pastors who don’t believe in God

pastors who don’t believe in God July 25, 2011

I listened to an amazing Tapestry show on CBC radio yesterday called Pastors Who Don’t Believe in God (click on the link to listen to an audio of the interview). It was very moving to listen to “Adam” (not his real name), an American pastor who’s voice was disguised and details slightly changed to protect his identity. I don’t want to give away too much, but you don’t have to agree with everything they say. The bottom line is that so many people are going through a crisis of belief, faith and intellect and there is no room for them to experience this safely, which often results in very tragic social ramifications.

Even though our stories are different, I completely understood how difficult a situation he is in. This is what I’m passionate about because it doesn’t just apply to pastors but to millions of people who are changing their minds and losing their religion. He feels the need to keep his struggle a secret from his congregation and even, to some extent, his family. He knows the cost: it is very difficult for pastors to find other employment because of our specialized education in strictly theology and church.

I did struggle with exposing my doubts and questions for a while. But then I finally started posting my ideas on this blog and the inevitable had to happen. I finally left the ministry last year. But Adam is completely right: it’s a very difficult transition. Fortunately, I have a wife who is understanding, as well as a few close friends who support me.

Plus I receive a lot of encouragement from many of you, my readers.

Please take the time to listen. She also interviews a liberal Christian scholar, as well as a prominent American atheist.

I think you will find the show fascinating!

I used this older cartoon which illustrates the theme very well I think.

You can buy a print of this cartoon here!

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  • I too was sharing my journey – to the point that one morning, I just couldn’t preach. I called up my head elder and told him – “I just can’t do this today.” That was the beginning of the end.

    As I continued to wrestle with these issues on my blog – mostly struggles with a failing church structure, I received a lot of heat. Some thought I was hurting the image of God in the minds of unbelievers. My response was that I knew it was a phase, and those who honestly cared about me, would stay in the conversation with me. (few did).

    Also, like the Bible, it is a story about a flawed man, in a flawed world, who is letting God lead – “,em>through my weakness, He is made strong!“

  • The united church observer just realeased the results of its annual questionnaire and 23% or respondents including ministers don’t believe in god. Harrowing news at best.

  • Ed

    Thank you for this sensitive post – it is sad that this person can’t be open about their issues because then the sharks feed.
    I wonder if it’s possible to lose your religion and find faith–real faith, not a jargon-filled, judgmental, institutional faith.
    I so struggle when people condemn the Bible because it is a beautiful, strong book, full of the exquisite wonder of the Almighty and the lengths he went to to preserve us to Himself. It is not contradictory or biased. If you have eyes to see it is all God meant it to be.
    I also struggle with those who are supposedly successful in Christian ministry, because I believe for the most part, they got there on the backs of individuals whom they have no intention of supporting in any meaningful way. They take money from their followers and give them precious little they haven’t paid for. ‘Give to me and God will pay you back a hundred fold.’ Of course, it never happens. You might as well play the lottery. I feel we are being deceived. And when people like yourself question the status quo, out you go.
    I wish God would help us hear his answers. He is real, true, right and just, loving and kind. What anyone else says about Him is just wrong. I still love him even though my heart breaks over the injustices and cares of life. But, who am I? Just some ditz with a keyboard.

  • I was a worship leader until I took a vacation to India. After a year of struggling with doubt, duplicities and doctrine, I stepped down, left the church, quit my Gospel band and sat, miserable, in the wreckage. Only know, two years removed from India am I beginning to even think making sense of any of it is possible. But, just barely.

  • hey Nicole. it is a most fascinating journey… thanks for sharing.

  • true ed. thanks. it is sad.

  • thanks evan. i saw that survey.

  • quite a story gwalter. that must be an unforgettable morning.

  • David, I heard about this “Tapestry” broadcast when it first aired earlier this year. I wanted to hear it, but couldn’t find it. Thanks for the link.

    Reflecting on this, it’s sad that those who preach grace often are not on the receiving end of grace when they struggle in life or doctrine. Thanks for creating a safe place to explore faith and doubt. ~Stan

  • Listening to the interview with Adam I couldn’t help but wonder if he’s in the position he’s in because of his inerrantist/literalist/fundamentalist (southern?) background. I really feel, particularly living in the heart of the “Bible Belt,” that it’s fertile ground for experiences like Adam’s.

    Sadly, those positions, in my opinion, are thoroughly anti-intellectual and intellectually dishonest. Accordingly, any sort of investigation, even a tertiary one, is going to witness a collapsing house of cards.

  • snipe

    This post brought me immediate flashback from couple if years ago when I read Saint Emmanuel the good, martyr by Miguel details Unamuno. Recommended reading for anyone, powerful little thought-provoker.

  • David, thanks for posting this link. It is powerful indeed.

    I have been fortunate to be one of the persons my pastors (both past and present) have felt comfortable sharing their doubts with. One of my hopes is that we would be able to build church communities where we would take care of our pastors’ spiritual needs at least as much as we expect them to take care of ours.

  • Is this the next step?

