More Stories from Atheists in Christian Workplaces May 10, 2012

More Stories from Atheists in Christian Workplaces

Over the weekend, this was posted at Postsecret:

I’ve heard from a few of you who are in that type of predicament right now. Turns out the secret’s owner isn’t alone.

From one reader:

Five years ago, after growing up in and being educated in church institutions, I lost my faith. Trouble is, I’m married to a pastor and have since entered church employment myself — I lost my non-church job early in the economic crisis and a number of months later was finally offered a job at a church institution. I keep the job because it provides education benefits to my children and will for some time to come.

The only scenarios in which I can imagine coming out are these: a) my husband also loses his faith, and b) divorce. Every other one involves both of us losing our jobs and those education benefits.

In the meantime, I view church and my workplace as an anthropological expedition while maintaining authentic relationships. I try not to do both things at the same time.

Another noticed a secret of his own at the church he works at:

I was an agnostic when I started working at church, grew to an atheist while working there. I think it’s probably more common than you think.

I have a few stories, like how the head preacher puts an envelope into the offering bucket faithfully every service and it’s always empty. He gives once a year, on 12/31, probably after consulting his tax accountant.

Also, staff meetings suck. As with any place, people often disagree on how things should be done. But inevitably some idiot is going to chime in and say “Well I believe God wants us to….” or even better, “I prayed about this last night and
God told me we should…”


I can’t quite say “That’s just bullshit.”

And that is why so many bad decisions are made in the church business.

One reader worked in a religious non-profit group for a long time:

You asked about atheists working in religious organizations. I did for 15 years and it was interesting. At the start, about 20% of the money came from the US Government and 80% came from private donations. Being an older Christian organization, the main donors were also older. Between this core group starting to die off and the general economic downturn, the funding started to shift until it was about 50/50. Total budget was about $80 million, at least as of two years ago when I left.

Now, the fun thing about federal grants is that they explicitly cite that the money has to go to the designated project (no surprise), but in our case, it also said we had to not be using it for religious purposes. I don’t know if this is standard federal contract language (I hope it is) but it was in ours.

As the shift in funding sources progressed, I got more and more requests to find ways to move some of my funding ($10 million of the government money) over to the more religious side. I will admit I took some delight in draping myself in the constitution and contract and regretfully telling them I couldn’t. I am not American, which made it a bit more fun. In any case, I had that legal support, which helped a lot. My direct boss, also an atheist, was in charge of the full $40 million and worked in head office. He faced much more constant pressure on the topic of funding and was the one who taught me to reach for the contract every time it came up.

Our half of the office worked with refugees and he came to the US as a refugee. He was ideologically motivated to work with refugees, so he was willing to deal with the churchy part of things. In my case, we were in Kenya and did direct service, so the churchy part never came through, at least until I was promoted to more senior levels. By then, I ran our office and could set the tone, so I didn’t have to deal with constant churchy-ness. In both our cases, there were a lot of “fellow travelers” who wanted to help refugees, but for religious reasons. Given how limited aid to refugees is, we could usually find enough common ground to work with the church groups.

Writing this, I realize that it may impact on the recent “Catholic hospitals getting government money and refusing to give staff birth control.” It might be rather interesting to see the contract, agreement, or cooperative agreement that the government gives those hospitals. I wager there are a number which have language about keeping things secular and where the terms of the contract are being breached. I wonder if they can be accessed with FOIA or some other public transparency method.

There have to be more of these… keep sending them!

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  • Sindigo

    “And that is why so many bad decisions are made in the church business.”

    Thank God for that. I hate to think what they’d achieve if they organised well.

  • I contracted as a network administrator for the Lutheran ELCA a number of years ago.  I didn’t care what they believed as long as the paycheck didn’t bounce.   What gave me a chuckle was – one of the pastors was describing the network environment to me and he let me know that they don’t block any websites – even the naughty ones – because they sometimes need to do research regarding porn websites.   Riiiiight.

  • AJKamper

    I once worked for the publishing house of the ELCA as well… as an out atheist. I was a customer service rep, which meant I had to recommend Sunday school packages, take orders for religious paraphernalia, and so on.

