Unbelieving Pastor Justifies Staying in the Pulpit

Editor’s Note:  In his second post, Andy, a UCC pastor committed to a social justice ministry, asks himself if he is a con man because he makes a living, in part, by pretending to believe in “…the metaphysics some people find necessary to ground them.”   What do you think?

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By “Andy”

Steve Martin plays a traveling evangelist in the 1992 movie, Leap of Faith. He’s a golden-tongued con man, heralding a message he himself discounts, but one that nets his ministry plenty of money from the gullible townsfolk who gather nightly in the tent to hear him. At one point he privately justifies his deception to a non-believer:

“Up in New York City they’ve got Broadway shows that cost $65 a pop just to walk in the door. Maybe you like the show and leave humming a tune, maybe you don’t and kick yourself. I give my people a good show, plenty of music, worthwhile sentiments and most of ‘em go home feeling like they’ve got some hope in their lives that wasn’t there before.”

Why do I love this movie so much? Probably because it’s about me. What unbelieving clergy hasn’t had this thought as s/he continues to earn a living off a message that no longer holds meaning for her/him? The question haunts me in quieter moments. Am I simply another Elmer Gantry? Perhaps more refined in philosophical reflection, but a con man nonetheless? I pay my bills from money I earn proclaiming a message about a metaphysical world in which I no longer believe.

I am troubled most when listening to the ‘subjectivist’ side of me—that side which speaks about motivations, intentions of the heart, private thoughts and impulses (and doubts) – that side which a Jewish rabbi once told me is one of the great differences between Christianity and Judaism. In Christianity, to lust after another is just as sinful as the outward act of adultery; whereas in Judaism, all that matters is the outward action. This ‘objectivist’ interpretation of action eases my conscience. It matters not what my inner beliefs, feelings and misgivings are; I am paid to do a job, and I do it. Or as Steve Martin’s character proclaims—in exchange for remuneration – I share ‘worthwhile sentiments’ or at least what congregants want to hear. Most leave thinking it was a good experience worth expending time and money for.

I can’t say I will ever be comfortable with this appeasement of conscience, but it does seem to keep me going. The money factor is an important one for non-believing clergy who are still plying their craft. In mainline churches, a pastor can earn $60-$70k per year, plus paid housing, full health insurance, generous retirement benefits and all professional expenses.  That’s nothing to sneeze at. It doesn’t surprise me at all that many unbelieving clergy elect to remain in the pulpit.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of being invited into the homes of many people. I’ve discovered that most folks experience the same conflict of feelings about their work. I suspect that most everyone has a story about dishonesty on the job. In an economy that is as damaged as ours and in a system where economic Darwinism prevails, are we not all dilettantes to some extent? Have we not at some point swallowed hard and remained silent when inner passions begged expression? Have we not capitulated to the survival instinct when the better angels of our nature cry out for acknowledgement? Absolutely.

Is this approach valid?  I can’t answer for anyone else. For me, it’s workable. The major investment of time in my parish is given to peace and justice ministries – not the metaphysics some people find necessary to ground them. Insofar as I concern myself with objective, measurable outcomes, I can live with myself.

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Bio:  ‘Andy,’ a former Southern Baptist Minister, is currently a Pastor in the United Church of Christ. He plans to retire in the church, despite his rejection of metaphysical speculation (God, salvation, heaven, etc.). His life has been an evolution from traditional theism, to non-theism (via Tillich and Spong), to agnosticism (via linguistic philosophy), to ‘incipient atheism’ (via secular humanism). He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from a major American university.  

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About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • Ambaa

    Thank you for being so honest. It’s very moving to see your true struggles with this question.

    • Andy

      Thank you for your affirmation.

  • David: Atheist Ex-Pastor

    Thanks for your candour. I began my journey “from the pulpit” in my fifties and so after a career of ministry, I had the benefit of being able to take an early retirement when I knew that my heart was no longer in my preaching, even though I would not have called myself an atheist at the time. I have often asked myself what I would have done if I’d changed my mind in my mid thirties with three young children. It would be easy for someone to say that you should just walk away, but walk away to what? Again, initiatives such as The Clergy Project and this site are allowing people the chance to tell their story in a confidential setting. My heart goes out to you as you continue to labour under the rubrics of peace and justice.

    • Andy

      I ponder retirement as well. I will need to wait till I’m 65, as I currently figure. I’m glad you were able to accomplish this earlier, before your full de-conversion.

  • John Lombard

    As a TCP member, this is one of the biggest issues that I struggle with. For those ‘actives’ (people who have rejected religion, but still stay in the pulpit) who do so because it’s difficult to get out (“How do I find another job?” “My spouse might leave me if I told her I’m an atheist”, etc.), but who are TRYING to find a way out, I can support that. And for those (admittedly a small group) who openly admit that they are atheists, and their congregations can accept that (mostly UCC or very liberal congregations), I have no problem with that, either.

    But for those who must lie or be otherwise deceptive about their beliefs, pretending to beliefs that they don’t really hold, and who have no INTENTION of trying to get out, who WANT to stay in…I’m sorry, but I have real problems with that. I’m not quite sure from the article above whether the author would fall into that category or not, so this is not directed specifically at him, but is intended more as a general comment.

    First, I object specifically because it IS deliberately deceptive; you are taking a position of trust and responsibility, receiving money and support from your congregation, and all based on LIES. If they were to know the truth of what you believe, would they still accept you in that position? If yes…then tell them. If no…then you should be taking steps to get out.

    Second, I object because of how it reflects on other atheists and Humanists. I regularly hear accusations that atheists have some sort of ‘secret hidden agenda’, that we’ve got nefarious plans and insidious conspiracies…and then they can point to stuff like this and say, “See? You guys even have people pretending to be religious leaders, blatantly lying about their beliefs, specifically to try to undermine our religious beliefs and values!” And I can’t really deny it, because they are RIGHT.

    The justification that you’re “paid to do a job, and you do it” rings terribly false to my ears, because I don’t believe the people who are PAYING you to do that job would see it that way, if they knew the truth. If I apply for a job as a teacher, and I can do a great job as a teacher…but it’s discovered that I falsified my academic records, and never actually got the required teaching accreditation, it doesn’t matter whether I can actually do a good job as a teacher or not — I’m still guilty of fraud, of lying, and will be removed from that position. It’s not a question just of “I’m paid to be a teacher, and I do it”; it’s a question of integrity, that the actual QUALIFICATIONS required for the position are met. As a teacher, one of the qualifications is that I must have proper certification and training; as a minister, one of the qualifications is that I actually BELIEVE what I’m teaching.

