What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn't this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?
If a pastor loses his/her faith, or a rabbi or imam for that matter (though it's a bit different), they must offer to resign and perhaps should do so,and then work out how they wish to take their changed faith, or lack of faith, or agnosticism, forward personally.
Posted by Julia Neuberger, on March 22, 2010 11:19 AM
The singular predicament of these men (and women) opens yet another window on the uniquely ridiculous nature of religious belief. What other career, apart from that of clergyman, can be so catastrophically ruined by a change of opinion, brought about by reading, say, or conversation?
Posted by Richard Dawkins, on March 20, 2010 6:51 AM
For some reason when it comes to religion, there is a general feeling that it doesn't really matter what people believe, provided they believe something, and that this belief, no matter how ill-founded, must be cherished and protected at all costs. What clearer evidence could there be that religious faith is not particularly interested in truth?
It is the great mistake of the age to think that the believers are the ones invested with certainty. We are people of faith and living by faith is sure evidence that we don't claim to know, if by knowing one means being beyond doubt.
Posted by John Mark Reynolds, on March 18, 2010 2:46 PM
Of course there are pastors who lose faith in the church. Organized religion has pushed my idea and ideal of God to the side and replaced it with human desires and interests. Organized religion has denigrated my idea and ideal of God.
Posted by Susan K. Smith, on March 18, 2010 9:43 AM
Some theologians and denominations have embraced a theology so fluid and indeterminate that even an atheist cannot tell the believers and unbelievers apart. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?
Posted by R. Albert Mohler Jr., on March 18, 2010 9:09 AM
A religious teacher, or any other kind of teacher, should not simply be a parrot. Those for whom I have the greatest respect are individuals who teach what they have experienced and realized, not what they have read and memorized.
Is there a problem of deep hypocrisy separating many pastors from their flocks? What is it like to be a non-believing preacher? How do they reconcile their private skepticism with the obligations of their position? And how did they get into their predicament?
Posted by Daniel C. Dennett, on March 17, 2010 1:21 PM
If seminary has done its job, the difference between the pastor and the sincere faith of his or her parishioners begins the first day. It is a dilemma every ordained minister faces. It is the duty of pastors to challenge the sincere beliefs of their parishioners and help our flocks to separate assumptions about "the way things have always been done" from the truly defining beliefs of our faith.
Posted by Janet Edwards, on March 17, 2010 12:41 PM
The dividing line between hypocrisy and reform is drawn by silence. If you silently go along with what is wrong -- however you define wrong -- then you are verging on hypocrisy. If you speak out, you are inciting reform. And attracting hostility at the same time
Posted by Deepak Chopra, on March 16, 2010 9:58 PM
Doubt keeps us honest; it protects us from naïve arrogance. Faith, likewise, protects us from despairing unbelief. It's not dishonest for someone who is struggling with a particular theological point to still affirm wholeheartedly the Creed of his tradition because he has continued to identify himself with that tradition and in a sense to submit himself to it as he works through his difficulties.
Most evangelical ordinations require a new pastor to state publicly if his views change. The hypocrisy comes from one who accepts money from parishioners who believe, when the receiver no longer believes.
Some congregations may want as preachers some wind-up robots who are never assailed or enriched by doubt, people who can spout the "defining doctrines" and go hunting for and purging others who they think deviate a bit. Millions of others like to be ministered to by real men and women who share their doubts and faith and see God working through both in a world where the lines are never totally and unwaveringly clear.
Posted by Martin Marty, on March 16, 2010 12:20 PM
Differences of opinion do not destroy a congregation; they may even strengthen it. However, a lack of communication between people with different opinions can be seriously destructive. Dishonesty can be damaging beyond measure.
Posted by Welton Gaddy, on March 16, 2010 10:58 AM
Since the early 20th century the unspoken secret festering at the heart of most American mainline Protestant churches has been the yawning gulf between what ministers learn in their seminaries and what church members believe in the pews.
Doubts and questions are vehicles for clarifying one's faith and for maintaining personal integrity. If one's faith is nothing more than a source of static answers, it quickly becomes a mindless rhetoric with God as its footnote. That is hardly what most of us who subscribe to any faith believe in.
Posted by Brad Hirschfield, on March 16, 2010 9:46 AM
Congregational pastors are faced with a different set of circumstances. In most cases their livelihood depends on "pleasing" their congregation (a major flaw, I feel, in the "hireling" ministry!), and flying in the face of orthodox religious, social, or political belief is a recipe for unemployment.
Think of the COURAGE it takes to pastor: one aspect of your job is to confront, even at times to cross the interests of, your employers, the members of the congregation singly and collectively! No one should be surprised to learn that long pastorates are extremely rare, or that the courage of some pastors fail.
Posted by Willis E. Elliott, on March 15, 2010 10:31 PM
I respect people for being honest, whether I agree with them or not. And how does a skeptic like me decide when clergy or politicians are honest? When they say something that is more likely to hurt than help their careers.
Posted by Herb Silverman, on March 15, 2010 6:23 PM
First of all, don't fake faith. The great Medieval mystics teach us that the journey of doubt, what they sometimes called "the dark night of the soul," is part of the mystery of faith. When you stand in the pulpit and look out at the congregation, you need to know that many of those sitting in the pews are struggling with doubt.
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on March 15, 2010 5:32 PM
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