Ex-Preacher Finds Love and Hope in the Secular Community, Faces Many Challenges

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the story of Teresa Macbain yet. She was a surprise guest at the American Atheist Convention. She was a Methodist minister. And she moved people to tears by coming out on stage to thousands of people for the first time as an atheist.

… Lynn is a pseudonym to protect her anonymity, since she has been continuing to serve as a Methodist minister.  But on this occasion, she stood up proudly and told us that her name is Theresa.  She added, with tears welling in her eyes, “and I am an atheist.” Thunderous applause went on for what seemed like a five minutes, while a half-dozen other ex-pastors hugged her and while handkerchiefs met misty eyes all over the auditorium.

Theresa was visibly moved, and thanked the Clergy Project for helping her to leave, and then, in one of the most sincere and powerful moments I have witnessed as an atheist, she apologized.  She apologized for hating us for being atheist.  She apologized for knocking on our doors, and for leading other people into hatred.  And then she thanked us for meeting her hatred with love and compassion, for helping her instead of hating her in return, and for helping her to come out in her own way, and accepting her for who she is.  She added that in all her years as a minister, she had never felt such unconditional compassion.

NPR also covered this story and the aftermath.

A few minutes later, MacBain strides off the stage into a waiting crowd. One man is crying as he tells her that her speech is “one of the most moving things I’ve seen in years.” Another woman says she, too, had been a born-again Christian. “Join the club,” she says as she hugs MacBain.

“I have never felt so appreciated and cared for, you know?” MacBain says later, noting that she has left one community — Christianity — for another. “New member, just been born — that’s what it feels like.”

The fallout was immediately felt. The news spread like a virus around the community.

 Hundreds of people wrote comments on the site, and MacBain says they were painful to read.

“The majority of them, to begin with, were pretty hateful,” she says, although some nonbelievers soon came to her defense. “For somebody who’s been a good guy their whole life and been a people pleaser, it’s really hard to imagine that overnight you’re the bad guy.”

… People shunned her. Job interviews were canceled. The Humanists of Florida Association offered to pay her salary for a year, but there’s no guarantee. Only two of MacBain’s friends called her and took her to lunch. Meanwhile, her family was a refuge, even if they didn’t all agree with her new views.

Her story is not unique. According to the Clergy Project, there are hundreds of clergy members in churches and religious institutions who currently lead double lives as secret atheists, and who risk losing nearly everything if others find out. It is up to us to help these people find a way out, and to show them that life outside of religion can be beautiful, meaningful, and full of love.

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Posted on April 30, 2012, in Humanism, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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