Another preacher jumps ship

Another preacher jumps ship

FOLLOWING the news earlier this month that Teresa MacBain, pastor at Lake Jackson Methodist Church had resigned her post to join American Atheists comes a report from Australia that another preacher has used an atheist conference to public declare the end of a lengthy involvement with Christianity.

According to Recovering From Religion, Jerry DeWitt – now its Executive Director – became a non-believer after more than 25 years of Pentecostal ministry in his home state of Louisiana. His “coming out” cost him his job, and almost his home, but he could not be happier because he feels he has regained his integrity.

DeWitt said he could not abide the hypocrisy of the pulpit. His story emerged at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne through his friend and fellow former pastor, Dan Barker, founder of an online support group for clergy who have lost their faith.

The international group, including at least one Australian and a former imam, has grown to more than 200 members in its first year. Most have left their jobs, but more than 50 are still active clergy, Mr Barker says. The group, The Clergy Project, is getting up to 40 applications a month, each of which is carefully vetted by volunteer screeners to make sure it is genuine.

Said Barker

It’s a sanctuary, where they feel they can hold on to their sanity.

Funded by the Richard Dawkins Foundation, the support group has several forums, all of which are confined to members.

Barker, founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, left the ministry in 1984 after 19 years as a preacher.

Leading philosopher Daniel Dennett said the mismatch between what the clergy believed and what their parishioners expected them to believe was a source of real anguish.

One told me, if you offered retraining you’d have 10,000 members tomorrow.

Dennett has led a study involving several of the clergy.

Christian leaders know it is true. Hardly anyone denies it is a phenomenon, but no one knows how big it is. They are like gays in the 1950s, but without gaydar.

He said these ministers were caught in ”an insidious trap baited with goodness”, but it caused most of them real suffering.

27 responses to “Another preacher jumps ship”

  1. lucy says:

    ‘baited with goodness’ that’s the source of the turmoil. Many religious people really care about other peole and the world and see their pastor role as a valid way to help and to live a good life. Take away the underlying fantasy and the wish to be a good person and help still remains.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    This is a good extension of some of the debate on the last thread. Do these people lose their faith over a period of years? Did they always have their doubts, but just somehow fell into the job despite their misgivings? Or did they see being a clergyman as being a good career move, with influence and power over other’s lives being part of ‘the package’, and therefore went into it despite the fact that they didn’t ever really buy a word of what they were preaching?

    Whichever is true, it’s going to be disconcerting for believers in any and every church who now have to sit there and listen to the rantings of the man or woman in the pulpit before them, all the time wondering if that person actually believes the story they are selling.

  3. ZombieHunter says:

    Thats one more of us and one less of them 🙂

  4. Broga says:

    These former clergy show courage. I have been an atheist since my mid teens and I take the way I feel for granted. I can’t presume to appreciate fully what former clergy face when they butt out. What I can do is admire their guts. However, the more who jump ship the easier it must become for those left behind. Preaching what you know is nonsense and pretending to believe it must desperately stress the inherently honest. For others, equally sceptical, the enthusiastically purveying of superstition is a career move.

  5. James Thompson says:

    DeWitt has been “out” since last October. He was at the Texas Freethought Convention and his new position was announced.

    Am I missing something?

  6. tony e says:


    I stopped believing, if memory serves me well, at around 12. I was at church with my parents and when everyone bowed their heads to pray I decided, out of curiosity, not to pray.

    At that point I got the strong impression that a large amount of the congregation did not believe in anything and were just going through the motions.

    To my surprise, later that day, when I told my parents that I could not believe in a god they were amazing about it and never made me go to church again.

    I realise as an adult how lucky I was that my parents were happy for me to my make my own mind up about religion, unlike many who force their kids to believe in the same nonsense that they do.

  7. Broga says:

    @tony e: My enlightenment came in two phases and I still remember my delight as fresh and such exciting ideas came flooding in. The first, aged around 15, I read in a Dennis Wheatley novel, a character saying that because of all the suffering in the world god could not be both all loving and all powerful. The second was when a boy in my class at Grammar School asked our Divinity teacher (a clergyman who came once a week)if he had read Why I am not Christian by Bertrand Russell. The man said he had not and strongly advised the boy to have nothing to do with a book with that title. The book belonged to the boy’s father and of course with that reply we all wanted to borrow it. I was on my way.

  8. Stonyground says:

    Out of all of the initiatives being put forward by the Gnu Atheist movement, I think that The Clergy Project could be hugely significant. Not only from the point of view of allowing clergymen and women to come out, even if only to each other, but once the faithful know that it exists and has thousands of members, surely that must be a problem for them.

    I am pleased to see actual examples of preachers changing sides, I hope to see many more.

  9. tony e says:


    I suppose we were lucky, we managed to get rid of the curse of religion before it screwed with our minds.