    In the workplace, my atheism was not a problem at all. It was a tolerant workplace, and I was never truly proselytized (though we did have a number of very interesting discussions about religion). I can’t stress this enough: as long as you did your job well and compassionately, what you personally believed was simply not an issue. 

    I should also note that I was working with three openly gay men as well, including two men who were waiting for the ELCA to allow gay pastors… and I’m now happy to report that they ARE both pastors.

    So my only issue was squaring my own beliefs with the fact that I was helping people worship God. This wasn’t a big issue, because I’ve never been the kind of atheist who thinks that my nonbelief is much superior to others’ belief. If I had been brought up in a different time, or with different values and experiences, I might have been a theist too. So I could work with people on their level–help them do the things that met their own values’ needs. And, for the year I worked there, that sufficed. (I would have worked there longer–I could have been a supervisor–but I didn’t really want to be a customer service rep at all. And we moved.)

  • Some of these make me sad – especially the one about the pastor putting an empty envelope in the offering.

    As a Christian, I was just wondering why you can’t be truthful about your situation or lack of faith or atheism or whatever and just come out of it if you don’t like it? I understand the one about the pastor’s wife… that must be very difficult for her and majorly stressful.

    But I don’t understand why some would continue to work in a place where they don’t agree with the ethos or values? 

    Thing is, it doesn’t really happen over here in the UK, so I’m quite in the dark about it!

  • One possibility is that many people just don’t have that luxury of leaving a job over differences in beliefs, values, etc. Otherwise the job might be a great one, and dealing with religious differences may only play a small part.

  • Onamission5

    The US economy is crap, and in a lot of areas, jobs are hard to come by. For someone who’s been unemployed for a couple years it’s the lesser of two evils, take the job you might hate, or lose your house. This is particularly true if you are very new to the workforce or if you are a significantly older worker. Both demographics tend to be passed over for employment due to age.

    Social benefits here are very low, have a short time cap and a rather large number of hoops through which one has to jump, and to pass over any job offer could mean loss of benefits. We can’t always afford to be picky.

  • Rwlawoffice

    I understand that the lack of belief may not be a problem in some jobs for a Christian organization, but if you are a minister and you are an atheist, then you are accepting your paycheck under false pretenses and you should have the integrity to admit that to the people who are paying your salary and find another job. 

  • Onamission5

    For once, in a way, I sort of agree with you. It’s not that cut-and-dried simple though, in an economy where jobs are hard to come by and assistance with expensive, time consuming retraining for the work force is virtually nil.

  • Is it false pretenses? I’m not so sure. As a pastor, you have job responsibilities, just like anybody else. You can work for an oil company even though you are philosophically opposed to how they operate- as long as you do your job. As a pastor, your job is to provide spiritual guidance, to make biblical interpretations and present those to your congregation. You no more need to be a theist to do this than you need be a stoic to teach stoicism.

    Not believing in what you teach is not the same as not teaching it effectively.

  • Rwlawoffice

     This is not like working for an oil company, it is an organization based upon religious beliefs. Every church has a tenet of beliefs that it tells the public it believes. Either as a part of a denomination that holds to those beliefs or as a nondenominational church with their own beliefs.  Either way, the minister is the head of that church and is expected to believe in those same tenets.  If the minister does not believe in those tenets then he is lying to his congregation.  Integrity would require that pastor to let them know and a bad economy does not justify keeping a job under that circumstance.

  • TheExpatriate700

    If you’re willing to step in and help said atheist pastor feed his or her family, fine. Otherwise, start living in the real world

  • VW

    I’m the pastor’s wife. In the beginning, it was indeed difficult and stressful, but over time I’ve learned to deal. I try to do good work and be nice–some day I’ll get to come out and hope that people remember those two things.

  • Rwlawoffice

     So integrity and willingness to  accept money under false pretenses is dependent upon your need.  Moral retentiveness at its best.

  • I’m not convinced. It’s a job. If the guy is doing what he’s supposed to be doing, and his congregation is happy with his performance, that’s what’s most important.

    Insisting on an internal world view strikes me as a bit Orwellian.

  • Onamission5

    I don’t know many if any people who are willing to risk their kids going hungry in the name of someone else’s idea of integrity.

