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Harvard-based humanist group fires top official for lying on resume

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  September 27, 2013 06:07 PM

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A humanist group based at Harvard University this week fired one of their leaders, a former Methodist minister, after discovering she had lied on her résumé.

Teresa MacBain took on her leading role as a project director with the Humanist Community at Harvard this summer, several months after resigning as pastor of a Methodist church in Florida because she determined that, after 20 years of ministry, she no longer believed in God, according to the New York Times and online biographies of her.

“I am sad to report that Teresa MacBain left employment with the Humanist Community at Harvard today, and is no longer the director of our Humanist Community Project,” said an online statement from Greg Epstein, chaplain and executive director of the humanist organization, an independent nonprofit.

“We at HCH have approached this situation as best we can, striving to apply our reason in the service of both fairness and compassion,” Epstein added. “Many of us at HCH have come to care very much about Teresa as a person. We wish her the very best in the future. We will also learn a great deal from this experience as we move forward with energy and renewed determination.”

He said a search for a new director will begin soon.

MacBain’s transition from ministry to humanism was detailed in a New York Times religion column on Saturday. MacBain told the Times she had earned a master of divinity degree from Duke University, a claim she also made in prior public statements and in the résumé she submitted to the Humanist Community when she applied to become a project director there.

A Duke Divinity School spokeswoman contacted the Times after the story ran to tell the newspaper the school had no record of MacBain earning a master’s degree there, or that she even took graduate school classes there.

The Times reached MacBain by phone this week. She acknowledged to the newspaper that she had falsified her credentials but offered no further explanation, the Times reported.

On Friday, the newspaper published a story about MacBain being fired and added an editor’s note to the online version of the column from Saturday to note the correction regarding MacBain’s educational background.

Epstein wrote in an e-mail to the Times that: “Clearly we should have verified Teresa’s M.Div. degree rather than relying upon her résumé and the frequent, public references to it as she worked for and with several Freethought organizations.”

“All of us at H.C.H. are disturbed and perplexed by this situation,” Epstein’s email to the publication added, according to the Times.

The daughter of a Baptist minister, MacBain left her ministry behind shortly before Easter 2012. Later that year, the American Atheists organization named her “Atheist of the Year," according to a press release when she was hired by the Humanists.

In late August, the Harvard-based group announced that it had hired MacBain to lead a new initiative, the Humanist Community Project, which aims to create a nationwide network of humanist communities.

Using her “experience with Evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s ‘church planting’ method” MacBain was to be “put to use building a movement of atheists and agnostics,” according to a Humanist Community at Harvard press release announcing her arrival in August.

She would have led a staff of 11 inside a new community and office space in Harvard Square scheduled to open in October, the release said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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