    I have only ever met one religious person who was comfortable with his christianity. Every other religious person I have met seems to be genuinely unhappy in many aspects of their life due to the the absurd hoops that religion makes them jump through. If they were to ever critically analyse the lies that the preachers spout they would quickly realise it’s all nonsense.

  10. AgentCormac says:


    How are you getting on with ‘Leaving Alexandria’? It touches on so many of the points raised here about secret doubt amongst the clergy and the real agendas that drive the church, so I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.

    Like you and tony e I decided religion was a waste of time at a very young age. I remember that as a child growing up in 1960s, north-west England, I was taken to my mother’s (Church of England) church pretty much each and every Sunday. I remember being taken to Sunday School. I remember being told that god could hear everything I thought. I remember being told that the devil was real and was watching everything I did. I remember being instructed to say prayers each evening before I went to sleep, asking ‘Jesus Meek And Mild’ to make sure that everybody I loved (including the family dog) woke up safe and sound in the morning. I remember having to join in with daily prayers and hymns at Junior School assembly. And, one particularly auspicious Christmas, I remember actually being cast as one of three wise men in the school’s nativity play (what were they thinking?). I remember being taken outside by my parents on a Christmas morning and being pointed towards a particularly bright light in the sky (probably Venus) which they said was the star the three wise men had followed to the manger in Jerusalem.

    I remember something called the Christian Children’s Crusade which involved our local vicar and some of his lackeys driving around the neighbourhood in a battered old van trying to persuade me and my friends to become Crusaders for Jesus, or some such nonsense (there was, I recall, a secret ‘C’ sign we could make with our hands that showed we were one of the ‘Crusade’, while my friends whose parents were Catholics were warned by their priest to avoid the whole thing like the proverbial plague – it was, apparently, the devil’s work).

    I remember being scolded by my grandmother that, “Nan doesn’t think jokes about Jesus are funny” (to this day I can remember the exact spot where, at the age of about eight or nine, I told her the one about Jesus asking how much a donkey ride would cost from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other – on being informed it would cost five shekels he said, “Forget it – I’ll walk”). I also remember being told that in the late 1950s or early ’60s my Nan had marched through the local town with other ‘outraged’ ladies to oppose movies being shown on the sabbath. Apparently she also brought my own baptism to an abrupt standstill by storming into church, bible brandished in hand, and insisting that the my parents’ best friends (who were agnostics) were unworthy and should be replaced by more suitable, more god-fearing friends or relatives.

    I remember endless Religious Education lessons where the bible and its stories were presented as absolute fact, and any discussion about their validity was discouraged or avoided by a loveable but ultimately deluded RE teacher.

    As an adult I remember sitting through endless christenings, weddings and funerals, all of which were attended by an abject and almost palpable lack of god’s presence.

    I remember all this. But what I don’t remember is ever once believing a single word of it.

    Despite the seemingly endless attempts of others (no matter how well-meaning) to persuade me otherwise, the concept of religion has always, somehow, rung utterly hollow in my ears (at the age of 12 I used to scrawl GIF (which stood for ‘God Is Fictitious’) on the inside cover of my Religious Education books). For me religion has always seemed nothing more than a childish and incredibly transparent piece of human invention. So for me there was never the ‘escape’ or the ‘conversion’ experienced by others. No slow realisation that everything I had been taught was wrong. And I feel incredibly lucky for it having been so.

    Over the years, the more I have read, the more I have tried to understand religion and atheism, and the more I have encountered the plethora of (mainly) wonderful non-believers on the internet and elsewhere, the more it has been confirmed to me that religion really is the redundant, divisive, farcical falsehood I always intuitively believed it to be. And the more incensed I have become that superstition can still, to this day in the 21st century, be used by charlatans to exploit their fellow human beings.

    Today, I would describe religion as still being the most preposterous yet terrible millstone ever to hang around the neck of humanity and human progress. My hope for the future is, however, that communities like this one will, ultimately, be instrumental in its downfall.

    And I am indeed hopeful. Not least because we deal in reason and fact and evidence – while all religion has to offer is posturing, bleatings about persecution and the torturous attempt to square faith with reality that is theology. And not least because so many of my family who grew up convinced about the existence of god have, of their own volition and with no intervention whatsoever from me, ultimately found their own way to an understanding that there is no such thing as god.

  11. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: I haven’t started Leaving Alexandra because when I was browsing I came across “Looking in the Distance” by Richard Holloway and I am reading that first. Leaving Alexandria is next up. I like Holloway and I am sure I will enjoy Leaving Alexandria as much as you say. Anyway, I am looking forward to getting stuck into it. Thanks again for the tip.

  12. tony e says:

    @Broga and AgentCormac,

    Despite the fact that both my parents were believers (one was catholic and one is protestant) I would go far as to say they were, in a roundabout way, the people who pointed me in the right direction.