    So my question to anyone in this position (not those who want to get out, but those who seek to argue that it is good and proper for them to remain) is simple: can you actually meet the QUALIFICATIONS that the people paying you expect of you? Do those qualifications include an expectation that you yourself actually believe what you are saying/preaching? If so (and I can’t really imagine a congregation that would say, “No, we don’t expect you to believe any of this stuff, just so long as you make us feel good”), then I’m afraid that I do have real problems with this…you are taking their money under false pretenses, and intend to CONTINUE doing so.

    As to the potential argument that someone can use this position to ‘help’ others, to guide them away from belief in the supernatural…I’m sorry, but there have to be better ways of accomplishing that goal, methods that DON’T involve taking their money to support yourself while engaging in deliberate deception.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      It’s interesting to have that response written by a TCP member. I’ve been curious about how disagreements are handled among members. I would imagine that strong opinions and strong feelings are not uncommon. And yet I could imagine even those TCP-ers who agree with you holding their tongues in support of a “brother.”

      • John Lombard

        Maine_Skeptic: It is certainly an area of great sensitivity within TCP…not least because we want to foster an atmosphere of safety, a place where religious leaders who are atheists can express themselves openly, and receive support and understanding that they may not receive elsewhere. And I probably would not make such an overtly critical comment there.

        However, by posting here on a public blog, the question has been opened to more public inquiry and discussion. And I disagree very much with the idea that just because we are atheists, we must put aside moral/ethical issues and blindly support each other. Quite the opposite, considering the many accusations that are cast by atheists against the religious, it seems to me that we should hold ourselves to a moral/ethical standard that is equal to or higher than the standard we are asking of them.

        How can we criticize religious leaders for teaching “fairy tales” that they believe to be TRUE, when we have atheists who are seeking to justify teaching those SAME “fairy tales”, simply to make a living? It seems to me that, by doing so, we’re surrendering the moral high ground to the theists…they are, after all, getting paid to teach something that they honestly believe is TRUE; while we’re taking money for teaching something that we don’t even believe in, and lying in order to do so.

        TCP is, at least to me, not JUST a place about being an atheist; it is a place for people who have abandoned the false comfort of religious lies. How can one justify then turning around and being paid to teach those same lies to others, and pretend that they are truth?

        “Atheists” are not a unified group, and I owe no allegiance to anyone else just because they are an atheist like me. For example, I live in China, which has a government that is mostly atheist…but that doesn’t mean that I should feel obliged to defend that government’s abuses, or feel some sort of ‘brotherhood’ with them.

        There’s legitimate debate and questions around this issue, which will assuredly have many different opinions and perspectives. I’ve presented mine, as honestly and as fairly as I can. I welcome others to disagree with me, and to counter my arguments with their own. Such discussion and debate is valuable.

        • Linda_LaScola

          Thank you so much, John. I agree, this forum is a place for public debate and Andy knowingly and willingly put his views open to debate when he posted them here. I hope we hear from him directly soon. Meanwhile I want to quote from a section about Andy that appears in Caught in the Pulpit, on page 156:

          “Andy, who himself transitioned from conservative (Southern Baptist) to liberal, is as honest as he feels he can be with his congregation. He is truthful, ‘with one exception’: He feels unable to say he doesn’t believe in God.”

          So it looks like Andy’s relationship with his congregation is not all based on lies, but a portion of it is, as he readily admits.

          Also, I know there are other liberal clergy out there who wouldn’t see what Andy is doing as lying, but rather as thinking of God metaphorically. For instance, listen to “Jim” a believing Episcopal pastor who was interviewed for the book to illustrate how similar the views of self-perceived believing and non-believing pastors can be:

          “[When parishioners ask] ‘Well, what am I supposed to do
          with the Nicene Creed? I don’t know if I believe it.’ I talk about mythology; I tell them to sing it, consider it a poem, consider it an object of art or great literature.”

          • John Lombard

            Linda,

            It is difficult for me to tread that line between being respectful of my fellow TCPers, and still engaging in honest discussion and debate on such issues. There obviously will be different opinions, and I’m seeking more to present my perspective, than to pronounce judgement.

            But the thing that “they aren’t really lying”…to me, that’s more a semantic issue that seeks to obfuscate, than one that is indicative of honest discussion. To me, there is a very easy and objective means of determining whether the person in question is being honest, or dishonest. And that is to ask the question, “Would your congregation agree to continue paying you, and keep you in your position, if they were aware that you no longer believe in god?”

            As I said above, if the answer to that question is ‘yes’, then you have no reason not to tell them. If the answer is ‘no’, then you are keeping your position under false pretenses. You may have been able to avoid directly lying (“I’ve never actually SAID that I believe this stuff”), but it is a lie of omission…you are intentionally leading people to believe something about yourself that you know is not true.

            Surely the BEST judge of whether this person’s actions are acceptable or not are the people who have HIRED him and are PAYING him to take that role? So, let me ask this — how would THOSE people react to the revelation that the person they have hired as a spiritual leader is in fact an atheist, and doesn’t believe in the supernatural at all? Would THEY think that this person had not deceived them, that this person had acted in an honest manner with complete moral integrity and intellectual honesty?

            I rather doubt it. In fact, I rather suspect that they’d be outraged, and consider it a fundamental betrayal of their trust.

            AGAIN — I draw a HUGE line between those actives who are in the ministry and WANT to get out, but don’t know how…and those who have no intention of getting out, who seek to justify it as something that is ‘good’ or ‘moral’.

          • Maine_Skeptic

            Andy makes references to the movie “Leap of Faith,” which I agree is a very good movie. It’s fun to watch how much Debra Winger enjoys all the excitement in the crowd, as she feeds “words of god” to Steve Martin by radio. Having attended quite a few faith healing meetings, I found it easy to understand how you could get caught up in the showmanship of it, and just enjoying the thrill the crowd is having.

            I’m also reminded of Jerry Dewitt’s comments about how much he just enjoyed being a pastor, because he likes people.

            I wonder how much just the enjoyment of liking people and making them feel better is playing a role in Andy’s decision.

