(originally published on March 26, 2018)
As I have stated before, I like to reach out to people that I don’t always agree with. For instance, when I did my interview with the very underrated YouTuber ThyNameIsSkeppy, I went into it knowing that we didn’t agree on several things, but I wanted to have an open dialogue with her. It turned out to be a wonderful experience and I enjoyed it very much.
Ever since I did that interview, I’ve been itching to do another one with someone I disagree with (Of course, this has been my goal since 2016. But, God’s timing isn’t exactly out timing). Hey, speaking of God, have you heard of Jerry DeWitt? If you haven’t, then I’ve got a treat for you!
Just the other day, I came across a great video on the New York Times YouTube Channel called Bible Belt Atheist. I was intrigued, so I watched the video. I learned about how Jerry DeWitt grew up in a Christian home in Louisiana. For twenty-five years, Jerry was a minister, and he even admitted in the video that those were some of the best years of his life. But Jerry said that as he studied it over time, he started noticing more and more of “man’s fingerprints” across the Bible. Jerry gradually realized that he had become an Atheist. And things took a downward turn for him for quite a while.
I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to watch the video, so instead, I’ll get into my conversation with Jerry. I reached out to him the day after I watched the video and asked if I could interview him for my blog. Jerry couldn’t have been nicer and was all for it. We very quickly set up a time and the following day, we had a wonderful conversation over the phone.
It was important for Jerry to let me (as well as others) know that he didn’t lose his faith. As he said that you lose things like car keys, but faith isn’t something that he “lost.” Instead, he came to the realization that he, deep down, is an atheist, plain and simple.
I told him that I was sorry that he lost so many friends when he became open about his true feelings and how I didn’t feel like that was right. Jerry was very sweet about my response. From there, He told me a lot of insightful things about politicians and Christianity; while he was in the ministry Jerry was in the process of being groomed to run for mayor. Jerry also let me know that many, many politicians are basically actors (particularly, on the right side) and are having to play the part of a traditional Christian with traditional Christian values, while many of them don’t actually believe what they’re saying deep down and don’t live those lifestyles in their day-to-day lives. The reason why they play that part is because they want to appease the voters and say all the things their target demographic wants to hear. He let me know that many of them would rather be honest about who they really are and what they believe, but they (as well as the people in their campaigns) know that their key demographic won’t tolerate it. So, they put on a performance in order to get votes. (Makes perfect sense to me, to be honest. In fact, I’m sure many of us can name several politicians that do just that.)
I asked Jerry what the process was like when he became honest with his community about his true beliefs, and how the overall reaction was, especially with his immediate family. He had already stopped preaching full-time, but would still do occasional public speaking events at Christian events. It was always a very conflicted feeling because he felt hypocritical. So, for as long as he could, he would preach things about the Bible he still believed in, such as loving your neighbor as yourself.
As I said, Jerry was no longer a pastor and was at that time; he was working for a friend. Once he started becoming open about where he stands when it comes to his faith, the backlash was swift. Sadly, Jerry didn’t just lose many friends, but most of his family had stopped talking to him. In fact, Jerry’s boss/friend was getting so much pressure from their small town that he ended up firing Jerry, which led to filing for bankruptcy so he could save his home from foreclosure.
I had to know about his son, who I saw in the video. Jerry told me that is his only child and that he is his very best friend. As of today, the two of them have become business partners with certain projects! It was beautiful hearing that Jerry always had his son by his side and how strong their bond is.
On the subject of faith, I learned so much from Jerry’s point of view. I had mentioned the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So (one of my favorites) and how the movie explains that Christians have misinterpreted the Bible to preach against homosexuality. Jerry gave me his take on it, suggesting that homosexuality is against the Bible, as well as how it constantly contradicts itself, even within the four gospels. Jerry also said that with each interpretation of the Bible, the confusing timelines and contradictions that we see in the four gospels never should have happened.
I thought that Jerry was making some excellent points. I made sure to throw my two cents in. I told him that I always tell others that although I’m well aware that the Bible does indeed contradict itself, I know that I’ll never have all the answers and I’m OK with that. I just do the best I can and I’ll know everything once I get to the other side. Jerry didn’t disagree with that mentality, what he has a major issue with is that many people of faith will put the Bible in this Petri dish and under a microscope in order to prove everything in it. That’s something I couldn’t have agreed more with. I told him that one of my best friends, who is a progressive atheist, once said something years ago that I hold close to my heart to this day: “You can’t prove faith with science, that’s why it’s faith.” Jerry and I both agreed with that statement.
One of Jerry’s main goal’s is to get people in the voting booth and vote for what benefits society, not what benefits a “moral agenda.” Once again, I agree. Although I love living in Alabama, being a Liberal Christian is a rarity here. Although Jerry isn’t the stereotypical “social justice warrior”, there are a lot of social justice issues that he does believe in, such as gender equality. (Ding, ding! We agree again, there! I told him that it was my husband who taught me about the correct definition of feminism, which is gender equality, not any of this 3rd wave feminism.)
Of all the many, many things that impressed me about Jerry is that he is (just like my friend that I mentioned earlier) a progressive atheist. While we were talking, I told him that I like to reach out to people who disagree with me, including atheists. I feel like, at the end of the day, we can stand together in spite of our differences. Although Jerry agrees, he informed me that just like close-minded Christians there’s the same problem with certain atheists He told me that once you start to open up a conversation with them, all of a sudden Christians will be challenged about every little thing in the Bible that isn’t “right.” Jerry bravely informs atheists that they don’t have the right to call Christians “hypocrites”, just like we don’t have the right to tell them that they’re going to hell. Atheists feel pretty jaded hearing that, but I applaud him for doing the right thing. The same thing goes for Christians. We have no right to tell atheists, or anyone else who disagrees with us, that they’re going to hell. Not only is that NOT our decision, but that’s just pushing people away further. Speaking of pushing people away…..
Jerry told me that the reason why so many people become atheists is that they are “whipped with the Bible like the cat of nine tails.” Therefore, they start to push back because they get so tired of having religion shoved down their throats and never allowed to ask questions. In fact, Jerry told me that if he had grown up in a more progressive Christian home, then it would have been more likely that he would have turned out to be a progressive Christian and not an atheist.
For a little while, Jerry and his wife had been working really hard on their marriage, but it sadly wasn’t going too well. Once their community found out that he is an atheist, his wife left, due to the added pressure brought on by their community. Eventually, she came back and the family moved to Pensacola, FL, but they ultimately decided to amicably split. Don’t worry though. Jerry and his son are now living together as roommates, and Jerry is happily dating again. (Jerry admitted how hard it is to meet an atheist around the 38-50 age bracket where he lives). Money is getting better, Jerry is now attending/speaking at more atheist conventions and is a certified coach. He also co-hosts a podcast with another southern atheist in which they try to bring people together.
Pretty soon, Jerry will be releasing a digital copy that will be an admin to his preexisting digital memoir Once it comes out, I will make sure to it along with his memoir, review them, and let you all know where you can purchase them yourself.
Jerry, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. It was such a delight talking to you and I think your podcast is great. Please keep up what you’re doing because you are helping others when they feel like they’ve lost hope. (Hence the title, “Hope After Faith.”) That’s very important and I encourage you to keep doing that because you are a very kind person and just the type of voice a person needs when they feel lost.
I look forward to not only keeping the converstation going with Jerry (as well as others) in the future, but also reading his book!