Yesterday I wrote about the pastor-turned-atheist-turned pastor again, Teresa MacBain (Teresa MacBain’s Eisstasy).
Since writing the post, I’ve been able to listen to her sermon telling her story (“Grace Redefined”), available from her website.
(I know…I should have listened to this first)
It confirms my conclusions, but I found it fascinating listening, and it filled in most of the blanks for me. If you have a spare half hour, I’d recommend listening.
It confirms that her reasons for trying atheism were emotionally driven and her reasons for returning are arguably even more so.
Even though Teresa and I are both former pastors, our stories are fundamentally different.
For me, it is all about knowing what is true and accepting that (despite the costs).
For Teresa, it is all about being known and being accepted.
Obviously, I believe Teresa is wrong in her conclusions, but I do think I understand her and (for what it’s worth) I can accept that.
When her life turned tough (and it really did), she no longer felt loved by God and so concluded that there was no god. But when life went from bad to worse in the wake of her public apostasy (and the disgrace of the Harvard debacle), and Teresa realised it was no easy thing to find community outside the church, she admits that she needed community, and so went to a progressive church again to find it.
And she found it.
And the acceptance was wonderful.
And although she doesn’t give any hints that she has resolved any of the intellectual difficulties with Christian belief, those were never the key things for her anyway, and she has chosen to ignore them, because acceptance (grace) is more important to her.
After watching the video her story all makes perfect sense.
The video rings true, and it is excellent to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit. There is only one main point in the video which didn’t ring true, and that is her claim that she didn’t understand Grace beforehand.
While this is always possible, I suspect this is instead a convenient refashioning of what she really means, which is that she had never quite experienced how wonderful grace and acceptance feels, until now. I’d be surprised if we were to look through her sermon archive, if we didn’t find a traditional protestant understanding of Grace being preached – “it’s not what we do, but what God has done for us in Jesus”. But for Teresa to be able to say that she only just understands that now is an easy way of explaining why she went wrong and of now preaching that message anew.
Her revelation about grace is not new to me, though. Her ‘redefinition’ is the evangelical standard one (even if a little light on the Jesus bit for those of my heritage). I’ve preached an entire sermon series on Grace – but now I understand both the flaws in that doctrine and why even if you ignore those flaws the entire Christian system collapses in any case.
Having seen the video, I don’t think Teresa wants the limelight. I think she just wants to be part of an accepting community who will love her despite her flaws, and whom she can love and minister to.
It’s an important reminder that community really matters – not just to Teresa, but to everyone.
Even though it’s sad at one level that fear, pain and brokenness caused Teresa’s will to falter and to stumble back to the security of the fold, I think I also agree with Galen Broaddus in his blog post,
But after a great deal of reflection, I’m actually glad that Teresa has returned to her Christian roots.
I don’t mean that in a snarky way, like she wasn’t worthy enough to be “one of us.” The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but conclude that atheism was simply never a good fit for Teresa. She wore her atheism like an ill-fitting set of overalls. I don’t think she was insincere about it, but I do think that her attempt to remake herself from pastor to atheist leader never quite worked.
There is absolutely nothing about Teresa’s fall to grace that gives me pause – no new evidence or information that calls my reasoning or conclusions into question.
I think Teresa will be happier with this change, because for Teresa, ‘integrity’ and ‘truth’ fall into line behind ‘acceptance’ and ‘love’.
For me, it’s the other way around.