    My father is a passionate bibliophile and by my early teens had introduced me to the works of George Orwell and Thomas Paine. My mother, a lover of science, sat me down in front of the tv at the age of 10, and said ‘You have to watch this’ – it was Cosmos.

    As a person who was lucky to be allowed to follow their own path in life, I cannot help but agree that religion is not just a millstone around people’s necks but a truly evil concept.

  13. Matt Westwood says:

    As soon as you Get Religion you start to believe you’re better than everybody else, so then you get the notion you have the authority to boss everybody else around.

    To this day I still get a crisis of conscience when I am in a position of responsibility: have I the right to tell this person what to do? which means I suck farts out of donkeys at being a manager.

  14. Lazy Susan says:

    On the radio, a discussion about gays, someone was saying “my god does not care about who you love, just about how you love.” Do these people not listen to themselves? If this is not people inventing gods to suit themselves, what is?

  15. Ken says:

    “Do these people lose their faith over a period of years? Did they always have their doubts, … ”

    Some were never Christians in the first place, something not as uncommon as often supposed, especially in the C of E, or churches characterised by religious ritual. More often, a desire to do something the bible forbids leads to the ‘discovery’ of really being an atheist. This is frequently but not always sexual immorality – porn, adultery (John Loftus is an example of this), going by reading and people I have actually known. Disillusionment through real or imaginary hypocrisy of church members, or suffering.

    Rather than face the issue of doubt (and I’ve been there), these ministers feed their scepticism, these days often in the internet, finally not only emerging as agnostic then atheist, but often opposing what they originally claimed to believe (Dan Barker, Dawkins to some extent). Some get more obsessed with Christianty than when they ‘believed’, often angry at a God they say does not exist.

    How anyone can stand in front of congregation when they have lost their faith beats me, nor how a congregation not notice it.

  16. Tim Danaher says:

    Ah, yes, Ken… the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy… *yawn*

  17. Vern says:

    I think its fortunate that these men and women leave the church; historically there have always been phonies who continue to preach after they no longer believed…like Loftus and Barker…but now they are leaving quicker.

    Can you imagine the damage they could have done had they remained in the church?

  18. Ryan says:

    Vern, I’ll wager that you’d be surprised at how many “phonies” there are among the so-called faithful. Belief in believing and conforming to community norms have been shown to account for a large part of religious community membership. Many, once pressed, admit that they see it as something their family has always done because it’s what “good” people do. If they’d only take a hard look at the dogma under the lense of intellectually honest inquiry, these stories would be much more commonplace.

  19. What you are talking about is not so unordinary. I John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they did no really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

  20. Matt Westwood says:

    @downtown dave: The No True Scotsman fallacy as it was 2000 years ago.

  21. Jim Boomba says:

    I strongly suggest everybody check out downtown dave’s blog.
    Fuckwitery at its best!

  22. Rocky says:

    There are undoubtedly phonies in the church, people who don’t really believe.

    In fact, as was pointed out, guys like Loftus and Barker continued to preach when they no longer believed.

    I call that being a liar, you all call it what you want.

  23. barriejohn says:

    He’s menatally ill, Jim. I’m not engaging with these trolls, as they are ruining the site.

  24. Matt Westwood says:

    @barriejohn: Ken’s okay, makes rational sense within his belief system. This downtown dave, OTOH, is either mad or evil.

  25. Angela_K says:

    I tried to read downtown Dave’s blog but was losing the will to live. Typical xtian nonsense: block quote bits of the babble and declare it proves his god exists. I agree the guy needs help and education.

  26. Matt Westwood says:

    @Rocky: If your reason for existence is to “do good” in the world: feed the hungry, comfort the distressed, help the helpless, etc. then a career in a religious organization is a good way to achieve that admirable life aim. However, it comes at an intellectual price that more and more are beginning to discover is just too high. This is a real shame. If the hierarchies were liberal enough to let its members fulfil the works of Christianity without necessarily taking the faith too seriously, they might not have this crisis.

    There’s a passage in James which gave us seeking teenagers cause to think hard back in the harrumphity-five or so. I paraphrase: “You say: I have faith. I say: You have faith, but I have works. Show me your works, and I will show you my faith.” Or something like that. The point is: it’s irrelevant whether you believe in all sorts of improbable sky-fairy rubbish, as long as you adhere to the social lessons that the good geezer taught.

    Even Paul has a word about it: if I have not love, I’m nobody.

    So condemning the metaphorical toilers in the field, many of whom may well be far better people than we who mock and fleer on the internet sites, comes across here as a bit pointlessly offensive. I for one would not call such people “phonies” and “liars” without finding out exactly what they do.

  27. Papalinton says:

    “There are undoubtedly phonies in the church, people who don’t really believe.”

    You have screwed up a little there. Most are undoubtedly phonies in the church. Only people who don’t believe in belief are the genuines.