She was a Christian.
Then she wasn’t.
Then she was.
Now, she isn’t again?
OK, that was the (very) short version.
Popular novelist Anne Rice grew up in a thoroughly Roman Catholic home and community. She struggled with some doubts as she got older but stayed faithful. Once in college, though, a combination of factors led her to reject her faith. She remained an avowed atheist until her late 50’s. Feeling “Christ haunted,” and following a serious health scare in Dec. 1998, she found herself drawn back to the faith tradition of her youth.
But, apparently, she’s never really felt completely comfortable there, feeling “an outsider”. This was largely because of a lot of hypocrisy that she saw both in the R.C. Church (e.g., sexually-abusive priests) and in the larger Christian community. She also disagreed with several teachings and of how certain matters are handled (e.g., birth control and homosexuality). She tried for years to ignore the disagreements, the debates, the scandals. But, she finally decided she could no longer be a part of it.
So, this past week Rice announced via Facebook that she is renouncing her Christianity.
In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian.”
I suppose the cynic/skeptic might claim that Rice never really converted to Christianity in the first place, that it was all a “stunt”, a marketing ploy to help her sell books. Perhaps this de-conversion is, as well. Some of my fellow-Christians will say that, while she may have thought she was “Christian”, such a renunciation puts into question whether she was really “saved” or not. But, as far as I can tell and for purposes of this post, I am going to assume that her return to Christianity — specifically, to the R.C. Church — 10+ years ago was at least sincere. (Judgement of her heart, of course, must be left to God.)
But, let’s look more closely at what she said (on FB) before and after the above announcement. (Re-nouncement?)
On Tuesday, Rice posted a link to a news article with a very disturbing, anti-gay statement by the leader of a punk-rock youth ministry, noting:
No wonder people despise us, Christians, and think we are an ignorant and violent lot. I don’t blame them. This kind of thing makes me weep. Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian.”
She then linked to a news item about the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and commented:
This is chilling. I wish I could say this is inexplicable. But it’s not. That’s the horror. Given the history of Christianity, this is not inexplicable at all.”
Later, she sympathized with Gandhi’s quote about liking Christ but not Christians (because they don’t follow Christ’s example), wondering:
When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”
Rice followed up on Wednesday with the controversial announcement, saying:
For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
And, a few minutes later:
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
(I’m most curious about the “anti-secular humanism”, “anti-science”, and “anti-life” references. The last may be war-related, I suppose. The second may be a reference to creationism. But, I really am curious what a theist can find to be “pro” about secular humanism, since it is by definition an atheist worldview.)
On Thursday, amidst her usual Bible quotes and posts about TV shows and news items on various topics, she added:
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
From all of this, all I can conclude is that Anne Rice has NOT renounced her faith in the God of the Bible, nor has she stopped following Jesus Christ. What she HAS given up is her identification with those who call themselves “Christian” and certain practices & beliefs of (modern) “Christianity”, all of which she sees as being mostly contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself.
I have to admit, I both agree and disagree with her.
I can see where she’s coming from. I cringe every time I read or hear about some “Christian” leader in the news, ‘cuz it’s usually not good news. (Pun intended.) There are many out there who are just not good examples, and many who are called “Christian” are not true followers of Christ, when it comes to what they actually believe and teach. (I’m talking doctrinal orthodoxy.) Some (e.g., Benny Hinn) are well-known and have huge followings. Others are fringe groups & churches (e.g., Westboro Baptist) that are just plain weird, or hate-filled, or both. Again, they have been fed false teachings, bad interpretations about what the Bible really teaches. And, I sympathize with Rice’s repulsion toward all the revelations of sex-abuse among Catholic priests.
Then, there are just your average Christians behaving badly or stupidly. Even those of us trying to live righteously have our weak areas.
On the other hand, Rice cannot blame it all on the “organized” part of the church, or any particular denomination. And, she needs to realize that, like it or not, a follower of Christ is a part of a larger community, both historical and contemporary. One can dislike one’s brothers & sisters, even avoid them whenever possible, but they are still part of one’s family. They cannot be disowned. The best that Rice or any of us can do is remember that we human beings are all weak, selfish, etc., and try to be better “ambassadors for Christ” ourselves.
Maybe Rice doesn’t like the term “Christian” because of certain negative “baggage”, but she can’t totally reject it, because the label still applies. (The original Greek term meant “little Christ”, a pejorative used for followers of “The Way”.) “Christianity” is not simply the name of some religious club one can just opt out of when certain (supposed?) members act rudely or loudly disagree with you. Rather, it is the name of the religious belief system centered around the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (or “Messiah”). She still seems to identify with that. Still, I suppose she could simply refer to herself as a “follower of Christ” and a member of the historical “Body of Christ”, as long as she is clear about what it is in the contemporary Church that she is disassociating herself from.
Which brings me to my last point…
It is a known fact that those who are more theologically liberal typically lean more liberal/progressive in their socio-political views, as well. All indications are that Rice has some rather liberal/progressive ideas, when it comes to politics and social policy (which I, of course, would disagree with). So, it makes me wonder if she leans liberal theologically, as well. I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read/heard her positions on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. (Oops, there’s that word!) Whether she is theologically liberal or not, I truly hope that her Biblical and theological studies lead her to see that conservatism in both realms is the way to go. It makes better sense of Who Jesus was (and is), the way the world works, and the way things really are.