Albert Mohler Lashes Out Against the Clergy Project

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, can’t understand this whole “Clergy Project” thing.

You mean there are pastors who stop believing in God?!

In many of the stories we’ve heard from former pastors — Teresa MacBain, Jerry DeWitt, Dan Barker — they talk about how they started having doubts but stayed in the pulpit because they thought it was just a phase.

When they explored their doubts even more, they realized they no longer believed in God. But what could they do? They had families to take care of, jobs that didn’t exactly transfer easily to other areas, and no easy way to let their congregations and social circles know about their new way of thinking. It took a long time and a lot of courage before they could come clean to their churches.

Mohler doesn’t care about any of that, though. He thinks this is just a con game:

Why didn’t they just resign? Most shockingly, some openly spoke of losing their salaries as the main concern. So much for intellectual honesty.

The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries. Is this how atheists and secularists groups intend to further their cause? They are getting publicity from the media to be sure, but do they think it will win them friends?

It’s easy to say all that when you’ve never struggled with the concept of reality.

For the pastors who start questioning and losing their faith, it’s not just a switch you can turn off one day. It’s a long journey. And taking that final leap of unfaith doesn’t come easily. You have to be perfectly sure you’re doing what’s right for you because there’s no turning back after you do it.

In the interim, you may still preach… but your sermons become less about the Bible and more about being a good person. You may still earn a salary, but the pastors who complete the Clergy Project will tell you how guilty they feel about that — they’re doing all they can to find a new line of work that will allow them to escape the prison they’re in. They may say things they don’t wholeheartedly believe in, but it’s because they’ve believed it for so long that even they can’t believe they’re not buying into the myth anymore.

And they’re making friends along the way.

Last night, I asked Jerry DeWitt if he agreed with Mohler’s statement. This is what he told me:

Not only has the Clergy Project publicity brought me a flood of support and a sense of community, it has created some of the deepest relationships I’ve ever known. Relationships unconditionally based on true acceptance. Thanks to the Clergy Project, I’m loved for me, not for who I’m supposed to be.

Your move, Mohler.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • David McNerney

    Hang on a second…

    The con artists and charlatans are those that appear on the outside to be fully in support of the religious proposition.

    Who is more likely to be in that position: Dan Barker or Albert Mohler?

  • Deanna Joy Lyons

    If Mohler and others are so terribly disturbed by the idea that a pastor no longer believes what they preach, he should be encouraging and donating to the Clergy Project cause in order to help those people get out. Most pastors are not running huge megachurches with lots of money and free housing like he is. 

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Wow, Mr. Mohler. It must be nice to be able to quit your job and have no source of income whenever you like. 

  • Tom Morris

    Mohler is right in the sense that he says the Clergy Project is “a magnet for charlatans and cowards”. The problem is that the default state is that they will continue to be charlatans and cowards; the Clergy Project is seeking to help them stop being charlatans and cowards. Condemning the Clergy Project for a “magnet for charlatans and cowards” is a bit like condemning Alcoholics Anonymous for being a magnet for alcoholics. You’d think Christians like Mohler would be all in favour of a supportive environment for people who no longer believe to make their way out of the clergy.

    The Clergy Project actually reminds me of a group called the Straight Spouses Network, a support forum for people who have found out their husbands or wives are gay/lesbian. In a situation where someone enters a relationship or a career/vocation and then finds that they are unable to continue because they’ve discovered something fundamental that gets in the way of doing so, the kind and compassionate thing for everyone involved is to try and find ways for them to exit in the most dignified and harm-reducing way they possibly can.

    Mohler condemns these people for their lack of intellectual honesty in wanting to continue drawing a salary. Well, duh, honesty is important but must be backed by practicality. To continue the gay analogy, I am compelled by my honesty (and solidarity etc.) to live life as openly about my sexuality as I can, but that doesn’t mean that if there wer a rampaging murderous mob of homophobes charging through the streets I wouldn’t be justified in a little white lie to save my skin. I do think members of the clergy who continue to preach even though they don’t believe are being dishonest and should seek to live an honest life, but if the process of having a more honest life means preaching a few half-hearted sermons while in the process of finding a new career, that’s no big deal.

  • mikespeir

    “So much for intellectual honesty.”

    I’ve often wished there could be a pair of glasses you could put on with which those who really believed what they say they believe would appear blue and those who don’t appear red.  I can tell you by experience that it’s possible to really believe you believe without really believing.  Furthermore, I’ve begun to doubt that very many Christians at all really buy the whole Christian package.  I expect most of them would be at least purple.  I wonder how Mohler would look through my glasses.  I wonder how “honest” he’s being.  It’s a lot easier to “believe” in something that gains you a wide, generally favorable reputation and a good paycheck.

  • Nazani14

    The tragedy of young people who are robbed of the opportunity to learn income-earning skills by  Christian education is another article.  And a 600-page book, and a 90-minute documentary.

  • Martin

    So a group that helps people come clean and be honest to their group  is the dishonest group.  Does not make sense!!!

  • Kacy

    I dated a guy who attended Southern Seminary in KY.  He told me that Mohler was a genius who read several books a day.  I was already skeptical of that statement because between being the president of the seminary, politicking with the right wing, and doing a talk radio show, how could he have much time to read?   I figured out what my (by then) ex-boyfriend meant, the day that Bill Clinton’s autobiography was released.

    Mohler reviewed Clinton’s book on his radio program the day after its release.  Actually, it was technically the same day because the book was released at midnight.  The book was 900+ pages.  There is simply no human way he could have fairly read the book.  Mohler doesn’t read books; he skims them.  Then he forms hunches on them, based on what his audience wants to hear. 

    In the same way, he doesn’t research the Clergy Project, talk to ex-Christians, or learn about the de-conversion process.  He simply knows what his audience wants to hear and believe, and then he says it.  I can’t help but wonder, who is the true charlatan here?  Who really lacks intellectual integrity?

  • Rob Crompton

    There is a very wide range of Christian belief from the fundamentalist at one end of the spectrum, to the very liberal at the other. So it may not always be crystal clear (except to folk such as Mohler) at what point one has stepped off the spectrum altogether. That being so, once we move away from the very literalist and fundamentalist churches, the prevalence of pastors and clergy who do not believe all and everything which most members believe, becomes much greater.

