Meet a Christian Pastor who is neither Religious nor Spiritual

Meet a Christian Pastor who is neither Religious nor Spiritual February 27, 2017

Editor’s Note: “Andy”, The UCC minister who participated in the Dennett-LaScola study of non-believing clergy is one of many who responded to the questions I posed about spirituality. His responses are below and will be followed by the responses of other study participants and members of The Clergy Project. So far the responses I’ve received are rich and varied.   Thanks to all who have responded.


By “Andy” – active non-believing United Church of Christ pastor

  1. When you were religious, did you also think of yourself as spiritual, or not? How did you talk about spirituality to the people in your congregation?

I did not make a distinction between the two. I used the terms interchangeably in my teaching and preaching. It seemed to me that when Paul talked about ‘spiritual people’ (pneumatikos) in 1 Corinthians, he was addressing church-based, religious people, so there was no need to make much of a distinction.

However, I’ve heard some conservative clergy in my denomination (UCC) denounce the distinction for its separation of belief in God from active participation in the life of the local church. (I take this as a kind of ‘turf protection’ on the part of clergy, who don’t want to cede their influence to non-religious—yet spiritual—programs outside of the church.)

  1. Did you go through a “spiritual but not religious stage” on the way to being non-religious?

I never went through a ‘spiritual’, but non-religious phase; however I have used—and continue to use—that distinction as a convenient validation of my non-religious style and focus in ministry, especially when called into question by more ‘religious’ people. I justify our allowance of non-religious people to participate fully in our social work programs by claiming it meets their ‘spiritual’ needs, i.e., a desire to help others without having to tolerate a lot of institutional baggage–like creedal beliefs, baptism, membership requirements, etc. This approach offers a wide gate through which even atheists and agnostics can pass, myself being one!

Minolta DSC

I suppose one might say that I use the distinction apologetically as a ‘fall-back’ position, which deflects potential doubts about my orthodoxy. Because the distinction is so popular among laypersons, it serves my somewhat devious purpose nicely.

I went directly from religious to non-religious, without an intervening ‘spiritual’ period, through study. In short, I was educated out of belief. For me, belief in a ‘spiritual’ world is philosophically on the same level as belief in a personal deity. When one fell, the other did by default. Both suffer the death of a thousand qualifications (Anthony Flew’s famous parable about the ‘invisible gardener’).

  1. If you know people who are spiritual but not religious, what are they like?

The folks I know who affirm spirituality are in meditation. Several liberal clergy of my acquaintance use Buddhism as a spiritual supplement to their Christianity. One fellow clergyman is a trained yoga instructor. Others practice meditation in some form or another.

These same individuals would probably define ‘religious’ less as a matter of belief, and more as being caught up in the structural, institutional and outwardly visible rituals and routines of the church. They would define ‘spiritual’ as inner truth or belief. Of course, their way of conceptualizing God would not be as a personal being, but as the ground of being, or being itself, i.e., in the mold of Paul Tillich,


who is quite popular among my liberal clergy friends.


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.

>>>>Photo credits:By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at,

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