Support a Documentary About Ex-Preacher Jerry DeWitt

Jason Cohn and Camille Servan-Schreiber first heard about Jerry DeWitt when he was profiled in the New York Times. They knew they wanted to document his story in a different way so they began speaking to him, following him, and filming him.

The result is a film called The Outcast of Beauregard Parish:

The movie is still being made and the filmmakers could use your help:

Jerry’s book is coming out in June, which is likely to change a lot of things for him. In the same week he is planning a major secular service in Baton Rouge, which may be the beginning of the humanist congregation down the road from Bobby Jindal’s statehouse. This means we will need to do a ton of filming in June. And since we are based in California, this all gets expensive fast. Your contribution will allow us to continue filming with Jerry while editing the fundraising reels that we need to approach major funders such as ITVS, Sundance, the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a lot of work but we hope you’ll agree that getting Jerry’s story to the widest audience is well worth it.

If that trailer is any indication, this is going to be great. They’ve raised about $8,000 of their $30,000 goal so far, so please consider chipping in if you think this project is worthwhile.

(Thanks to Chad for the link!)

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.

  • Mick

    Do these ex-preachers ever apologise to the people they seduced into their religion, or do they just leave them there, believing a lie?

    • randall.morrison90

      Lets get this straight…
      DeWitt preached and asked for donations.
      Now he is an ex preacher…and asking for donations, or people are asking for donations on his behalf.
      DeWitt continued to preach when he no longer believed…
      But DeWitt can be believed when he tells us what a great Christian he was and why he Really “deconverted”.
      Sorry, No Sale…I will not be donating a dime: between taxes and my increasing medical costs due to Obamacare I am done.
      Things are gonna change.

      • Paul Reed

        He “continued to preach” because (1) he was not trained for anything else, and (2) he was still figuring things out; what he believed, what he could do, where he could go, etc.
        From what he’s said in interviews etc, he didn’t set out to deceive anyone, and his preaching gradually focussed less on God and the supernatural, and more on “love your neighbour” teachings closer to humanism.
        The donation is not to Jerry, it’s to the film-makers. That money goes toward the costs of the documentary. If you’re not willing or able to donate, fine. You don’t have to be a dick about it.

        • 7Footpiper

          Thank you, Somehow finding words to express the utter douche-baggery of some people in a civilised manner escaped me last night

      • blasphemous_kansan

        You insinuated that atheism predisposes one to murderous tendencies on another thread about the prospective atheist mayor, so I don’t really think you were going to donate anyway.

        You are no paragon of honesty on these threads (any more death threats from mean ol’ atheists lately?), so it’s laughable for you to criticize DeWitt in this manner.

        >>”Things are gonna change.”

        Duh. That’s the only thing they ever do.

      • Gus Snarp

        You won’t be donating? What a shock. As if anyone would have thought someone like you would donate to this in the first place. What on earth made you feel the need to tell us you wouldn’t donate as if you were the target audience?

        “Things are gonna change.” What things? Obviously not you, you’re not talking about changing, you’re talking about acting exactly the way every previous comment you’ve made on this blog suggests you would act.

      • Clay Richard

        Why is it Christians can never bear to miss the opportunity to judge others? Does that loving god send us ex-Christians to a speccial place in the deepest, hottest part of hell? I bet you get your rocks off dreaming about us burning in the lake of fire.

      • Clay Richard

        Real change is already here.

        The rising numbers of Americans with no religious affiliation is on the rise, which led to the percentage of Protestant adults in the U.S. reaching a new low of 48 per cent.

        This is the first time that Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has reported with certainty that the number has fallen below 50 per cent.

        The drop has long been anticipated and comes at a time when there no Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Republicans have their first presidential ticket with no Protestant nominees.

        The percentage of Protestant adults in the U.S. has reached a low of 48 percent, the first time that the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has reported with certainty that the number has fallen below 50 percent. The drop has long been anticipated and comes at a time when no Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Republicans have their first presidential ticket with no Protestant nominees.

