‘Unbelieving’ pastors?
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
May 13, 2010

‘Unbelieving’ pastors?

‘Unbelieving’ pastors?
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
May 13, 2010


study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant

pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as

a nearly “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy.”

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the

report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many

religious leaders for at least a century.

“God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if

one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all,” the

authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study

employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been

obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn’t draw any reliable

generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they

said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his

church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t

even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a


Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe

in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his

ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of

life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for

financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he

rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to

earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite

losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I

see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and

performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the

ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to

Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone

would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.

“‘Preachers Who Are Not Believers’ is a stunning and revealing report that lays

bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind,” R.

Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on

his blog in March.

“In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, ‘On the Danger of an

Unconverted Ministry.’ In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as

a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. ‘These

caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.’

“If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If

they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the

integrity to eject them,” Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com.

“If they will not ‘out’

themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to ‘out’ them. The

caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken

the church to the danger?”