Teresa MacBain, a Pastor-Turned-Atheist, Celebrates Her One Year ‘Coming Out’ Anniversary

One year ago, for the first time in her life, Teresa MacBain told the assembled crowd at the American Atheists Convention that she didn’t believe in God… and this is what happened:

I didn’t know anything at all about you [atheists]. I had never seen your faces. You were just “those people.” And I was the one on the right track. And you were the ones that were gonna burn in hell… and I’m happy to say as I stand before you right now, I’m gonna burn with you!

Teresa joined the Clergy Project (for other pastors who were questioning faith or had secretly become atheists), later became the Public Relations Director for American Atheists, and now serves as the executive director of the Humanists of Florida Association.

Quite a run for an ex-pastor.

Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service caught up with her to see what her life has been like over the past year:

Her coming out was national news, and she expected it would cost her her position as pastor of a United Methodist church, and she expected she might lose some friends and family members. In the last year, she has lost all those things.

But there have been gains, too, including a new career, the embrace of a new community that she had been taught to distrust and a newfound sense of confidence.

There have been many such small joys and victories in the last year, MacBain said. Chief among them is the acceptance she found in the local freethought community — atheists, humanists and other nonbelievers — after her former church fired her and locked her out of the building.

“The freethought community just wrapped its arms around us,” she said. “Not just me, but my whole family.”

It’s a beautiful story and the video posted above damn near got a tear out of me. I remember going through that moment myself — thinking that the atheists I was reading were the crazy ones, only to realize not long after that I was one of them.

Teresa will be speaking at the American Atheists Convention this weekend — her “coming out” anniversary — and she’ll talk about what she’s been through over the past year.

What a role model and inspiration she is to so many people who are still in the closet because their professional lives depend on it.

Teresa is living proof that there is an afterlife once you leave the church.

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://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I was there, and it was an electrifying moment. She had so much more to risk and to lose than I did that there was no comparison, yet I still was afraid. But the effect of someone coming out publicly is contagious and cumulative. Less than a year later, I came out in my home town in front of 6oo fundamentalists. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/03/04/well-and-truly-out-my-first-public-speaking-as-an-atheist/.

    Teresa’s courage was a big help in getting over my timidness. Everyone has their own level of fear, from high to none at all, and everyone has their own situations to consider, from complicated to simple. But everyone who does come out gives everyone else more safety and confidence to do so too. This is why it is accelerating in our society.

    • Eamon Knight

      I was there too. Not a dry eye in the house, I think.

  • advancedatheist

    If MacBain burns in hell with the rest of us, at least she’ll know that her earthly life had meaning & purpose after all.

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

    what really chaps my ass is that it’s totally ok and practiced in this country, despite many laws forbidding it, for people to discriminate in hiring on the basis of (lack of) religion. we need more aggressive lawsuits and legislation preventing this. not just for atheists, but for the “wrong” kind of believer, christian, muslim, hindu, whatever.

    i am deeply sick and tired of evanglical xtian privilege in this country. they aren’t even a majority, they’re just the loudest. it’s time for them to learn: in a secular nation, laws should protect everyone, not just those who belong to one “right” club of believers.

  • ORAXX

    Bravo!

  • rick povero

    ** Converting to what — jettisoning xian forms “inbred” into western culture

    Hmm…a conversion story…too much cult-verisimilitude. Too much left over pixie dust — I’m allergic to “religious” enthusiasm and associated psycholgical states. The xian model of induced guilt (I’m a miserable sinner) followed by ego inflation (I’m saved and you’re damned) belongs to the chapter of ‘xian torture methods’. Take a look at ‘Atheist Manifesto’ by Michel Onfray for a discussion of how hard a post-xian culture will be to achieve.

  • cag

    Teresa founded the Clergy Project

    If the Clergy Project was founded March 21, 2011 then it has existed for just over 2 years. All credit to Teresa, but I’m sure this is not one of them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I was getting that information from the NPR piece.
      http://www.npr.org/2012/04/30/151681248/from-minister-to-atheist-a-story-of-losing-faith
      I know she graduated from TCP, but I wonder why NPR said it that way…

      • cag

        Hemant, it was a transcription error, the original says

        About a year ago, MacBain found The Clergy Project, an anonymous online community of clergy who have lost their faith.

        With your prodigious output, there are bound to be some minor issues.

        Thanks for the link.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          You’re right. I’m wrong. I edited the piece to fix the mistake. Thanks for pointing it out to me!

  • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

    Today I had breakfast with Teresa at the Women in Secularism Conference. She’s so…awesome. What a story she has.


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