    So what is the pastor to do? Get out, implying that it is necessary to believe and teach all and everything that people already believe? A strange model of education, that.

    Or maybe such a pastor should seek to persuade the congregation to accept a whole package of different beliefs? Doesn’t seem like a sensible approach to me.

    Or perhaps a fruitful way forward would be to try to get people to move just a step at a time towards a more liberal, open and questioning style of belief. When this approach is appreciated and people are finding it helpful, at what point must the pastor cut loose and hand the job back to one who will seek to shut down the critical, thinking and open ways that have begun to get a toe-hold?

  • charlesbartley

    Don’t like defending him, but I could pretty easily read that book in somewhere between 7-9 hours. I doubt he did read it, but it is not impossible by any means.

  • MegaZeusThor

    So much for compassion. (Would he like pastors to quit sooner after being confronted with the first lingering doubt that the paternal sky-wizard isn’t real?)

    Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of clergy being enabled to leave. When a random civilian begins using the word atheist to describe themselves it’s not that big of a deal; happens ever day. But people like Teresa MacBain, Jerry DeWitt, Dan Barker can be real game changers.


  • Rwlawoffice

    Mohler is correct.  These folks should tell their congregations about their new found atheism and stop taking a salary unless the congregation agrees to let them stay on in some capacity until they find something else.  To do anything else is stealing and a breach of trust.  It doesn’t matter how you attempt to justify it.  Those that are placing their trust in them and those that are paying their salaries have the right to know that they do not believe what they are preaching in order to give the congregation the ability to find someone else who does. If this was reversed and an atheist group was paying the salary for someone it has placed in a position of trust and authority who became a believer and did not tell anyone but continued to take the salary and profess to be an atheist, you would not be so generous with your justifications.    

  • Alexander Ryan

    I’d have to agree there. I suppose it depends on how fast you read. If he was reviewing more than one book I might get a bit skeptical, but it is the guy’s job, so who knows. With stupidity comes dedication.

  • Stev84

    A Southern Baptist accusing others of being frauds and charlatans. The hypocrisy never ends

  • Kacy

    Fair enough.  I suppose, if he didn’t sleep that night and skipped his morning duties at the seminary to work on the review for his show, which aired at lunchtime, THEN he could have pulled it off. 

    I took speed-reading classes, and can read pretty quickly, myself.  But when I’m reading with the intent on reviewing a book or writing an essay on what I’ve read, I tend to take it slower to make sure I really understand the material.

    Also, to be fair I’ve never read Clinton’s autobiography, it may be written on an 8th grade reading level and be a really fast read.

  • C Peterson

    It’s only a breach of trust if you believe in thought crime. I wouldn’t care if my “atheist group” (whatever that is) was led by a theist pretending to be an atheist, as long as they did what they were supposed to do. Similarly, if a pastor can do his job to the satisfaction of his flock, so what?

    I imagine some sort of Turing test for theism. I think an atheist could easily pass it. Through much of history, the Church has attracted the most intelligent and educated people, which means that a higher than average percentage of them were atheists. And nobody noticed, did they?

    No, there is no breach of trust. The harm in pretending to be a theist when you are not is not to the flock, but is entirely internal to the pastor. It is fortunate that we have a program (only the first, I expect) to help them overcome the difficulties that their honest reflection has placed upon them.

  • C Peterson

    When people speak out against something like this, it is clearly a fear response. They recognize the decline of Christianity in our society, they see the increased acceptance of “nones”, they feel increasingly marginalized. Conservatives, pretty much by definition, are unable to accept change, to cope with it. So they lash out. It doesn’t make any difference, though.

  • Rwlawoffice

     When a pastor takes a job at a church two things occur- one he is saying that he believes in the statement of faith for that church and two, he is the public spokesperson for that statement of faith.  These statements of faith state that as a church  “we” believe. If you don’t believe, don’t join and make this statement of faith.

    If he doesn’t believe that then he is lying to both the congregation and the public at large. This lie is a breach of the trust placed in him by the congregation when they placed him in this position of authority to lead them within the parameters of this statement of faith.

    You make the assumption that in history, there were atheists in the church, I assume prominent Christian leaders.  So which ones do you claim were really atheists in hiding?

  • Octoberfurst

     Mohler’s attack on the Clergy Project seems to come from desperation. He hates the idea that there are clergy who would actually doubt the faith so he has to find a way to demonize them as not really Christians.
      His comments that they are all “con artists”,”cowards” and “charlatans” are  nasty slurs against those who honestly developed doubts about their faith and are not quite sure what to do about it. Mohler thinks they should have immediately quit their positions but as Hemant pointed out these people have families to feed and mortgages to pay.  Does Mohler have no sympathy for their plight? Apparently not!  And it’s not like those members of the clergy had an epiphany one day and realized they were atheists. It came over a period of time.
      I think if Mohler is concerned about “con artists & charlatans” in the clergy he should go take aim at the Televangelists firsts.  They truly are con artists and charlatans!  

  • TCC

    I’m sympathetic to the “breach of trust” argument, but the kind of denouncement that Mohler has expressed is utterly devoid of empathy for these people (in part because they are only a means to his real target, atheists in general). Coming out as an atheist alone can be incredibly difficult, but when your employment and livelihood are on the line? Call me crazy here, but I have a hard time vilifying people who are trying to get out but don’t feel like they can, and the Clergy Project is actually trying to help these people rather than calling them intellectually dishonest charlatans and cowards. You would think that someone who professes to be a follower of the example of Jesus would be more willing to show love and compassion.

  • Mitch Williams

    Thank you for your ridiculous and narrow minded opinion Mr. Trolly McTrolling Troll.

  • onamission5

    Mohler seems hung up on the whole need to keep getting a paycheck thing as if that’s just greedy and not a necessity. So okay, I’ll bite, let’s talk about what getting a paycheck really means, instead of referring to it in the abstract.

