An interesting and all-too-brief feature on RNS on the Clergy Project, moving doubters in the ranks of ministry to being outed in the ranks of atheists. I’ve known a number of people who have left church ministry. Many found their faith battered by the institution, by their own ghosts, by their families, and by the gradual pounding of the many demanding situations we find ourselves in. I’m less interested in why people have left the Church to embrace atheism. I’m shocked, but not really surprised at the overreactions of those close to these ministers. No wonder some people think there is no God. It seems like it’s damned hard to find God in their families, congregations, and all:
Some friends cut her off, and some family members said she is unwelcome in their homes. She received hate mail and became afraid to leave the house alone.
(T)hey locked her out of the church. Her husband … had to go in and pick up her things, which were already packed.
And in defense of shell-shocked communities, maybe there are other issues afoot. Many, many years ago, a priest called a meeting of our staff. The way we were called together was unsettling for one of my colleagues, who was worried she was getting the sack. It turned out to be the boss himself. After reassuring us it had nothing to do with another woman, someone else’s money, or a child, he was gone in less than a day, and none of us had any time to even thank him, let alone utter a wish to be well.
I know it’s my perspective of twenty-four years in ministry. I don’t comprehend the loss of faith. But I understand how ministers can grow embittered, lose touch with prayer, and question everything they believe and everything they do.
What is the optimal Christian response? I should think it’s not aggression. These people might be ministers, might be our leaders. But our faith is not dependent on what our leaders do or say or believe.