Atheist churches have made a splash over the past year, with The Sunday Assembly, an international coalition of secular houses of worship, taking the lead in celebrating non-belief. But it seems there’s been a rift — a chasm that has led to a “denominational” split within the movement.
As TheBlaze previously reported, The Sunday Assembly was launched by comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones in London last year. It quickly spread from one congregation in Jan. 2013 to 28 in scattered cities around the globe.
In New York City — just one of those localities — CNN reported that there was recently a major chasm that developed.
Three members of the New York cohort apparently broke away and formed their own group called the Godless Revival, with founder Lee Moore accusing The Sunday Assembly of having “a real problem with atheism.”
The central claim on the part of the breakaway group, as CNN noted, is that Jones told the congregation not to use the word atheism and not to have any speakers come in from the atheist community.
And rather than hosting events in a Manhattan bar, Jones reportedly wanted the atheist cohort to hold services in church-like settings.
Jones, who denied banning the word atheism, did tell CNN that he advised the group to seek out a more family friendly venue for services and that he encouraged the NYC cohort to reach out beyond the secular realm.
The clash reportedly led to Jones telling Moore and his group that they are no longer welcome in The Sunday Assembly. Moore, promising a more staunchly atheistic replacement with his Godless Revival, now reportedly dismisses The Sunday Assembly as a “a humanistic cult.”
Jones told TheBlaze on Monday, though, that he doesn’t harbor any negative feelings over the split.
“I am delighted that these guys have started the Godless Revival. They wanted something different to Sunday Assembly, and now they have it,” he said. “This just shows how healthy ‘atheist churches’ are. We are now providing to people with different needs.”
The atheist leader did say that the notion that The Sunday Assembly has moved away from atheism is “ludicrous.”
Jones continued, “We’ve always been a celebration of life that is open to all. Seriously, read our Charter. It is all a big hoo-ha over nothing, a tempest in a chalice. These are the facts: we’ve been going one year, and now there are 28 Sunday Assemblies, with thousands more people wanting to start their own. If that means we’re in trouble then, next year, make mine a double.”
The NYC split is causing some questions to arise about the sustainability of The Sunday Assembly and other efforts to bring atheists together in a massive movement that takes some of its cues from the evangelical Christian worship model.
Despite the strife, in a press release issued in the fall, The Sunday Assembly praised its massive growth last year.
“Going from one congregation in London in January 2013, to 30 or so in December, the 3000% growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world, catering to the fastest growing belief / non-belief group,” read the statement.
Despite this increase, it’s evident that some atheists are not on board with The Sunday Assembly’s aims, particularly the advancement of atheist churches. Some of that, of course, might boil down to differences in views about faith.
While some secularists hold disdain for religion, Evans and Jones seemingly do not.
“We’re big fans of religion. We think churches do great things,” Jones told the New York Daily News last year and he reiterated these feelings in past interactions he’s had with TheBlaze, stressing the importance of building coalitions with believers.
The Sunday Assembly recently fell short of its £500,000 fundraising goal, only bringing in £33,668. While the founders expressed disappointment, they pledged to forge on.
Fundraising woes and a minor dust-up certainly don’t spell the end of the large-scale atheist church movement, but the setbacks do raise some questions about the different theological points of view that exist among non-believers — and how those disparities might create barriers in coalescing around atheistic principles.