Checkers and Chess

Checkers and Chess January 10, 2019

Editor’s Note: Here’s another of the former Reverend Mercer’s blog posts written before he left the ministry and went public with his non-belief.  It provides a chilling look at the fear and frustration felt by some clergy who have shed their religious beliefs but are still in active ministry. /Linda LaScola, Editor


By David Mercer

I like checkers. I haven’t played in a while but I was unbeatable when I was in second grade. The game goes quickly and it’s direct: You only advance at first—there’s no backing up, and then I’ll try to jump your checker piece before you jump mine. Whoever wipes out the other player first wins. It’s satisfying.

On the other hand, I hate chess, where you sit and think, and then you sit and think some more. You can’t visit with each other because you’re supposed to concentrate, and I get fidgety.

I usually get impatient and think:

Screw it! Charge! Wipe out everything in my path and GET THAT KING!

And then my opponent cheats and beats me with one of those damnable strategies concocted in the 18th century by some guy with a weird name, and he usually takes my king out with a lowly pawn.

I’m getting restless, almost hoping someone will find me out and expose me so I have no choice but to move on.  A friend expressed concern that I may be getting too reckless, and I can see she is right.  It’s best to stay in control, keep thinking, and choose my path wisely.


Tomorrow is Sunday and once more I’ll lead rituals I don’t believe in, and phrase my sermon carefully so I won’t feel like too much of a liar. Some will tell me I’m a wonderful man of God while others plot to get rid of me, not because I’m evil or immoral, but because they’re threatened by me. However it’s not really me—they always feel threatened.

I’ll worry that I’ve already been found out and within the day my wife, children, and I will be thrown out of the parsonage and into the street while my neighbors peek through their windows at us as they lock their doors. And then my elderly parents who were so proud their son was a minister will find out and be ashamed, and other family members will quietly decide not to talk to me, and my lifelong friends will desert me. And my children will be alone and friendless through no fault of their own.

I’ll go to the church building with my head and heart pounding, and my blood pressure so high that I’m dizzy.

And that’s when I want to say from the pulpit:


I’ll stride out the door, taking my family with me and we’ll leave with the clothes on our backs and take to the streets of our own volition,

But then I’ll swallow hard, tamp down the panic, and go to work like I always have.

But the day is coming when I can’t do this anymore, and it’s coming soon, whether or not I have an exit strategy.

This isn’t checkers or chess.


David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentaryAtheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion.  David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia.  David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic.  He is a substitute teacher, as well as a writer and storyteller. He is the author of the blogs Deep Calls and Quick Drawl.  You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook.  This post is reprinted with permission from another one of his blogs that no longer has public access

>>>>Photo credits:  By Alan Light – Own work by the original uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, ;

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  • TheBookOfDavid

    One of the reasons the secular sermons featured here are more deeply moving than any devotional one is that they challenge us to think about how to deal with uncertainty, instead of reassuring us that it is a problem already fixed by a shortcut. Has Rev Mercer ever written a followup piece, or say whether his transition to post church life justified his anxiety about breaking away from his religious community.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Great insight and interesting question. I’ll ask Former-Rev Mercer about that!

      • TheBookOfDavid

        Thanks, Linda.

    • I should write directly about it. One person has contacted me in distress because she would have wanted to offer me more support.

      • TheBookOfDavid

        I appreciate your reply, and will keep an eye out for your next post. No hurry.

      • Actually, as I think about it, I’ve written a lot of my transition out of the ministry through my blog, Deep Calls, as well as Reasonable Doubt. I can give you a brief response here. My choices at the time were: (1) Find another job, (2) Pick a fight with the church and have no job, (3) Endure until I could retire. However, another option presented itself after I divorced and met Sylvia. When we married, I had a home to live in and the time to develop a new career, which I’m still working on. So I was able to avoid the repercussions that I dreaded.

        Not everyone in my predicament has been so fortunate.

  • Jim Jones

    > whether or not I have an exit strategy.

    Borrow these from your library and read them. Since you are already used to public speaking and interaction with groups . . . ??

    And you can also pick them up on eBay – often for little money.