          • Andy

            Ding! Ding! Ding! Bingo! Thank you for this observation!!
            Absolutely correct. It may be hard for some to believe, but I actually enjoy being with my congregation. I’ve served churches where this was not the case, but my current congregation is the best fit I’ve ever experienced. These folk really love to do justice and love mercy, which I consider to be honorable humanistic values. I’ve been able to openly confess more here about things I don’t believe than in any other parish I’ve served (deity of Jesus, virgin birth, resurrection, atonement, eschatology, etc. etc. etc.) It’s great standing shoulder to shoulder with people who actively work to protect our environment, build or repair homes for the poor, feed the hungry, embrace prisoners, and support the local LGBT community. It would be very hard to leave such a setting! These people are great human beings, and none uses religion–even if some have faith–to victimize others.

          • Guest

            John/Linda, my experience as a pastor in a large liberal urban Presbyterian congregation confirms (as Linda states below) there is indeed a huge ‘gray area’ in which both minister and parishioners tread very carefully. Any liberal congregation will have many members who privately assume their minister is in fact at least an agnostic. There will also be members who, as John says, would be outraged to have even an agnostic minister. Part of avoiding open discussion of the issue is first one of privacy, but secondly also one of respecting the diversity or range of faith that many liberal Christians actually find healthy and useful to have in their fellowships. In a strange but useful way, it’s best for both minister and congregation in this situation to practice a kind of ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ policy.

            So while I appreciate the moral passion and clarity of John’s argument, it simply doesn’t offer much value in the way of practical guidance for ministers working in liberal contexts. Honoring the adage, “Of that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent” isn’t ‘dishonest,’ it’s just the way we human beings cope with situations that don’t lend themselves to strictly rational solutions.

          • Maine_Skeptic

            Biblically obsessed churches stake so much on the Bible that once a follower recognizes it’s just a book, we’re usually done with Christianity altogether. They also care less about actions than about beliefs, which seems to be very different than the situation with liberal Christians.

          • Andy

            I disagree with your positivist–and what I consider overly-rational–view of reality.
            Truth lies across a broad spectrum. Some things are true by definition, as in logic and math. Some things are true by experiment and syllogism (the realm of natural science), and some things are true by personal experience, the realm of the humanities–and religion! (These correspond to the three kinds of reason established by Aristotle.)
            It is in the latter world that I live–where people with broken lives seek mercy, compassion and community. I am not a purveyor of facts, and I don’t think members in my church are either. They’re not trying to solve the rational question of whether God exists. They’re trying to make sense of much smaller issues.
            I don’t consider myself lying or obfuscating when I use ‘God’ in my sermons. I believe that the word ‘God’ simply functions as a metaphor for my experience of finitude. In other words, it’s simply a call to practice one of our great human virtues–humility. When I use God language, I’m really calling people to lose their self-righteous judgments, as if they were a Supreme Being, and reconsider their opinions and options. It’s a call to balance and perspective. It’s a call to think of others and their needs. All these things are noble. This is why I can feel quite comfortable in ministry.
            I agree with ‘Guest’s’ response. It’s my way of saying that life is gray!

          • Kent Truesdale

            Andy, while I reject John Lombard’s rampantly rational critique, I’m assuming others here besides me would like to know if your congregation is explicitly aware of your usage of the term ‘God’ that you describe below? or is this just how you justify using the word ‘God’ yourself (privately)?

            “I don’t consider myself lying or obfuscating when I use ‘God’ in my sermons. I believe that the word ‘God’ simply functions as a metaphor for my experience of finitude. In other words, it’s simply a call to practice one of our great human virtues–humility. When I use God language, I’m really calling people to lose their self-righteous judgments, as if they were a Supreme Being, and reconsider their opinions and options.”

          • Andy

            No, I don’t think members of my congregation are ‘explicitly aware’ of my understanding of God-language. That’s a good point. And yes, that certainly works in my system as a kind of justification. I suppose I need a further justification for my justification!! If so, then I guess I would just point to the inherent slippery-ness of language, and claim as my justification what reader-response theorists have asserted, that meaning is not inherent to either the words or the intent of the person who uses the words, but rather the reader/hearer who interprets them. To say it another way: words are not self-interpreting, but always require interpretation from the respondent. That said, I would claim immunity from having to disclose my intent in using God-language.
            Further prevarication? I suppose. But thanks for the question Kent, and for the chance to clarify my own thinking. My brain hurts.

          • Linda_LaScola

            Andy — How would you respond if someone in your congregation asked what you meant by the word “god?”

          • Andy

            It would depend on the person asking; however, given the fact that the question itself is rather sophisticated, and would have come from a sophisticated person, I think I would explain it the way I have on this blog. The word functions as a confession of my limited-ness, my finitude. The more likely question I would get is, ‘who is God’, or ‘what is God like?’ Here a pastor can refer to the prophetic texts which speak of God as mystery, hence beyond objectification or description.

          • John Lombard

            Andy, again, this is difficult, as I don’t want to be attacking anyone directly. But every answer here seems to be dodging what I’d consider to be the central question. You’re all great with the theoretical philosophizing, where you can rely on arguments that avoid the actual reality of the people involved.

            I’ve asked the same question multiple times, and despite several different responses from people seeking to disagree with me, not one single person has made an honest effort to answer that question. So allow me to repeat it:

            If an atheist/agnostic is in a position like this, either directly claiming to believe in a god they don’t believe in, or allowing others to believe that they do…what would that congregation’s reaction be if they were to discover that person actually did not believe in god at all?

            You can call me “overly-rational” if you like (personally, I’ve always considered rationality to be an asset, not a problem, so I consider that a compliment), but to me it’s very simple.

            If the answer to my question is that the congregation would choose to KEEP their pastor, then I’d say fine…there’s no problem here. But then, if you really BELIEVE that would be their choice, why the need to hide your true beliefs in the first place?

            If the answer to my question is that the congregation would NOT keep their pastor, that they would feel betrayed, or that such a person was not qualified to be their spiritual leader…then I’m sorry, but what that pastor is doing is wrong.

            In ANY job, the people who are responsible to decide if a person is qualified for the job are the people who are HIRING that person, who are paying their salary; NOT the person who’s being hired. Yet here, the arguments seem to be that it’s the person being hired who has that right, while the people paying their salary do not. If the only way that you can keep the job is through deliberate and conscious deception, then at least to me, there is a problem.

            Saying “there’s an unspoken understanding” sounds nice…but if it’s true, then you should be able to say, with confidence, that your congregation would still choose to keep you as a leader if they knew your actual beliefs. If that is NOT true, then the existence of your “unspoken understanding” is demonstrably as questionable as the existence of god.

