In the Spirit: Group helps clergy members who are ‘closeted atheists’ find a new line of work

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Every Sunday, “Adam” says things to his parishioners he no longer believes.

The evangelical pastor lost his faith a few years ago but is still in the pulpit, unable to devise an exit strategy from the profession he’s devoted his life to for 25 years.


“I’m trying to find the best way out that causes the least amount of harm,” he told me by phone.

Adam is a pseudonym. I was put in touch with him through the Clergy Project, a national effort begun in 2011 to assist active clergy members who are closeted atheists. He spoke with the State Journal on condition that his name not be used because of the risk to his livelihood.

Adam recently was awarded the Clergy Project’s first “Employee Transition Assistance Grant.” The $2,500, paid directly to an employment services agency, is helping Adam write a professional resume, practice interviewing skills, determine his transferable skills and network with prospective employers.

“He’s the whole reason we exist,” said Dan Barker of Madison, a co-founder of the Clergy Project and himself an evangelist-turned-atheist. Barker is co-president of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Unlike the foundation, the Clergy Project is not a proselytizing organization — it’s not out to create atheists, Barker said.

“We’re a support group for those who’ve made the decision on their own,” he said. “We’re a landing place for those who’ve changed their views and need help in their transition.”

Written By: Doug Erickson
continue to source article at host.madison.com

18 COMMENTS

  1. There are a lot of bad jokes about “transferable skills” that I hope we avoid but I really wish the best for him. Pity the last one left after all the other pastors are gone. Sort of a “rapture” in reverse.

    • In reply to #2 by TGarrett:

      Pity the last one left after all the other pastors are gone.

      That last one would have to watch out! Remember the Prophesy of Diderot:

      “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

      :lol:

      Steve

  2. “Coming clean” means he feels as if he has lived a lie. My thoughts are that these clergy only need to say their goodbyes and tell the congregation after years of stuggling and questioning of one’s own faith that they are left with nonbelief and a new found truth that is not in alignment with the church. He feels that it is best to step down and join secular society making way for someone new to take leadership. Best wishes and all and hope and encouragement for those willing to question their views and ideas. and leave. It’s a job!

    • In reply to #3 by QuestioningKat:

      “Coming clean” means he feels as if he has lived a lie….
      leave. It’s a job!

      Former fundie-preacher here. I thought I would lightly address your thoughts. As a preacher who was an atheist in the pulpit, I can definitely tell you that indeed, ‘coming clean’ is the right terminology. You do feel dirty after lying to the parishioners, who are often nice people that have helped you and your family, and lying about something so important as belief. I believe they believe in nonsense, but I am still pretending I believe the same way. It certainly isn’t honest, nor easy to do.

      I am a die-hard atheist. I found it sickening to have to preach – to compromise truth, all because I couldn’t get out of the church. My entire life has been dealing with church matters and people – thats it. No business experience. No trade experience. This addresses your point about leaving. Pastors can’t just leave. What degree do you have? No matter which it is, it means a hell of a lot more in the workplace than an M.Div. Pastors cannot go into a decently paying job – our degrees are worth about as much as a simply having a secondary school diploma. I have been in contact with many preachers who have faced this difficulty.

      You seem to have the right idea about what to say to the parishioners. I only wish it were as easy to leave as simply walking out the door.

      Cheers,

      -J

      • Hi Jorge,

        I think there is room for another interpretation. I imagine that for most people coming to disbelief is a process, and not a sudden awaking. I wouldn’t call withholding your doubts during this process lying. That seems to assume a certainty of knowing that I don’t think many people have when they wrestle with difficult personal matters. And without that sense of certainty, and a clearer understanding of ourselves and perhaps most importantly our situation, I don’t think it’s unwise to keep things private, or to only share them with a select few e.g. the Clergy Project.

        But even when we’ve become certain, we still want to take care to do the right thing and not just for those who rely on us, but also ourselves.

        Having said that, I imagine the expression “coming clean” does capture the feeling quite well, even if it’s not totally accurate or appropriate.