    Did you not read any of the prior posts about clergy being unceremoniously dumped on their asses, losing home, job and livelihood in one fell swoop, because they came out as atheists? Even in corporate culture, when someone in leadership is sacked they usually get a grace period in which to aquire other employment or housing, along with severence.

  • Rwlawoffice

     It was an integral part of the hiring process that he believes the same as the congregation he is leading.  If he no longer believes it he has an obligation to say so and let them find someone else who does. 

  • Rwlawoffice

     The amount of grace period or severance that a person is given is sometimes dependent upon the reason they are let go. If you were got stealing from your job I doubt you would be given much of a severance or time to find another job. That is in essence what these pastors are doing when they stand up and preach on things they believe to be false. Why should the pastor be able to keep his lack of beliefs to himself and take his salary under false pretenses?

    One way for the pastor to handle this situation with dignity and integrity is to go to someone he trusts within the church leadership and express his doubts and counsel with that person as he works through them.  If he comes to a place of being an atheist then he can inform that person and arrangements can be made that are fair to both parties. But to simply keep these doubts to himself and then continue to act in silence as an atheist will be seen to be an act of betrayal that I am sure will not be treated kindly. 

  • We’ll just have to disagree.

    I judge a person by his actions, not his thoughts.

  • Rwlawoffice

    On that we agree. I see a minister who is praying with or giving spiritual guidance  to his congregation when he doesn’t believe what he is telling them as engaging in actions  for which he should be judged.  It would be like being nice to a girl and through your actions making her believe that you love her and even though you don’t you never correct her misconception.   The fact that you are nice doesn’t justify the lie you know exists between you.

  • amycas

    I used to work in a church nursery (at two different churches). I could tell some stories.

  • amycas

     I notice you said that you only had two options: you’re husband deconverting or divorce. Have you talked to your husband? Does he know you’re an atheist? Maybe he would be accepting if he knew and it wouldn’t have to come down to divorce. Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, since I don’t know your full situation.

  • amycas

     This might be a first. I almost agree with Rw in this. I think you are compromising your integrity by being a pastor whilst not believing in that church’s dogma. However, I know how hard it is to get out of that life. I think needing to provide for your family does justify keeping a job under this circumstance.

  • I see it as no different from a salesman trying to get you to buy a car, even if he knows it’s not the best choice for you.

    The reality is, that’s just how the world works.

  • amycas

     I wouldn’t equate this with stealing. Many times people come to the realization that they don’t believe anymore over a long period of time. It’s not like they woke up one day and said,”I’m not going to believe this anymore.” I agree with you that they are in the wrong line of work, but I don’t think they have much choice if there’s nothing and nobody there to help them get out. That’s why we should be supporting the clergy project. If you think these pastors should give up their livelihood (and possibly the only job they’re trained to do) then you should support it too. I understand what it’s like to work in a religious organization and then later become an atheist and feel trapped: you need the money so you stay, but you feel like you’re lying everyday so you want to leave. It’s not an easy decision.

  • Rwlawoffice

    No doubt it is a very difficult decision and situation to deal with for all parties involved.  

  • amycas

     I agree with Rw on this one. I used to work at a  church as an atheist, and yes, I was having to lie every Sunday (and some Wednesdays). It did affect the way I did my job. Everybody still said I was doing a great job, but I was cutting out the god stuff more and more and that’s not what I was hired to do. As soon as I was able to make more money without it, I quit because it was the right thing to do. The only thing that I disagree with Rw on this is that I think the congregation should help the pastor get back on his/her feet after they come out.

  • amycas

     In my situation, my mother goes to the same church where  I worked, so I couldn’t just come out as an atheist (I wasn’t and still am not ready to have that conversation with her). I had to have another reason to leave. Luckily, school started eating up my time, so I used that as my reason.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Amy I agree with you that the pastor should be given help unless it is shown that he never believed in the first place or handled this loss of faith in an dishonest manner.  If he lost his faith as time went on and handled his doubts with integrity, his years of service should be honored.

  • Right, but that was your personal decision, arrived at by your analysis of the situation as it affected you, and your personal code of ethics. And that’s as it should be.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to generalize this decision to everybody, however.