          • Andy

            Thanks for your response. Based on the parameters of your challenge, I don’t think I can give an answer that will be satisfying to you. I don’t see the issue as black and white. I don’t see myself confined to two choices–either to say ‘I don’t believe in God’ to my congregation, or leave ministry. That’s too simplistic for me. I acknowledge in my original post that I don’t expect others to agree. My position is simply my own; it makes sense to me, and I’m the only one who has to live with it. Thanks again for your interaction. It is meaningful to me.

          • John Lombard

            I never confined it to two parameters. There are, actually, at least three parameters to my challenge:

            1) You don’t tell them

            2) You tell them, they accept it, and you continue

            3) You tell them, they don’t accept it, and you leave

            The telling thing to me is that despite your assertions about this “unspoken understanding” you have with your congregation, your reply above would seem to indicate that you actually think that if you told them the truth, they would no longer keep you there. And if that’s the case, then this whole “unspoken understanding” thing really seems to have a terribly flimsy basis…seems to be more YOUR understanding than theirs.

            And that, it appears, is where our fundamental difference lies. To you, it apparently is only up to you to make that determination; to me, it is the people to whom you are responsible, who have hired you and pay your salary, who
            should make that determination.

          • Andy

            I figure this is a discussion that Spock and Dr. McCoy would have if they were into this kind of stuff! (humor intended)
            I still don’t concur with your conclusion that I am guilty of ‘deliberate and conscious deception’. I tell people what I believe. These are the humanistic values I preach. But how does one believe in a negative? And how does one prove a negative? ‘I believe that God does not exist’. What kind of statement is that? I like the bumper sticker that is a takeoff on belief–I believe in good. And one can certainly be good without God.
            Anyway, I think we can amicably agree to disagree on this one. Thanks for your input and inducement to rethink my position. Much appreciated.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I’m not speaking for Andy here, but in some congregations, people are aware that the pastor does not believe the words of the creed literally — only metaphorically. Some of the parishioners feel the same way.

      • John Lombard

        Linda,

        As I said elsewhere, it seems to me that the main determining factor SHOULD BE the congregation. How would the congregation react if the pastor were to reveal his actual beliefs (or lack thereof)? If that congregation would accept it, then I’d say there’s no big issue…but then, if the congregation would accept it, why is that pastor covering up their atheism to begin with?

        If the congregation would NOT accept it, if that congregation would feel they had been lied to, or betrayed, or deceived; or if that congregation would conclude that they do NOT want such a person as their pastor…then I fail to see how an argument such as yours would have much relevance.

        • Linda_LaScola

          In some liberal congregations, there is a huge gray area –
          where parishioners and pastor alike don’t seem to care about what others believe – and don’t talk about it directly very much. I’m not judging this state of affairs, just mentioning it.

          I also want to mention a book written almost 10 years ago by
          a retired UCC minister, Jack Good, called The Dishonest Church. http://www.amazon.com/The-Dishonest-Church-Jack-Good/dp/1878282077

          It’s very interesting reading. He talks about the
          disconnect between what pastors learn in seminary and what they preach on Sunday and relates his positive experiences being honest with his own
          congregation.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I think it’s a good thing to bring to light the dilemmas that lives in ministry create for human beings. The rest of us can change our minds when we get new information, but ministers are expected to believe the same things on their death beds that they believe when they’re in their young twenties.

    In a very real sense, young clergy sign a contract they’re not qualified to sign and that they don’t fully understand. There is no good answer for a deconverted clerical parent on whose income the family depends. It’s all well and good to say that honesty is the best policy, but none of us express everything that we are to everyone we know.

    Having said that, I think I would have made a different decision from yours. It’s not because I consider myself morally superior, but because staying in a situation like yours would cost me too much. I’m a capital “S” Skeptic, because I’ve seen so much harm done by superstition and feelings-based reasoning. I understand your perspective, and can even sympathize with it (I loved “Leap of Faith”). It would kill me a little every day, though; I’d feel like a recovering alcoholic who no longer drinks, but who makes a living as a bartender.

    • ctcss

      I think it’s a good thing to bring to light the dilemmas that lives in ministry create for human beings. The rest of us can change our minds when we get new information, but ministers are expected to believe the same things on their death beds that they believe when they’re in their young twenties.

      In a very real sense, young clergy sign a contract they’re not qualified to sign and that they don’t fully understand.

      What you’re saying here could also easily apply to marriage. Each person who gets ready to make a very important step in their life really needs to think about it deeply before committing to it. If marriage to someone else is considered carefully, and the foundational reasons are solid, there is no reason why a marriage in one’s twenties could not last a lifetime. Likewise, a carefully considered religious outlook could also last a lifetime.

      Neither marriage nor religion are necessarily easy paths to take. One cannot know what the future will bring. However, one can know the value of things worth committing to and fighting to attain or retain, such as love, honesty, compassion, justice, mercy, kindness, patience, wisdom, understanding, etc.. That’s why the reasons for entering in need to be as solid as possible. They form the foundational principles of that which a person is building their life on.

      So whether one is married or not, or one is religious or not, these qualities of thought are still going to be necessary and valuable. So when we encounter someone who embodies these qualities, we might very well want to spend a lifetime with that person. And if we encounter a religion that embodies these same qualities, we also might very well want to spend a lifetime in that religion.

      (And if we don’t find a person or a religion that measures up, perhaps we should keep looking, instead of saddling ourselves with qualities of thought we cannot justify spending a lifetime with.)

      The point being, a person’s marital status or religious status do not define a person’s worth as much as the qualities of thought that they treasure in their heart. Because its in the recognition of those qualities that we can safely determine when we have found our “home”.

    • Andy

      I’d never thought of that analogy before! Interesting. I guess I can’t honestly think of any bartender of my acquaintance who is a recovering alcoholic. You may have a point!
      You are entirely correct in your observation about young clergy. I’m one of those, which is to say, I came into ministry at 23, and I had no idea of where life would take me. I just assumed that my faith was a given and that I would never evolve. However with this evolution comes a corresponding evolution of sophisticated means by which to explain and justify. My evolution came in small increments, as did my justifications for continuing in ministry. They went together. There is only one time–about 10 years ago–when I seriously considered leaving ministry. Otherwise I have remained comfortable, and I don’t feel like I’m slowly dying inside.

      • Linda_LaScola

        “However with this evolution comes a corresponding evolution of sophisticated means by which to explain and justify.”

