A Conversation with a Pastor Who Wants to Get Out of the Pulpit

Last month, the Clergy Project announced its participation in the RiseSmart [Transition] Assistance program, which would help current pastors acquire the skills they need to transition out of the ministry and into a new career.

The first grant recipient was “Adam,” a pastor at a fundamentalist, evangelical church.

At the time, we didn’t know much about Adam, other than his self-description and the fact that he was stuck in his position and coming out as an atheist could ruin him financially and hurt his family.

Doug Erickson of the Wisconsin State Journal got in touch with Adam and learned a lot more about this mysterious man trying to get out of the pulpit:

Adam, a staff preacher at a large fundamentalist church in Tennessee, said his wife is aware that he is struggling with his faith, but even she doesn’t know the extent of his dilemma.

“Some days, I get so frustrated with the situation, I think it would be best to just lay it all out there and deal with the fallout,” Adam said. “But I don’t think that would be fair to my family.”

Adam said his transition from firebrand to atheist was relatively quick. He took a quiz in a Christian book in 2008 and realized he was ill-equipped to defend his creationist views. That sent him to the Internet where, for the first time, he read deeply about evolution. Within six months, he’d changed his views.

“I never, ever imagined this would happen to me,” he said. “I was so strong in my faith.”

He realizes some parishioners will be very upset with him when he comes clean. “I know there will be anger. The reason: I’m not who they think I am.”

But after he comes out, he may find more freedom than he’s ever had before. I hope after he makes his transition out of the ministry, he’ll go public with his atheism. Courageous people like this deserve to be known and thanked publicly.

(image via Shutterstock)

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.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    as a holder of a degree with “Div” in it, i can understand the problem he’s got. it isn’t so helpful in today’s job market outside of jobs that relate to religion.

    but thems the breaks, Adam. you’re going to have to suck it up, and find a job, even one that is beneath your level of education perhaps, and get your family on board with the difficult transition to secular life. it’s going to be especially hard for you, as i suspect a lot of business owners in your area are xtians and probably won’t be in favor of hiring someone who not only became and atheist, but stood up pretending to believe and minister for a significant period after that transformation, and for the money, on top of that.

    start looking into jobs in counseling centers. consider moving out of the area. save every penny you can, buy nothing new or expensive until you’ve got another job. if your wife isn’t working, encourage her to start looking for work as well. and come clean with her. she’s your wife. she deserves to know. i don’t feel too strongly about fooling your congregation, as i believe a majority of fundamentalist preachers are secretly not-believers and only in it for the money- so you fit right in. but your life partner is different, as are your children. they deserve to know the truth.

  • gg

    The preachers with the fundie evangelical churches preach because they believe they have a ‘calling’. They have not necessarily had a college education. Many go directly from HS to the pulpit.

  • Chris B

    “He realizes some parishioners will be very upset with him when he comes clean. “I know there will be anger. The reason: ‘I’m not who they think I am.’”

    To be fair, he isn’t who he thought he was either. He was only “lying” for the amount of time that was necessary to safely transition himself and his family. I personally think that is a fair arrangement. All beliefs are, and should be, subject to change when presented with credible evidence to the contrary. I do not envy anyone who is in the position of having a change in belief, of any kind, affect their ability to provide for themselves or their family.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    if that’s the case, Adam has two choices:

    a)get a job that a HS grad can get, and learn to live on that wage
    b)go back to school. you can support a family with a combination of student loans, part time jobs, and scholarships. i did. it’s hard, but it can be done.

    one of the things i’m very intolerant of is the way a lot of believers get all “woe is me! what ever shall i do?” when faced with harsh reality. that all the rest of us manage to deal with every day. we get blisters on our hands even, from working so hard.

    i shared this link with a pagan wiccan friend of mine. she was livid. she was all like, “i know so many battered women in shelters who would do anything for a $2.5K kickstart for a new life. i hope this [ ] knows how lucky he has it.”

    for the record i support this program and hope those responsible for it are able to extend and expand it. nothing is more powerful than an ex-believer moving on to life in the real world.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Many “deconversions” for religious lay people are painful enough. To add the anguish of being a cleric with failed faith makes this a situation where I think it is wise to not rush to harsh judgment.

    I don’t think it is fair to dismiss or disdain all clergy as con artists because a few can be so transparently crass. Nor is it fair to condemn them all as liars because we view their beliefs as false. To do so would be to also condemn the many atheists in our own ranks who were once sincere, fervent believers, and who worked to spread their beliefs to others. They might look upon their own past with chagrin, but it should not be the task of the rest of us to add to their pain with undeserved denouncement.

    Let us simply be glad that another person is free of delusion, and glad that a way has been found around the financial trap he was in.

  • kmob3

    I certainly would not offer him a job and I am not a Christian. It is not only Christians who will be shocked by the cruelty of his lies.

    You say you do not feel strongly about his fooling the congregation because the majority of fundamentalist preachers are ‘only in it for the money’. Even if you are right, and I do not think for a moment that you are, I don’t see how such vile behaviour becomes better because a lot of people do it.