    Many clergy, outside of the fundamentalist-for-profit megachurches, receive only a stipend for their services. Less than rural school teachers. To compensate for their small income, they are often also given use of church housing, which sometimes comes with pre-paid utilities, sometimes not. The salaries by these underpaid clergy made are not enough to feed and clothe their families if they have to also pay housing costs, and the work load expected of them is quite often so much that they cannot get second jobs to supplement their income, even if they had transferrable skills. Plus, seminary? Like college, it is not free. So, I ask, how are they supposed to save money to be able to get new housing, retraining, utility deposits, and to feed their families in the interim? Is the struggle of losing one’s faith an unwritten agreement to be homeless, or is potential homelessness a just punishment for losing faith?

    The Clergy Project has stories of ministers being dumped unceremoniously from both their jobs– which they trained years for, frequently at their own expense– and homes– which they couldn’t afford were it not part of their salaries– literally overnight, with no place to go and little hope for new employment. How is this okay with anyone? It’s not okay with me when a union is busted and pensions lost in a labor industry, and it’s not okay with me for a clergy member to lose hir entire safety net overnight, either. People need money to live. For most of us, except Mohler, apparently, that paycheck isn’t a luxury item. It’s the only thing standing between us and the homeless shelter. Take it away and you’ve taken away all our options, put us into basic survival mode. The panic of wanting, nay needing, to avoid that is perfectly understandable.

  • James Hotelling

    “Would he like pastors to quit sooner after being confronted with the first lingering doubt…?”

    I’m going to say, yes! He would absolutely love for a bunch of pastors to immediately leave the only job they’re trained to do, the instant their faith waivers even the tiniest bit! Think of how well he could spin that- “DO ya SEE what happens when your FAITH isn’t STUH-RONG enough?!” I honestly believe that he made this statement specifically to encourage doubting clergy to resign in a reckless, foolhardy manner, with no preparation or safety net, so that he can point to their now-destroyed lives as a cautionary tale.

  • C Peterson

    It doesn’t matter what a person believes, but how they act.

    Of course many religious leaders were atheists if we go back more than a couple hundred years. In those days, the Church was a primary vocation for the educated and the intelligent- two things that strongly filter out theists (and especially filter out believers in batshit crazy religions like Christianity). I can’t tell you which ones were atheists because it is trivial for any clever person to fake theism and religiosity… and I have no doubt that many, many priests, teachers, bishops, and popes did just that.

    In the last couple centuries, of course, more legitimate outlets have become available to the intelligent, so now religion acts just the opposite, concentrating the less smart (except for the sort of street smart con artists that religion so strongly encourages).

  • tjcronin

    In Mr. Mohler’s piece, linked to in the article above, he writes

    “Dawkins, who once held one of the world’s most coveted academic posts,
    has now reduced himself to addressing small gatherings of atheists and
    celebrating a motley crew of pastors who have abandoned the faith — even
    if some have not abandoned their pulpits.”

    Yes Mr. Mohler, Mr. Dawkins is no longer in his academic post. That’s because he is 71 and retired!

  • Rwlawoffice

     Ouch! LOL.

  • Rwlawoffice

     When the lie is about your beliefs, than your beliefs matter. Let me give you an example. If you tell your wife you love her and she relies upon that to marry you, but you really don’t love her.  Even if you treated her well I can assure you she would feel deceived.  It is also a fallacy to think that your actions do not effect your actions. 

    I do like that you have stepped out on faith and stated that even though you don’t have any evidence that there were atheists in the church in the past, there must have been.

  • Rwlawoffice

     If as a lawyer, I stole money from a client I would rightfully lose my license and my ability to practice law, even though it is what I have done for 26 years and is what I trained for.  I don’t disagree that these folks as a result in the change of their beliefs will face hardships but trying to place the blame on the churches who have been lied to is only an attempt to justify their actions.

  • Guest

    No.  It’s lying.  But then, it’s atheism.  The great thing about atheism is that all meaning and morality is just an illusion we invent, just like religion, in order to inject meaning into a material universe.  Therefore, lying?  No problem.  Since all is an illusion anyway, and the only thing I need to focus on in the world is ultimately me, lying in this case if fine. 

    FWIW, I was a former Protestant minister, too.  And when I no longer believed, I left.  Right there.  No job.  No promise of a job.  But my honesty.  The problem with modern atheism isn’t that it’s atheism, it’s that it’s modern.  And it’s adopted the same ‘no morals, just me’ and ‘no principles, just pundits’ mentality of the rest of the dying West; simply exploiting its beliefs (atheism) to center the universe around my own personal benefits.   Which is why atheism with all of its relative morality by logic is so appealing to the modern age – it begs to be a subjective value system molded to my own personal desires and benefit.

  • onamission5

    Teaching something in which one is no longer sure they believe =/= breaking the law. Surely a lawyer such as yourself would understand that.


  • SeniorSkeptik

    Not with-standing Mr. Mohler’s slandering of Dr. Dawkins, I think his blog is a great opportunity for other ministers to entertain the idea of quitting the church. As Dr. Dawkins and others have said, the pulpits are full of preachers with serious doubts about the legitimacy of a god. Now they know who to call!

  • Rwlawoffice

     Accepting money under false pretenses could very well be considered a crime.  It depends upon the details of each case.  Regardless, even if it isn’t a crime under the law it is surely a breach of trust and immoral. Claiming that they stayed quiet and continued to take money under a lie doesn’t not justify their actions.

  • C Peterson

    There would be no harm if you didn’t love your wife if she never knew that. She could only feel deceived if she was able to detect your lack of love- an action, not a thought.

    I don’t depend on faith to argue that many who claim (or have claimed) to be theists are (or were) not; that view is strongly supported by solid evidence linking both intelligence and education to lack of belief in a personal god and to lack of connection with religion.

  • Hemant Mehta

    But you’re missing the whole point of what I was saying. When the Clergy Project pastors begin to doubt, they still think they’re being faithful. They just have questions. We’ve seen plenty of Christians deviate from the literal-interpretation-only type of faith. Then as they get more doubts, they still think they’re Christian but liberal… eventually, when they realize they’re atheists, that’s when it’s time to go.

    I think you might be confusing pastors who remain in the church for years after they start having DOUBTS (which happens) and pastors who stay in the pulpit for a long time when they know they’re atheists (which doesn’t happen)

  • onamission5

    Let me know when you’ve successfully passed your Mandatory Enthusiastic Employment Thought Police legislation, and we’ll talk.

