Monday, April 30, 2012

From Minister to Atheist

I saw this link from at least three different sources today.  Including someone who I thought shouldn’t have been shocked at the story. Here is my response:

You can't believe that a church would treat the clergy this badly? You, who have yourself been the recipient of similar if not so public abuse? You, whose own son was thrown out of more than one religious job for absurd reasons and with likely illegal process?  Every member of your family through several generations has been boxed in, closed down, and shut out of Christian ministry positions, and this story surprises you? 

In my almost three years since coming back to Christianity, I have heard dozens of similar stories: ministers living a lie to keep their job or telling their truth and losing their credibility and their livelihood. I have at least three friends on Facebook (that I can think of off the top of my head, probably more if I were to go look at my not-extensive friends list) who were thrown out of their positions of ministry with public acrimony. This woman's story is tragic but mostly for its ubiquity. No one shoots the wounded like Christians. 

I long to create a sanctuary for precisely these kind of hurting souls. I have wanted to minister to the ministers (while I was in the Christian world or to other secular ministers when I wasn’t) for as long as I have thought about "what I want to be when I grow up" but I was told explicitly and implicitly that there was no call for such a mission and if there were I was unqualified to fill it. 

But the stories are coming out now. The need is desperately real.  I ache with knowing that I could have helped so many people just like this woman over the last few decades but I myself was dismissed, boxed in, and shut out of organized religion. 

And people wonder why I cringe at calling myself a Christian, why I don't go to church, why I blister tirades at religious incivility and bigotry, and wince when they tell me I need to forgive and listen to God more. 

Yeah, I was listening to God, and my God-given reason, when the church marginalized me right out the door. But now there is the Internet ... and I have a blog!

I'm not as angry with you, dear friend, as it might seem. I am angry at intolerance and prejudice, rudeness and contempt from people who claim to follow a prince of peace who said famously, "your fidelity has saved you; go in peace.”


  1. Visited The Clergy Project website and was surprised to see a post from a guy I know.

  2. Sandra, I agree that as Christians we need to treat each other with love no matter what, including the clergy. This Methodist minister certainly deserves understanding and compassion. No one should have to live a lie.

    However, I listened to Ms. McBain's talk at the atheist convention on video. It almost seemed giddy and mocking to me, and I'm not a fundamentalist Christian. I think if her church heard this speech, they probably felt pretty hurt. She shared her heart and story with strangers rather than being honest with her friends and her congregation.

    Perhaps they felt betrayed.

    Prayers for the whole sad situation. There has to be a better way.


  3. wow! has it really been over a week that I've been ignoring these comments? I'm sorry. You all deserve better than that!

    IC, thanks! Back atcha!

    DavLou, I bet if clergy and parishioners were all able to speak freely, there'd be a lot of people meeting in places like The Clergy Project. Everyone should be able to live authentic and transparent lives without fear of financial, social, or other retribution.

    Rebecca, I've got several emails and FB comments voicing your same issue. To all, I am not saying that Ms McBain is blameless or that she didn't handle her situation with as much integrity as she should have. But no matter how badly she behaved over coming out as an atheist, no matter how betrayed her congregation deservedly felt, the situation did not call for death threats, office lockouts, and abruptly cancelled meetings or unreturned phone calls. And the point of my post was not specifically about Ms. McBain's story, my point was simply to use her story to illustrate the larger, long-standing, reprehensible tradition in christian work to treat people badly.

    1. Totally agree. And, look forward to reading more of your posts.


  4. I think in such situations, it very difficult to think and act objectively. I can see that a minister would find it very difficult to know how to handle, not only making known the situation, but her or his own emotions! I have found enough tension in knowing how to talk with friends and relatives about where I am no theologically, and I am definitely not an atheist!

    But I can agree that a public announcement is not the way to come out of the closet on something like this, any more than it would be healthy for family members to find out through a public announcement that one was homosexual. Meeting with the district superintendent would have been a much better first step, I sense.

    But, then, MacBain’s district superintendent did not handle it well at all when MacBain did come out. At least he or she could have kept the appointment, even if a reprimand was felt to be in order. Even with a secular job, one has an exit interview—usually anyway. I think the DS finked out in his/her duty (administratively, but more so pastorally), in that MacBain, though obviously no longer qualified to be a Methodist pastor, is still a human being, a hurting human being at that, and a child of God, who needs the care of her pastor of pastors, which is what a DS is! He or she blew it big time in my book.

    But, then, both Aus and MacBain did not realize how much hurt there would be on the part of congregational members, how they needed their pastors to be something other than those making public announcements and letting chips fall where they may! That is not being pastoral, is it?

    But, that is what you indicated is, unfortunately, the norm for the church; and I agree, sadly, that it is. Yes, I have been kicked in the balls repeatedly by the people, primarily leadership, in the church.

    I guess I am in some ways, as I have always been, a cockeyed optimist, always hoping things will get better; so I expected more of this local church and the DS in the 21st century. How foolish of me. I find myself wondering how a more liberal denomination (like the ELCA or UCC) would have handled such a pastor.

    Personally, I think you would be an excellent person to create a sanctuary for hurting souls like MacBain and Aus. (Unfortunately, I sense that the Clergy Project, of which she has just become the exec dir, is too much against the opposition, rather than for the hurting souls—though I may be all wrong since I know so little about it.) I remember your saying when you were in college (was that the timeframe?) that you’d like to become a counselor for missionaries. At the time, it was not seen as necessary; but I know a man who has been doing this for some year now. He is about to retire. Want to take his place? Unfortunately, he has to raise his own support. But he works from the U.S., traveling as needed to various countries worldwide.

    Your blog, I sense, is your pulpit, your counseling room; and it provides for you a “congregation.” Even as you share your anger there (and no church board will condemn you for doing so), you can also aim in the direction of peace. I think the whole thing of peace is missing in this discussion. And the result is definitely a lack of peace within the congregations Aus and MacBain have left.

    Too bad.

    Love, Dad

  5. like old saying goes..."It's only in the Army of the Lord do we shoot our wounded."