        The Pew study, released early Tuesday, found that about 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years.

        For the first time in history we have a president (along with 51% of Americans) who realizes the 14th amendment applies to LGBT citizens too! In a study earlier this month, the Washington-based Pew Research Center found more than 70 percent of those polled under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage.
        The reign of the theocrats is ending!

  • A3Kr0n

    I didn’t see the whole talk Jerry gave. Was he being sarcastic?
    From the video it sounds like he’s trying to play his emotional mind games on atheists like he did on believers.

    • Paul Reed

      I’ve heard him on a few podcasts etc. He used to be a preacher, and apparently he still slips into that “mode” sometimes when speaking. It’s just a result of getting absorbed in what you’re saying, I guess

    • Valorie Kappmeyer

      I did see Jerry entire talk on Easter morning in Austin. He in no way was being sarcastic. He did a fantastic job and was the highlight of the convention. This documentary will happen. Perhaps people who don’t know what they are talking about should not talk at all.

      • A3Kr0n

        And people can’t ask questions either, right?
        I’m just sayin’…

  • Dave Warnock

    It’s obvious by some of the comments here that some folks don’t understand the dynamics involved when one de-converts. There are no mind games…there is no lack of sincerity…it’s truly an identity crisis unlike anything ever experienced. If you have never given your life to something only to one day realize that it wasn’t true; that you no longer believe it… then suffer criticism, shunning and judgment from “loving” Christians…then you don’t understand what he’s going through. It’s fine if you don’t want to contribute, but there is no need to pass along your judgement.

    • Billy Bob

      Agreed. Some of these comments are things I would expect form Pat Robertson.

  • Matt

    Follow the story of a heroic atheist-at-least-at-the-moment, hated by backwoods Louisianans, left by his clearly unsavory wife, as he goes on a harrowing journey from person who talks at people in a church to person who talks at people at humanist events. See his struggles as he makes more money than ever before. See the desperation in his eyes as he commits first to his career and only second to his message.

    Jerry DeWitt. Clearly a douchebag.

    • blasphemous_kansan

      >>”See his struggles as he makes more money than ever before. See the desperation in his eyes as he commits first to his career and only second to his message.”

      Ha! The Pope is funny like that, isn’t he?

    • Paul Reed

      While I support your right to make up any old crap, please try to keep reality in sight when talking about real issues.

      DeWitt went from Christian to atheist. Nothing suggests that he’s likely to start believing again, let alone that he changes his mind on a whim as you suggested.
      Nothing suggests and no-one has claimed that his ex-wife is “clearly unsavory”.
      Your use of “talks at” suggests that you got an impression of dogmatic authority where – again – none is evident.
      Unless you have access to Mr DeWitt’s accounts, you have no idea how much money he makes, let alone whether it’s “more…than ever before”.
      You have nowhere stated what you perceive Mr DeWitt’s “message” to be, let alone how he’s supposedly neglecting it to advance his “career”. In fact, since he’s now a writer and speaker, it would seem that his message and career amount to much the same thing.

      And finally, there’s nothing at all to support your final sentence. Unless, of course, you were talking about yourself.

      • Matt

        What this article, the video, and kickstarter told me about Jerry DeWitt:

        1) He will say things he does not believe for money

        2) He only apparently stopped saying things he did not believe for money when he was outed by a relative, not due to any moral conviction

        3) His previous career was a pentecostal preacher in a small Louisiana town – I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he was making little money

        4) His new career has him telling his boo-hoo story at atheist/humanist conferences – I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he is now making more money than a small-town pentecostal preacher

        5) His new career is identical to his old career insofar as he is delivering a message in exchange for money with a manipulative pentecostal-ly flare

        6) His wife left him apparently because of his change in faith – to me that makes her as unsavory as can be

        I think I have more than enough evidence to be skeptical of both his message and his intentions. I also consider anyone who knowingly lies and misleads groups of people for money a fucking douchebag.

        Therefore, Jerry DeWitt is clearly a douchebag.