    No one is under any obligation to like their job or believe in their employer, legally or otherwise, so long as they perform their duties effectively.

  • Beadknitter

    With this much vehemence against the Clergy Project, one wonders if he’s a closet atheist himself.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Congratulations on intentionally missing the point.  These folks are accepting money based upon a lie that they are telling every week. They are intentionally keeping their employers in the dark.  Even if it isn’t a crime, it is immoral and dishonest. 

  • Rwlawoffice

    Mohler makes that same distinction in his article which you did not quote.  He refers to pastors who are doubting their faith but distinguishes them from the likes of  MacBain who announced her atheism to an atheist conference instead of telling her church. If a pastor is starting to doubt their faith there are people they can talk to. Most believers have doubts at times. Chuck Swindoll has preached about that on more than one occasion. 

    However, if they have lost their faith and are still accepting money because they are justifying their need, then they are lying to their congregations and breaching their trust. How long can they stay operating under this lie before you would say that they must leave before it becomes dishonest and immoral?

  • Rwlawoffice

     I would love to sit in on that conversation.

    Wife- honey do you love me?

    C- No, never did but I treat you as if I do and since I do you have no right to feel deceived.

    Good luck with that.

    As for the arrogance of your last statement, I will just have to laugh.

  • Octoberfurst

     So you honestly believe that atheists have a “no morals, just me” attitude?  That we are all a bunch of moral relativists? That sounds remarkably like the criticism we get from Christians. That we are just  hedonists with no concern for others.  Since you are a self-professed nonbeliever  I assume you include yourself in this description. If not, why not?  And good for you that you immediately just up and quit your preaching job when you no longer believed. Most people don’t have that luxury so don’t be so judgmental.
      By the way, most atheists I know are honest, decent, moral people so I find your claims to be absurd and offensive. Perhaps you are just projecting.

  • alconnolly

    Alright I know I am going to get a lot of flak for this, and Hemant is certainly correct that the situation when someone is in the thick of it is murky. It is inadvisable to cast judgement when people are trying to grope in the right direction and struggling with deep soul issues that leave them confused.
    What bothers me is that no one who has come through the process and has now gotten some distance from it, have come out and said “in retrospect I can see that as confusing as it was at the time, it was unethical and cowardly to continue to take money from people who I knew I was deceiving. It was human yes, but it was deceptive and hurtful, and was not honorable. If I had at the time a strong sense of truthful living as some of the greats such as Gandhi had, I would have resigned or requested a leave of absence during the struggle, even if it meant minimum wage Walmart greeter work (which many in the country do).
    I also suspect, that although the financial factor is likely to be the biggest one in stalling such a move, there are additional reasons in many a heart regarding going from a respected and admired person in the community to a “nobody” or worse a “backslider”.
    When someone like Theresa Mcbain chooses an Atheist convention to “come out” instead of the people who just one week earlier she had preached to. She knew what a hurtful thing that was. But it would be easier to face an accepting and welcoming crowd, then to tell the truth to those who would find it shocking. I see it like texting a breakup, sure it is easier. Emotionally no one wants to go through that, but if you have any love in your heart towards the other, you brace yourself and deal, because it is what is fair to the other person. Now in the moment I cannot fault anyone for such actions, but I find disconcerting that in retrospect, no one has come out and acknowledged these things.

  • TnkAgn

    The vast majority of practicing atheists daily prove your argument wrong. Perhaps, me thinks, you protest too much, and still have some issues with your clericalist past?

  • onamission5

    You’re acting like loss of faith is a switch that gets flipped all of a sudden. It isn’t. It’s a process. A process which much of the time is frightening and fraught with denial of what is happening, and for clergy, whose entire support structure is based upon that faith, I can imagine even more so.

    Your words convey the attitude that clergy who lose their faith ought to be punished some how. You equate their eventual loss of religious faith to crimes like fraud. You use words which attribute greed to members of the clergy who choose to *even temporarily* remain in their profession rather than risk homelessness for themselves and their families.

    I’d think that even someone who holds struggling clergy in such contempt would fully support the Clergy Project, given its goal to help safely and supportively extricate these people from their professions with minimum harm, but I suppose not being tossed into the street isn’t punitive enough for you for people you seem to feel have personally let you down.

  • alconnolly

     A couple things. Would you then say that if someone had enough to live such as one who has a gainfully employed spouse with a decent income such as policeman, that jsut knowing they will take a lifestyle hit is not enough. They would literally need to be in an untenable position financially, not take a lifestyle hit? Your comment seems to be a matter of degrees sort of like a sliding scale, the more destitute the person would become, the less ethical responsibility to the congregation, and if it were just a matter of tightening the belt and living on lets say a median income the ethical imperative would be stronger. Is this correct? As far as people being unceremoniously dumped, I don’t see how it could be any other way. Can you imagine the press secretary for Obama lets say coming out with a speech about how he is all for Mit Romney and doesn’t believe any of the things he said before (oh and by the way he has felt this way for awhile) and keeping the job? Not that it is relevant, but people can jump to conclusion that I am on “the churches side” pretty easily. I am an Atheist and find many “religious” aspects reprehensible.

  • C Peterson

    You miss the point completely. There is no breach if there is no conversation. It is behavior that matters, not internal thoughts.

  • C Peterson

    Only the pastor can decide when it becomes dishonest or immoral, because only their personal morality is involved.

  • alconnolly

     You need to make a little more sense. You say you are no longer a believer. If that is the case is it reasonable to call you an atheist? If so then you would believe as you stated “The great thing about atheism is that all meaning and morality is just an illusion”. Many atheist do not believe this, but since you said atheist do, it implies that you believe this. You basically make a truth claim and then condemn anyone who believes what you imply is truth. Not very intelligent.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Not at all.  Like Mohler in his article, there is a difference between a person who is having doubts and one who has reached this decision and refuses to tell the congregation in order to keep taking their money.  Those that are struggling are doing just that and if they are honest about those struggles they are not acting different than most other folks. However, there are also those like MacBain who tell everyone but their congregation in order to keep her salary. This is outright  lying and they rightfully should be fired.  There is no reason to try and justify their actions and make them seem like the victim. But of course that fits into the atheist narrative that Christians are heartless people who don’t care about others.  Heaven forbid that Christians want to have as their pastor someone who actually tells the truth and believes what they say every Sunday. How horrible of them to actually remove that person from the pastorhood when they are told this is no longer the case.  Or as in the case of MacBain, find out from others that they have been lied to.

