Is Coming Out as an Atheist Always a Good Idea? A Conversation with Three Former Pastors


If you’re a pastor who doesn’t believe in God, what do you do?

If you look to prominent former pastors Teresa MacBainJerry DeWitt, and Catherine Dunphy, the answer may seem obvious: Stop hiding your secret. Tell people you don’t believe in God. You’ll be okay!

But is it really always the best option?

I asked those well-known former pastors a series of questions to find out if there were legitimate reasons not to come out of the closet if you were an atheist still in the pulpit. They didn’t brush off the questions and say that coming out was always a good idea. Instead, they gave me honest answers as to why, at the very least, it deserves a second thought, while still encouraging those pastors to work through the difficulties.

As pastors, what were the biggest problems with coming out as an atheist?

Teresa MacBain: I think there are two big issues that affected me. 1) The loss of relationships. The majority of my long term relationships abandoned me immediately. I really have a hard time still dealing with the grief involved. It’s not so easy to turn off the love you have for a person, especially ones you’ve had a relationship with for many years. Add to that the fact that a number of these people responded with hate mail, compounding the hurt. 2) The feeling of “lostness” after leaving a lifetime of church and ministry. I spent 44 years embedded in a religious life. When I left all that, I realized that I had no idea how to exist apart from church. It was the world in which I existed. I’m still trying to get a handle on the new normal. Basically, my entire world has been turned upside down. Everything about life is entirely different. That’s not so easy to get over.

Jerry DeWitt: I describe my life losses as “Losing the Four Fs.” The first F was Finances. Even though I had stopped pastoring, was only evangelizing part time, and was working a fulltime (secular) job, my coming out as a non-believer cost me my livelihood. Religious county administrators pressured my boss into firing me. My family lost almost all of our income which eventually put our home into foreclosure, which I only avoided by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Written By: Hemant Mehta
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  1. is being black always a good idea? Is baldness a good idea? Is your height something you should admit?

  2. I have always thought that small lies can roll into big lies and once the lie gets to a certain size; the liar becomes committed to the proliferation of said lie. Poker players call it being “pot committed”. I began to read this article with a bit of prejudgment.

    The gentleman named Jerry DeWitt assuaged my cynicism with what I think is some unexpected candor. it boils down to money. Once the lie has started to earn you your living, it becomes increasingly hard to divorce yourself from the lie. I admire his honesty and wish him (and the others) luck in whatever theyt decide to pursue.

    At least their new pursuits will be something other than a “bluff”.

  3. No, like most heroic acts of altruism it’s a terrible idea, but that’s why it’s worth doing.

  4. People must stop feeling guilty for learning and knowing the truth and if you want to lie to yourself and others to maintain a relationship I would be questioning the importance of that persons view as opposed to your own true knowledge, Its not a good idea to keep up pretence, in fact its harmful and allows religious power and lies to be maintained and justified, although they will use guilt to discredit your athiest views, but thats another reason why you are now not religious – because you see their abuse of power and control of their flocks through guilt, lies, bullying and corruption. Not believing in god or religion is such a freedom from mind control and not worshipping a deity is natural for humans, we’ve been around for at least 100,000 years and 92,000 of them have been without religion

  5. In reply to #4 by hellosnackbar:

    I believe that stating that I was an atheist cost me a job?
    Stand proud and get a better job, who wants to work for religious biggots anyway ?

  6. In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

    is being black always a good idea? Is baldness a good idea? Is your height something you should admit?

    Atheism is an opinion, or part of an opinion, about the world, not a physical, genetic condition.

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