Tuesday 18 October 2011

Clergy Losing Faith

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?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Loss of faith may also occur due to the confrontation of reason and critical thinking with the content of faith. One might refuse to sweep the significant intellectual issues under the rug any long. Certainly, the failure of the the church and the faith live up to it's promises can spark a serious willingness to finally confront the real issues. However, for most the watershed is reason and critical, skeptical thinking.

    You can attempt to diminish the significance of this decision to leave the faith by attributing it to some emotional, psychological or spiritual failure but that is not the case. Obviously such an attribution is necessary to stay within the box but it is not in keeping with the fact or the testimony of those who have left.

    While for those who have and have jettisoned this faith the initial struggle was sad, they are now elated. I know because I was there, went through it, came out on the other side and am a member of The Clergy Project.

    It is appropriate you should be amused a the language, it is "tongue-in-cheek" and meant to prompt the comparison. These clergy find in The Clergy Project what is denied them in the church as soon as they begin to seriously entertain doubt or unbelief. For most they lose job, home, family, friends, community and are ostracized. The church has never provided a place for doubting or atheists unless you are ready to believe.

    Certainly, throughout the history of the Church, unbelief has never been gently and kindly tolerated. The only reason it is now, in principle, is that the church lacks the power it has had in the past to inflict civil punishment or ecclesiastical punishment supported by civil authority.

  3. Thank you, vinegardaoist, for your comments. I am sorry that you seem not to have had room to express doubt in your experience of the Christian faith.

    I did point out that churches may not know what to do with doubting clergy. I believe that the situation is better for other attenders and worshippers. There is room to work through doubts, and to reason things through without being forced to have faith. I suspect we will disagree on this, but I do not find any conflict between reason and faith. After all, atheism is a faith position, too. For me, my faith is based on revelation and reason.

    I am sure the Clergy Project is supportive for those who have chosen to believe in atheism. I hope it allows room for those within who may begin to doubt whether the atheistic position can be sustained. History is also full of examples of people who have found atheism wanting, and moved on to find freedom through faith.