In the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the early part of the 20th century, one of the more difficult aspects was the question of whether the “modernists” really believed the faith any longer. The suspicion among conservatives was that in some, perhaps many cases, the modernists were collecting a pay check from the church but secretly subverting the Christian faith of those whom they were supposed to be shepherding. When those criticisms were voiced the critics were ridiculed as narrow-minded, bigoted etc. Well, an almost-year-old website suggests that the lingering suspicion about unbelieving ministers in the mainline might have some foundation. To be sure there were and have always been ministers in the mainline who continue to believe the faith but who, for whatever reason, could not bring themselves to join the separating sideline denominations. Some mainline pastors remain in hopes of bringing Reformation or perhaps of maintaining a witness to the truth even as the corporate candle grows dim. One pastor I knew, who was converted in the OPC but who left for the mainline, compared himself to Jeremiah. Years later it occurred to me that I should have asked him whether he was prepared to be thrown down a well.
The site says,
The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.
Currently, the community’s 415 plus members use it to network and discuss what it’s like being an unbelieving leader in a religious community. The Clergy Project’s goal is to support members as they move beyond faith. Members freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever
The main reason these unbelieving pastors continue in their office: money. It’s a job and they don’t know how to do anything else, hence The Clergy Project. It’s being funded by the Stiefel Foundation. Hallowell writes:
With a $100,000 grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation (SFF), the organization is working to setup a framework for the program that will ensure it operates both now and in the future. The SFF, run by atheist millionaire Todd Stiefel, has been responsible for funding a plethora of groups and projects associated with the activist movement.
This revelation would not shock our Lord:
Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because the is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Unbelievers should leave the ministry! They do need jobs or careers and it’s probably a good thing that someone is offering them a way out. As ministers, however, they are exactly what Jesus said, “hired hands.”
It seems clear that the intent of the SFF is to promote the denial of the faith. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than wealthy atheist foundations. Who knows? Perhaps the Spirit will use a Scripture reading or a sermon by one of these hired hands to bring not only some in the congregation to faith (we are not Donatists; the sacraments they administer are still sacraments, the Word is still the Word) and perhaps, ironically, the Spirit will use the foolishness of the gospel to bring some hired hands to faith?
Jesus also said:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
May the Lord protect those lambs who live without true shepherds. May he set them free or send them true shepherds.