        This is a useful way to think about it and may help explain why people receiving the same information may evolve differently — they employ different means of explaining and justifying the information. So one person may evolve to non-belief, while another person with the same information may evolve to a metaphorical perspective of religion and another may evolve into denial, etc., etc.

        • Andy

          I agree. I have a person in my congregation who would argue for the facticity of the literal resurrection of Jesus by claiming that with God, all things are possible. (If God is all powerful, then we can accept the interruption of the laws of nature.)Moreover, since no one was there with a camera, we can’t prove that it didn’t happen. His answer indicates to me that he’s had some time to consider the arguments for disconfirmation and has adjusted his justifications accordingly. Whereas I have evolved differently. I became convinced by science that these things don’t happen, and adjusted my interpretation of the resurrection accordingly. It’s just a story about hope, second chances, new starts, something that seems to be latent in every human heart.

  • cbranch

    It’s true there are some professions that require more dishonesty than others. For example, sales and marketing efforts may benefit from some exaggeration of the qualities of a product or service in order to make a sale. I’ve always felt fortunate not to have a position like that, though many obviously have no problem with it. And of course anyone who’s ever padded a resume is guilty of some level of dishonesty in their self marketing efforts.

    Although it’s also true that people in secular jobs can always change their minds if they decide they don’t feel comfortable with the job requirements, I can imagine it’s just as difficult for a salesperson as it is for a pastor to leave a well paying job and find another with equivalent compensation but requiring very different skills.

    Just saying that everyone does it is not, of course, a good justification. I also appreciate the honesty expressed here, but I would suggest that at the very least we shouldn’t just say “that’s the way it is” and be done with it. It’s a worthy goal that all people might have jobs that don’t require them to be dishonest, and we should acknowledge that as a problem worth solving.

  • Linda_LaScola

    FYI to readers — I just heard from Andy who is away from his computer until Saturday. He says he will be here to respond as soon as he can.

  • Gehennah

    I’m kind of torn here.

    Part of me does say that honesty is the best answer always (although I know this isn’t the case).

    But I can see why some preachers who are atheists remain in hidden behind the pulpit. And I don’t see this as always a greedy or a comfort thing, because it really can’t be comfortable standing up there week after week preaching something you don’t honestly believe. But I think religion is a tool that can be used to help people out. And if that preacher is an atheist and is trying to use the tool to better the community, to form a bond with those attending, He or she may be living a lie, but this could be the best chance for them to make a difference in those people’s lives and to maybe even steer their beliefs towards things like equality for all.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I’d really love to hear from some UCC lay people, in terms of their expectations of their pastors.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Religion can offer false hope, which can absolutely have direct, immediate benefits. The problem of course is that in order to sell hope…you first have to convince the buyer that they are hopeless. Religion does this in rather demeaning and dehumanizing ways. It does it with manipulation and scare tactics and as we’ve seen so often, that can be flat-out abusive…especially to children. Religion is also often used as a tool for oppression or subjugation or discrimination or suppression of education or even war. But if it’s true…if these are our actual circumstances, and we’re all being judged by the omnipotent creator of all time and space, then those downsides are just unfortunate side effects of the system. However, if you don’t even believe it yourself, I don’t know how in good conscience you can promote it’s virtues.

      • Andy

        I don’t think it takes religion to make a person feel hopeless. Life does that pretty well all by itself. The insensitivity and hatred of others already leaves us feeling empty. Bruce Springsteen’s song, The Human Touch, expresses the way many people feel.
        “Tell me in a world without pity Do you think what I’m askin’s too much? I just want something to hold on to And a little of that Human Touch Just a little of that Human Touch”
        I don’t use religion to bring people to their knees. I simply accept that that’s the way the world is, and try to offer a human touch to those in need. That’s the hope under which I labor. Thanks for the comment Art. I agree that religion is used too often to oppress. Perhaps we who are still in the pulpit have a reason to stay–to offer an alternative for those who still wish to be religious.

        • Art_Vandelay

          Andy, I appreciate your response but I don’t think you’re being intellectually honest here. Despite the implications of viewing humanity as being hopeless, you know for a fact the the hopelessness and despair that Christianity claims to cure is something inherent within us and put there by a creator. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in sin. This is a made-up thing to you. Real life problems aren’t cured by a 2000 year old child sacrifice in stone age Judea and his magic blood. That’s what Christianity is and whether you claim to be a humanist or not…that’s what you’re promoting. You’re selling something that you don’t believe is real. You probably look at mediums, psychics, and faith-healers and call them charlatans but I really don’t see the difference here. Do you really think all of the members of your congregation just go to church for therapy or do they go to church because they’ve bought into the lie that it will make them immortal? That is what you’re selling.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Art, have you been reading this comment thread carefully?? because your comment seem gratuitous in the context of how Andy has answered difficult queries here.

          • Art_Vandelay

            Yes, Kent, I completely understand that Andy fancies himself as some sort of humanist therapist that gives people hope and makes them feel better but I have yet to see anywhere in this entire comment thread where he has justified doing this in the context of a religion that he doesn’t believe is true or seriously addressed the implications of that. If I missed it and you’d like to point me to it, that would be greatly appreciated.

          • Andy

            If by ‘true’ you mean the now outdated dogmas of the church, you’re right, I don’t believe they are true (or better, factual). However, as many of us would say, truth can be found at a deeper, more metaphorical level. For example, I can say ‘no’, I don’t believe in God, if by that I mean a supernatural person. But I can also say ‘yes’, because I interpret the word as a cypher for human finitude. Yes, I believe in God in so far as I believe humans should be humble. Again, it’s not a black and white issue. Language is difficult because language doesn’t fit into the easy true/false statements of math and science. To demand that kind of positivistic, literal exactitude in poetry, literature, or religion, for example, diminishes the humanities by reducing them to the standards of science. It makes us little more than talking heads. Just my perspective.

          • Art_Vandelay

            I respect your position and I know that everything isn’t black and white but it seems to me that you’re just taking a humanistic worldview and framing it as Christianity to justify your job as a pastor. You don’t get to just completely change the dogma to the point where God is just an abstract thing that keeps humans humble and still call it Christianity. At this point, that word means so many things that it means nothing at all. Do you tell your congregants that God is not an all-powerful, intervening creator but just a reminder that we should be humble?

          • Andy

            Actually I do teach my congregants that God is not the all-powerful person in the sky who intervenes when requested. I’ve been very honest about that.

