Earlier this month, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation made a huge contribution to The Clergy Project to the tune of $100,000. The purpose: To help pastors-turned-atheists leave the ministry for good and learn skills that will help them transition into a secular career:
The first recipient of an “Employment Transition Assistance Grant” has now been announced on the Clergy Project’s website: It’s “Adam,” a closeted atheist and current pastor:
For the last four years, I have felt trapped and at times hopeless because I am a closeted atheist pastor. After much reflection, I no longer share the religious beliefs of the faith community I serve. I belong to a fundamentalist, evangelical, Bible-believing denomination, which means if anyone found out about my change in beliefs, I would lose my job immediately and plunge my family into financial ruin.
For the last two years, I have secretly sought a secular job but have been unable to find one. While I have good skills that are transferable, I, like many other job seekers, have been facing tough competition and challenging economic conditions. Not being able to be open with others about my situation and my desires has compounded the difficulty. I became so discouraged that I eventually stopped applying for jobs and wondered if I would ever be able to leave the faith that I no longer accepted. While I longed to leave hypocrisy and pretense behind, I felt I had to put the security and wellbeing of my loved ones above my own comfort and learn to live with the pain of professing a faith I no longer believed.
Fortunately, I became a member of The Clergy Project and, thanks to the generosity of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, I am receiving valuable assistance in finding sustainable employment. Having the services of a professional outplacement service — including a highly trained transition coach, a resume writer, use of personality and skill assessment tools, access to numerous private training resources, and even handpicked placement opportunity leads — has made all the difference. I am once again hopeful.
I know I am not alone in my desire to leave the ministry, so I am very excited not only for the prospect of my own new life, but also for the prospects of my friends currently in ministry who want to lead a life centered on reason instead of faith. Securing secular employment will no doubt be the crucial first step in safely moving beyond faith to a much wider world of opportunity.
I asked the acting Executive Director of the Clergy Project, Catherine Dunphy, if she had any advice for “Adam” and she told me this:
Shortly after the Clergy Project launched in March 2011, Adam and I spoke about the challenges that our members face when leaving ministry and what was needed to help them transition to secular employment. At the top of that list was the need for employment resources; thanks to Todd [Stiefel] and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation we now have the resources to respond to this challenge.
Adam is my friend, peer, and Clergy Project brother and I am tremendously excited about the potential impact this program has to assist him as he takes steps to transition out of active ministry.”
And I’m excited about the fact that Adam won’t be the first and last person leaving the ministry as a result of this program. There are no doubt many more pastors out there who don’t believe in God, yet who stay in their jobs because of the paycheck. If there was a way out, they would take it. Like getting a big inheritance, the assistance won’t solve all of their problems, but it will certainly help.
This is a way out.