  • In my own journey towards the ministry and ultimately to atheism I felt very alone and afraid. I did my best to hide my doubts, but there were times when I would be about preach or give a worship talk on campus that I just couldn’t. A few times I would still preach what I had prepared but didn’t believe and I would hate myself for it. I was much happier when I would wing it and present a message I could get behind (ethics, inquiry, etc). One of those times was in the chapel in front of my fellow theology students and our professors. Where I opened up about the doubts I had at the time.

    For the most part I shared my issues with very few out of fear of social rejection and my future job prospects.

    The final straw was trying to preach a canned evangelistic series in Mexico. I didn’t believe a thing I said and knew I was no longer a Christian so I quit four sermons in.

    It’s a terrifying journey for anyone. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been had I been deeper in. I was lucky to be single and not yet employed as a pastor. I tip my hat to those of you who have gotten that deep, struggled with doubt, and still had the integrity to do something about it.

  • There is a project I am a part of, The Clergy Project, that is a sensitive, private place for pastors who are thinking about deconverting.

    The project is confidential but I can say it brings together pastors and former pastors like myself from every part of the religious spectrum.

  • thanks Bruce. important work you are doing.

  • I suppose my journey has always left me unconvinced by ‘religion’. With no Christian relatives at the time, God introduced himself to me at the time my mother died (two days after my fourth birthday). From then on it’s been an interesting journey. As a boarder at an Anglican school I had a thirst for God but disregard for religion. I have been involved in churches of many denominations, but was frequently in trouble with ‘leadership’, even at those times when I was myself a leader. I never trod the party line. Relationship, to me, was everything. Religion was irrelevant. Now I’m more involved in house churches, but even there religion can rear its ugly head. Relationships, however, in this more intimate setting and without all the baggage that comes with larger congregations, are more easily cultivated and form the basis of what it’s all about. I can understand why Jesus spent so much time demoting empty ritual and emphasizing relationship (both vertical and horizontal). It’s so easy for Christians to become disillusioned when they’re stuffed full of cold religion … and then, of course, the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. It also seems to me that many of you who have been down this painful slippery slide have become even more tormented because for some time you’ve had to wear a mask, live a pretense and deny your doubts even to yourself, until finally your whole life starts to unravel and everything is laid bare. This is indeed an unenviable experience for anyone to have to endure and, I’m sure, must cause Jesus to weep tears of frustration.

  • thanks everyone for your candid responses. you guys make this blog worth doing.

  • Varieties of Religious Experience: 2 main divisions Wm James suggested — The Sick Souled and The Healthy Minded. Might think one was better than the other, but no: James treated them as equal. I read this too long ago to remember whether he thought members of the 2 parties could easily communicate with each other(talk across the aisle, as it were) or not. I can see the challenges, even with a shared overall common sense. In sickness and in health–but the 2 don’t just Get Along.

  • Humanism: 2 kinds – secular & religious

    Abraham’s storied obedience, if it were
    known among the citizens (ok son, up
    the mountain: have I got a surprise for you)
    would be an offence to both kinds, yes?
    Cultural outrage! Secular Humanists and
    Religious Humanists would reach across
    the aisle so as to go after that Abraham guy.

    Curcify him! Crucify him! Unanimity,
    no doubt.

    A box on both humanistic houses.
    Secular and Religious.

    For they know not what
    they do.

    Something like that. LIKE, I said. Not IS.

  • Thanks for sharing this! I went through my trials with my struggles with Christianity years ago. It has been difficult to not be bitter over a degree in theology that has done nothing for me, other than give me a great deal of debt! Unfortunately, going to seminary does not prepare you for anything other than being a “preacher/pastor”. If you do none of the aforementioned, you’re just up the creek without the boat or the paddle!

    This has been a refreshing discussion, and hopefully in the future, there will be more dialogue on this closeted subject.

  • From my experience a theology degree isn’t useless. The ministerial courses, at least in my program, included leadership and organizational classes that have been beneficial for me in management positions.

  • Lori

    Thanks for the comment Dustin. For someone to say – “I tip my hat to those of you who have gotten that deep, struggled with doubt, and still had the integrity to do something about it.” – to those of us who feel like most people think we are the very representation of evil is healing.

    Appreciate you sharing your story and point of view!

  • Although, my graduate degree in theology gave me skills of leadership and organization, in my experience, many companies are leery of hiring people with a theological degree. I would have been better off getting a degree in World Religion, since Christianity has left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. That has been my experience, I’m happy to hear that others have been able to make use of their degree. It has not been my experience, and that is all I can speak to.

  • Sarah

    Ann, 25/07- relationship is everything to me too. Group power is cr*p.

  • @Lori I can say that because I’ve been there. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been if I had gone further in debt, invested more time, been pastoring a church, or had a family. I was lucky because my life was still simple and my investment was small (five years of study and $50,000 in student loans).

    @Indigene It took over 200 applications to get one job offer, but I was desperate and persistent. I was also lucky that the regional who hired me was a born again Christian who thought he was hiring a good Christian. He felt tricked when he found out I was an atheist, but to be fair I never answered the question he admitted he legally couldn’t ask. Fortunately that didn’t hinder our relationship at all.