I am getting into Part Two of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind and this is the part where they give five examples of the people who the authors interviewed. I debated for a long time about where to handle this all at once or one minister at a time. Once I read the first one though I realized that this is going to be a one at a time thing because the depth of understanding needed is individual. In the first case we are dealing with a female Presbyterian minister. The authors give her the name Winnie but they are actually concealing the identity of the ministers involved.
Winnie’s early life started in the church. She was in Sunday School at an early age and loved the church, particularly Sunday School. She had her doubts about her religion but that did not stop her from being involved and active. She also became aware that she was a lesbian very early on in her life. It was at the same time that she became aware of the fact that women could become ministers and she made the decision to go to seminary. It was during a trip to Israel that she is reported to have serious doubts about her faith. She found the religiosity of the whole experience repulsive. She doubted whether she was actually a Christian but she went forward because of the emotional charge she got from hymns and spiritual poems. You get the feeling at this point she was more interested in spirituality than Christianity. While at seminary she learned a lot of the scholarly theories about the construction of the bible. She watched as many became disenchanted with their faith, dropped out or became emotionally distressed about their faith.
When she got into the ministry she started out as an associate pastor and already she doubted her belief in God. She really wanted to believe in God but she was struggling and her first church let her struggle and preach from time to time. Because they were a pretty liberal congregation she did OK because they were more interested in what she liked about church which was church as her second family and the joy of spirituality. When she became a full pastor at another church that all changed because they were extremely conservative and while she admired their simple faith, she herself was chastised for having doubts. Doubting to that congregation was sinful and would send her to Hell. Eventually she left the ministry after ten years.
The two forces that seem to pull her this way based on my reading of the book are the fact this whole hyper conservative thing was souring her to religion in general. She couldn’t be herself and be a pastor. The other was that she was more and more coming to the idea that she was a lesbian and at the time. She left the ministry and ‘married’ her partner which at the time of writing she had been with for thirteen years. In the end she looks at religion as something that helps people explore the idea that something else is out there other than us. She embraced faith wholeheartedly, found out it wasn’t true and then missed it. She missed the community and the idea of faith but for her she feels she gets the same spirituality when she is out gardening. Not necessarily and atheist, perhaps and agnostic but with spiritualist tendencies is the feeling I got after reading her story. Unfortunately this is only a sketch so I could be wrong.
The only thing I didn’t like about this story in relationship to the book was I was looking for a book about pastors still in the pulpit and not believing but this sketch is of a woman who left the ministry already. It is very enlightening nonetheless. The main thing that interested me is that the answers to all the questions the interviewers were trying to ask indicated that she liked the idea of spirituality and not necessarily Christianity. Her doubts did not arise out of seminary but were already there before she got there and she liked the scholarly part of Bible study but could understand why some of the more fundamentalist students would drop out. Her doubts about her faith would have been fine in more moderate or liberal churches but conservative fundamentalist churches have no room for the seeker or the doubter and this is the hell of those churches. I understand why she would leave the ministry.
The fact is though she may have lost faith in Christianity, she did not lose faith as a concept for spirituality. I wonder if this was any different from the rest of her life and Christianity was just for a time the best way to express it. The only thing that makes me doubt this is the fact that her being a homosexual and not losing her faith might have been more of a driving force for leaving the ministry, that however is countered with the fact she could have joined another denomination that allowed it but she decided against it. I hope we can see as the book goes on some correlation or common factors that bind all these sketches together.
Next: The Lutheran Pastor