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[VIDEO] From Minister to Atheist: Losing Faith

Teresa MacBain walks her dog, Gracie, at a park near her Tallahassee, Fla., home. After a lifetime in the church, MacBain came out as an atheist at an American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md.

Today I read a wonderful article on NPR (National Public Radio) which focused on Teresa MacBain, 44-year-old minister at Lake Jackson United Methodist Church who recently decided to ‘come out’ as an atheist. For me, someone who has had their own personal journey that led to not believing in God, this was a wonderful story of freedom of thought and willingness to question what we’ve come to know as true. Obviously, some of you reading this may not agree, but regardless, it’s still a great story and sheds some light on how a lack of faith can lead one to be discriminated against and judged, ironically, by those who preach compassion and understanding.

“I’m currently an active pastor and I’m also an atheist,” she says. “I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday’s right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that’s totally false.”

MacBain was well-known and well-respected in her community, and certainly, at her church in Tallahassee, FL. But now that she has started to question and concluded that she is an Atheist, she has no one to share her emotions with. The congregation doesn’t want to hear that the person leading them in sermons each week doesn’t believe in the God she speaks of and is praying for things she feels will never be answered.

Fortunately, this minister who sought truth has others out there who know exactly what she’s going though, and that is people who have come together for  the American Atheists‘ convention in Bethesda, MD. Sitting in this building, on Sunday, with other atheists, isn’t much different from sitting in her church; For her though, this is what feels right because she no longer feels she’s living a lie or being dishonest (both things that are a human morality issue, not only privy to the religious zealots). It is my personal opinion that if one needs rules and consequences to not lie as an adult than they really aren’t all that moral (and usually don’t live up to their own standards); I try my hardest to be honest, loyal, kind, generous, forging, understand, etc. because it’s the right thing to do. Simple. I have no God who will condemn me. I have no God who fill forgive me. I am the only one who will judge my character and attempt to achieve my personal best. Now, back to MacBain, the ‘condemned’ minister.

Before the trip to the Atheist convention, MacBain had recorded her thoughts on the iPhone she possessed as a means of getting out what she felt.

“On my way to church again. Another Sunday. Man, this is getting worse,” she tells her phone in one recording. “How did I get myself in this mess? Sometimes, I think to myself, if I could just go back a few years and not ask the questions and just be one of those sheep and blindly follow and not know the truth, it would be so much easier. I’d just keep my job. But I can’t do that. I know it’s a lie. I know it’s false.”

The former minister was raised all her life to know of God and live life for God. Her family held values that are typical for a conservative Southern Baptist. In fact, her dad was a pastor and she was already feeling ‘the call of God’ at the age of 6. And while she did have concerns as far as some of the contradictions with the Bible and the role of women, she managed to suppress those, until she, herself, became a minister. Hoping that her faith would grow stronger, she started to ask difficult questions which led her down this path.

“In reality,” she says, “as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn’t believe it.”

“I just kind of realized — I mean just a eureka moment, not an epiphany, a eureka moment — I’m an atheist,” she says. “I don’t believe. And in the moment that I uttered that word, I stumbled and choked on that word — atheist.”

The Clergy Project, an online community of clergy members who have lost faith is something that MacBain had come across a year ago and looked to for support. She knew she’d have to get another job, but people wanted to know who she was leaving her current job, which led to insecurity with giving them her answer, honestly. And unfortunately, those at The Clergy Project could only be there for her emotionally. And seeing as discrimination is illegal, you would think this was an irrational fear, but as far too many people on this Earth know, discrimination can be illegal, but laws aren’t always enforced. (Or someone could always explain the she wasn’t qualified for various other reasons. You know, a roundabout way allowing one to discriminate)

“So what the hell am I supposed to do?” she asks in one recording, her voice sounding desperate. “Really, the options are work at something like Starbucks or McDonald’s — and even there they’re going to ask those questions. I could even clean houses and not make a great amount of money — but at least nobody would be asking me questions.”

March 26th, 2012 was the day of the convention and former minister, MacBain, was excited to go and share her story with around 1,500 people who also believed in seeking truth and answers. Her welcoming brought her to tears and allowed her to give a miraculous speech. She spoken open and honest, which is something she had been unable to do for some time. Here, with people she had hated and thought were being misled, was where she was able to share her story. No one ridiculed her for past wrongs she had made, no one was insulted by her misguided judgements; She was embraced and applauded for ultimately doing what she felt was right and apologizing for her ignorance towards the community of non believers.

“I am nervous,” she says, “but at the same time I am so excited. I slept like a baby last night because I knew I wasn’t going to have to live a lie anymore. Such freedom.”

Many people were overwhelmed by her speech and wanted to share with her how happy they were that she came to Bethesda, MD. After she returned home, the video had even gone viral. Unfortunately, people from her hometown were not as excited by her speech as those back in Bethesda. Quite honestly, they were cruel, judgmental, awful to her, which is something no congregation (or any person(s)) should ever be.

WCTV, the local news station had done many reports about MacBain and her journey. Oddly enough, they only interviewed her boos, not her directly. Hundreds of people wrote their opinions on the matter, which were hard for this respectable woman to read.

“The majority of them, to begin with, were pretty hateful,” she says, although some nonbelievers soon came to her defense. “For somebody who’s been a good guy their whole life and been a people pleaser, it’s really hard to imagine that overnight you’re the bad guy.”

This poor woman who had an internal conflict tried to speak with the church district’s Superintendent so she could explain everything, but the meeting was canceled. Out of the many amounts of friends that she previously had, only two called to take her to lunch and stay a friend despite her decision. It seemed that with one decision all of those who were suppose to be around to support her for years, had suddenly disappeared. Along with the emotional stress she was now enduring, job interviews were suddenly canceled as well, due to the revelation of why she left the ministry. Finances were now going to be another stress she’d have to endure. Luckily, the Humanists of Florida Association had offered to give her a full years pay, but it is not a guarantee. Her family, fortunately, was a refuge for her, despite their conflicting beliefs.

“I believe in God,” says her husband, Ray. “And to be honest, I pray for her every night, I got friends praying for her.”

And even without his prayers answered, he loves and adores his wife and plans to stay with her.

“That’s why I spent 23 years in the Army. That’s why I’m still a police officer. We have freedom of speech and freedom of thought. And God never forced anybody to believe, so who am I to step up?”

Through all of this, MacBain shares that although she no longer misses God in her life, she does miss the music. She sang in choirs and loves the melodies and can still be heard singing some of those beautiful songs, only this time, she no longer believes in the words she is signing. She was searching for truth and understanding, and I guess you could say, her prayers have been answered.

 

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