          • Kent Truesdale

            But Andy, you responded to me above, “No, I don’t think members of my congregation are ‘explicitly aware’ of my understanding of God-language.” So your congregation DOES know some of your unorthodoxy about ‘God’?

          • Andy

            Yes. They have heard me say publically that I don’t believe God is a person. That’s a non-theistic statement, but not necessarily an atheistic one. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

          • Kent Truesdale

            You’re most welcome! ;D

          • Andy

            I disagree with your statement that ‘that’s what Xnty is’. Definitions change. That may have been Medieval Xnty, but it isn’t mine, and it isn’t the message my progressive friends in ministry espouse. We are seeing some major changes in Christianity. Some compare it to going through a wormhole, not knowing how it will emerge on the other side. I’m all for the change. I think Xnty needs to evolve to meet the concerns of our time and place. One of the books I cherish is Lloyd Geering’s Christianity Without God. It’s well written, and is prized by many of my progressive colleagues. He certainly wouldn’t want to define Xnty in terms of its outdated dogmas. I fully agree with your statement: “Real life problems aren’t cured by a 2000 year old child sacrifice in stone age Judea and his magic blood.” Thanks for your response.

          • Art_Vandelay

            I hear what you’re saying and your version of Xnty sounds way more admirable than what I was exposed to. I guess I just have a hard time seeing how it can evolve without getting rid of that book or cherry-picking it so much that no credibility remains. At this point, it seems more productive to just call it something else as to not to deceive anyone.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Here’s an interesting article about liberal Christianity’s efforts to define itself in relation to humanism — http://www.crosscurrents.org/dorrien200506.htm

          • Kent Truesdale

            Art, another approach would be to UN-deceive all those who believe in a supernatural Christianity? ;)

          • Art_Vandelay

            Christianity without the supernatural is just Humanism. Why do we have to give Christianity credit for something that was around long before the Jewish carpenter was nailed to a cross?

          • Kent Truesdale

            YES, non-supernatural Christianity is a species of Humanism! But like (for example) Buddhism and Taoism, it offers a profound depth of perspective from its millennia of sustained moral reflection. And it’s uniquely grounded in myth, story and narrative. Finally, it also maintains a laser focus on “the least among us.” All of which equips it to teach us in a way that merely philosophical humanism cannot (Plato excepted of course!).

          • Art_Vandelay

            Kent, at it’s core, Christianity says that human beings are depraved sinners, hopeless, guilt-ridden, and in debt to this child blood sacrifice that allegedly took place in bronze age Judea otherwise worthy of eternal torture. Even if you look at that as myth, I’m confused as to what humanist lesson one can derive from it? Without this idea that humans are garbage, Christianity simply doesn’t work and I fail to see how you can combine it with humanism without looking like a cauldron of cognitive dissonance.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Art, again, I think you’re conflating fundamentalist Christianity with the liberal church, which (for example) completely rejects substitutionary atonement as not only barbaric but also unbiblical. The liberal quest is to answer Bonhoeffer’s perpetually urgent question: “Who is Jesus Christ for us TODAY?”

          • Art_Vandelay

            I’m sorry Kent, but I just think that is nonsense. If you reject the very central tenet of Christianity, it’s time to cease calling yourself a Christian. All that this ultra-liberal form of Christianity is doing is co-opting the name of the religion in order to draw people in and then teaching something completely different. That is deception in a nutshell. Hell, they even call it the “Church of Christ!” “Christ” is the part of his name that indeed implies that he was the messiah and the savior of the people and the church blatantly emphasizes that part! Andy…a man who doesn’t even believe that Jesus was the Christ is making a living as a pastor in the Church of Christ. This really doesn’t strike you as deceiving or at least hypocritical? Does the “Church of Jesus the Nice But Mortal Man Who Had Some Decent Life Lessons On How to Treat Other People” not have the same ring to it?

          • Andy

            You have a point. The very name does imply a belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah, i.e., the king who would redeem his nation. There are even connotations of deity associated with the Messiah in some of the enthronement Psalms. HOWEVER, research has now revealed that Jesus never made that claim about himself. In the earliest layers of the Jesus tradition (i.e., Q, Gospel of Thomas) we have a peripatetic sage, whose entire focus was wisdom teaching–how to live best in the present world. Some scholars note his similarity to the Cynics, like Diogenes of Sinope, et al, some of whom practiced their craft in Galilee. Only later did followers begin ascribing the title ‘Messiah’ to him, largely because it served an apologetic purpose in dialogue with Jews. The only title Jesus used of himself was ‘Son of Man’, which has no messianic or divine connotations. It’s a cypher for, ‘I’m just an ordinary human’. So . . . do you have another title you would suggest? I’ve been searching for one. Jesusites, disciples of Jesus, Jesusians? I’m open to suggestions!

          • Art_Vandelay

            Is the one I suggested above too long? :-)

            I actually had no idea about this revelation that Jesus never called himself the Lord. I recall him flipping out at people on his triumphant return to Nazareth for not calling him that. Has the RCC gotten a hold of this news yet? They’re gonna be beside themselves.

          • Andy

            Yes, probably too long!!! but nice try :) We’ll just have to keep thinking about that.
            As to your other point, yes and no. Most lay persons have not been exposed to the Jesus Seminar, even though it is now pretty dated (1985). These Jesus scholars make a good case that the Jesus of Q (an early document used by both Matthew and Luke) is simply a sage. The gospels were not written until the late decades of the first century, while Q goes back decades before, far closer to the real Jesus of history. What has happened is that later Christians made a concerted effort to consolidate belief around the ‘creedal’ Christ, leading eventually to the classic definition of Xnty at Nicea (325 AD). Actually there never was one Xnty, but rather multiple Christianities, some of whom would have never called themselves Christians, e.g., Gnostic followers of Jesus, represented by the Nag Hammadi books that were found in Egypt in 1945. The quest for power and consolidation eventually covered up this refreshing part of our history, settling instead on the authority of a centralized church gathered around an official creed.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Andy, one fly in the Jesus Seminar’s ointment is that the earliest letters of Paul (which express a very high Christology indeed!) date back to within ten years of Jesus’ death. I don’t accept the deity of Jesus, but I won’t skew the facts to suit my beliefs.

