( Originally Published 1916 )
THERE was a curious banquet held at Paris not long ago. There met a hundred and fifty ex-priests and ex-preachers, who did not blush either for their past or for their present.
To one class of men society seems peculiarly unjust—to the "unfrocked." The man who leaves the ministry, no matter how conscientious and sincere his motives, is always looked upon askance. We persist in regarding him as if he' were tainted with the flavor of desertion and disloyalty.
Why? Is it not more honorable to leave holy orders, when one no longer believes the articles of faith, or when one is convinced of the inutility of the institution, when the development of one's mind and heart has led him honestly to these convictions, than to remain and be insincere?
Does not the church itself believe that an honest layman, no matter what his views, is better than a dishonest clergyman?
For all that, the rupture between the parson and his organization is always painful. Laymen hardly welcome him. By a strange illogicality we are usually cold to the men who enter our ranks for conscience' sake. We mistrust them; we put pressure upon them to conceal their past as something of which to be ashamed; as a rule, they have a hard time making a living.
Among the ex-clergymen at the banquet mentioned we may note three lawyers, two police magistrates, two farmers, a physician, two artists, two capitalists, one mayor, besides commercial travellers, university professors, accountants, and public school teachers.
They have formed a union which proposes, according to its by-laws, never to proselyte or in any way attempt to induce men to leave the minis-try, but to extend a helping hand to those who, on their own initiative, have severed their ecclesiastical ties, and to help them in their endeavors to gain an honest livelihood.
It will do no harm to the church—it can only do good—to make the way as easy as possible for those who have ceased to be in harmony with its faith or its methods to get out.
In most instances men enter the ministry when young. When they arrive at maturity their convictions may in all honor have undergone a change. It should not be taken as a matter of course that their reluctance to continue in the ministry means a loss of religion or of personal integrity. The minister may discover that, while his religious sentiment is as profound as ever, he is not adapted by nature or gifts to be a clergyman.
His retirement from church office may be as heroic and worthy of praise as his entrance into it.