Atheists in the Pulpit — The Sad Charade of the Clergy Project

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“It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave.” That is the judgment of Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous living atheist, as he welcomes unbelieving pastors to join the Clergy Project, a group designed to help unbelieving pastors make their way out of the ministry. Apparently, some are not moving out very fast.

Dawkins explains that the Clergy Project “exists to provide a safe haven, a forum where clergy who have lost their faith can meet each other, exchange views, swap problems, counsel each other — for, whatever they may have lost, clergy know how to counsel and comfort.” Dawkins, who once held one of the world’s most coveted academic posts, has now reduced himself to addressing small gatherings of atheists and celebrating a motley crew of pastors who have abandoned the faith — even if some have not abandoned their pulpits.

The Clergy Project’s own statement is even more blunt, describing itself as “a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.” Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are no doubt in the habit of thinking that the Christian ministry requires supernatural beliefs. That assumption is what Richard Dawkins and the Clergy Project want to subvert. More precisely, they want to use the existence of unbelieving pastors to embarrass the church and weaken theism.

This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine told the story of Jerry DeWitt, once a pastor in DeRidder, Louisiana and later the first “graduate” of the Clergy Project. He is now the executive director of a group known as Recovering from Religion, based in Kansas. DeWitt told the magazine of his struggle as an unbelieving pastor. “I remember thinking,” he said, “Who on this planet has any idea what I am going through?”

As the story unfolds, DeWitt tells of being the pastor of a Pentecostal church. What readers will also discover, however, is that even by the time he assumed the pastorate, DeWitt “espoused a more liberal Christianity.” Though he never earned a college degree, he educated himself by reading authors such as Carl Sagan, an atheist astronomer, and Joseph Campbell, a proponent of the mythological. Later, he read Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, key figures in the New Atheism. By the time he had read Dawkins and Hitchens, “even weak-tea Christianity was becoming hard to follow.”

When he found that he could no longer pray for his own parishioners or preach a coherent message, DeWitt resigned, preaching his last sermon in Cut and Shoot, Texas in April 2011. Now he travels the country organizing Recovering from Religion local chapters and working with the Clergy Project.

 

Written By: AlbertMohler.com
continue to source article at albertmohler.com

36 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure I want to give this guy the traffic considering his opening… “Dawkins, who once held one of the world’s most coveted academic posts, has now reduced himself to addressing small gatherings of atheists and celebrating a motley crew of pastors who have abandoned the faith” Small gatherings? Is he clueless?

  2. “Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are no doubt in the habit of thinking that the Christian ministry
    requires supernatural beliefs”

    Duh, duh,a “natural” anthropomorphic, all powerful, yet all merciful creator. Give me a break!!!!!

    This Southern Baptist moron could get the enema treatment upon demise, and then share HALF of a mini-matchbox with “Dr.” Jerry Fallwell. (Hitch was much too kind to Fallwell)

  3. Actually Dawkins has retired from the post he held with such success  and “reduced himself” to writing best-selling books. Suck it up, loser - next time you go to church you never know but that the worm of skeptical intelligence and cognitive maturity may be at work in the faith-head you are watching.  

  4. Just trying to grab at negative straws, here. This, to me, sounds like a believer who is desperately trying to convince himself, “It’s ok. This clergy project thing it’s no big deal. Play it cool, and show them how doesn’t bother you. It’s cool. Technically, people are lying in this scenerio. So say they’re lying charlatans, and in a hair splitting way, it’s true. It’s gunna be ok.. Really…”

  5. “Of course, she didn’t have to say such things at all. She could have resigned and spared herself and her church the hypocrisy.”
    This is about the only thing he says that I agree with. I have no support for an atheist preacher still preachin’. 

    Everything else he said was to himself. He tried to knock down Richard with a weak “All he is now is the world’s most famous atheist” bit. The project will cause even greater paranoia and that is good.

  6.  Yep… we had a small gathering at my university in EASTERN KENTUCKY of all places… the main auditorium seated 1900, and there were additional iTV points set up in three other places on campus–standing room only by the time they were full–and there were STILL people who couldn’t get in.

    In Kentucky… home of the Creation Museum.

    Yep, small gathering, all right…

  7. The more this is publicized the better. I only hope that, someday, the (appropriate parts of the) confidential posts on the internal Clergy Project web are made into a book for all of us to know.

  8. “Many liberal ministers hold to no supernatural beliefs, but they also
    tenaciously hold to their pulpits without admitting atheism.”

    Extraordinary. What sort of cognitive dissonance is going on here that he can honestly think that believing in a non-existent supernatural being isn’t holding to supernatural beliefs? One can only assume that his definition of “supernatural” only extends to things he personally doesn’t think exist such as perhaps the tooth fairy or santa claus.