    In a perfect world, everyone would be doing exactly what they wanted, and their thoughts and actions would mesh perfectly with their own sense of ethics. But it’s not a perfect world, and there are many things that have to be considered and weighed against each other. Who doesn’t end up acting in ways that are largely compromises?

    I don’t consider an atheist pastor to be operating unethically for the simple reason that nobody is being harmed by his actions (assuming he is actually doing his job).

  • mexteach

    Here in Mexico (sorry for my english) I work at a catholic private middle school runned by nuns. I decided to work here because they pay me a lot and I like the discipline, also, the nuns are pretty much cool and very supportive if we have  a problem (spoiled brats and moronic parents, sorry, it’s the truth). Most of the teachers do not involve religious themes to classes…but the others, well, they preach as they breath. Once we have a psychologist with the mind of a medieval priest, being around him was hell, for EVERYONE, he even complained about the nuns attire because they don’t wear habits for work, yes, even the nuns didn’t like him at all.What I really want to say is this: I have found that most of the teachers/staff that proclaim being religious are really hypocrites with lost of double standars. You may call me an hypocrite too, but…well, I need the money… me and other 2 teachers are the ones with more work ethics a better preparation than everyone here (real degrees), children NEED real education and not only preaching and praying. It is uncomfortable to pray everyday, but we have to live…also, me and the other 2 teachers? We are gay and atheists, one of them is my boyfriend. Nobody knows, everyone respect us, the headmistress love us and trust us. It is funny because we dont’ look like the demons they preach agaisnt…

  • Gringa

     Please do.  Around here, there are a lot of christian daycare’s that legally do not have to meet state standards.  I would therefore never put my child there, but I’ve always wondered what really goes on there.

  • N.P.

    I sent in one of these. The answer is, I do a good job for them. They are paying for a service and I provide it. My job app asked for my religious beliefs and I was honest. I said I have not been blessed with the gift of faith. I got hired anyway. In fact I think it’s a good thing for them. I am in a support role. Overhead to the mission. The person before me forgot that they were in a support role and started to question the religious decisions being made, using the same “God told me we should…” shtick. That person rage quitted because they let their religious convictions interfere with their work.

  • ruth

    Hypocrisy must not be uncommon. But it is psychologically  hard on a person to act contrary to either their values or their desires.  The anti-gay minister with a same sex relationships.  The atheist priest.  The wife who no longer cares about her husband but remains married.   The teenager atheist who pretends at home so as not to get cut off by her parents.  

    Sometimes we end up in a jam.  Silent hypocrisy is easiest, just keep your mouth shut and  don’t actively mislead.  But either way, it is wearing.  

    I know, I am a hypocrite.  

  • ConureDelSol

    I am a closet atheist working for a large non-denominational church as basically the geek at the help desk.  Even further, my father is my boss and he handles all matters with technology at the church.  I started out at this job as a Christian but when I had free time, I tried to study the Bible.  The blatant errors and horrifying acts in God’s name made me question my faith.  I have only been an atheist myself for about half a year or so. 

     My job requires that I go to every service and “outreach” event.  I do manage to use school as an excuse to miss some of these luckily.  At the outreach events, part of my job is to go up to random, unsuspecting people and hand them propaganda about Jesus and the Bible.  I then am supposed to go through a series of questions and then have them sign a “Salvation Card”.  We actually count the amount of cards gathered each week at the main service and the pastor likes to show off to the church how many people were saved.  

    Sometimes, part of my job is to basically fix or set up things owned by the head pastor.  I have personally seen his million dollar home, his wide-screen TV, the movie theater in his basement, his collection of expensive cars, and more.  My father claims that people “give” him these cars as gifts.  I always criticize this: Shouldn’t he be turning away gifts like this and instead telling these people to donate money to the church or use it to support the food pantry we use to feed the poor?

     Hopefully, my job will soon be coming to an end as I have already had interviews for a new job that has absolutely nothing to do with God.

  • VW

    Coming out would involve huge life change for me and the rest of my family. In our denomination, it’s not possible for a pastor to have a spouse who is a self-proclaimed atheist. So if I came out, he couldn’t be a pastor.

    Or we could divorce. As far as him keeping his job, divorce would actually be preferable–while divorce is frowned upon, it is not necessarily a pastoral career-killer.

