I have served in church ministry as a pastor for many years. During those years, I sought to proclaim the message of the Bible with integrity and serve the needs of my congregation with love and compassion. Even when my faith began to falter, I continued to minister and preach the doctrines of the congregation I served. I felt that I needed to proclaim the theology with integrity which meant that I stayed true to the teachings of the Bible in my sermons. Yet when news of my departure from the faith reached my local congregation they immediately locked me out of the church. I think that out of all the negative comments and hate mail that I received, this was the most hurtful action of all. What did they think would happen now that I had publicly declared that I no longer believed? I assume, based upon the locked doors, that they felt all atheists must be thieves. The idea that I would sneak up in the night, back up to the doors of the church and make off with all the valuables inside is absolutely reprehensible. If I wanted to ‘rob them blind,' I had more opportunity while I served within the church as their pastor. I could easily have taken a little here, a little there every day as I worked among the people.
Remember, these are the same people with whom I spent hours in the hospital, nursing homes, counseling in my office during times of great distress...now they lock me out as if I’m a common criminal. Maybe they felt their children were no longer safe with this godless heathen. I understand now how many who no longer believe can be so angry regarding religion. Until I came out, I understood the anger to a certain degree yet now I feel the same anger toward the actions of those who proclaim to live a life of ‘love and grace.' The words of 1 Corinthians 13 ring in my ears, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the GREATEST of these is love.” Standing in front of the locked doors of the church, I realize they are simply words devoid of meaning. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the people, I hate the actions taken based upon prejudice and intolerance.
In our society the term atheist is met with ridicule and disgust. Many choose to remain silent for fear of retribution from those within the religious community. It is sad that those who stand before our flag and pledge allegiance to our great country have forgotten the basic tenets upon which our nation was established. The founding fathers shaped the constitution offering freedom to all. The first amendment guarantees that we each may practice our belief, or lack there of, without the fear of prejudice or persecution. How did we move so far away from the intentions of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and numerous others who’ve given their lives to protect the rights and freedoms of Americans?
Locked out by those who had called me friend. Locked out by those whom I had gently offered the message of Christ’s love displayed in forgiveness and mercy. Locked out, demonized, hated and slandered by the very same people who call themselves believers in the ‘way, the truth and the life.' In all my preparation for the consequences of coming out, I never expected the chains of hatred hanging on the doors of compassion.