A confused ex-pastor and Christian educator who was asked to resign from his post at the Hollywood Adventist Church last March for gay activism announced that he will be experimenting with atheism for the entire year and lost every job he had because of it.
Ex-pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church Ryan J. Bell, announced his unorthodox experiment in the Huffington Post on New Year's Eve detailing his struggle with his faith and the difficulty he had in reconciling it with the treatment of homosexuals and women in the Adventist Church. Bell called himself a "faithful critic" who advocated for the equal inclusion of gays and women in church culture and leadership.
"In March (2013), I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn't want to resign but I finally agreed. My family and my health had suffered over the past several years but my faith had suffered most of all. Since that time I have been a religious nomad," confessed Bell in the article.
"I have struggled to relate to the church and, if I'm honest, God. I haven't attended church consistently; I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers. I haven't prayed much and, without sermons to write on a regular basis, I haven't studied, or even really read, the Bible," he continued.
"So, I'm making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will "try on" atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else's circumstances. (I trust that if there really is a God that God will not be too flummoxed by my foolish experiment and allow others to suffer as a result)," he noted.
Despite his decision and acknowledgement of the risks of flirting with unbelief, Bell, a life-long Christian and pastor for almost 20 years, maintains that he is not an atheist.
"I will do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist. It's important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist. At least not yet. I am not sure what I am. That's part of what this year is about," he said.
Bell, however, wasn't fully prepared for how much his one year descent into atheism would cost him. He revealed on his blog "Year Without God" that he had been fired from every job he held, all Christian-related posts, shortly after he announced his experiment.
"It began on the evening of Jan. 1—the very first day of my year without God. First text messages, then email saying, 'We need to talk.' By noon on Friday I had been let go from all the jobs that I had," wrote Bell.
"Since leaving my position with the Seventh-day Adventist Church—and even before—I was an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University (APU) teaching intercultural communication to undergrads, and Fuller Theological Seminary, coaching doctoral candidates in the writing of their dissertation proposals. Both are Christian institutions of higher learning that have a requirement that their instructors and staff be committed followers of Jesus and, obviously, believers in God. They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I'm am in this year long process," Bell continued.
"Both APU and Fuller welcomed a conversation with me at the end of the year to see about my future work with their institutions. The Deans of both schools encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary," he added.