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Centre for Inquiry Canada is starting the new year, and re-starting our Vancouver, British Columbia Branch with a panel discussion with former Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders talking about their experiences of losing their beliefs.
Our moderator is former Christian pastor Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
This hybrid event, co-sponsored by FFRF, is presented in person at at UBC Robson Square, and streamed live on Zoom across Canada and around the world. Join us for an enlightening discussion, Sat, Jan 28, 2023, 2:00pm PST.
It’s not that uncommon for religious people to reject their beliefs. But what happens when you’re in a position of religious leadership – a pastor, a church-planter, a missionary, an evangelist, etc.? It can mean the loss of your home, the loss of your job, the loss of your family and friends…and much more.
The Clergy Project (TCP) was established in 2011, as a private, non-profit organizations specifically for religious leaders who had become atheists. Since then, more than 1000 people have joined, from a wide variety of religious backgrounds – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Hindu, and more.
Our panel of members from TCP will share their experiences, both as religious leaders, and as atheists; they’ll talk about their journey out of religion, and about the challenges and difficulties they faced along the way.
See below for the current list of panelists. (Check back for more details and updates):
Dan Barker (Ex-Christian Pastor/Missionary) – Panel Moderator
Now a prominent atheist voice, with multiple books, and appearances on shows such as Oprah, Maury Povich, Phil Donahue, and many others, Dan began his career as a passionate Christian, becoming a teenage evangelist at 15, and later becoming a pastor, and then a missionary to Mexico. He was also a popular Christian musician, writing songs that are still used to this day. However, doubts kept growing, and in 1984, he publicly announced that he was an atheist. Since then, he’s worked closely with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, becoming co-President in 2004, and was one of the founders of The Clergy Project.
John Lombard (Ex-Christian Missionary) – Host & Organizer
John was born and raised in an evangelical fundamentalist Christian home, with a father who was a preacher. Convinced of the need to spread the Gospel message, he went to Bible college, and then in 1993 went to China as a missionary and church planter. However, doubts that started in Bible college continued to grow, until in 1999 he finally rejected it all, and became a Secular Humanist. His rejection of religion didn’t mean giving up on his life in China, and he ended up staying there for 25 years, during which time he started multiple businesses, and became a member of The Clergy Project. In 2019 he returned to Canada, and has been working as a business consultant, as well as serving as the Branch Manager for the Vancouver branch of Centre for Inquiry Canada, and serving on the Board of Directors of The Clergy Project.
Mohamed Cisse (Ex-Muslim Muezzin) — Panelist
Like many indoctrinated into religion as a child, Mohamed grew up more with the fear of Hell than hope for paradise. Mohamed was born and raised in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) to be the successor to his late father who was an Imam and a highly respected community leader. Mohamed was trained at a very young age to be a muezzin and a preacher. During the month of Ramadan, wealthy Muslim families would initiate night prayer at their houses and request his presence to lead them. Mohamed’s voice was compared to two celebrities in Saudi Arabia: Imam Abdullah Al-Matrood and the late Abdul-Basit. He was trained to reading the Quran with a very dramatic voice. He had memorized almost the entire book and was called ‘Haafiz’ (a person who knows the Quran by heart). Since discarding the faith of his childhood, Mohamed has come to understand is that he is a much better person without religion and he is proud to serve on The Clergy Project’s Board of Directors as Treasurer.
Shlomo Levin (Ex-Jewish Rabbi) – Panelist
After receiving ordination as an Orthodox Rabbi from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate in 1998, Shlomo Levin served as a Rabbi in the United States until 2015. By that time he had rejected his religious beliefs, and left the Rabbinate to take up a number of other projects, including the Human Rights Haggadah, a book and website devoted to exploration and discussion of human rights issues as they pertain to Israel and the Jewish community. He currently resides in Costa Rica, where he is getting a Masters Degree in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations sponsored University for Peace.
Lon Ostrander (Ex-Christian Pastor) – Panelist
Lon has had quite a journey through Christianity having been raised in both Pentecostal and Baptist churches and married in the Evangelical Free Church. He has worshipped with Pentecostals, American Baptists, Regular Baptists, Methodists, and Wesleyans. As a Wesleyan, he trained to be a pastor and pastored Wesleyan churches in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New York state. After 10 years of study and ministerial training, 6 years pastoral experience, and scant hope of ordination, he walked away from the Wesleyan ministry in 2001 and returned to his blue-collar manufacturing roots. He had many theological questions. Doubts persisted and in 2007, he came to realize that belief in a god was entirely optional, and a poor option at that. As a participant in the Clergy Project since 2011 and its president since 2018, Lon actively supports the transition of current and former nonbelieving religious leaders to secular life.
Duane Grady (Ex-Christian Minister)– Panelist
Duane Grady is a former Pentecostal minister who began his ministry career in the late 1970’s. By the end of his career around 2005, he had preached in hundreds of churches in North America and in multiple countries, written articles for numerous religious publications, as well as appeared on multiple TV and radio shows of a religious nature. Around 1999, now a full-time single parent, Duane started an international ministry that had him travelling regularly for speaking engagements and media interviews, in various countries around the world. After years of dedication, a life-threatening illness, along with several other life-altering events, had Duane doubting his beliefs. In 2005, the cracks that had worked their way into his beliefs shattered, and he left the ministry for good. Today, Duane enjoys his life in semi-retirement while running a small construction company and continues with other business ventures, without needing to support a far-reaching ministry. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors of The Clergy Project, and also as Chief Operating Officer for a not-for-profit organization benefiting Canadian Soldiers with PTSD and Military Families Resource Centres.