          • Andy

            Kent:
            I think I tried to respond to this on another computer, but it doesn’t show . . . so I’ll try again.
            You are correct–Paul consistently calls Jesus Messiah (Christ); however, being Jewish, I suspect he never thought of Jesus as divine, as that would have violated his monotheism. In doing my dissertation research, I found many scholars who would not call his Christology a high one. Of course, as you know from ministry, put 100 people in a room and you get 100 different interpretations!!!
            Thanks for the reply!

          • Kent Truesdale

            Andy, the ‘cosmic Christ’ of Colossians is not a high Christology??? ;)

          • Andy

            I’m loving our discussion. Wish you were around here. We could have a beer together. Perhaps you are near, and we just don’t know it.
            Anyway, my feeling is that Colossians, along with its cousin Ephesians, are patently post-Pauline, even post 70 CE, and therefore witness to a later Christology.
            BTW, not sure how off-subject our repartee is getting, since my suspicion is that many atheists wouldn’t care that much about biblical interpretation. In any case, I’m loving it, and I thank you for it!

          • Kent Truesdale

            Art, I’m so sorry but many millions of liberal Christians around the world would beg to differ with you! And there’s no ‘deception’ or false advertising because people who join liberal fellowships know exactly what they’re getting into — in fact, they join BECAUSE of what we teach.

          • Art_Vandelay

            And I have no doubt that it’s a great group of people but it doesn’t change the fact that words have meanings and a Christian is someone who accepts the divinity of Jesus Christ and accepts him as their lord and savior. My hope is that you ultra-liberal Christians see the inherent danger in identifying as a Christian in spite of how much you’ve managed to filter out of the religion. All of these fundamentalists waving around their bibles and guns and using a persecution complex to execute their systematic bigotry can only do that because there is power in numbers. In spite of how far away you are on the political spectrum, they’re just pointing to Christianity as a giant umbrella when they claim this is a Christian nation and pervade society with their Christian privilege. The fundies are a minority in this country. Without all of the liberal Christians extolling the virtues of Christianity, they’d be powerless on the sidelines. I assure you that they don’t care how watered-down your version is when they claim you as one of them. Churches also do a wonderful job vilifying the word “atheist” and when people that don’t believe in God refuse to identify as an atheist, there not doing us any favors. The more people that aren’t afraid to tell the emperor he’s naked, the more we’ll see Christian entitlement go away in this country. If you don’t think Christian entitlement is a problem, I’ll remind you that the highest court in the land just decided that you get to circumvent the law because Jesus.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Art, even in my fondest dreams fundies don’t claim liberal Christians as brothers in the faith! (Although I have no problem calling them fellow Christians.) But I guess they could if it were politically expedient, as you say. Something to think about! And another good reason to call ourselves something else?

            Also, did I read between your lines correctly that if we weren’t lending comfort to the ‘enemy,’ then liberal Christians would otherwise have a right to assemble and practice their ‘faith’ freely?

          • Art_Vandelay

            No, you have a right to practice your faith freely regardless. I don’t care what religion or sect you belong to, if anyone ever tried to tell you that you don’t have a right to practice your faith freely, I’ll be the first person defending you. While I’m not a fan of religion, liberty is always the most important thing.

          • Kent Truesdale

            Hey, we finally agree on something!! ;D

      • Kent Truesdale

        I think you’re confusing manipulative and dehumanizing fundamentalist sects with the UCC (and the rest of the liberal church)?

  • http://www.chighland.com/ Chris Highland

    I think if you’re doing good and people are helped, no problem. If not telling the truth when directly asked or simply miming the parts, uh, that’s more difficult. If nothing else, it rips you up inside, I would think. My greater hope is that eventually the truth can come out in a context of trust. Yet, churches aren’t exactly temples of trust, or honesty for that matter! I wish you well.

    • Andy

      Yes, I long for a church where pastors can be totally honest about their intellectual beliefs. I think some churches are close, and this may become increasingly possible as we continue to adjust to our postmodern environment. Linda referenced Jack Good’s book, The Dishonest Church. I recommend it enthusiastically. Jack is a UCC pastor and has some hopeful insights on this.

      • http://www.chighland.com/ Chris Highland

        I’ll take a look at that, Andy. Thanks. I struggle with calling a church a church or christian if the supernatural is deleted. Why not simply move on, maybe create a different community, rather than try to shoe horn something into a universal sandal?

        • Andy

          I continue to wonder about that myself. Xnty is going through some interesting changes these days. I’m not sure where it is leading. As in politics, it seems churches are moving toward the extreme edges, either extremely conservative, or extremely progressive.

  • Kent Truesdale

    John Lombard/Linda, my experience as a pastor in a large liberal urban Presbyterian congregation confirms (as Linda states below) there is indeed a huge ‘gray area’ in which both minister and parishioners tread very carefully. Any liberal congregation will have many members who privately assume their minister is in fact at least an agnostic. There will also be members who (as John says) would be outraged to have even an honestly agnostic minister. Part of avoiding open discussion of the issue is first one of privacy, but secondly also one of respecting the diversity or range of faith (the good old ‘big tent’) that many liberal Christians actually find healthy and useful to have in their fellowships. In a strange yet necessary way, it’s best for both minister and congregation in this situation to practice a kind of ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ policy.

    So while I admire and appreciate the moral passion and clarity of John’s argument, it simply doesn’t offer much value in the way of practical guidance for unbelieving ministers working in liberal contexts. Honoring the adage, “Of that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent” isn’t at all ‘dishonest’ — it’s just one way human beings cope with situations that don’t lend themselves to strictly rational solutions.

    • Andy

      Eloquent! I fully agree.

  • Andy

    Many thanks to Linda for indulging my absence! Nice to be home in my own bed. I’ll try to respond to some of the issues raised here.

  • http://ollilove2.weebly.com/class-blog Melissa Mills

    It’s rational to doubt.

    Andy, thank you for sharing your doubt. Thank you for sharing your discomfort. I speak as a natural theologian who seeks to express the grounded reason of Holy Scripture through the language of science and philosophical and religious traditions.

    When we are disallowed from speaking, we can’t grapple with our questions. Grappling with the questions is the way to find their soft spots, and the parts that are firm. You have been doing this. It is to the benefit of your congregation and our world that you have the courage to share this difficult journey with us.

    Your heart seems to be spot on. As far as I can tell, that’s what Jesus meant by saying, “Follow me!”

    What did Jesus do? He kept his heart on prayer. He primed his heart on prayer early in the morning. He held his thoughts and actions as closely in line with mercy, compassion and justice, irrespective of the dogmas, doctrines and practices of his own Jewish tradition. He remained true to this vision all the way to the end. Jesus also was fed and housed by those who followed the tradition.

