As is commonly the case with me, I don’t search out subjects to write about they find me. I had noticed this week a few new followers with the words ‘The Clergy Project’ in the bio’s.
I will acknowledge this is a new one on me as I had never heard of this before, now I was curious and decided to do a little digging. What I found both surprised and fascinated me and at the same time I found it a touch unsavoury.
What Is The Clergy Project?
The clergy project is an American non-profit organization that helps current and former members of the clergy who no longer believe in the supernatural. There are some rabbis, imams and catholic priests, but membership is predominantly Protestant.
The Beginnings Of The Clergy Project
We can view the beginnings of The Clergy Project at the 2006 International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) Convention in Reykjavik, Iceland. Richard Dawkins met up with Dan Barker, a former preacher. Dawkins was fascinated by Barker’s history and how life outside of the faith could be. Barker explained a theological degree was not much use in the wider, corporate world. When your whole world revolves around religion, there is a need for a support network.
In 2010, Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola published a pilot study entitled “Preachers who are not believers”. With an original 30 members ‘The Clergy Project’ was launched as an online community on 20th March 2011, by Dawkin’s, Barker, Dennett, LaScola and anonymous members “Adam” and “Chris.”
To date there are roughly 700 members.
Leaving Their Faith
Clergy members who leave their faith aren’t just facing losing their livelihoods, they lose a solid community and sometimes even their families. They are targeted with hostility, malice and bigotry. When Teresa McBain came out as an atheist, she returned to find the locks had been changed and it took her two months to get back her belongings. She was targeted with daily threats via email, post and voice mail, hateful pronouncements of her impending doom and one man stated ” I cannot wait to come to heaven and look down on you burning in hell for all eternity.”
SOME OF THE FOUNDING MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY PROJECT
Former Christian preacher and musician for 19 years left Christianity in 1984. He is currently a founding member of The Clergy Project and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Formerly pastor of the Lake Jackson United Methodist Church in Florida. MacBain quit her ministry in 2012. Although she has been ostracised from many her husband and children have been very supportive.
Is considered the first “graduate” of The Clergy Project as he was the first member to give up his anonymity. Former pastor of two evangelical churches, who publicly converted to atheism in 2011 after 25 years of christian ministry.
Thoughts From Members of TCP
Ollie Killingbeck spent most of his career as a clergyman and for most of that time he was an atheist :
I had doubts before I entered the church, the study of theology during ordination was supposed to reinforce my faith, it didn’t and I entered the ministry anyway.
Other priests go further, “Iain” still works as a minister in Ireland and his congregation have no idea of his atheism. In an interview with the Irish edition of The Times he said:
the idea of god is a total and absolute nonsense and instilling religion into children was abuse.
Lawrence Hunter, former associate minister says:
a bad marriage allowed me to see how life really was instead of the fairytale versions espoused on a Sunday… questions about good and evil, the bible, marriage, suffering, tithes, church corruption and hell filled my mind.
The failure of religion to meet basic human needs and the failure of the church leaders to live p to the moral standards they demanded of their flock made me question more…
I could see that prayers weren’t healing people, despite preaching on wealth the only people getting rich were the pastors
Catherine Dunphy, a former Catholic:
I was always curious about the bible and decided to study it,despite the church and priests saying “Don’t bother,”. In it I found ridiculous stories that only furthered my confusion.
She was also shaken by how her local Bishop Colin Campbell, issued a statement on the Catholic church sex abuse, he said ” the victims were responsible because they kept going back to the predatory priest”
For Dunphy, the final nail in the coffin of her faith was realising that highly trained religious authorities were clueless . She remembered how frustrated she was with her Professors when they possessed no more answers than she did. “I came to realise that they were as complicit in making this stuff up as they went along.”
The Enemy Within
Nobody knows just how many members of the clergy are atheists, but the numbers are more likely to be higher than you can imagine. DeWitt agrees “It is more common than anyone thinks.” A Quarter of the membership of The Clergy Project is still practicing clergymen. MacBain says “There could be hundreds, if not thousands who are trapped in the pulpit.”
Right now The Clergy Project helps with re-employment preparation, job training, short-term loans and temporary housing for atheist clergy who want to leave. If clergy members start publicly abandoning religion, the whole house of cards will collapse.
The bulk of believers are simply unwilling to do the work of reading and researching their belief and leave it to their clergy to tell them what to believe. Religion is the balm that soothes difficult questions. If believers start to acknowledge that the religious authorities, they trust actually do not believe in a god, where does that take them?
Let us rise up to take away the ritual and bullshit, take a leap and find out the answers for yourself.
So just remember the next time you go to church… nothing may be as it seems…
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity by John W Loftus
Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist by Dan Barker
Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker
Find out more about SON and the shows that make up the network at Secular Outreach Network