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Sloat, J.W. (2010). Heresy and Healing. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 7(2):123-130.

(2010). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 7(2):123-130

Heresy and Healing

John W. Sloat

I am a heretic.

I know this is true because the authorities in my former church branded me a heretic. Several hundred years ago, they might have burned me at the stake. But because it was the year 2000, they merely “burned me in effigy” by revoking my ordination as a Presbyterian minister. It is surprising how little has changed since the fifteenth century. The Inquisition mentality still dominates large parts of the church.

The word heresy comes from the Greek and can mean “choice” or “the freedom to choose.” A group of friends and I exercised our freedom of choice by re-examining some of the ancient teachings of the church. We wanted to deepen our personal spirituality and, at the same time, move toward a healthier view of the universe, one that was free from the judgment and condemnation which traditional religion so enthusiastically preaches. We discovered, however, that the church authorities were unwilling to grant us that freedom of choice. Rather, they responded with hostility and excommunication.

My journey from orthodoxy to heresy began in conservative western Pennsylvania. In the process, I discovered that the universe has a sense of humor, since it brought me to this reactionary part of the country in order to radicalize me.


I was raised in the church. My fraternal grandfather and uncle were Presbyterian ministers; my parents were both ordained elders in the church, after our denomination finally agreed to ordain women; my sister was a missionary to the old Belgian Congo for 30 years; and I ended up at Princeton Theological Seminary directly out of college. After a four-year stint as pastor of a small church in Ohio, I moved to Pennsylvania at age 28 to become head-of-staff in one of the larger churches in the presbytery, a position which I held for 31 years.

At first, I fit perfectly into that conservative theological environment, and was considered orthodox enough to hold several leadership positions in the presbytery. But partway through my pastorate, a sense of unease began to trouble the cocksureness with which I had begun my ministry.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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