        • Paul Reed

          My point is that you’re making bold assertions without anything real to back it up. Your whole argument is on shaky ground.

          Where do you get the idea that it’s “all about the money”? As I said, you have no actual information to back this up. At best, it’s speculation. At worst, slander.

          I’ve addressed all of this above: Deconversion can be a gradual and delicate process, especially for a pastor in a highly religious small town. As well as dealing with his own faith issues, there were logistical issues of (if and when he ‘comes out’ as atheist), what happens next? Finding a job must be next to impossible if everyone thinks you’re of the devil. And family and friends would certainly keep their distance.

          It’s not as simple as “Hey, I suddenly don’t believe anymore. But I’m onto a good thing, so I’ll just lie to people for the money”, then “Oops, they’re onto me. I guess I’ll just transition effortlessly to speaking for atheists instead. Huh, why didn’t I do this earlier since I’m apparently making so much more money now, and that’s obviously the only thing I ever care about!”

          It’s more like: He starts to doubt certain teachings, so he stops preaching those things while doing study and research about them. Gradually more and more things bother him, so he omits those too, while trying to salvage his faith. And so on. Eventually he’s preaching a bare-bones sermon that’s virtually humanism.
          As it turns out, he preached for the last time in April 2011, and months later was “outed” as an atheist in October 2011. Evidently, he tried to quietly slip away from his pastor role without riling up the neighbours. Y’know, to keep the peace. It was only when someone noticed him in a photo that the town found out and went ape-shit. Remember, this is a highly religious town, so of course they did the loving thing and fired him from his job, and his wife left him. Sure it was a dick thing to do, but unsavory? Maybe. But that aspect is irrelevant.
          Mr DeWitt’s day-job now appears to be speaking at conferences and writing books. Most atheist conferences, to my knowledge, are voluntary or at least non-profit. And books don’t necessarily sell very well, especially in niche markets. Which leads me to be skeptical of your ideas about Mr DeWitt’s supposed superstar lifestyle. And even if he is making a little more now, that’s a far cry from it being the driving motivation!

          “I also consider anyone who knowingly lies and misleads groups of people for money a fucking douchebag.”
          Sure. And if you had any proof of any of that, I’d agree wholeheartedly.

  • Gus Snarp

    I feel for what this guy went (is going) through, and his talk with the local atheist group seemed like it might be valuable and compelling. But this video, short as it was, had three effects on me that might be slightly contradictory:

    1. Watching him go into preacher mode left me totally cold. I don’t care that I might agree with his words, being in a room full of people acting like a pentecostal congregation would freak me out and I would want to leave. I usually say the idea of atheist church is not for me, but if it is valuable to other atheists, good for them, no skin off my nose. But if they’ve got somebody doing that kind of preaching, I just find it too disturbing. It’s not something I think should be going on. Good arguments still need persuasive style, but they don’t need brainwashing style.

    2. I lost all interest in every going to an atheist or skeptical conference or convention just from seeing the bumper sticker sales rack.

    3. I really found myself disliking David Silverman from his brief clip, where I’d been ambivalent about him before. I’ll try not to judge him on such a brief, highly edited impression.

    So interesting idea for a documentary, probably very interesting. But is it going to make me actively dislike everyone and everything involved?

    • Kingasaurus

      “Watching him go into preacher mode left me totally cold.”

      I understand how some can feel that way, especially those who have a strong religious background where such a method of speaking can trigger a negative response (not saying that’s you).

      For me, the content of the message is the most important thing, and being an entertaining and dynamic speaker is just fine, if that’s your thing. If I think the message is B.S., no amount of preacher-style voice inflections are going to move me. If I agree with the message, I don’t think it hurts, really.

      I can appreciate that this is the only way Jerry knows how to talk when it comes to addressing a large group of people. If that’s his comfort zone, I’m not personally troubled by it. Other’s reaction can differ, of course.

  • Louis LeJeune

    I’m in this! Jerry is amazing!

    • Louis LeJeune

      Yes, that’s Jerry and I in front of the bean in Chicago lol