No longer believing in the inspiration of the scriptures, I became a fully-fledged agnostic. Within another few months, I was comfortable saying that I didn’t believe in a god. I was no longer afraid of what people thought of me, of the negative stigma surrounding the word ‘atheist’. I felt free to be a fully realised human being. Thousands of years of canonized fear, loathing, shame, and distrust vanished. I owned being an atheist. Tom Rastrelli, former Roman Catholic priest and member of The Clergy Project, quoted in joearmstrong.ie
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and are having a blessed Chanukah. My Thanksgiving was a good one where I enjoyed time with family and friends.
In the past, I’ve written a couple posts about the growing Atheism in the African-American community. This is a continuing movement which has no sign of slowing up or disappearing; and as an African-American who is Christian this is most interesting. However, there is another growing Atheist subculture that is being picked up in the media; one that we never thought of until quite recent: the clergy.
I know I just made you spit out your Thanksgiving leftovers, however please hear me out. It’s true: we’re seeing clergy-Protestant and Catholic-walking out the door on faith. If you don’t believe me, here’s an interesting June 10, 2012 article from AlterNet that explains it: “Major Threat to Religion? Clergy People Coming Out as Atheists”The above article is a good read about clergy that has lost faith in their faith and have walked out of the Church. If one sits and reads the words of these Atheist clergy, they will see these men and women have some deep stuff to share.
This trend was also brought on by the Dennett/LaScola study, “Preachers who are not believers” in 2010, where a handful of preachers share their stories in this study. We see other ex-clergy that are Atheist come out with their own blogs and tell it like it is. There’s even a ex-fellow Black Baptist Deacon who’s walked out of the Church and wrote his account of it.
Now we may ask “Why?” Why do men and women we believe to be called of God to shepherd His/Her people lose their belief and walk out? Good question. From what I’ve read, it appears these folk have been wrestling with issues of their faith like: Hell, Virgin Birth and Atoning/Substitution death of Jesus, creation, Biblical contradictions, unanswered prayers, Biblical “fairy tales”, tithing, etc…the list is endless. However, it appears that the faith ain’t cutting it for these people.
Now, those of us on the sideline will shake our heads and say, “They need to toughen their faith!”, “They need to pray more!”, “They’ll get over it. They’re probably going through some issue..”, or something more drastic as, “They’re not really Christian! They’re apostates worthy of Hell!” However, let’s get off our high horses and think. Clergy-for the most part-are an educated class of people who’ve been blessed to study more about matters of faith than Joe/Jane Layperson. Take if from a deacon, your pastor/bishop/elder/overseer wrestles with a lot of shit you and I don’t. These leaders may have experienced things as leaders, or have had questions of faith long before ordination that’s dogged their steps. And now these issues are flaring up before them and making them closely examine what they believe (or don’t).
For many a preacher, coming out as an Atheist; or even expressing doubts about their faith is a risky venture. To cone out as an Atheist could be a career killer for many a pastor; let alone possible loss of livelihood, home, family, friends, etc. And if a pastor was to express doubts, his/her leadership would be questioned; even challenged. Many of said leaders fight an internal battle with this on a daily basis. In fact, there is a project named “The Clergy Project” which helps clergy with such issues.
Maybe there’s a minister who’s stumbled upon this blog and is reading this right now. Maybe he/she is wrestling with issues of faith that may cause them doubt. Maybe there’s clergy reading this that have pretty much gone Atheist and has yet to “come out of the closet” regarding their (loss of) belief. All I can say is that may your path lead you to where you want to be. I’m not here to judge or condemn. Shit, even I have my questions I wrestle with.
This is something that Christians need to wake up to if we’re going to grow into a relevant community in the 21st Century. We need to let our leaders make up their own minds regarding faith, and not shove doctrine down their throats. If leaders find that the faith no longer is relevant, we need to embrace them and let them take that journey peacefully. Who’s to say we’re right?
Maybe this could signal an evolutionary shift in Christianity that could be transformative if we let it. However, we also need to remember that Christianity may be 2000 years old (well almost), however it doesn’t mean we’ll be here forever. We too could die out one day if we don’t watch out.
Something to think as we enter Christmastide….