The New York Times recently ran a long profile of a Bible-belt pastor Jerry DeWitt who abandoned his faith after 25 years in the ministry. This follows another high-profile defection that NPR recently featured involving Theresa MacBain, a Methodist minister who realized that she too was an atheist. These are just two cases of an increasingly common phenomenon.
DeWitt began as a Pentecostal. Some people in such rigid traditions, when they feel the stirrings of skepticism, try to find a more liberal church where they can blend in without feeling too much of a hypocrite. But that did not work for him, as he says: “I know people who went to a more liberal kind of Christianity and were happy with that. The problem is, for me, there was a process involved in moving from Pentecostalism to a more liberal theology, like Grace Church. What makes me different is that process didn’t stop, and it took me all the way. In the end, I couldn’t help feeling that all religion, even the most loving kind, is just a speed bump in the progress of the human race.”
DeWitt found the strength to abandon his faith through the assistance of the Clergy Project, a group that seeks to provide skeptical and nonbelieving priests with a support network. Recovering From Religion is another support group. Since being a nonbeliever is not a good career move for a minister (both MacBain and DeWitt abruptly lost their jobs when their apostasy was revealed), the Clergy Project screens potential members very carefully in order to prevent exposure of its members before they are ready to come out. But it already includes more than 300 people. Who knows how many more clergy are struggling alone.