Clergy losing their faith is nothing new. They are people, and some people lose their faith. It may come about through personal or public tragedy, although such circumstances also serve to cement faith and strengthen it in many. It may happen through a general drift away from belief over time. It may occur because faith has become confused with the excitement of ‘significant times’ of ministry, and when those times are over the individual discovers that there is nothing left. Loss of faith is sad, but it happens.
The e-News sweep that came my way yesterday contained a link to news of a support group for clergy who have lost their faith. As always, it seems, there is a link to ‘high priest’ of atheism, Richard Dawkins. It is reported that:
‘The Clergy Project has grown to nearly 100 members since the launch of a private, invitation only, website in March. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have now made the project public in hopes of drawing more pastors, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders who have chosen to "move beyond faith."
“We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn,” Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who now serves as co-president of FFRF, said in a statement Friday.
“Now they do have a place to meet, a true sanctuary, a congregation of those of us who have replaced faith and dogma with reason and human well-being.”’
I’m sure it is true that clergy are reluctant to own up to doubt within their church and denomination, for fear that it may lead to loss of their livelihood. It may also be true that denominational hierarchies (and if you are a Baptist, ‘lower-archies’!) don’t know what to do with doubting clergy. How do we support those clergy who are struggling with faith and wrestling with doubt? Is there a space where we can be open and honest and go through our ‘long dark night of the soul’? Answers below, please ….
I am a little amused that the Clergy Project is speaking of itself in pseudo-Christian terms: ‘a place to meet ….true sanctuary ….a congregation.’ Is it that they realize the church has something to offer which they do not? I also reflect on the fact that the church has always provided a place for doubting atheists to come and find faith in Christ.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of them were Richard Dawkins?