  9. Mohler is a disingenuous toad. I’ve been revolted by enough of his past writings to find no surprise in the deliberate misinformation presented here.  

    The suggestion that Dawkins is reduced to speaking to small gatherings of the faithless is especially amusing.   

    The Clergy project in particular, and the atheism movement in general, are a real threat to Christianity here in the states. The attention McBain, Aus and DeWitt have garnered since announcing their atheism is of note and consequence.  They offer a new facet, face and emotional appeal to the movement that attracts those not inclined to enjoy the prose and rhetoric of men like Hitchens and Dawkins.

    Whistling through the graveyard.

  10.   Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are no doubt in the habit
    of thinking that the Christian ministry requires supernatural beliefs.

    I wonder how many hours of research it took him to work that out?

    That assumption is what Richard Dawkins and the Clergy Project want to
    subvert.

    Why do these dummies never know the difference between evidenced information and assumptions?

    .. and no!  That is not what is in dispute!  The Clergy Project recognises that the sheeples will continue with their supernatural beliefs. 

    It is an organisation to help those who have intellectually matured beyond childish supernatural beliefs start a new career – a stage of intellectual maturity the OP author apparently has little chance of achieving.

  11. Weird article, a thorough description of the Clergy Project with some bitter comments thrown in. I was waiting for the coup de grace, it just never came.

    I liked the confusion that the christian right has put itself in, it must be hard to image others pure intentions when your own were lost so long ago.

  12. Methinks Alfred Mohler doth protest to much.
    Usual tactics, when lacking an argument just sneer and smear.
    But this article is not directed at anyone whom might be convinced by argument. This is all about “keeping the faith” by “lying for jesus”.
    This shows that they are rattled and desperately (and probably successfully) hanging on to the deluded sheep.

  13. “…are in the habit of thinking that the Christian ministry requires supernatural beliefs.”  Well actually – yes!  To be a Christian pastor or minister, you generally are required to believe in things like the “power of prayer”, the “laying on of hands”,  that demons and angels exist and are invisibly influencing people and events; that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit from the body of a virgin, that he performed miracles and rose from the dead, that people can foretell the future (“prophecy”, the divination of dreams), and in omens, “signs” and portents.  Last I heard, all of these qualified as “supernatural beliefs”.

  14. Ministers struggling honestly with doubts and struggles are in a different category altogether. Doubt will lead to one of two inevitable consequences. Faithful doubt leads to a deeper embrace of the truth, with doubt serving to point us into a deeper knowledge, trust, and understanding of the truth. Pernicious doubt leads to unfaithfulness, unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, and despair. Christians — ministers or otherwise — who are struggling with doubt, need to seek help from the faithful, not the faithless.”

    Not sure I quite understand the difference between faithful doubt and pernicious doubt. Faithful doubt in this context seems to be stuff like questioning some of the smaller discrepancies found in the Bible, and why God allows bad things to happen to good people and so on, while not taking it so seriously as to entertain the notion that the whole thing might all just be a big fib.
    Christians wrestling with such misgivings  shouldn’t try to solicit advice from people outside their religion but should be directed to those within it whose belief is made of sturdier stuff and who will assuage these doubts.

    This may be being faithful to God but it’s a betrayal of any sort of intellectual integrity, and by advocating it Mr Mohler shows that he doesn’t have a lot of respect for his fellow Christians or much confidence in his own faith. If Christianity is true then rigorous examination of it will show it to be so, or will at least expose atheism as a falsehood.

    Those experiencing doubt, be they ministers or not, should be encouraged to put their faith under the microscope of science. They should be directed to the works of Darwin and Sagan and Hitchens and others. Jesus himself spent 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the Dawkins Devil. His faith was put to the test and he came through it a better man.
    What are people like Albert Mohler so afraid of?

  15. Isn’t it odd that so called charismatic Christians like Mohler misrepresent the facts of a situation to nauseous distortion.
    He should read Richard’s books to become aware of what empirical logic and truth actually are.
    If he had adopted another way of making a living perhaps he would have been an astrologist,or an homeopathist.
    Fired up religious preachers are people of highly questionable sanity.

  16. “That is the judgment of Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous living
    atheist, as he welcomes unbelieving pastors to join the Clergy Project, a group
    designed to help unbelieving pastors make their way out of the ministry”

    Interesting that Mohler forgets to mention that Dan Barker founded and runs this project (a
    well-known vocal ex-preacher) and prefers to try and and link this directly
    with Richard Dawkins who supports the project but has no direct connection with
    it. Dan Barker specifically set this up so that only clergy members can join in fact. It could be inferred that Mohler did this specifically to get the knee jerk reaction from his readers he would like. Yet again a religious person abandoning truth when inconvenient

  17. why is it whenever there’s a scheme set up with non-beleivers in mind someone has to jump on the “your evil atheist plan will fail!” bandwaggon?

