"I'm currently an active pastor and I'm also an atheist," she says. "I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday's right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that's totally false."
MacBain glances nervously around the room. It's a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md.
Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties week after week — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn't believe in the God she's praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.
"On my way to church again. Another Sunday. Man, this is getting worse," she tells her phone in one recording. "How did I get myself in this mess? Sometimes, I think to myself, if I could just go back a few years and not ask the questions and just be one of those sheep and blindly follow and not know the truth, it would be so much easier. I'd just keep my job. But I can't do that. I know it's a lie. I know it's false."
MacBain made that recording in her car on the way to Lake Jackson United Methodist Church several weeks before the American Atheists' conference.
MacBain, 44, was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. Her dad was a pastor and she felt the call of God when she was 6. She had questions, of course, about conflicts in the Bible, for example, or the role of women. She says she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.
For years, MacBain set her concerns aside. But when she became a United Methodist pastor nine years ago, she started asking sharper questions. She thought they'd make her faith stronger.
"In reality," she says, "as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn't believe it."
The questions haunted her: Is Jesus the only way to God? Would a loving God torment people for eternity? Is there any evidence of God at all? And one day, she crossed a line.
"I just kind of realized — I mean just a eureka moment, not an epiphany, a eureka moment — I'm an atheist," she says. "I don't believe. And in the moment that I uttered that word, I stumbled and choked on that word — atheist."
But it felt right.