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Minister Announces on Internet What Many Ministers Secretly Believe

Minister Announces on Internet What Many Ministers Secretly Believe March 22, 2015

3/24/15 **Update**  John Shuck wrote a response to the Friendly Atheist blog on his own blog

By Linda LaScola

John Shuck picPeople over at the Friendly Atheist blog have gone crazy over the post written by Clergy Project member and Presbyterian minister, John Shuck.  As I write this, there are almost 900 comments. Maybe it’s because the post is titled, “I’m a Presbyterian Minister who doesn’t believe in God.”

I notice that many atheists and Christians are mad at him for the same reason: He’s not living up to their concept of what a Christian ought to be.   Many Christians and atheists feel the same about what a Christian must believe; that is, the literal words of the creed: belief in a supernatural god in heaven, a son born of a virgin who died for our sins, who actually came back from the dead and promises eternal life to those who believe in him. They don’t seem to know that a lot of sincere, practicing Christians, some of whom are clergy, don’t take those assertions at face value.

While many of the comments are mocking and disapproving, a few are positive and somewhat in awe of Rev. Shuck. For instance, every now and then a Christian will come on and say something like —

“Cool, I wish my pastor was like that!”

Or an atheist will comment along the lines of —

“I may have continued attending church if my pastor had been like that.”

Some of the comments are from me.   For instance:

Mainline Protestant clergy as well as Catholic clergy do not teach or think that the Bible is the inerrant word of god. They don’t think of it as being either factual or lies. It’s stories and metaphor.

[In response to a commenter who suggested that Shuck should study the Bible] Of course Shuck has studied the Bible. Like every seminary-trained minister, he has taken graduate-level courses in the Old and New Testament taught by theologians with PhDs in their field of study. Clergy have a much deeper understanding of the Bible than most of the people in the pews.

Perhaps they [clergy in mainline protestant denominations] don’t see their beliefs as being “in contrast” to church doctrine but rather as an acceptable interpretation of it that many in their denomination share and endorse – although they may not discuss it very openly.

I wish more churches would be open to this type of pastor. Some liberal churches already have pastors with beliefs similar to Shuck’s, but they don’t realize it because their pastors are not as outspoken as Shuck is.

I felt like I was doing a public service by informing people that his views are not out of the ordinary among liberal clergy.   What is extraordinary about John Shuck is that he is so vocal about his position and that he gets away with it. His new parish in Portland, OR hired him knowing his views. How could they not? His views are spelled out on his personal website and evident in an NPR show he hosted called “Religion for Life” in which he interviewed people like me, Dan Dennett and Jerry DeWitt. He also wrote for this blog and gave me permission to post his statement of beliefs, which is also part of his recent Friendly Atheist post.

I do think he’s gone out on a limb.

pastor on a limb

But he’s been doing it for a while and the limb is holding – thanks in great measure to PCUSA, his very progressive denomination that just voted to endorse gay marriage.

I would love it if more liberal clergy could be as open as John Shuck has been, but I would never personally encourage anyone to do that. I wouldn’t want to see harm come to anyone for taking such brazen advice. The social worker and social researcher in me wants to protect them and ultimately wants society to change to the point where these clergy will be safe in proclaiming their perfectly legitimate and logical beliefs – based in large part on the academic approach to religious studies taken in seminary.

But I have to admit that another part of me – my inner instigator, the social change agent, the seeker of justice – would like to see what would happen if a lot of liberal clergy publicly clarified their views, as John Shuck has done, to their superiors and their congregants.

What do you think would happen?

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3/24/15 **Update**  John Shuck wrote a response to the Friendly Atheist blog on his own blog

photo credits:

Arthur Siebens on a limb, by Linda LaScola

John Shuck, from his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/religionforlife

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