Atheists Form Support Group for Nonbelieving Pastors

Atheists recently went public with a new website aimed at creating a community for clergy who have lost their faith.

The Clergy Project has grown to nearly 100 members since the launch of a private, invitation only, website in March. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have now made the project public in hopes of drawing more pastors, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders who have chosen to "move beyond faith."

“We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn,” Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who now serves as co-president of FFRF, said in a statement Friday.

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“Now they do have a place to meet, a true sanctuary, a congregation of those of us who have replaced faith and dogma with reason and human well-being.”

The Clergy Project is the brainchild of outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, researcher Linda LaScola and Barker.

Dennett and LaScola conducted a study, interviewing a handful of pastors in 2008 and 2009 who no longer believed what their parishioners thought they believed. The "Preachers Who Are Not Believers" report was released in 2010 and helped provide the impetus to the project.

Dawkins and Barker believe clergy need help in exiting the ministry, saying it is "near to impossible" to leave.

"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," Dawkins writes on the website.

"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."

According to Dawkins, The Clergy Project is designed to provide a "safe haven" and forum for clergy who have lost their faith. The website's administrators are still active pastors in the United States who are still looking for an exit strategy, the FFRF says.

Currently, only two testimonials are featured on the website. One is by "Lynn" who states: "I am an active Methodist pastor who is also an atheist.

"Every week I feel like a fraud. Every week I struggle with the fact that I'm lying when I stand before my congregation. I'm leading a double life. I do have an 'exit strategy' but it requires some time. Until then, I will continue to serve my church and fight the battle in my mind."

FFRF claims current members, who for the most part remain anonymous, of the project include not only liberal clergy but also "many evangelical Christian pastors," "Southern Baptist pastors," and "a number of Pentecostal preachers."

According to The Clergy Project, religious leaders who want to join must "no longer hold supernatural beliefs and choose to identify as non-believers for instance humanists, freethinkers, agnostics and/or atheists or other type of non-theist."

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