Though the Sunday Assembly "atheist church" was founded just last year by comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, it expanded quickly from just one London congregation to 28 in cities around the world. Perhaps then, it isn't so surprising that its dynamism has now led to a schism within the newly minted group.
A blog post by Lee Moore, a founder of The Godless Revival, titled, "The Sunday Assembly has a Problem with Atheism," outlined the issues that led to the break.
He said that he initially volunteered with Sunday Assembly NYC after Sanderson Jones brought his movement to the United States, becoming an organizing member who helped determine the U.S. branch's future after Jones left. Moore explained, "A minority of organizers wished to make the event not a show but an actual church service and agreed with Jones about cutting out the word Atheist, not having speakers from the Atheist community, avoiding having an Atheist audience, and moving the show out of a bar setting to a more formal church-like setting."
CNN reports that Jones denied telling the NYC group to stop using the word "atheism," but acknowledged that he told them "not to cater solely to atheists." He also recommended choosing a more family-friendly venue rather than the dive bar where they originally gathered.
Moore alleged that after some successful events, a minority on the board which preferred not to use the word "atheist" resigned en-masse with Jones' blessing, "with the intent to turn the Sunday Assembly into something more like a Unitarian church service."
"What started out as a comedic Atheist church wants to turn itself into some sort of centralized humanist religion," he wrote, "with Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans at the helm."
Moore didn't let his differences with Jones and Evans deter him from the overall benefit of a regular meeting for atheists, and has now founded The Godless Revival as an alternative to Sunday Assembly NYC. He announced in the blog post, "Michael Dorian, a former NYC SA board member and NY State Director for American Atheists, has teamed-up with Don Albert, another former board member and musical director for NYC SA, and myself to bring you something new. We have named this new endeavor The Godless Revival, and it will be the celebration of Atheism that you deserve."
Jones told CNN that the split was "very sad," but overall contributed to the vibrancy of the atheist community itself. He said, "Ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic and humanist. We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there'll be congregations for every godless palate."
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