I know, the knee-jerk answer is "of course not!" But this man has been my pastor, teacher, neighbor, and boss at various points in my life, and while he is very religious, he is also a very, very good person (sad that I need to make that distinction). I've been an atheist for years now, and my parents are well aware, as are most of my close friends, but I've always stayed in the closet regarding him and anyone who might tell him, because I do respect his opinion of me, and I really have no idea whether it would make him upset to find out.
I've always imagined he would officiate my wedding some day, though, and that might be coming up relatively soon, but I would absolutely hate to do the whole marriage counseling thing and have to lie all the way through it. Maybe I should just leave him out of it entirely, but a big part of me wants to tell him what I think, without being disrespectful or distasteful, and explain that I still would like to maintain some sort of relationship with him and with the church.
On the other hand, I do a lot of volunteer work that is associated with the church, and would like to keep doing that. It worries me that he might decide I shouldn't be there if I tell him I don't believe in God. Especially since he's newly becoming a higher-level pastor in the church, and would definitely have that kind of sway. That particular church is a whole community of people that I'd rather be accepted by, for now (I know a lot of people on these forums will want to respond that I should just not be involved in a church at all, but it isn't that simple).
So, should I email him/set up a meeting and talk to him about what I think? Or should I just keep going the way I've been going?
You should definitely tell him. It sounds like he's a decent type, and while he may be surprised the fact that you've done voluntary work for the church demonstrates that you believe there's still scope for shared values, respect and friendship. If he's the person you say he may be a little shocked at first but should be able to deal with it.
The wedding vows may be more tricky. I could understand if he's uncomfortable with you taking them in church, especially if your fiance is also an atheist. Maybe you should think about just how important that is to you.
But you should definitely tell him how you feel, preferably face to face, and sooner rather than later.
It's a crap game, people will surprise you.
I wish I had some great advice, but I think his reaction to your lack of belief is a wild card. While you're considering telling him, consider also that you may very well be compromising your volunteer position and whatnot. For the sake of having an honest and sincere wedding ceremony, I'd say tell him sooner rather than later (as Mark said), but realize the risk you're taking. Even the most decent people can have an unexpected reaction. He may be shocked and not recover from that for a while... and I don't mean just a few days. Also, he mightrefuse to perform your wedding on principle. My pastor uncle refused to be the best man in his brother's (my other uncle) wedding simply because he disagreed with his lifestyle (i.e. living with his girlfriend prior to being married).
We can all give you our opinion, but none of us can be sure how your pastor will respond. Like you predicted, my initial thought was "don't tell him!" Also, I'm one of those that doesn't understand your involvement with a church at all, but you said it's not simple, so I hope you'll divulge more at some other time. ;)
If you respect him as a man and he respects you as a man (from the sounds of it he plays a nice role in your life) he will understand. All of my religious friends respect my decision and we jokingly jab back and forth about it. The people that play that sort of role in my life all know. I didn't tell everyone directly, it took some people some time to cope and still seem bitter at times, but as was stated before, if you are going to tell him I would sooner rather then later. Religion (or lack of) plays a huge part of peoples lives and they hold that dear to them so there is really no sure fire thing he will accept you after you tell him (short term or long term). As good of a man that has had influence on you I would assume he *should take it well and have even more respect you as a man for doing so. Assuming he is in shock I would think he would handle it like an adult and get over it in a soft period of time. Like stated before though, it's a wild card.
This is important. Like a job interview, you don't do it over email or text message or even a phone call. If you do decide to tell him I would, even to plan a time, ask him face to face to setup a time and definitely tell him face to face. I think in the end if you tell him, regardless of the outcome, you will feel like you got the monkey of your back. I, like every civilized adult, would rather hear the truth regardless if it's pleasant or not. I would be upset if I found out after your marriage and all the prerequisites that come with it that you lied to be safe.
You may even be surprised to find out he is an atheist also, with the same fears of being outcast by the culture he feels so apart of.
If he is. What would your reaction to his dishonesty be?
Speaking of that, here's an awesome interview with a pastor who has secretly been an athiest for several years! (did you watch this also, hence the comment?)
Thank you for posting that link. I had not seen it before.
I think it is very important that they point out that the social bonds are often what keep people in church and not so much a deep belief in doctrine. Something that draws people to religion is often a fear of being alone and they develop deep bonds with others within their faith.
That is a very interesting question. Knowing him I would say that there is pretty much no chance of that actually being the case, but it is quite a thought experiment, and one I'll enjoy meditating on.
If you really want to tell him, go to his home, rather than the church, which is his "place of business," sit down with him, and tell him exactly what you've told us. It's honest, sincere, and to the point.
WhatEVER you do, don't take the coward's way out and email him. If your boyfriend broke up with you, would you rather he did it in person, or via email? Not a lot of difference --
I actually have anxieties about confrontation in general, so I might prefer a breakup email... but I do see your point.