        –sorry if I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs, I think this is an interesting topic with plenty to explore

        In reply to #9 by Jogre:

  3. Good luck, pal. I truly wish you nothing but the best.

    Having said this allow me to aim a bit of a jab at his “flock”. Every one of them will find a reason and a way to glam onto another pastor. No knock on “Adam”, I am proud of him and support him. But, what does it take to persuade you that you are a sheep and are being lead around by your short hairs????

  4. Hi Mods and members.

    Whilst the Clergy Project is very good, do we really need to see another ordinary piece of journalism on it?

    Are there too many threads being posted on RD.net now. Personally, I prefer to read a thread, think about it, read other comments and write something myself if I can contribute. But the speed with which all these threads hit the front page means older ones disappear without having been properly examined. This often leads to confirmatory sound-bite type comments with no time for a nuanced discussion. So, I’m for less threads.

  5. In response to #3, GPWC
    Hear! Hear! The new site layout (which has made no obvious improvement over its predecessor, IMHO) means there are only ever four current news and media items on display. Yes, you can extend the list by clicking your way down from the menu, but the fact that every item has to include a bloody picture, presumably to cater for the illiterate who can recognize only icons, makes searching the huge list a serious chore. The result, as you say, is that in periods of fast news item turnover, there’s little discussion and some seriously interesting items vanish within hours. Why a longer list of items (even with the pictures) can’t be displayed I do not understand.

    • In reply to #10 by FrankMill:

      In response to #3, GPWC
      Hear! Hear! The new site layout (which has made no obvious improvement over its predecessor, IMHO) means there are only ever four current news and media items on display. Yes, you can extend the list by clicking your way down from the menu, but the fact that every item has to include a bloody picture, presumably to cater for the illiterate who can recognize only icons, makes searching the huge list a serious chore. The result, as you say, is that in periods of fast news item turnover, there’s little discussion and some seriously interesting items vanish within hours. Why a longer list of items (even with the pictures) can’t be displayed I do not understand.

      I agree, listing 8 items on the front page would help immediately. It’s all the more annoying as the Store Items and RDF Originals hardly ever change!

  6. In reply to #11 by GPWC:

    In reply to #10 by FrankMill:

    In response to #3, GPWC
    Hear! Hear! The new site layout (which has made no obvious improvement over its predecessor, IMHO) means there are only ever four current news and media items on display. Yes, you can extend the list by clicking your way down from the menu, but the fact that every item has to include a bloody picture, presumably to cater for the illiterate who can recognize only icons, makes searching the huge list a serious chore. The result, as you say, is that in periods of fast news item turnover, there’s little discussion and some seriously interesting items vanish within hours. Why a longer list of items (even with the pictures) can’t be displayed I do not understand.

    I agree, listing 8 items on the front page would help immediately. It’s all the more annoying as the Store Items and RDF Originals hardly ever change!

    Hi FrankMill & GPWC,

    First – sorry Mods – this is the wrong place for these off-topic RDF Site gripes.

    But, I see 8 – or with 1 scroll click – 12 items on my page. I like the pictures – maybe I’m illiterate – since it’s easy to scroll and identify an RDF or Web post that I have an on-going interest in.

    On the Blog and Discussions pages there are 8-9 items on the page, and there is now the option of looking for Newest or Last Commented posts, so I can find things pretty quickly….

    As for improving the Site usability, I think there were other reasons for the RDF Website to change the structure away from the original Administrator’s creation – I may be wrong, but I’m trying to read between the lines over the last year….

    The Site Administration is small, and I think somewhat voluntary, so I personally am quite happy to be patient while waiting for improvements, some of which I’ve been agitating for…. 8-)

    I wonder if, like me, you have been making donations to RDFRS to enable all the good work that is done for our benefit. I find the cost to me quite small considering the benefits every time I log in, since I don’t expect to get this kind of engaging, interesting, high quality, relevant Reason and Science Global Community involvement for free…. Mac.

