For clergy, lost faith can lead to lost family, jobs


BETHESDA, MD (RNS) As coming out parties go, this was a big one.As the American Atheists convention here wound down in March, a woman with short dark hair and a dark suit took the stage.

Standing under the projection of a large capital “A,” she told the crowd of several hundred that she was a pastor who, for the last several months, had been questioning her beliefs online under the pseudonym “Lynn.”

Then she took a deep breath and said, “My name is Teresa. And I am an atheist.” As the room exploded with cheers, Teresa MacBain wiped away tears.

MacBain, 44, is the latest “graduate” of The Clergy Project, an online support network for pastors who, like her, have lost their faith and found atheism.

The goal of the project is not to pull pastors from the pulpit, but to provide those who have already lost their faith with a safe place to anonymously discuss what comes next. The hope is they will, like MacBain, eventually feel strong enough to put their families, friends and careers on the line and announce their atheism.

“When you leave the ministry, you can lose all of that, “ said Dan Barker, a former minister, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a founder of The Clergy Project. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I now?’ . . . . The Clergy Project is a place where their self-respect is restored.”

Barker traces the origin of the project to conversations with struggling pastors and a meeting with Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist. All felt the need for a place where active clergy could make the transition from Sunday mornings in the pulpit to Sunday mornings in bed.

Written By: Kimberly Winston
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