A gulf opened up between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary. This gulf is well-known in religious circles. The eminent biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman’s widely read book, Misquoting Jesus (2005), recounts his own odyssey from the seminary into secular scholarship, beginning in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a famously conservative seminary which required its professors to sign a statement declaring the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, a declaration that was increasingly hard for Ehrman to underwrite by his own research. The Dishonest Church (2003), by retired United Church of Christ minister, Jack Good, explores this “tragic divide” that poisons the relationship between the laity and the clergy. Every Christian minister, not just those in our little study, has to confront this awkwardness, and no doubt there are many more ways of responding to it than our small sample illustrates. How widespread is this phenomenon? When we asked one of the other pastors we talked with initially if he thought clergy with his views were rare in the church, he responded, “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!” Surely an overstatement, but a telling one. As Wes put it:
…there are a lot of clergy out there who — if you were to ask them — if you were to list the five things that you think may be the most central beliefs of Christianity, they would reject every one of them.
One can be initiated into a conspiracy without a single word exchanged or secret handshake; all it takes is the dawning realization, beginning in seminary, that you and the others are privy to a secret, and that they know that you know, and you know that they know that you know. This is what is known to philosophers and linguists as mutual knowledge, and it plays a potent role in many social circumstances. Without any explicit agreement, mutual knowledge seals the deal: you then have no right to betray this bond by unilaterally divulging it, or even discussing it.
It was interesting to me that this account is related to the ideas of preference falsification developed by Timur Kuran, sacrifice and stigma developed by Larry Iannaccone and common knowledge by Robert Aumann.