Editor’s Note: I first met this poster as “Adam Mann” in 2009 when I interviewed him for the Dennett-LaScola Study pilot study of non-believing clergy. He was closeted then and so fearful of being exposed that we met in a town 30 miles from his home. To say he’s changed is an understatement, as you will see by the self-awareness and confidence he demonstrates in these responses to my “guilt” questions.
By Carter Warden
- What are some of the things you regret, if any, about staying a member of the clergy after you no longer believed?
I regret it took so long to find a way out. I do not regret hiding my changed beliefs from so many for so long because it is simply what I had to do so as not to jeopardize my family’s well being financially, socially and emotionally.
- What are some of the things you learned about yourself, your family, your congregation (or religious community) or society from your new perspective as a non-believing clergy?
I have learned that I can keep a secret and that I can cope with enormous amounts of stress internally and not let it show on the outside.
I have learned that most people (family and friends) can agree to disagree on important matters and still learn to continue on a positive relationship.
- What are some of the things you learned once you left the clergy?
I learned that religious/spiritual teaching is a very powerful means of biased indoctrination that uses guilt and fear to squelch freedom of thought and open honest inquiry.
- What advantages, to yourself or to society, have you seen in getting out of the clergy.
Being out of the clergy has given me a long awaited authenticity and freedom of expression.
- What was it like the first time you preached a sermon after you’d realized you were no longer a believer?
In my case, it was not during a sermon but leading worship (songs, prayers, scripture readings). I felt like an actor on stage portraying a role radically different from my own being and personality. I felt inauthentic but surprisingly satisfyingly recalcitrant, enlightened and liberated.
- Were there times while speaking to someone that it was hard not to just blurt out what you wanted to say?
Definitely. I remember sitting in many church staff meetings where an in-depth discussion on a silly scriptural or spiritual dilemma was taking place, longing to tell everyone how mistaken they were regarding reality and their worldview.
- Who was the first person you told you no longer believed and how did conversation go?
I think the first person I spoke those actual words to was Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The conversation was wonderful because I found someone who knew exactly what I was experiencing. And of course that one call was the beginning of a great liberating journey for me!
- Now that you’re “out”, how have you been treated by people in your former congregation or community?
Most people have not communicated with me directly. I have met to share a meal with two former colleagues in ministry and each occasion was pleasant. One parishioner I came into contact with tried to persuade me with the fear of hell by giving me a book to read. A couple of other former parishioners have written long heartfelt letters expressing their prayers for me to return to God. Another told me I was free to believe what I wanted as long as I did not try to convert others to my position.
Bio: Carter Warden is a former conservative pastor of 25 years, now openly atheist. Using the pseudonym “Adam Mann”, he was a founder of The Clergy Project, its first member and one of its first forum moderators. “Adam” was one of the original five interviewees in the 2010 Dennett-LaScola article, “Preachers who are not Believers.” While still in ministry, he was interviewed undercover by ABC World News Tonight and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Carter made his change of beliefs public at the Freedom From Religion Foundation National Convention on October 7, 2016. He hopes that his story will bring encouragement to clergy trapped because of changing beliefs as well as all people who fear openly identifying themselves as non-religious.
>>>>Photo Credits: Carter Warden, by Andrew seidel FFRF 10-16 ; Dan Barker, By Brent Nicastro – http://www.ffrf.org/uploads/images/Barker_Nakoma_cropped.jpg, CC BY 1.0, $3