A prominent evangelical recently blasted a newly formed group of active and former clergy who are atheists as "a pathetic portrait of the desperation of many atheist and secularist groups."
"They are thrilled to parade a few trophies of unbelief, but do they really believe that these examples are serving their cause?" asked R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "They celebrate a former Pentecostal preacher with no education, who was already a theological liberal when called to his church, and who then educated himself by reading Sagan, Dawkins, and Hitchens. Seriously?
"The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries," he wrote in his blog.
The Clergy Project describes itself as "a community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs." It was launched in March 2011 and currently has some 300 members who network and discuss "what it's like being an unbelieving leader in a religious community."
The online community has recently gained media attention from such outlets as The New York Times and NPR. Teresa MacBain, a former Methodist worship and teaching pastor who became an atheist and is part of the new community, was interviewed by The Christian Post last month.
Mohler noted in his blog that NPR and The New York Times have portrayed these clergy-turned-atheists as "victims." He also pointed out that atheist Richard Dawkins, who has promoted and contributed to The Clergy Project, and the new group are trying to "embarrass the church and weaken theism" through unbelieving pastors.
But the Southern Baptist argued that the former pastors joining The Clergy Project were liberal in their theology to begin with, not holding to a form of orthodox Christianity.
"Given the fact that so many liberal churches and denominations already believe so little, how is atheism really different?" Mohler wrote. "In the name of tolerance, the liberal denominations have embraced so much unbelief that atheism is a practical challenge."
Mohler isn't intimidated by The Clergy Project.
"Christianity has little to fear from the Clergy Project. Its website reveals it to be a toothless tiger that will attract media attention, and that is about all," he stated. "The greater danger to the church is a reduction in doctrine that leaves atheism hard to distinguish from belief. And the real forces to fear are those who would counsel such a reduction."