Jerry DeWitt

On this date in 1969, Jerry DeWitt was born in DeRidder, La., the progeny of a long line of Pentecostal preachers. DeWitt was an evangelical pastor of two churches in DeRidder for 25 years. His journey to atheism was gradual, doubts beginning to form when he contemplated the idea of hell. He secretly joined the Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former preachers who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. When a photo of DeWitt and Richard Dawkins circulated, unintentionally outing DeWitt, he embraced his status as the first “graduate” of the Clergy Project, though not without cost.

After coming out publicly as an atheist in 2011, DeWitt lost his wife, his job and many friends and relatives. Soon after he became the volunteer executive director of Recovering From Religion, serving until 2012. Speaking to Oklahoma freethinkers in 2012, he said, “Pretending has an adult word that we call faith. What religion calls faith is really pretending to believe.”

In 2013 he wrote a book about his experiences, Hope After Faith and hosted the first meeting of the Community Mission Chapel, a so-called “atheist church” in his home state. DeWitt travels to freethought gatherings around the country, deploying the oratory skills he acquired from preaching to share his story and his thoughts on “the five stages of disbelief.” “I loved God for 25 years, but yet in my search was not able to find any true evidence or proof of his existence or intervention,” he told CNN (July 22, 2013).

Freedom From Religion Foundation