  • alconnolly

     Sorry mr peterson. As misguided and at times ridiculous as rlawoffice comments often are. You made a claim “No, there is no breach of trust. The harm in pretending to be a theist when you are not is not to the flock” A claim which was easily refuted (seriously intentionally deceiving someone and then telling other people how much you had deceived that person as in coming out to an atheist convention instead of your flock is not hurtful?). Instead of admitting it was overstated you doubled down. Now you could tell someone they are the love of your life, have them make the biggest decisions of their lives around this lie and then tell them in the end it was all a lie and it is not hurtful and unethical? For good measure you (as rlawoffice who has committed the same offense many many times pointed out). Made sweeping historical claims about your knowledge of the individual thought states of historical figures, and then doubled down on that. If you value (as I am sure you do) your intellectual integrity you would admit that in this case you got carried away with your statements. As a whole I agree with you almost consistently especially compared to the drivel that rlawoffice often spews. But my loyalty is to accuracy not individuals.

  • Charles Collom

    Part of being a religious leader is that you both believe the nonsense and act accordingly. Taking a salary after you know you are both a non-believer and a member of a anonymous organization devoted to the advancement of non-theism is unethical. It is fundamentally dishonest, and the only justification offered is that the former clergy person needs the money of the theists.
    What would we say if there were an organization of secret theists leading atheist grops across the country? A organization that explicitly wanted to encourage theism and theistic beliefs? How would we feel if our doctor was secretly hiding a belief in woo, and was making his medical decisions based on it? Admittedly no analogy is perfect, but we are easily blinded by our identification with the non-believers in the clergy project.
    I, too, am an attorney, and I doubt that the courts would get involved civilly or (perhaps especially) criminally. But not everything that is legal is ethical

  • Rwlawoffice

     You crack me up! LOL

  • amycas

     I don’t have a problem with them being removed from their position upon coming out to the congregation. I have a problem with Mohler condemning the one resource that is out there to help people in this situation.

    However, giving sermons you don’t believe, or teaching things in which you don’t personally believe, is not fraud. It does not meet the legal definition of fraud, and if you were a good lawyer, then you would know that.

  • amycas

     Job contracts cannot compel anybody to hold a certain belief, and no court would uphold such a contract. All a job contract can do is make somebody perform specific acts. As long as those specific acts are being performed, then there is no breach of contract, or trust. A court cannot compel a church (or an organization classified as a church) to hire/not fire anybody in a ministerial position, but they would also not uphold a breach of contract suit brought against a pastor from the church if the claimed breach was one of privately held beliefs. They would have to show how their actions breached the contract.

  • amycas

     Well, if you were reading for comprehension you would see that C Peterson is trying to say that “love” is shown through actions, and can only be shown through actions. The wife can never know the husband’s internal thoughts unless he shares those with her (either through actions or by telling her). Which is a better marriage: a marriage where the husband internally does not love his wife but he still treats her with kindness and respect and supports her life goals, or the marriage where the husband does internally loves his wife, but he treats her with disrespect or abuse  and does not support her goals?

    Actions speak louder than words or thoughts.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Fraud is defined as 1)making a representation that is false,2)with knowledge that it is false,3) with the intent it be relied upon,4) it is relied upon to the damage of another.

    So while merely preaching may not satisfy these elements, accepting employment or payment based upon a false representation may very well meet them and would be considered fraud.

  • amycas


    You’re a pastor who recently realized you’re an atheist and you no longer believe what you are preaching. You’re family (spouse and children) realy on your soleincome for food housing and medical insurance. One of your family members is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Which is more unethical? Retaining your pastoral position in order to keep your medical insurance and save the life of your family member? Or, quitting the pasotral postition, being honest, but your family member dies because oflack of treatment?

  • C Peterson

    Where is the material harm in either case? I base ethics on action, not belief.

    I don’t believe I got carried away at all. And with respect to the historical viewpoint, I believe it is accurate. There is little doubt that over the last few hundred years, the most intelligent people have not been theists, or at most have been casually so. Recent studies bear out the relationship between intelligence and lack of belief. Nothing makes me think that people’s minds work differently today than they did 1000 years ago. Why should I not think that intelligent and educated people have not always contributed heavily to the ranks of freethinkers?

  • amycas


    Hypothetical: You’re a pastor who has recently realized you no longer believe and you are an atheist. Your family however relies on your job for medical insurance. One of your family members has a chronic disease that without treatment would cause severe pain, loss of daily functioning and/or death.
    Do you…
    A) quit your job in an attempt to be honest and allow your family member to suffer and possibly die because of a lack of adequate medical care?
    B) keep your job and continue to pastor, being dishonest, to save your family member from suffering and possible death?

    It’s a trick question. The answer is C) contact the Clergy Project and get help from a community who has been there and will be able to connect you with resources for getting a new job and adequate care for your family member.

  • Rwlawoffice

    I said he cracks me up because apparently he doesn’t live in the real world of relationships.  If you think that a wife or a husband will never have this conversation then you are kidding yourself.

    I agree that actions are important and speak louder than words. What I don’t agree with is that it is not deceitful to act as if you love someone when you don’t, knowing that they think you do and then hoping they never ask you.

  • alconnolly

     You do not see that taking money from someone or having someone marry you under false pretenses is an action? You do not think that breaking up with someone who you just yesterday professed undying love to by text telling them you don’t believe that anymore and haven’t for a long time, or worse still by telling a bunch of strangers that you haven’t felt that way about the person for a long time. None of these things are actions? Well I guess I do not understand the word then. You say where is the material harm? None of these things are hurtful? I guess I do not understand humans then.
    As far as your other claim, I also think that many religious authorities in the fulness of time have lost their faith and taken that to the grave, a recent example is Mother Teresa.
    The problem I had was with categorical assertions and especially making such a strong interdependent relationship between intelligence and faith.
    The human minds capacity for compartmentalization and double think is extraordinary and amply explains how people can be very intelligent with the vast majority of their thought processes, and have a short circuit in others. Sad but true.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Not true. When you take a calling at a church, you are professing that you adhere to the beliefs of the church.  If you accept salary after you no longer truthfully profess your belief in these tenants then you have breached not only the contract you made at the time, but the trust of those that are paying you.