    I don’t know if these views are shared by all believers but it is very sad the way christians judge people; dishonest, cowardly, doing something just for the salery.

    Welcome to humanity. atheists, clergy or otherwise, have feelings and do what they have to in order to make a living.

    maybe a better response, would be aimed at the christians who might read this and feel in some way disturbed? maybe an article entitled “how to spot if your vicar is a lying coward”? or “how to out an atheist priest”?

    face it, Mohler is dancing around the real issue here. Ther is no way to estimate how many atheists there are pretending to believe for the sake of not being ostracised. when there is a haven for the people you would choose to publicly judge, the fear of your judgement diminishes. The Clergy Project isn’t an atheist attack strategy, that’s why christians need not worry about it but the fact that you don’t get to burn atheists at the stake anymore is something to worry about.

    please continue with your name calling while you still can…

  18. His CV…. from Wikipedia

    “Mohler is a native of Lakeland in central Florida.
    As a child he attended Lake Yale, a Florida Baptist campground. During
    his Lakeland years he attended Southside Baptist Church.[1] Mohler attended college at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, Florida, as a Faculty Scholar. He then received a B. A. from Samford University, a private, coeducational Baptist-affiliated college in Birmingham, Alabama. His graduate degrees, a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. in “Systematic and Historical Theology,” were conferred by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also known as Southern Seminary.[citation needed] “

    At first I thought it said “Stamford”.  Then I wondered how you could jump from attending a Baptist camp to being a faculty scholar at FAU.  No mention of high school, nor of undergraduate work.

  19. Doubt will lead to one of two inevitable consequences. Faithful doubt leads to a deeper embrace of the truth, with doubt serving to point us into a deeper knowledge, trust, and understanding of the truth. Pernicious doubt leads to unfaithfulness, unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, and despair.

    Evidence, please.

  20. >… preaching his last sermon in Cut and Shoot, Texas in April 2011

    Cut and Shoot, Texas?  That’s a real town? 

    From Robert Worth’s article “From Bible Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader” in The New York Times Magazine:

    >They have their own apostles (Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and their own language, a glossary borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible and gay liberation (you always “come out” of the atheist closet).

    The Clergy Project does seam to follow the ‘peer support group’ model used by Alcoholics Anonymous.  I wonder how much TCP borrowed from 12-step groups, if anything, or perhaps Worth just made a casual observation that they had some similarities? 

    Of course, there are some significant differences as well!!!  AA is, afterall, faith healing. 

  21. With his creepy, bullying article, Mohler ironically demonstrates why people are so intimidated into staying within a religion and not risk being socially ostracised. He also reveals a total and telling lack of “Christian” compassion. He clearly cares not one jot for the welfare of other human beings.

  22. Well, that’s the whole point of such article, isn’t it. 

    Anyone in doubt will either grow a pair and flip the bird at these losers, or be shamed by them to get back to the pews. 

    I wonder why he made the link with AA and support groups. Freudian slip? Isn’t the first step admitting you have a problem? Do people need ‘support’ from religious indoctrination? I guess they do!

    “The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries. Is this how atheists and secularists groups intend to further their cause? They are getting publicity from the media to be sure, but do they think it will win them friends?”

    What an arse. The goal of the Clergy Project is precisely to help them to find a way out. Not help them abuse the system.

    “Christianity has little to fear from the Clergy Project. Its website reveals it to be a toothless tiger that will attract media attention, and that is about all. The greater danger to the church is a reduction in doctrine that leaves atheism hard to distinguish from belief. And the real forces to fear are those who would counsel such a reduction.”

    Yes, more fundamentalism and navel looking. That’s a sure sign of progress.

  23. My goodness! This Mohler really is a “toothless tiger”. It seems from Rod’s CV, that he is the fully qualified “sophisticated theologian”.  A Southern Baptist from day one! Halleyluyah! And what is the main thrust of this intellectual’s argument? ISTM that it’s: “Them thar atheists is wrong, we is right, and they is evil”! Not one single sentence in favour of the existence of  this all powerful deity, who watches your love life with particular interest, together with all your other “sins”. Not ONE BLOODY WORD of evidence of the supposed Jewish carpenter who created the universe in 6 days.  Well I’m afraid you just have to take that bit on trust!

    Yeah sure! Just as much trust as I would have in a snake not biting me if I trod on it!

  24.  

      lewis.breland
    I don’t think this silly person should really consider the audience to whom Richard speaks SMALL. 

    Fundies, theospouters and YECs, never could master concepts of size.  Not at quantum scale, atomic scale,  molecular scale, planetary scale, galactic scale, or at universal scale.

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