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The Clergy Project is an online community that exists to provide a safe haven for members of the clergy who do not believe in the supernatural.
Origins and goals
It was formed largely in response to a research project undertaken by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola into preachers who are not believers. This initial study interviewed 5 practicing clergy of various Christian denominations who were closet atheists. The Project went online in March 2011. According to the homepage the community is a forum for dialogue on various topics in a confidential and anonymous environment such as:
- Wrestling with intellectual, ethical, philosophical and theological issues
- Coping with cognitive dissonance
- Addressing feelings of being stuck and fearing the future
- Looking for new careers
- Telling their families
- Sharing useful resources
- Living as a nonbeliever with religious spouses and family
- Using humor to soften the pain
- Finding a way out of the ministry
- Adjusting to life after the ministry
The community has a policy of complete confidentiality and is sensitive to non-believing clergy who desire to remain anonymous. Former pastors, ministers, priests, Rabbis, Imams, nuns, monks or theologians are all welcome to join the community of their peers. There is a careful screening process to ensure the privacy of members. This includes verifying information about one's academic and professional religious experiences. As of 2021 there are some 1000 members of the Clergy Project. Non-clergy and clergy with motives contra to the mission of the project are excluded from participation.
As of December 2012, several members of the Project have "come out" as atheists and given speeches disavowing their former beliefs, including Mike Aus, Theresa MacBain and Jerry Dewitt. Jerry DeWitt has written:
I found myself shunned by much of my religious community, losing nearly everything I had known -- including my job, my relationships and my house. I had "lost my faith," my ministry, most of my family and friends and all of my finances but I had finally found myself.
DeWitt now lectures on giving a "secular message based on humanist values" at venues in the United States.
At least one Christian criticises those who have not come out for citing loss of salary as a main concern. If atheist clergy resign without finding alternative employment and end up on welfare together with their families the religious right will undoubtedly criticise them for that.