Q: Upon retirement, my husband and I moved to the sunny South. We began attending services at his family’s church. They’re quite unlike what we’re familiar with, in that the church is conservative and fundamentalist. We agreed to accept this in the interest of family harmony. However, we weren’t prepared for the sermon delivered Dec. 23, 2012, just after the school shootings at Connecticut.

First, we heard a brief eulogy for the 26 victims, followed by a 20-minute defense of gun owners and the NRA. While in shock, we looked around and saw that everyone else was nodding in agreement. We’re having a hard time sorting this out. Your thoughts?

P., via

A: Thank you for your question which is not really about gun control but about finding a new spiritual home. My first reaction to people thrown into new religious surroundings is perhaps a bit unconventional: I’m happy that you’re uncomfortable!

One of the surest ways for our beliefs to become ossified and stale is for them never to be challenged. It’s a good thing for you to be confronted with radically different opinions on the ethics of public policy. People such as yourselves who believe in stronger gun control laws have good reasons, but so do those who believe that an armed guard at Sandy Hook Elementary School might have done more to save lives than new gun laws.

We need to hear each other, and your experience offers an opportunity to hear and to be heard. I’d suggest you make an appointment to speak with the pastor. He won’t agree with you, but if he’s caring and wise he’ll listen to you and sensitively respond to your opinions. If instead, he’s gruff, dismissive, or even insulting toward you, you need to abandon family unity for the higher good of finding a church where you can pray in serenity and respect.

I would also strike up conversations with others in the church to see if there really is unanimity of opinion on gun control among parishioners. You may discover the range of opinions is more diverse.

Q: In 2000, my wife and I fulfilled the commandment of planting trees in Israel, by hand, alongside you. If a Jewish friend/relative/acquaintance dies, we plant a group of five trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund. The recipient family of the departed gets a memorial certificate with our sentiments: “May this serve as a living memorial...” Now the quandary: A friend dies and the family requests: “In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to XYZ church or a charity that proselytizes heathens.”

I don’t view living trees the same as cut flowers, nor do I wish to support charities with which I disagree. So what do I do? Contribute to a cause I don’t believe in or hope the family of the deceased will appreciate the living memorial?

– S., via

A: I absolutely agree with you that you need not give to a charity that violates your values or beliefs. When the family suggests contributions to a charity, they’re merely offering a suggestion.

The important thing is to reach out and tell the mourners that they’re not alone in their grief, and that even death can be the occasion to support the causes of life, healing and hope.

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