    The actions you seek would be in making public expressions of their faith when they knew these were lies.

  • onamission5

    You forgot key point #5: material injury or harm to the purported victim.
    Also as an addendum to point #3, from what  understand, a false statement must be made “with the intent to deprive the victim of some
    legal right.” Does the congregation have a legal right to know the innermost thoughts of its clergy? I highly doubt it.
    Now I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that a claim of hurt fee-fees won’t hold up in court as material damages.
    Then there’s this: “the false statement must cause the victim some injury that leaves her or him in
    a worse position than she or he was in before the fraud.” Which is maybe why you left off condition #5 from your legal definition of fraud.
    Fee free to factcheck. This is one of the links I used. Just a dictionary, so hey, they might have gotten the concept wrong. If they did, feel free of course to clarify.

  • TnkAgn

    If this were true, think of all the televangelists and faith healers that would be behind bars, rather than bilking gullible rubes.

  • Rwlawoffice

    My four includes your five. Paying the salary is the the harm whe.

  • Silo Mowbray

    “You do not see that taking money from someone [...] under false pretenses is an action?”

    You just described all tithing churches and homeopathy.

  • banana_slug

    I don’t know if this is addressed elsewhere here and I don’t know what kind of law you practice, but…

    You have to defend a client of murder.  You absolutely know he is guilty, but you do everything in your power to clear him of the charges because that is what you are paid to do.

    You have to give a sermon to your congregation.  You have had doubts about what you are saying or maybe even don’t believe any of it, but you give the best you can anyway because that is what you are paid to do.

    In both cases, you are doing your job to the best of your ability even though you don’t believe in what you are doing.

    Are there any differences here?

  • banana_slug

    (Replying from an earlier comment, but everything is getting squished, so I started a new reply for readability)

    “Fraud is defined as 1)making a representation that is false,2)with knowledge that it is false,3) with the intent it be relied upon,4) it is relied upon to the damage of another.”

    Would preaching but not believing constitute fraud in this case?  Here I am taking representation to mean the beliefs that are being preached.  The representation that is being made is not false (in the eyes of the congregation).  They are being taught the same things whether or not the preacher believes them. 

    If representation means the person is not accurately disclosing their beliefs, what damages are being done? If two people (one a believer one not) teach the exact same thing to two different groups, is one being damaged?

    I could take a class on evolution from two different professors, one a creationist who needs the job to make a living.  Both classes cover the exact same material the exact same way .  Is one professor committing fraud?

  • C Peterson

    I don’t think that people’s beliefs can amount to false pretenses.

    An atheist can be every bit as good a pastor as a theist- in fact, I’d argue he might be much better. If a pastor fulfills his obligations to his church, I think he has met his ethical requirements. Regardless of whether or not he happens to believe in a god himself.

  • C Peterson

    Regrettably, that is not usually the case for religious jobs. I think the exception for churches violates the First Amendment, and I’d love to see all special cases for churches invalidated. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

  • Rwlawoffice

     The misrepresentation comes in when you as a pastor understand that you are being looked upon as a person who believes what you are preaching and are being paid as a believer, leading other believers under the same common shared beliefs. If you are preaching, you are doing so , not merely as a teacher teaching a course material.  You are looked upon as an authority who actually believes what you are saying.  It is a calling into the faith, not merely acting as a professor.  

  • Rwlawoffice

    Criminal lawyers will tell you that they represent the system and their obligation is to give their client a fair trial within that system.  In the event they know that their client is guilty, they cannot commit fraud upon the system by lying to the court or allowing their client to lie.

    Same thing here.  The pastor’s client is the congregation.  He cannot lie to the congregation when he performs his duties.  If he stands up before them and preaches something he knows is not true, he is lying because he is preaching that it is true. He is not simply reciting what is being said in the Bible.  He is preaching that the Bible is true.

  • banana_slug

    Two identical twin brothers become pastors and teach the exact same things to two different congregations.  Over the years, they stop believing.  On their deathbeds, one confesses, one doesn’t.  Have they both committed fraud?  One group hasn’t been damaged if they don’t know. If the congregations can compare notes (“they both said XYZ, but one belived it one didn’t”) does that change things?  Does a pastor who teaches faith healing by means of invisible pixies commit fraud if he truly believes it, even if he manages to never harm anyone?

    What do the preachers beliefs matter if they are giving the same information either way?  All these teachings should be able to be independently verified to be sure they are being taught correctly, right?  Or are these congregations merely being told what they beleive?

  • banana_slug

    So even if they know their client is guilty, they can still represent them?  What happens if his client is declared not guilty.  Can he accept the verdict (lying by omission)?

    If you compare two different congregations who teach two different things (salvation by works alone vs salvation by faith alone)  Is one committing fraud by preaching something that is not true?

    How are the same standards supposed to be applied when one case is about belief.  There are so many different and contradictory “truths” taught that somebody has to be wrong and therefore teaching that which is not true (and committing fraud).  If I absolutely believe that if you give me your credit card number, the Nigerian government will send you $10 million, I’m not committing fraud, right?

  • Betty

    The Clergy project is not an “anonymous organization devoted to the advancement of nontheism.”  It is a support group for non-believing  clergy.

  • Antinomian

    So, at least three of your points say that a teacher who believes in creationism is frauding the taxpayer when they teach evolution?

    A slippery slope indeed Mr. Wilson..

  • Jim_Lahey

    So if a teacher believes creationism teaches evolution would it not be very similar? Beliefs don’t necessarily preclude teaching the curriculum properly


  • Jim_Lahey

    Believing doesnt make what they preach the truth! That goes for any of them. If there were a substantial burden of proof all would be classified as liars!

  • Jim_Lahey

    All preachers say the bible is true! If it is not they are all equally guilty. It doesn’t matter what they believe. It is either true or false!

