‘Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me’ (Psalm 7:8)​. And likewise: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23, 24).”

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

“Never! I would rather give up any dream or goal any time if it meant that I had to sacrifice my principles. The fact is that if you sacrifice your principles you give up a part of who you are and become a phantom—a phantom of money, fame, or whatever else it may be. No dream or goal is worth leaving your principles behind. A clear conscience cannot be bought with fame, money, or success. So, although the road may be harder and slower, we can pursue our dreams and goals and still remain true to ourselves by honoring our principles. ‘The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity’ (Proverbs 11:3).”

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

“On the contrary: Our most vibrant dreams and goals are the ones that are in accordance with our values! In the discernment process, we need to take time to name our core values. When we can overcome self-absorption and act on objective principle, we are led to reality. Furthermore, integrity means the alignment of our actions and our principles. Any dream or goal worth chasing is birthed from corresponding our values with the activities that bring us the most joy and meaning and reduce suffering in the world.

“Sacrifice should be made only of excess. Sometimes pursuit of our dreams and goals might lead us to discomfort, which we should welcome as steps on the journey to who we’re becoming inasmuch as the discomfort is beneficial to our long-term growth.”

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

“I would counsel that our principles should be at the starting point of formulating our dreams and goals and not as an afterthought. I am not sure how one could have a dream that is in conflict with one’s principles. I would suggest taking an honest assessment of why these two things would be in conflict with one another.”


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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