There’s a Way To Help Nonbelieving Clergy Members

Ex-Pastors Teresa MacBain and Jerry DeWitt appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation on Monday to discuss how and why they left their faiths. The audio and transcript are now available. Here’s one of the happier moments:

[Host] Neil Conan: Was there a moment when you decided you had to come clean about your beliefs?

Jerry DeWitt: Yeah, there actually was. It came for me — I began to realize that there was no way that I could live a satisfying life without ministering to someone. I had been in the ministry for 25 years, growing up in the Pentecostal Church, and as I tried to take on just a secular lifestyle, I realized that being a minister is who I am.

And so I had made connections through the Clergy Project and had a connection with an organization called Recovering from Religion. And I said that’s the people I’m going to minister to now, fellow clergy who don’t believe, people who are trying to move out of their religious experience. I’m going to minister to them, and that’s going to require a public commitment.

So at that moment, things begin to really get exciting.

While we’re on the subject, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is now allowing people to tag The Clergy Project when they make donations. The money will go specifically toward help ministers and clergy members who don’t believe in god anymore and who need a way out of the pulpit.

Funds donated to The Clergy Project will help meet many needs, including:

  • Scholarships for educational retraining. It is hard for someone with a divinity degree and a history of preaching to find new employment, especially in today’s economy. Without an exit strategy that allows a minister to continue to provide for their family, it is nearly impossible to consider leaving the pulpit.
  • Temporary hardship grants. Some of the clergy in the project tell heartbreaking stories of being unceremoniously thrown out into the street (literally, in one case!) and locked out when their nonbelief became known. Others who have voluntarily “graduated” to civilian life are finding it immensely difficult to land on their feet.
  • Maintenance of the forum. The Clergy Project forum is a secret, invitation-only online sanctuary where former and active nonbelieving clergy can talk freely, comparing stories, suggesting resources, sharing concerns, asking for help, and finding a sympathetic nonjudgmental community of others who have wrestled with this unique situation.

If you’d like to contribute, you can do that here — just click on “Clergy Project” from the dropdown menu.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Ejcpromo

    Don’t care if this is off topic, but the president just said same sex marriage should be legal!!!!!!!

    YES!!!!!!

    Fucking eh, way to go Mr. President!!!!!

    And eat that North Carolina!!!!!

    • I_Claudia

       You broke the story to me. I looked at Google News 10 seconds ago and it wasn’t there yet.

      Though I have some unease about how this may influence state-level efforts on the subject, I have to say it’s a huge relief to see Obama let go of the lie and finally speak his true heart on the subject. Now the Democratic Party can finally, officially, make same-sex marriage a plank in their platform and come into the 21st century.

      • http://user-illusion.myopenid.com/ user illusion

        I don’t think it was a lie. Dennis Kucinich, a Catholic, was once anti-choice, but his views also evolved after continuous sincere dialog.

    • Yukimi

      You broke the News for me too. Awesome =)

  • Tom

    Such an important project demonstrating compassion towards those struggling within a  place where they are unable to freely express themselves.

  • I_Claudia

    So, having commented off-topic, I think it’s only fair to comment on the topic.

    I think the clergy project is a great place to donate. It’s great to do outreach, to encourage closeted atheists to come out and to try to get individual theists to question their beliefs. However by getting a clergymember out of the ministry you land a blow that is much larger. You aren’t taking a soldier, you’re taking a captain. When theists find out that one of their own religious leaders has left the faith, especially if they get to hear why and get to see that they’re doing OK, that sends a powerful message.

  • Joe Zamecki

    I hope they figure out some way to try and reverse the harm they’ve done from the pulpit over the years. Because just “ministering” to people doesn’t cut it, imho. Not even close, not even in the right direction. These people have caused harm. What’s with the rewards? 


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