FFRF announces fund to aid nonbelieving clergy
FFRF has announced a fund to help “save a preacher,” in coordination with the Clergy Project, created to help clergy who have become nonbelievers and are looking for an exit strategy to a secular life.
The project has grown in one year to more than 223 participants, the majority former clergy who act as a support system for about 60 members who are still in active ministry. There are more than 60 pending applications, indicating many secret unbelievers in the pulpits of the world.
Funds donated to the Clergy Project will be used for:
• Scholarships for educational retraining. It’s hard for someone with a divinity degree and a history of preaching to find new employment, especially in today’s economy.
• Temporary hardship grants. Some of the clergy in the project tell heartbreaking stories of being unceremoniously thrown out into the street (literally, in one case!) and locked out when their nonbelief became known.
• Maintenance of the forum. The Clergy Project forum is a secret, invitation-only online sanctuary where former and active nonbelieving clergy can talk freely, comparing stories, suggesting resources, sharing concerns, asking for help and finding a sympathetic nonjudgmental community of others who have wrestled with this unique situation.
The initial funding came mainly from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with many hours donated by former clergy, including forum facilitator Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, and other FFRF members who are former clergy. Many have contacted Dan after reading his books, Godless and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, which relate his personal experiences.
Members currently come from the U.S., Ireland, Australia, South Africa, England and Canada, as well as a few non-English-speaking countries.
“It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave,” writes Dawkins. “If a farmer tires of the outdoor life and wants to become an accountant or a teacher or a shopkeeper, he faces difficulties, to be sure. He must learn new skills, raise money, move to another area perhaps. But he doesn’t risk losing all his friends, being cast out by his family, being ostracized by his whole community. Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It’s as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day. It is an aspect of the vicious intolerance of religion that a mere change of mind can redound so cruelly on those honest enough to acknowledge it.”
The Clergy Project arose from discussions between Dawkins, Barker and Tufts University philosophy professor Daniel Dennett. Dennett, best-selling author of Breaking the Spell, and researcher Linda LaScola, published a preliminary study of “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” in March 2010 in Evolutionary Psychology and The Washington Post. They are currently working on a broader follow-up study.
Teresa MacBain, whose recent dramatic “coming out” from the ministry made headline news (including positive interviews on NPR and CNN) has volunteered to be project acting director. Forum administrator is “Adam,” still a conservative minister in the South, and “Chris,” who started as an active clergy but recently made his escape from the pulpit. “Catherine,” a minister from Canada, is acting secretary, under the acting board members, including Barker. FFRF members and former clergy John Compere and Stephen Uhl, recent clergy “graduate” Jerry DeWitt and other former clergy help screen new applicants.
To donate to FFRF’s “Clergy Project” fund, select it from the drop-down list at ffrf.org/donate/ or earmark checks, with donations deductible for tax purposes, to FFRF, P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701.