    Or I could stay in the closet and keep doing what I’m doing. Right now it seems the best choice.

    Even in a church-saturated environment, it’s surprising how little faith has to matter–people assume I’m part of the in-crowd because I always have been. And being nice to people helps. Even the crazy-religious are still people who respond to niceness.

  • Onamission5

    You can hardly equate a person having private thoughts regarding religious belief to a person committing a felony. Please.

    Mind you I did say that I sort of agreed with you in that yes, it would be the most ethical thing to come out were one a clergy member in that position. However, as the christian church is not exactly known for its stellar treatment of nonbelievers, either historically or present day, I can fully understand why someone would balk at doing so, especially if it means– as it so often does– that a person’s family stability, social support network and entire livelihood are on the line. One would hope that a church would itself be ethical in its treatment of atheistic clergy. I have yet to hear of that being the case.

  • Edmond

    A minister who is a believer is still accepting a paycheck under false pretenses.  He doesn’t actually know anything about the nature or origin of the universe, or any possible creators.  He’s a speculator, paid to pretend that his speculations are real.

  • amycas

     I don’t mean coming out publicly. I meant just to your husband. Sorry I wasn’t clear about that. Yeah, it does sound like a precarious situation though.

  • I worked in the Christian Bookstore industry for over 20 years.  As I began to question my faith, I was still visiting 4-5 Christian Bookstores a day as part of my sales job.  The cognitive dissonance was becoming too hard, and the company was brutal on it’s employees, so I ended up quitting.
    I have a family to support and it’s been equally hard to start over from scratch….I don’t judge anyone who chooses to stay in a faith based position, in order to feed their family.

  • Kodie

     I don’t see any conflict. While they may prefer a sincere minister, I don’t believe any sincerity is called for. Sure, he would lose his job if they found out, but believing the lie and not believing the lie is still lying. If anything, his integrity should be to himself, and a lot of people justify keeping a job out of financial need, or it’s easier than looking for another one. As someone who personally believes having to work for someone else and doing something I don’t love is precious time of my own that I am selling at the going rate is… difficult to sustain, emotionally and mentally, I would have a hard time keeping it up, but I’m not under any illusion that everyone loves their job, is doing their best, or even gives a flip if it’s something they love or believe in, as long as they get paid.

    Some professions may be under different standards for this – I’m not saying it’s right, but I imagine many idealistic young graduates go into teaching because they love kids. Over time, administrative red tape, dealing with parents, and they are totally over the little aholes, and yet, don’t feel especially burdened to come clean about it. What else are they going to do? They still know how to do their jobs, don’t they? Up here in the thread somewhere was an atheist daycare worker – would the parents be upset to find out their children might be exposed to heathen agenda? Nothing to worry about if they don’t know. Apparently, they feel safer in a Christian daycare that doesn’t have to comply with state laws than a secular one that does have to comply, and that person is probably doing a great job, no heartfelt supernatural beliefs necessary. These are just two examples that come to mind, sure it would probably help if everyone was following their sincere passion and changed jobs as soon as that passion left, but it’s not true. Unless someone is doing terrible at their job or committing a crime or ignoring their duties, they are doing their job. I don’t hold ministers in any special account to believe what they say, since what they say is unbelievable. Would you fire science teachers who were YECs? They may have to say things they don’t believe, and if they can do that without saying things they do believe that they’re not allowed to say, what’s the problem? It’s not going to make an ideal teacher, but it will make a legally adequate one, and my experience coming up through public schools is that is all they ask. Anything better than that is gravy.

    Why should a minister, especially, have to quit their job if they don’t believe what they say, anymore than a salesperson (another job I’ve had)? I only believed what I told customers because the manager used sales techniques on me, and it turned out we were both lying.

  • amycas

    I never said that every pastor in this situation should or could make the same choices I made. I was lucky that I came to my beliefs at a relatively young age and it was only my part-time job that I would lose. I understand that there’s a lot more at stake for pastors who have built their career around their faith.

    I’m just saying that for most people who go into ministry, it’s not just a job. It’s a huge part of their life. It makes their faith feel like an integral part of “self,” and losing it can be devastating. What helps a lot of atheists deconverting is being able to find other atheists to talk to and build a support group outside of church. It’s much harder for a pastor to do that. I’m not saying that every atheist pastor is evil or wrong, I’m saying it creates a new sort of cognitive dissonance. You believe one thing, but you (literally) are preaching another. Some people may be able to do that and feel just fine about it, but I’m willing to bet that it is emotionally painful for many people.

