Group to host 2 pastors turned nonbelievers

Mark Hammontree

Alabama Atheists and Agnostics and the Southeastern Collegiate Atheist Alliance will host two former pastors to speak at their event “Out of the Pulpit: from Pastor to Atheist” on Feb. 2, in Room 205 of Gorgas Library at 3 p.m.

Richard Haynes, a former mega-church pastor, and Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher, will tell their stories of their journey from deeply-rooted religious pasts to the atheist leaders they are today.

According to a New York Times article on DeWitt, when the small-town pastor began to struggle with his own beliefs, he began to participate in an organization called Recovering from Religion that sought to aid those in the often uncertain transition from religious practice to a purely secular life.

Eventually, DeWitt began to speak publicly again, this time as an atheist “convert.” He now travels around the country, especially the South, speaking about his own story and his views on religion.

For many atheists and agnostics, having formerly religious figures now serve as atheistic leaders is a meaningful validation of their views. They take such stories of conversion as support for the belief that anyone, regardless of their current beliefs or views, can come to view the world in a more secular light.

“What Jerry DeWitt and Richard Haynes have been through is something that is not often spoken of, and very seldom understood,” Gordan Maples, regional campus organizer for the SECAA, said. “Hearing these two men talk about their experiences may help provide a new perspective for people, regardless of their own background.”

Student groups like AAA and SECAA hope events like these can help foster a more understanding and respectful dialogue between atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.

Michael Grierson, vice president of AAA, said his group and the SECAA have hosted similar events in previous years when prominent atheist speakers were invited to come speak in a setting open to any who would like to attend. To that end, Grierson hopes that many will attend, not just those who would consider themselves atheist or agnostic.

“I’ve reached out to different religious groups and invited them for the chance to create positive dialogue among different perspectives,” Grierson said.

In the Ferguson Center Tuesday, less than a hundred feet apart, both the Alabama Atheists and Agnostics and a Christian student group, UnAshamed, manned tables to reach out to students and to promote similar events. For UnAshamed, an upcoming worship event held in the Zone at Bryant Denny Stadium; for AAA, the former pastors who will be speaking at Gorgas.

“In my opinion, it is important to learn about the experiences of people of different backgrounds and beliefs than yourself,” Maples said. “It is a key to understanding people who are different than you, which fosters empathy and a sense for our common humanity.”

Also in today’s Crimson White:

AMS to host cookout for Sandy 

Rec Center offering deals for spring break preparations

Polar Plunge includes dip in cold water, hot drinks and ice sculpture