Sometimes, it’s hard to believe we live in the 21st century. With technological advancements, global communications networks, the ability to watch the history of stars unfold in real time, and information accessibility continuing to expand, you’d think we’d have evolved beyond tribal fears and the violence associated with them. But we haven’t and all you have to do to convince yourself of that frightening fact is spend a little time in church.
Not just any church, of course. There are a lot of nice churches out there. I mean a fundamentalist church. Or, for that matter, a fundamentalist synagogue or mosque – anywhere people gather to have archaic ideas and the prejudices trapped within them traded for contemporary knowledge and understanding. As for the nice churches and synagogues and mosques, well, their messages – lovely though they may be – reinforce a divine hand in the documents that underpin hateful, fundamentalist beliefs. They’re guilty, too. I should know. I’m a minister in one of those churches.
My congregation belongs to The United Church of Canada, probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the world. It ordained women over seventy years ago and has been ordaining openly LGBTQ leaders for decades. But theologically it remains in the closet about the human construction of religion and all its trapping. I couldn’t stay in that closet.
I came out as an atheist in 2001.* After I spontaneously preached a sermon in which I completely deconstructed the idea of a god named God, rather than fire me, the congregation chose to step out on an unmarked path. With them, I’ve laboured, lamented, lost, and loved. It’s hard road but a worthy one with no finish line in sight.
In May, 2015, however, my denomination took a hard turn to the right and create a ruling that requires all its clergy be in ongoing affirmation of their ordination questions. My denomination, which has been shaped by the wisdom and insight of its founders, has never required assent to any particular statement of doctrine. We have always considered ourselves a non-creedal church. Yet with a ruling made by the General Secretary, Nora Sanders, in accordance with a request from Toronto Conference, it became a creedal church with new rules for clergy.
As a result, I have been under disciplinary review since that time. It is now the end of 2017 and there is no end in sight. I was found “unsuitable for ministry” by a Ministry Personnel Review Panel in September 2016. Still, I have been allowed to continue to lead my congregation until the denomination’s Judicial Committee determines the just result of such a finding. My conference has asked that I be stripped of my credentials and removed from ministry.
If you’re interested in reading more about me, check out my “a little bit about me” page and my media page. For speaking inquiries, you’ll find material on my speaking page. And if you are studying one of my books, you’ll find a comprehensive book study online for With or Without God . You’re welcome to contact me for materials for studying Amen. Those who have used Amen in congregational book studies have expressed their appreciation for its applicability in church settings. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch to arrange a virtual conversation during a session with your group; I’m happy to find a time to engage and answer any questions.
Thanks for your interest in my work. May the conversation be rich!
*It wasn’t until 2013 that I actually identified myself as an atheist and I appreciate that others have pointed out this discrepancy so that I can explain it. In 2001, I made it clear that I did not believe in a supernatural, interventionist, divine being. At first, I identified as a non-theist as I do in my first book, With or Without God, published in 2008. In my second book, Amen, I felt the need to further distinguish myself from those who used the term “non-theist” but retained a belief in the supernatural aspects of god; there, I identified as a theological non-realist. In 2013, I embraced the term “atheist” which means, literally, no belief in a theistic, supernatural being. So, in 2001 I shared my beliefs which were consistent with atheism but I did not actually identify as an atheist until 2013. Hope that clears up that discrepancy which isn’t really a discrepancy as it comes to my beliefs, but is one when it comes to how I described those beliefs.