    I’m glad if you are able to feed your congregation with courage and strength to follow the path of prayer – which is a form of meditation – and compassion and justice.

    The adage is that the action of the body follows the eyes. Jesus’ insight that even thought contains the seed of sin follows from psychological principles. Sure, one can use one’s discipline and “will power” to conform to a certain outward appearance, but our cognitive, rational capacity represents such a tiny fraction of our overall neurological activity that until we manage to get our unconscious and conscious in line with each other, we are stuck spending an inordinate amount of our energy fighting ourselves. Bringing the conflict out into the open allows us to use our rational capacity to move ourselves towards an internal-external harmony.

    Doubt is good because uncertainty is part of the way the world works. That’s quantum mechanics. And yet, there is order in the uncertainty. We see the order all about us, just as certainly as we see the injustice. But nonetheless, we have a heart that resonates with justice and compassion.

    One question is: Which one wins? In other words, what endures? Another question is: Irrespective of which one wins (for this is something that can’t be proved) which one do you want to win?

    Perhaps it isn’t the “God-man” Jesus that Christians are asked to
    “believe in.” Perhaps Jesus was saying that to trust him and his ways -
    ways of compassion and justice that transgressed the narrow-minded and
    certain laws of human religion – was to throw our lot and portion in
    with the vision of order and harmony that is emerging out of the
    disintegrating chaos.

    To deny doubt when you feel doubt is to cut off some part of the natural dynamic of what it means to be human. If there is a way that you can find to share the holiness of doubt with your congregation, I can’t help but think that it may feed a hunger in them that they themselves have not yet had the courage to voice.

    • Andy

      Lots to comment on here. I share your interpretation of prayer as meditation, compassion and justice. I have taught this very thing here in my congregation. This certainly beats addressing an invisible supernatural being as a kind of Santa Claus who responds to a list of wants.
      I’m also fascinated with what you call ‘the holiness of doubt’. I’ve never used the word holy in the same sentence as doubt, but I agree. That’s tantalizing. I’ve often preached about the myth of certainty, and the reality of doubt. I’ve just never called doubt holy. I think I shall from here on out.
      I also liked your response to outward conformity:
      “Sure, one can use one’s discipline and “will power” to conform to a certain outward appearance, but our cognitive, rational capacity represents such a tiny fraction of our overall neurological activity that until we manage to get our unconscious and conscious in line with each other, we are stuck spending an inordinate amount of our energy fighting ourselves.”
      I must reconsider the ease with which I sometimes fall into this line of thought. Thanks for this gentle corrective.

      • http://ollilove2.weebly.com/class-blog Melissa Mills

        Thank you, Andy!
        Your responsiveness to me and to others is very precious.
        Another thing that you can do for your congregation is help them understand that this invisible, supernatural kind of Santa Claus is more like the Biblical Satan (“Turn this stone into bread! Cast yourself from this high tower! I will give you dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth!” ) than like the God who said, “I AM WHO I AM”. And yet, there is a bias towards beauty and love in the emerging order of the Universe. These are things we experience with meaning. These are things we can prioritize. You have prioritized them. This is all we can do, really. Prioritize compassion, justice, and mercy. And that is enough.

        • Andy

          Another great insight, this time on the temptation text. Never occurred to me before. I’ll use it. It’s been great to converse with you. Thanks.

          • http://ollilove2.weebly.com/class-blog Melissa Mills

            Thank you, Andy. Your replies make my day. It has been a pleasure to converse with you, too. Thank you for your great caring, and the honest, thought and time you are putting in.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Andy, power to you! Melissa speaks for me in many ways. I am a UCC campus minister (part-time) at Duke University. I’m one of the “non-believing clergy” in the first Dennett/LaScola study. I’ve had a lot of freedom to be pretty open about what i do and don’t “believe” but i never had to preach to a congregation every Sunday either! The best preachers I’ve heard can use language in ways that both literalists and metaphorists can get the meaning of the message. I don’t consider them to be dissembling. I’m a member of a local UCC church which is very open to conversation and dialogue among both conservative and liberal members.
    I’ve never seen myself as an “atheist” although i identify myself as a post-supernaturalist, non-theist, humanist who seeks to follow the original historical Jesus. So far no one has asked for my ministerial credentials. I don’t feel i have to unload my whole perspective on people who aren’t interested. Doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. But what does one have to “not believe” to qualify as outside the ball park of the Christian tradition? The old orthodoxies are fading and many people are yearning for progressive religion. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. But i have found that i can still say the word “God,” which expresses the mystery of meaning which surrounds us, and not feel like a hypocrite.
    Belief and faith are very different things. Faith is trust, not belief.. The point for me is not to “believe” but to trust in the vision of Jesus and work for the Kingdom of heaven on earth. Simple belief (intellectual assent to propositions) doesn’t get you very far. But trust in Life is a very different matter, and trust is what ministry is all about, and harder for me than “believing” all the “right” things.. Trust in the vision of justice/love, which is what Melissa rightly sees.
    So don’t worry about what you don’t believe. Speak your truth as you understand it, (in ways that build people up), and engage in dialogue with your people who want to have conversation.
    It sounds to me that you are doing all the right things. I would be proud to have you as my minister!

    • Andy

      Yes, I sense we are moving away from beliefs about a metaphysical world, for which there is no proof. As I have responded to another person here, I don’t sense most people in my congregation care about the intellectual question of the existence of God. Ironically, after years of ministry, I can’t remember ever being asked ‘do you believe in God?’. Nor have I asked the question of others. What’s more, I really don’t use the pulpit to talk about God, who is seldom mentioned. I talk about human realities–our struggles, foibles and prospects. Jesus, however, is another matter. The man was pretty significant! His values are humanistic. Like Robin Meyers (Saving Jesus From the Church), I don’t call myself a believer; I am a disciple, or follower of this great teacher. I appreciate your insights here, as well as what you offer there at Duke!

  • Mark Rutledge

    PS: With regard to how your parishioner(s) sees the Bible — Perhaps the best way to approach the Bible in relation to history is to stop asking whether or not it is true and rather to consider what truths its stories tell, according to Carol Meyers, Professor of Religion at Duke University. These truths will preach! See her article at: http://www.bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/bible-basics/does-the-bible-relate-to-history-meyers

    • Andy

      Thanks for the reference Mark.


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