Shuck and Jive

Monday, September 12, 2016

Deja Vu All Over Again

I served my first congregation as a minister from 1992 to 2000 in upstate New York.   The 90s were intense regarding debates and disciplinary actions against LGBT clergy.  It was in 1996 that our Book of Order had official discrimination written into it.

I was new in the ministry.  On more than one occasion I would give my annual "Sex" sermon then promptly go on vacation.   It was at my second church that I started to be more forthcoming about my views.   It was about 15 years ago, I guess, that I stated from the pulpit that I was in complete solidarity with LGBTQ clergy and with those denied ordination or stripped of ordination.  

I felt similarly yesterday.

During Sunday's sermon, I declared my stance with Gretta Vosper that I, too, am an "atheist" minister.   I put "atheist" in quotes, because I am probably more of a "non-theist" or "post-theist" perhaps even a "pantheist" or what not, but the term "atheist" is where the fire rages.  

If you asked me what the precise differences are between a non-theist, post-theist, or atheist, I'm not sure I could satisfy the question.   I just know that people get squeamish when they hear the word atheist.  They get nervous.  They put clergy on church trials even if they really have a similar philosophy.  

What is an atheist?  As I mentioned in the sermon,
You know what an atheist is? An atheist is 28-year-old law student, Nazimuddin Samad. He was hacked to death with a machete in Bangladesh in April.
He was killed for being an atheist, not a non-theist or a post-theist.

It seems pretty obvious where I need to take a side, doesn't it?

That is why Gretta (also probably a non-theist or post-theist) has declared herself an atheist in solidarity with atheists.  She has done so since 2013.    (Her theological journey resonates with many.   It would make for a good group study).

Deja vu.  I felt the same thing Sunday that I felt 15 years ago.   The same fluttering in the stomach.  The same feeling of warmth in my cheeks.  The same concern and the same hope that my congregation would understand.  

I, too, am an atheist minister.

I stood (and still stand) with my queer colleagues because I felt it was the right thing to do.

I stand with my Clergy Project colleagues (some out, some not, some in the church, some not) because I feel it is the right thing to do.  

No, the atheist movement, or whatever it is called is not the LGBTQ Movement.  It is not the Civil Rights Movement.  It is not Women's Suffrage.  It is not the Labor Movement.   It is not the Peace Movement.  Each of these movements is distinct with its own history and context.

From my vantage point, it sure feels similar.

The pushback sounds the same:

  • disciplinary action regarding a development far larger than one individual 
  • theological quibbling over correct belief and authority
  • worry over losing members
  • rush to judgment about who is in or out
  • disinterest in really learning what people are saying and experiencing
  • discomfort with the ambiguity 

And so it goes.


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Hi ho.


  1. Admittedly a lot of atheists won't understand your stance either. Certain denominations/religions are comfortable with atheists (the Unitarian Universalists certainly and there are Quaker atheist groups and plenty of Jews including rabbis who are atheist). However I still have a bit of difficulty understanding atheists in trinitarian Christian denominations though I do know that some concepts of God tend to have their holders classified as atheists by those holding other views.

  2. I don't really have a stand except to stand with those I think are treated poorly. I find it amusing that such a big deal is made about what people call themselves or what other people believe or don't believe.