    • In reply to #14 by CdnMacAtheist:

      Hi FrankMill & GPWC,

      First – sorry Mods – this is the wrong place for these off-topic RDF Site gripes.

      But, I see 8 – or with 1 scroll click – 12 items on my page. I like the pictures – maybe I’m illiterate – since it’s easy to scroll and identify an RDF or Web post that I have an on-going interest in.

      On the Blog and Discussions pages there are 8-9 items on the page, and there is now the option of looking for Newest or Last Commented posts, so I can find things pretty quickly….

      As for improving the Site usability, I think there were other reasons for the RDF Website to change the structure away from the original Administrator’s creation – I may be wrong, but I’m trying to read between the lines over the last year….

      The Site Administration is small, and I think somewhat voluntary, so I personally am quite happy to be patient while waiting for improvements, some of which I’ve been agitating for…. 8-)

      I wonder if, like me, you have been making donations to RDFRS to enable all the good work that is done for our benefit. I find the cost to me quite small considering the benefits every time I log in, since I don’t expect to get this kind of engaging, interesting, high quality, relevant Reason and Science Global Community involvement for free…. Mac.

      Don’t get me wrong – I’d give RD.net 9 out of 10. I also like the photos, but they take up room on the front page, so less can be displayed and they disappear before they are really discussed. What’s the point of making a comment on an item only a couple of days old – none, virtually no one is looking at it anymore.

      Another problem is that it is exhausting trying to keep up. Unless you are retired, you can’t do it, and being at work makes you feel like a stanger to the site by the time you get home.

      It’s quality not quantity that counts.

      • In reply to #16 by GPWC:

        What’s the point of making a comment on an item only a couple of days old – none, virtually no one is looking at it anymore.

        Hi GPWC,

        I’ve had 1 Discussion published, and the 83 Comments stretched out over 43 days.

        This is now made easier with the ‘Sort By’ options, also by clicking your User Icon and looking to see what you’ve Commented on – I note that selecting an item now takes you right to your Comment, another recent fix by the Admin that I agitated for in Feedback…. Mac…. 8-)

        • In reply to #18 by CdnMacAtheist:

          In reply to #16 by GPWC:

          What’s the point of making a comment on an item only a couple of days old – none, virtually no one is looking at it anymore.

          Hi GPWC,

          I’ve had 1 Discussion published, and the 83 Comments stretched out over 43 days.

          This is now made easier with the ‘Sort By’ options, also by clicking your User Icon and looking to see what you’ve Commented on – I note that selecting an item now takes you right to your Comment, another recent fix by the Admin that I agitated for in Feedback…. Mac…. 8-)

          Hi Mac,

          Yes, you started a good discussion on population, but to be fair, 20 of the comments were yours and several others (including myself) contributed 2 or 3 each. So that’s, what? 25 different contributors … in the whole world! Also the Discussions tend to stay around longer and there are more than 4 listed. But then, that’s the point. My concern is that good contributors who have specialist knowledge – say biblical scholarship or expertise on evolution – will miss posts and therefore not contribute to the discussion, which is to everyone’s disadvantage.

          There may be some choices and innovations coming along on the webpage, but who, in reality, uses more than the odd one eg oldest/newest first? My simple solution is to leave the front page exactly as it is, but reduce RDF Originals and the RDF Shop to 2 items and increase web news to 8. Secondly be more selective with web news and slow down the turnover.

          I did contact the Mods about this in the early days of the new site – I’ll have another go using the feedback button.

  7. I didn’t start the off topic stuff in this post; not sure exactly where one does go. And yes, I have supported the RDF. Of the 12 items you see on the page, only 4 are “media news”. That’s the grip I and others were making.

    • In reply to #15 by FrankMill:

      I didn’t start the off topic stuff in this post; not sure exactly where one does go.

      Hi FrankMill,

      If you click the FEEDBACK button at the bottom left, you can voice your concerns or requests there, as I have before.

      You’ll notice that there is an ongoing topic specifically about this, and the Admin is working on a User Option to turn off the pictures if they are not wanted…. Mac…. 8-)

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