I put on my clerical collar and drove the rainy streets to Lancaster, PA, suddenly regretting ever signing up to speak. I was sure that these people didn’t want to hear from a pastor, and with good reason too.
I never wanted to be a pastor.
Churches are complicated and pastors always look tired. I always thought some other sucker could do that job; I wanted to be a rocket scientist.
My whole life was leading up to a career of rockets and robots when suddenly, when I was 17 years old, a switch went off in my mind and I couldn’t understand Calculus anymore. In my frustration, I felt that gentle but firm tug of the Spirit telling me that my worst fears had come true. She wanted me to become a pastor. I had fought it for years, but the current of the Spirit is strong and I was swept up in it.
Over the next decade, I found God, lost my faith, embraced secular humanism, rediscovered my love of science, found God again, discovered a faith that was informed by science, stumbled into the UCC almost by accident, and discovered that I wasn’t alone here.
So when a local clergy friend told me about the March for Science, I knew that I had to be there, representing both halves of my paradoxical self—the spiritual side that regularly experiences the unknowable Spirit of the Living God and the rational side of me that demands peer reviewed sources for extraordinary claims.
I think it’s possible to be a scientific mystic, though I’m sure folks on both sides would disagree with me. That’s why I knew it wasn’t enough to march, I also had to share my story. Luckily, the Lancaster PA “March for Science” was looking for more speakers and one of the organizers was a Christian.
Thanks again, Spirit!
Most people at the march had been burned at some point by the Church, put down for asking too many questions, or belittled for choosing to believe testable hypotheses over a book of ancient mythology.
I steeled myself against the inevitable comeuppance from the crowds, but was instead greeted by enthusiastic selfies and the almost universal sentiment, “You’re not really a priest, are you?”. It was easier to believe that a person had bought clerical clothing as a joke to compliment their protest sign than it was that a pastor was actually standing in support of science. Folks couldn’t seem to understand how I could march with them since they only heard religious fundamentalists thumping the Bible and insisting that their literal interpretation was the only interpretation. My heart was broken.
On a side note, the electricity wasn’t working and the microphones were useless, so since I was already standing up on a raised planter in the middle of the crowd leading chants, they asked me if I would be able to give my speech without amplification. After a few minutes of yelling, someone handed me a megaphone. A group of mostly non-religious people actually gave a preacher a bullhorn on a street corner so that they could better understand what he was yelling at them. I will never not love that irony.
After my speech, I had dozens of Christians come up to me to thank me because they thought they were the only ones there.
We Christians who believe that science is real are more numerous than we think and we are allowing the outspoken Biblical Fundamentalists to drive the debate and create the false narrative that their interpretation is the only one. So many of the scientific hot-topics in this country are based on this false dichotomy, and we who disagree need to stand up and make our voice heard for every single spiritual skeptic who thinks they are alone.
Science is real, God is love, and the rest is up to us.
Zack Jackson is the pastor of Community UCC in Reading PA and an adjunct professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is not a real scientist. More like a science groupie. He cares deeply about spreading scientific literacy and engaging honestly about faith and science. Check out his blog if you want to join that conversation at http://musicalspheres.blog