    My argument isn’t that these people are inherently unethical. My argument is that they can harm themselves by living a lie. Some people are able to do that, others aren’t. The ones who aren’t able to do it, need to have a safe place to go to get help and support before they come out.  

  • VW

     He’s not happy about it, but he knows.

  • amycas

     Oh, I have plenty of stories about a christian daycare (i didn’t work there, but my mother and my sister did, and it was located in one of the church’s where I worked). If they want to be licensed, then they do have to meet state standards. One of the standards they most frequently ignore is teacher/student ratios. The church nursery did not have to meet state standards, but we did our best to do so.

    When my niece was a baby she was a risk for SIDS. In daycares, the rooms (especially infants) were never supposed to be completely dark. You have to have a source of light on in the room at all times. My mom walked past the room (she worked there during the week, but as part of the churhc, not the daycare), the lights were completely off and when she said something she saw that the woman in the room was asleep in the rocking chair while the babies were napping. This is incredibly dangerous. While infants are asleep they should always be monitored to make sure they are breathing. That’s one story I remember.

  • Rwlawoffice

     A minister should quit his/her job if they don’t believe what they are saying because they either expressly tell their congregation that they do believe it or they certainly understand that the congregation believes they do.   Just a salesman who lies to get a sale,  it is deceptive.

    Let me give you an example- what if Richard Dawkins came out and said that the whole time he was writing books and giving speeches as an advocate for atheism that the whole time he was really a Christian and everything he said or wrote he never believed it.  If you had purchased his books or spent money to hear him speak you should feel deceived.  that is how a congregation would feel if they found out that the pastor who was providing them spiritual guidance, praying with them, and teaching them never really believed it and thought what he was telling them was the truth was in his believe a lie.  If you see nothing wrong with that then I wonder what you would you would find as deceptive.

  • Rwlawoffice

     Faith is different from pretending.  If he doesn’t have faith and preaches that he does, then he lying.

  • Kodie

     They’re already deceived. I kind of got over the idea that everyone should be perfect, as long as he is doing his job, why do they have to find out? Yes, I’ve been disappointed before. All the more reason none of that is what’s important here. Whatever value the job has to himself, if he can sleep at night. Nobody should worry more about the employer than themselves. That might sound kind of shitty to what we presume is an employer who is nice and fair and shouldn’t be taken advantage of. He’s not using his position to sway people away from faith. If anything, if this is too hard for him to stay, he should only be true to himself.

    I’ve left a lot of jobs and not necessarily because of my ethics, but because I had a hard time selling my life to people who treated me unkind. No one understands why – they all take their jobs and cling to them for dear life, no matter what. I would like everyone to have high ideals and stand up for themselves and take only jobs they feel passionate for, and free to find a different job when that is no longer the case. But that is not how the world works. Underneath it all is just a machinery. Everyone takes a role, and as long as they know how to do it, it’s life. You gotta eat. Sounds harsh, but there’s only so many choice roles. I would have a problems with a minister deceiving his employer if he was using his position to influence the congregation the opposite of what he’s supposed to say; that equals not doing your job. Deep inside personal ethics might get to someone if they knew they were lying and teaching impressionable children who would believe you. It doesn’t matter if he leaves, they will replace him with someone who can do that too. Why should someone put themselves out if they are doing their job? Only quit if you can no longer stomach to do it.

  • Rwlawoffice

     I take it from your post (and I maybe wrong) that the only person you care for in your employment is yourself and if you are deceiving people in doing your job and you are okay with that deception then that is all  that matters.  I sincerely hope that this is not your belief and that you would have more integrity for your employer then that. 

    A minister who is preaching to a congregation, even if he doesn’t outwardly promote people leaving the faith, is not doing his job if he doesn’t believe what he is saying.  His mere presence as a preacher is him making the public pronouncement that he is a believer and if he is not, his mere presence in that position is deceptive.  And I would expect that those in that position know it.  Whether they can live with that deception or not doesn’t change that it is a lie.  