  • Claude

    Thank you for posting this; I am also struck by the harsh responses. This guy is in a real jam, he has children, his worldview has turned upside down. Good for the Clergy Project for coming to his aid.

    Have some compassion, friendly atheists.

  • Valancy Jane

    You know, it’s kind of weird that “religious leader” is the one job where we require the applicant to become a slave, body and soul, to the public. It doesn’t seem to me that it’d matter that much what he believes as long as he’s performing the services of the job adequately. Even in the military, a chaplain might affiliate with a particular religion but be open to helping others, and to my knowledge most soldiers are content with that as long as the stuff they need gets done (my info is based off a close relationship with a chaplain some years ago). But a pastor is expected to belong body and soul to the congregation and to be able to kowtow entirely to their particular take on the Bible. If he doesn’t, he is a traitor. This seems like a formula for disaster when a pastor discovers something isn’t quite right–be it infant baptism or “once saved always saved” or “prosperity gospel” preaching or women’s subjugation or the very existence of God himself.

    Ever since finding out about the great numbers of people who go to seminary and discover that the real truth behind Christianity and the Bible is *nothing* like the “low Christianity” most churches teach and preach, and ever since finding out that yes, there are church leaders who wish they could escape, I’ve been thinking about how blatantly unfair the entire job of “pastor” can be. It’s great if it’s what the person in question really wants, but if you step out of line even an inch, you’re doomed. And it’s not like working for a call center–your whole life, your family, your social connections, maybe even your entire town is wrought up in that “job.”

    Thank you for bringing some of your usual gentility and kindness to the table, Richard.

  • syracusehorn

    Finding a way to transition to a career outside the pulpit is the current priority for Adam and his family. I’ve been in situations where I knew that I was no longer as committed to my job as I once had been. I planned a transition to a new job. I was never obligated to quit the day that I decided to look for employment elsewhere.

    It’s got to be agonizing to be in this position. My experience was that deconversion didn’t happen instantly, and came with a lot of social baggage. Adding the stress of a professional commitment would only make it harder. It’s not like the guy never really believed and was faking it. He changed his mind after learning new information. If he works as an atheist minister for 20 more years, then he’s a fraud. If it takes him a year to find a new way to support his family, he’s just a responsible parent and spouse.

  • alconnolly

    Richard you show a lot of wisdom in your posts, and make valid points. However, I personally did not see anyone condemn all clergy as con artists. Based on the earlier post, Adam has known for two years that he is “an atheist” and continues to represent that he does believe to large numbers of people, including accepting money under that understanding. So in this case it is false to imply that a person who intentionally behaves deceptively and lies is the same as an individual who tells the truth as they see it and later learn they were incorrect. This post has more factors than last to make me feel a bit more gentle to Adams predicament regarding him not having told his wife. We still don’t know if it is simply his fear of the consequences on their relationship, which he needs to come to grips with, or whether it is the potential impact on his innocent children. If the motivation in all this is driven a great deal towards protecting his children which is not a claim he has made in this forum, I am very sympathetic, they are innocents and he is responsible for protecting them.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i guess i’m missing your point.

    what i am saying is simply that he’s about to face a harsh reality. people in his community are going to know, and talk. the Internet is forever, you can bet that someone in his community will find this thread, and others, about his persistence as a preacher even while he no longer believed. this will bite him on the ass, in more ways than one.

    i’m saying: buck up. actions have consequences. he can be a leader, a model for others who are going thru a similar transition. and he must, for the sake of his family.

    people like you won’t offer him a job. that’s the breaks. i don’t condemn you for it. what i am saying is that i feel compassion for the difficult transition he’s going to have to make. i hope he and his family can survive it, because a story like this is powerful, and will guide others who have similar crises.

  • Writer Writer

    Just a note here, Chicago; you’ve said or suggested several times Adam was “fooling” his congregation and pretended to believe. Not only are those comments uncharitable, they’re wrong. As with the vast majority of fundamentalists who leave their faith, they absolutely believe, lock, stock and smoking barrel. The reason they end up NOT believing – or knowing, actually – is exactly as Adam put it: they go looking for research to support their beliefs and end up KNOWING.

    But to suggest this man was dishonest is unkind.

  • kmob3

    Please look at the article.

    “Every Sunday, “Adam” says things to his parishioners he no longer believes.

    The evangelical pastor lost his faith a few years ago but is still in the pulpit”

    I don’t doubt for a moment that he once believed. But now he is a liar.

  • Writer Writer

    All pastors are liars – they all promote crap that is absolutely NOT TRUE, not verifiable and for which there is no evidence.

    This guy, like all pastors who BECOME honest and leave the ministry, needs a job, because he has a family to feed.

    “I’ve spent the last 15 years lying to people and selling a product that does not exist,” is not great on a resume….

    KMOB3, you must grow some charity. Seriously. This pastor is FAR more honest than any remaining in the pulpit and shilling religion.

  • Writer Writer

    Your reply would have so much more weight if it were grammatical and punctuated… Seriously.