exploring our beliefs, living our values, changing our world

In my copious free time, I was able to read a fascinating paper by Daniel Dennett and Linda La Scola called Preachers Who are not Believers.  In it, several Christian ministers from different denominations confess to not believing in God or at least not the version of God they encourage their congregations to believe in.  To those of you with clergy training or experience, my shock at this may seem incredibly naive; like those people who send back food at restaurants and genuinely expect their new dishes not to be tampered with by the waiter. But I must say I was floored.

Not by the atheism — I haven’t really believed in God since I stopped watching Reading Rainbow (okay, aged out of Reading Rainbow’s target demographic) — but by the fact that these ministers still preach before congregations that would have them tarred and feathered if they knew they were unbelievers.  Why don’t they just switch denominations or churches or something?

I’m still new to UUism, but as far as I can tell, a UU minister could be an atheist and still be useful to his/her church. Why?  I ask this question seriously because even though I don’t believe in a God, I’m still pretty spiritual.  I believe that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy (feel free to quote that and attribute it to me) and that there should be people with the courage and patience and temperament to help guide others to finding out what those things are for themselves.  Should those people be called ministers if they work outside a particular belief system?  Is it bad faith for unbelievers who do that good work to do so within the context of spiritual traditions in which they don’t believe?  I would really like to hear your thoughts.

Check out the paper and the follow-up article. They’re both really good.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.


Comments on: "What do we need a minister for?" (2)

  1. I’ve dealt with MANY ministers who have “lost their calling.” I believe they are all called to a personal ministry (or a sense of purpose), then, over time, their theology changes. This is a HUGE problem for many of them–mainly because the faith of their choice carries dogma and tradition that does not enable flexibility in belief. That is one of the great things about UUism–you can move freely between personal beliefs and still be true to who we are as a united body!

    I’ve heard personal testimony from ministers, like “You know, I really don’t believe what I am preaching these days, but I need my job. I’m not trained to do anything else.” Another one said, “I don’t believe what the Bible says about homosexuality, but my denomination will get rid of me if I don’t preach the mainline thought. And I’m so close to retirement that I have no choice.” These are examples taken from right here in Mississippi!

    Now, should we say these people are untrue to their calling? I suppose so–and if they are preaching something that harms others and they don’t believe it, I would say that is the most evil form of bigotry!

    We have lost siblings in those narrowly defined denominations–so how do we reach them and let them know they are still loved?

  2. davidhoskins said:

    “We have lost siblings in those narrowly defined denominations–so how do we reach them and let them know they are still loved?”

    By our example?

    I really appreciate your comment beacuse I know you have some serious counseling and church leadership experience. My lack of those things leads me to ask a question that may be too naive: why can’t our religous institutions and teachings be more reflective of life as people actually live it instead of forcing people to fit what I see as a kind of spiritual straitjacket?We’re great about that at UUCJ and it just seems to be common sense.

    I mean I wouldn’t presume to tell a Christian how to be a Christian or tell people in another spiritual tradition how they should worship, but I don’t get why the people in those churches don’t push for expanding their narrow definitions into something more humane. Why go to a church that professes hate for you or that tries to stifle your questions and doubts? Is anything (even livelihood) worth subjecting yourself to all the problems that come with that?

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