  • Kodie

    They are paying for the work to be done – is the work being done? Caveat emptor and all that. Employers want the moon when they hire someone, and they hire the person who sells them the shiniest moon. Do they always deliver the moon? No. Do they get fired for being less than the moon? Not usually. I’ve brought the moon for bosses, and then they ask for the sun. I don’t feel sorry for bosses. Give them what they’re paying you to do, deliver the work, that’s what I believe. I think that’s what the bargain is, and that’s fair. I don’t think they get to have the rights to your personal thoughts. I have worked in marketing and all that’s expected of me is to say that I like things, fake enthusiasm for things I hate, fake enthusiasm to my boss that I love my job even though I’m dying there. That’s how people keep their job. If you think church is somehow off-limits to the wills of marketing, I mean, I think that’s all it is. Sell people our brand of god, and get them to put money in the collection plate.

    It is really nice when people believe in the product they are hired to sell, but that is not always the case. I personally am an idealist, but I have grown to realize this is not how the world works. I’m not the kind of person who would rather get called to work somewhere I was not thrilled to interview in the first place than no job, but most people are. Why is a minister any different? Other people also have more obligations than I do, and why do you care so much about the boss or the congregation. They are getting what they came for, aren’t they? Does it matter if they are being lied to, they are being lied to anyway, and one person can stand on his principles but he can’t feed his family on them, while someone who believes this horsecrap gets to feed his family? No way. I don’t think that’s fair at all.

  • Shannon Lane

    I currently work as one of three network admins for a Catholic organization that provides care to the elderly and needy in my area.  Interestingly, I’m a ‘mostly out’ atheist – one of the ‘spiritual counsellors’ found my copy of the Tao on my desktop library and started making assumptions, though I’ve never been asked directly (and never directly stated) my religious preference in the office (yes, athiest).

    It’s such a strange position in which to be – as a Humanist, I gladly stand shoulder to shoulder with the more religiously-motivated folks at the office to get the work we do done.  Helping other people – even indirectly – makes for a workplace that has a very unique perspective and genuine focus on the work at hand.

    It doesn’t change that I feel… dirty in doing so.  I want out, and I want to find a place with the same opportunity that isn’t in the standard corporate ‘make money nao’ mentality, but that doesn’t seem to exist.

    I wish I had the contacts and wherewithal to move into atheist activism, to work with organizations like the FFRF, the JREF, or the Dawkins Foundation – but these jobs are rare, coveted, and require connections that just aren’t available (yet) in my neck of the woods.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the only place that seems to exist for atheists to do good in their community as a working career happens to be inside of religious structures.

    Perhaps one day I’ll find a path out – but the prospects of a focus on community service and a non-religious organization that can pay me are slim.

  • Rwlawoffice

     If you are in a fairly menial position or not in a supervisor position then simply doing your job may be enough. However, a pastor is the leader of his congregation. As a leader he must do more then go through the motions. He cannot be the leader he is called to be if he doesn’t believe in what  he is doing.  Besides that, he is called in the Bible to have more integrity then that.  He simply cannot lie about it and still be a pastor. You may not have that integrity but more is expected from a pastor.

    You may think that it is “all a lie anyway” or that “they are getting the marketing they came for” but as a believer I can tell you that people want, expect and deserve more from their pastor. If i found out my pastors were atheists just going through the motion I would leave the church and would have been deceived. 

  • I’m not sure what you mean about this not happening in the UK. I think you’re deluding yourself if you think that Christian companies in the UK don’t have plenty of non-Christians working for them. And I’ll bet the percentage of ministers (especially Anglicans) in the UK who are atheist is much higher than in the U.S.

  • Kodie

     You know, I was thinking about this, again, this morning. I had not realized you were a believer. But it makes sense for you to think that pastors are not subject to the pressures of living in the modern world. I mean, if a librarian lied to you, that’s going to frustrate you, but a librarian’s not your broker to the ultimate judge. If a librarian gives you shifty information, you ask another one. One would think, if someone went into library work, that they would sincerely hold books and information in the highest esteem and would be trustworthy and care more about their job and not make stuff up to get you out of their face.

