(NPR) From Minister To Atheist: A Story Of Losing Faith

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Teresa MacBain has a secret, one she's terrified to reveal.

"I'm currently an active pastor and I'm also an atheist," she says. "I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday's right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that's totally false."

MacBain glances nervously around the room. It's a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesMethodistOther FaithsAtheism* TheologyPastoral Theology

15 Comments
Posted May 1, 2012 at 7:04 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Ian+ wrote:

When a cleric finds oneself in a crisis of belief/unbelief is the moment when that person needs to take an immediate leave of absence. The trouble, it seems to me, is that at that early stage, they’re afraid to admit it. It’s very sad.

May 1, 11:06 am | [comment link]
2. evan miller wrote:

Very sad indeed.

May 1, 11:22 am | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

The thing that struck me was that she appears to have neglected to tell her congregation first; I would have thought they deserved that courtesy, however difficult it would obviously be.

May 1, 11:29 am | [comment link]
4. Ralph wrote:

She has had no one to talk to?

In addition to prayer, she needs spiritual direction. If her original call was real, then I doubt that she’s an atheist.

May 1, 12:28 pm | [comment link]
5. Clueless wrote:

This is so sad.  Have clergy no bishop, nor faithful spiritual director to whom they can turn when they have a crisis of faith?  Because this is what it was - a crisis of faith.  She should have been able to go to somebody trusted and weep on her shoulder.

It is so sad, that the only place she could turn was an ATHEIST organization!  Have clergy nobody to comfort them, then?  What are bishops and their staffs for?

May 1, 2:15 pm | [comment link]
6. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

From a straight reading of the article, it seems to me that she didn’t exactly try very hard to find people to talk to from within the religious community until after the fact.

But, at least she had the intellectual integrity to finally “come out,” and didn’t just go through the motions until she hit retirement, which I think is all to frequently with the case with too many mainline clergy I know.

May 1, 2:24 pm | [comment link]
7. Teatime2 wrote:

Yep, totally agree with Archer. I don’t feel the least bit sorry for her “isolation” because it seems as if it’s her own creation. Without any preamble or even a hint, she hauls off to an atheists’ convention and makes a big pronouncement? And then doesn’t expect it will create a stir, in a media age? Stupid.

A lot of earnest Christians have doubts and crises of faith. They work through them, talk with people, read, ponder, pray, etc. She used none of the resources available to her, apparently. She just went off and made a spectacle of it. I would suggest THAT is what has made her church and most of her friends turn their backs on her, not her struggle with faith.

And now she’s in the media and the angle is, “look at how those Christians treat their own who doubt.” Did she give the atheists their talking points on purpose? Maybe.

So, I’m glad she’s gone from Christian ministry, too. If she handled the ministry with as much delicacy and consideration as she handled leaving it, then the Methodist church is probably better off without her. For both sides, I’m glad she’s not being a hypocrite. And I hope she doesn’t make her way and her living from being the minister who rejected the faith.

May 1, 3:37 pm | [comment link]
8. Ian+ wrote:

This raises an important question: What more/better can congregations and hierarchies do to support clergy, esp. since we know that it’s one of the devil’s strategies to entrap whole communities by beguiling their leaders.

May 1, 4:40 pm | [comment link]
9. Richard Yale wrote:

Anyone else note that this is the first of a series from NPR on losing faith?  Interesting social comment in itself.

May 1, 5:34 pm | [comment link]
10. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

No. 9. I did notice that, but wasn’t surprised coming from NPR. I won’t hold my breath for the companion series “Finding Faith.”

May 1, 5:38 pm | [comment link]
11. Ad Orientem wrote:

When I first read the title I was sure they were writing about Mr. Spong.

May 1, 5:42 pm | [comment link]
12. Yebonoma wrote:

Folks, if she had any faith, going to an officially approved UMC seminary would scourge it out of her.  Even at vaunted Duke Seminary, Greek and Hebrew are entirely optional for seminarians.  As for someone to spiritually support her during her Dark Night of the Soul; please, I can’t remember the exact survey, but the large majority of UMC clergy don’t even believe in a bodily resurrection.  I guess that’s why they use the Social Creed instead of one of the three ancient creeds.

I feel very sorry for her and pray that God’s irresistible grace will draw her back.

May 1, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
13. MichaelA wrote:

*sigh*, okay so this lady has identified a need for a new help group: “Atheists Anonymous”. 

And true to form, the government will expect the churches to start it and support it.

May 1, 7:12 pm | [comment link]
14. High_Church wrote:

This is so typically modern and American.  There is nothing in this article to suggest a reasoned investigation of the Christian faith and its veracity, just a lot of emotion judgments and therapeutic considerations.  How can one jeopardize eternity and employ so little gray matter?  There is a flippancy about the whole thing, which is again so typically American when it comes to matters of faith.  While we should certainly be sympathetic to a soul imperil, we should also call this story what it is….silliness.  The secular world wants people to take stories like this as profound personal journeys.  As Christians we give far too much credence to silly arguments and thus lend them legitimacy.

May 2, 2:50 pm | [comment link]
15. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

The world, the flesh, and the devil ... #14 ... have won in just the American way.  As Screwtape so aptly informed Wormwood, some of the best work “is keeping thoughts out of their minds”.  Crises of faith are part of the Christian pilgrimage and, apparently, one can give up rather than use it as an opportunity.  What do they teach them in those schools nowadays?

May 2, 4:19 pm | [comment link]
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