I subscribe to a niche news feed service that sends me press releases and updates regarding religion and faith-based issues.
Earlier this week, I saw a press release regarding pastors, priests and rabbis who have abandoned their faith for an atheistic lifestyle.
I’m not surprised when religious leaders experience doubt and question lifelong traditions they’ve followed.
Faithful followers from Moses through Mother Teresa have expressed doubts regarding their beliefs and have written extensively about what they call “the dark night of the soul.”
In fact, one of my favorite scriptures is Mark 9:24 where Jesus asks a father of a demon-possessed son whether or not the father has faith for the deliverance and the father replies, “.…I do believe; help my unbelief.”
I love that passage because it’s so raw and honest before the very face of God.
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t balk and walkaway in the face of that doubt – he took the bit of belief the man had and delivered the son.
Doubt Defines Faith
Don’t kid yourself, doubt is part of faith. But don’t be deceived that your doubt some how shakes God.
Doubt only shakes humans.
That’s why the news release I mentioned bothers me.
The “atheistic clergy” in the story are portrayed as heroic victims who started out in the faith to help people, but as they advanced into leadership roles they fostered doubts that they never addressed.
Honest Self Doubt
Linda LaScola is a Tufts University researcher quoted in the piece who described these “atheistic clergy” the following way:
“They have early doubts that they do not act on, then they keep quiet. They don’t tell their colleagues. It is a slow process from belief to lack of belief.”
In these cases, it also appears to be a dishonest process moving from belief to non-belief because these individuals simultaneously advanced into leadership positions over others while their own faith unraveled.
True Victims of Broken Trust
Ironically, the article cites one “atheistic clergy” named Mike Aus who’s congregation unsurprisingly scattered when he announced his disbelief in God:
Aus’ congregation, unaware of his change of heart until learning about it on television — on Palm Sunday, no less — decided to disband. Their final service was Easter Sunday.
“There was anger, yes,” said Joe Vingle, a member of Aus’ Texas church. “Some people had been with Mike for 20 years or longer. Those were the ones that were really hurt. They are feeling that everything they were taught by him is a lie.”
The unavoidable irony is that when leaders are given a lot of trust, they also must accept a lot responsibility to their followers. And when that trust is violated, the people who were supposed to be helped the most are actually hurt the most.
Trust and Responsibility are Proportional
It might not be fair but teachers, police officers, politicians, doctors and clergy are all held to a higher standard because of their chosen vocations which are supposed to help people.
Every time that trust is undermined, the real victims are the trusting followers – not the leaders. That’s because the leaders chose to lead with with eyes wide open regarding their hidden shortfalls and doubts.
Followers follow without that extra bit of honest insight.
If you have doubts about your core beliefs it ultimately comes down to a question of being honest with yourself as early as possible.
When it comes to issues of trust, you simply cannot “fake it ’til you make it.”
The father in the book of Mark was honest enough to admit his doubt to God.
Unfortunately, these “atheistic clergy” were not honest enough to even admit their doubts to themselves until it was too late – to the detriment of those who followed.
Question: Who’s more to blame when trust is broken? The one who seeks the trust or the one who gives it?