    I mean, you are making the same mistake about religious people that I used to make – they think they’re better than us, why don’t they act like it? Why do they act like human beings, shitty immoral rude selfish human beings (I am describing among the worst daily behavior I encounter), instead of taking the word so seriously? Because they are “only” human. They are not god. Your pastor is not god, he took a job in which he felt at one time that he could directly communicate with god and pass the message onto the people, who can’t find these things out themselves.

    I don’t personally have any illusion that a pastor is any different than a butcher or a librarian or a doctor or a truck-driver. Some people inherit a vocation and do what is expected of them; some early on know what they want to do and head directly for it with no doubts or distractions to stop them; some decide what to do because it will get them other side benefits, like lots of money and the adoration of women; and some choose what seemed like a steady paycheck at the time and it’s all they know how to do. They may ALL end up loving their careers or find that they are where they’re supposed to be, or they may ALL end up feeling stuck, but whattayagonnado? When I watch the news, I pay attention to how they describe people and the events. A person gets robbed – fairly straightforward. A church box gets robbed, and it’s “omg, who would do such a thing… to a church?” People do scandalous things also, but when it is a clergy, people act like a clergy would never do such a thing, so it’s ever more scandalous or unexpected.

    I just think they are people. They don’t have a special connection to god, even when they do believe it. I am sorry you think that they are specially called on to serve god in a particular way and would not then also be a human being. Just like I’m not sure the guy who manages my supermarket loves what he does, feels meaning in what he does, or just does what he does. What do you believe a minister does better with sincerity than without it? I can certainly understand how disillusioned and disappointed you would feel if you found out your minister was not sincere, but as long as you have your blinders on, it’s all true to you anyway. Do you think with sincerity there is a way for you to connect to god via your
    minister, and without sincerity, it is like the post office throwing your letters in the garbage instead of delivering them?

  • Rwlawoffice

     Please don’t misunderstand me. I am fully aware that pastors are human and as humans we are all sinners. They sometimes do terrible things.  However, they are held to a higher standard. More is expected of them, the least of which is that the believe what they are preaching. 

  • Speak for yourself. I’m human, and I’m not a sinner.

    I think what you meant to say is that you’re Christian, and all Christians are sinners.

  • There’s actually not many ‘Christian’ companies at all, actually. There may well be atheists who work for the Anglican Church in some capacity, but I don’t think that would matter as such…

  • Thisismyclone

    I know how hard it is to be an atheist alone. If you need support, moral or otherwise, I suggest you start here: . This is a good place to find others who share your predicament and your outlook. Plus there are many many stories of those who came out to their families and at their workplace and the consequences to each. Good luck and peace.

  • The ELCA tends to be an organization more tolerant of diverse thinking than many.  I think one local ELCA pastor may well be an atheist, but doesn’t identify himself that way.  Some congregations are very conservative while others are like the one you described.

  • Zoroaster

    “As soon as I was able to make more money without it, I quit because it was the right thing to do.”

    Sounds to me like you quit because you found a way to make more money, not because it was the right thing to do.

  • webward

    I work as a sysadmin for a company that produces a very popular piece Bible study software, and the founders of the company are definitely devout in their own faith, but I’m an atheist. This company operates under the mindset that we’re a business first, and while a large portion of the employees are openly Christian, a fair number are not. There’s only one time that I’ve heard of where someone has been made to feel uncomfortable for their differing beliefs as a result of a conversation with co-workers, and it was my manager, and their career has not suffered in any way as a result.

    I’ve also attended a mandatory class for anyone involved in the hiring process, as I’m part of the panel of interviewers for our department, and I appreciate that the CEO specifically states to not ask about a person’s religious affiliation, what church they attend, etc. in the class. His reasoning being that we want the most qualified candidate for every position regardless of their beliefs, which aside from covering yourself legally, is just a smart business move. Granted we do have positions for Biblical scholars, and if you’re applying for one of those it’s fair game for you to be asked knowledge based questions about the Bible as a text, but not your personal feelings about it.

    Anyway, all this is to say, that while sometimes I feel a conflict internally about working for a company that produces a product that doesn’t sync with my personal beliefs about the fundamental nature of the universe, don’t let it discourage you from at least applying at a “Christian company”, but do try and gauge the environment during your application and interview process.

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