WEST BEND, Wisconsin — Luke Emrich preached his first sermon when he was 9, and then heeded the call of ministry as a teenager. Tonia Emrich was raised by a single mother who devoted both their lives to Jesus Christ. When the two met (at church, of course), got married, and began their own ministry together, it was a match made in heaven.
But when Luke traveled to India to connect with the underground Christian Church in 2010 and found more Western culture than unadulterated Christianity, the trip served as the culmination of years of quiet questioning and doubt about the Trinitarian God and true biblical practices.
That doubt is something John Compere is familiar with.
He’s a fifth-generation Southern baptist preacher turned atheist. In 2011 he and 43 other former religious professions started The Clergy Project — an online forum for ministers, preachers, rabbis, and others who “no longer hold to supernatural beliefs.” They now have over 900 members.
“If you're a farmer, and you want to become an accountant, you have to go do some more study. It doesn't upset anybody,” Compere told VICE News. “But if you're a minister and you no longer want to be a minister because you don't believe what you once believed, that upsets people terribly and makes for quite a difficult transition for the minister."
VICE News talked to Luke and Tonia about their journey away from Christianity and learned that, at least for one reverend, it’s possible to lead a congregation without believing in God at all.
This segment originally aired December 20, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.