  • Antinomian

    Wow guest, does 1+1 really equal 3. Because not one thing in your post adds up.

    First, you claim to have been a Protestant minister (which demonination by the way?) who quit when you no longer believed because of your morals.

    Secondly, you define atheists as having relative moral principals by way of logic
    but then infer it’s wrong and then don’t state where you “think” morality should come from.

    My questions to you are: Where does morality come from and what did you do for a living after you stepped down? Or did you just misplace your ontological predicates?

  • Dea

    Although I was never clergy when I was mormon, I was the president of the women’s organization in my congregation when I started re-evaluating my faith. When I resigned from my volunteer leadership position and later the church, a dear friend of mine from the congregation, asked me how I could have attended the temple only a few weeks before leaving the church (a place only worthy, faithful, tithe-paying members of the church can go). She just couldn’t understand how I could go from temple-attending mormon to apostate in a few weeks. When I told her that my journey had started prior to that temple trip, she said I probably shouldn’t have gone. I responded by saying to her that I went to the temple looking for a confirmation of my faith. Even though I was questioning the church, I thought that there was a chance that I was “being led astray” and to me, the temple was the perfect place to bring my troubles. She got it then, that de-conversion does not happen overnight. But I’m not sure others got it. Leaving your faith behind is a process – leaving the community you love behind is even harder.

  • Antinomian

    I’d bet dollars to donuts that most if not all preachers and pastors going through this were waiting for a sign from their god to “set them back on the path” and renew their faith. They gave god every chance to answer their prayers, even over the course of many years, and eventually the fact that they were right in their doubts and it was completely clear that there is no god listening that they truly became atheists.

    Otherwise, to condemn them as frauds because of doubts is absolutist. If they ( they being the clergy in the Clergy Project) stayed much past the time they were convinced themselves, I’d be suprised.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Teachers ar not preachers. They do not give an oath to their students or the district that thy believe everything they are required by the curriculum to teach.

  • Rwlawoffice

    If the lawyer gave an oath to the court that he would only represent client that he thought were innocent and then he would be committing fraud on the court. But there is plenty of reasons why a person is found not guilty.

    As for the two different congregations different preachers make different statements of faith. If he made one he didn’t believe he would be committing fraud by accepting employment with a church whose doctrine he didn’t agree with.

  • Sonorus

    What he’s really afraid of is how many pastors in his own denomination might deconvert if they had someone to talk to who wouldn’t shame or guilt them into denying their own doubts.  He’s afraid to find out how many of the “faithful” are no such thing.

  • kaydenpat

    Mohler should appreciate the ex-pastor’s honesty in coming out – even if he doesn’t agree with their stance.  And I’m not sure why he doesn’t understand that it’s a struggle to come out of something you were raised in and was a huge part of your life.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Not doing so well on that whole Christian compassion and forgiveness thing, are you?

    Judge not, lest you be judged.

    Typically when someone litigates to redress a wrong, there are lawyers on the other side trying to prevent it. Got a rationalisation for that too, I bet.

    If every pastor who ever had a doubt about the improbable stuff he was expected to teach decided the only right thing to do was quit, there’d be very few pulpits that ever got put to use.

  • ruth

    I read Clinton’s autobiography because I am in it.  :)  

  • ruth

    No court is going to find fraud based upon failure to disclose your thoughts.    

  • Alex

    Problem is, they are far from marginalized. A 10%, 20%, hell, even 30% drop in numbers would still leave them in majority. That’s why I have nothing but scorn and contempt when I read comments like “if we don’t defend our Christian privilege, then we will all lined up and shot!”

  • Alex

     will all be lined up, that is

  • Charles Collom

    Do they publish a list of their membership? Or do they keep it anonymous (as they say “confidential”) to the outside world? Thus, they are anonymous.

    Does their website banner say, “Moving beyond faith?” Do the leaders of the Clergy Project advocate nontheistic worldviews? Thus, they are advancing nontheism.

    It is disingenuous to deny that the reason atheists (of the skeptic/humanist variety) support the Clergy Project is because it is promoting atheism. We’re not sitting around talking about how the Presbyterian Booster Club or First Baptist Women’s Auxiliary support clergy. No, we’re supporting the Clergy Project because the Clergy Project advances atheism and supports people. In that order.

  • ImRike

     If as a lawyer, you are defending a murderer, even knowing perfectly well that he did the deed, and taking a salary for doing it, are you calling yourself an honest person? I know you will say that’s not the same at all, but in the end it is. You’re taking money for a lie, and the better you do your job, the more praise you will get. It’s the action that counts, not what you know or think.

  • amycas

    It was a hypothetical situation, not a real one brought up to prove a point. In a hypothetical, a person is allowed to define the peramaters of the situation.

  • amycas

     No, you are professing that you will do the job that the contract demands, and contracts cannot demand that you adhere to beliefs. They can demand actions, but they cannot demand actual beliefs. As long as you are fulfilling your duties then it is not a breach of contract. Notice however, that churches do not have to follow that part of the Civil Rights Act about non-discrimination, so they can fire you if they find out you’re an atheist and a court wouldn’t make any judgements against the church, but the church cannot then sue for breach of contract, because job contracts cannot compel somebody to hold a certain belief.

  • amycas

     Let me clarify: churches can fire you if they find out that you don’t actually believe the correct dogma, but they cannot sue you for breach of contract. These are two separate legal issues.

  • amycas

     Where’s the harm? The money they paid to the secret atheist pastor would have been the same as the money paid to a true-believing pastor. So there is no material injury. Also, unless you think the atheist knows that the Bible is false (in which case, the court would have to prove that the sermons were false, which a US court would never agree to do), then no, it is not fraud.

  • amycas

     Reply to Rw: Pastors don’t necessarily give oaths either. What’s your point? Also, as said before, a church would not be able to sue based on fraud or breach of contract, because a court of law would not agree to hold a hearing on the factual basis of any religious belief.

  • amycas

     Actually, a lawyer wouldn’t say “I know he is guilty.” The term “guilty” has an actual legal meaning, and a person cannot be guilty until a jury actually finds them guilty.

  • amycas

     Well first of all, if a church were to try to bring suit against an secret atheist pastor, they would try the case in civil court, not criminal. In civil court, the standard of evidence is not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s merely the “preponderance of the evidence.” All a lawyer has to do to get a “not guilty” (which does not mean “innocent” so it’s not lying or perjury) is to show reasonable doubt in the prosecutor’s case. That can be done by poking holes in the prosecutor’s case or by having an alibi or some other defense theory (like insanity or a lack of a demonstration of mens rea).

  • amycas

     Please, stop using criminal cases as an example. They follow a different standard of evidence, and a “not guilty” verdict does not necessarily mean “innocent.” Lawyers defend everybody, they have a legal and ethical obligation to do that (except under very special circumstances).

  • amycas

    I don’t think you have to be an atheist to be a member of the Clergy Project*. You just have to be someone who no longer believes the dogma of your church and you need help extracting yourself from the position. I support the Clergy Project because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. I wasn’t a pastor, but I worked in the church nursery, and over the course of a few years working there, I slowly lost my faith. I was an atheist for about the last 8 or 9 months that I worked there. I fulfilled the duties I was hired to do though, and as soon as I was able to quit, I did. I wanted to make sure they had somebody competent to take over my class, and I also had to make sure that I wouldn’t take too much of a hit by quitting my second job. If it was difficult for me, then I can bet that it’s about 100 times more difficult for somebody whose entire career and most of their adult life was devoted to this position. I support the Clergy Project because it supports people.

    Not directed toward you personally:

    I’m getting annoyed that over and over again I hear people say that one should go to church for the community and support and values it gives one and one’s family, and then they disparage the atheist movement for not yet having that community. I normally explain that community building is a long and arduous task and that the atheist movement is still in its infancy; it hasn’t had thousands of years with which to build secular communities. Now, when we do have a good program that provides support and community for atheists who need it, we’re condemned for it.

    *If I’m wrong I shall sacrifice up to 70 foreskins to baal.

  • amycas

     can this comment be deleted? The computer I was on earlier went all spazzy and didn’t post it originally, but it’s up now in the correct place.

  • Glasofruix

    A lawyer should be impartial, is it a breach of trust if he thinks that his client is guilty as shit but manages to defend him to the best outcome possible?

  • Glasofruix

    Oh wow, in 4 points you described the very roots of any religion:
    2)Knowledge that it’s all lies
    3)With the intent to exploit those lies
    4)To rob guillible people

  • soul_biscuit

    No, a lawyer should not be impartial. A lawyer should zealously represent the interests of her client, in keeping with her ethical obligations. Whatever she might think about her client’s guilt, if she doesn’t try to “defend him to the best outcome possible” then she’s violated her professional responsibilities.

  • Maria

    True, but (very) presumably, all of these preachers came into the job fully believing, and fully wanting to make a difference to others by preaching….only further into this journey is where the doubts come in.  At that point, obviously one is in too deep to simply say “I don’t believe anymore, I quit” The schooling you took, the community you’re a part of, etc. all make it very difficult to just move into another way of life.  Choosing to be a preacher is a lifestyle choice, and transitioning out of an entire style of life can’t possibly be easy. I would compare it to someone coming out of the closet late in life (maybe late 30s, early 40s). Maybe they’ve married someone of the opposite sex, fully believing they loved that person as they should. Maybe they procreated with that person.  It’s probably just as hard to go from living that life to transitioning into a “gay” life, whatever that means.  And it doesn’t make them a fraud because they went into it with good intentions.  No one would straight up purposely lie to themselves like that.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Yes they do. Pastors when they join a church or get certified by a denomination make a public profession of faith. If they ever change that faith they have a duty to disclose it.

    How do you know a court would never hear a case involving religious belief? Intent and mental thoughts are all through the legal system.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Why is that when it pointed out that some defrauds a church the person committing the fraud whines when they don’t get the compassion they think they deserve? And I never said a church would or should sue. My point us that the pastor who knowingly took a salary under false pretenses is committing fraud. We are not discussing pastors who have periods of doubt which does happen. We are talking about those that have become atheists and stay in the pulpit under a lie.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Fraud being committed is not based upon fraud being discovered. The pastors lived a lie but didn’t get caught.

    A church is a community of believers. When you join you are saying that you share in those beliefs. As a pastor you are the leader of that community and you have a special responsibility . Additionally there are biblical scriptures relating to leaders in the church which they are expected to follow. This is more than just a teacher reciting from a book.

  • Rwlawoffice

    That is not the case for a pastor. I have been on a search committee for a church. I also have pastors in my family.
    The beliefs of the pastor being in line with the church are paramount to getting the job. For example, a Methodist pastor would not get a job in a Lutheran church.

  • C Peterson

    If you’re used to 90%, 85% makes you feel marginalized. And it’s the trend they’re aware of, not the actual numbers. And the trend is working against them. So they feel threatened.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Indeed. Such is the nature of entitlement and privilege.

  • Silo Mowbray

    “No.  It’s lying.  But then, it’s atheism.”

    The combined irony and bullshit in those seven words should be massive enough to nudge the Earth into a larger orbit.

  • B. Pecker

    Rw, thanks so much for taking time away from your old copies of  Rick Santorum’s newsletters.
    Now, please go back to them.

  • MarkPanzarino

    So, in other words,  even the religious can see that the members of The Clergy Project are behaving in an outright selfish manner to a wide degree…something which I’ve criticized them for in my blog post here:

    Seriously.  Time to rethink the agenda and format of the program.

  • Chris Highland

    As a former clergyperson and current member of The Clergy Project I hear no mention by the critics that many members, including me, have already walked out the door of the Church (and yes, of Faith too).  I wish there had been something like TCP in those years when I was finding faith less and less relevant to doing the good work that needed to be done in my community.   

  • Chris Highland

    Let me clarify:  there are many ex-clergy who join TCP to support and encourage (and generally be “pastoral”) for those who are seeking a way out.  Many churches, with the culture of denial and dishonesty, create an untenable, life-draining position for some in leadership who desperately want to tell the whole truth, but that would be too much for the masses.  So, while they are suffering, we are there to stand with them and do what the church cannot do:  assist good, talented people who simply want an exodus to a life after faith.