Novelist Anne Rice explains that she has lived as a Christian for 12 years and publicly so for four of those years. But on July 28, 2010, in three Facebook entries, she “quit” Christianity—“In the name of Christ…Amen.” Her I Refuse entry laments her broad assessment of the Christian religion that she can simply no longer be part of. Some have said that Christianity draws fire from her due to treatment she has witnessed in the life of her gay son.
I think I know where she’s coming from. She is upset that much of the love and moral uprightness that she cherishes about Christ in the New Testament is either not evident or altogether spurned by those who claim to know him, as she deems it, in their views on science and philosophy and their position on socio-political issues.
She’s right to bring rebuke to a Christian community that may be blinded by its own righteousness. History such as the Crusades and the Inquisition all the way to modern-day radical, Christianized ideology should teach us as much about ultra-conservative idealism.
The Historical View
Allow me now to respond to this issue by stepping back and taking a comprehensive view. One of the greatest tasks of the Church Fathers was their fight against heresy, particularly about Christ, finalizing the canon (the Bible), and explaining the doctrines and teachings of the faith. Their work helped convert a Christian sect into a more developed religion by systematizing its thought and showing those who attacked it that Christianity was philosophically viable and apologetically defensible.
Their work continues to (and will always) help answer the moral and ethical issues that crowd out generations in countless cultural circumstances, which is an amazing thing to ponder. Yet culture is the one thing that makes the issues and questions so difficult to answer in strictly Christian terms—that is, to answer them in a way that coherently and thoroughly responds to an ever-evolving culture and honors and esteems God’s holiness at the same time.
In light of the solid groundwork that has been laid and an almost tangible picture of God’s holiness gathered from the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament writings, Christians still do not always fare well at interpreting God’s heart and character, if only by showing too one-sidedly a God of love or one who loves justice a little too much.
So with Ms. Rice I agree that Christians should be present at the forefront of these issues, especially after 2,000 years of developed thought, standing firm in their convictions, yet open to dialogue and not castigating, close-minded, or stranded of thoughtfully deep analysis.
All Other Ground…Sinking Sand
Still, I take issue with her “I quit” proclamation, the old organized religion is full of trouble argument. Anne says that she is not quitting Christ (a good thing), but she is quitting his Church because she can no longer be part of a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” If by these adjectives she means what I have already attempted to say, then I understand, although I find her reasoning faulty.
She must understand—and why don’t people?—that the true Church of God will always oppose sin, plain and simple. The church will always struggle within itself with the questions of society and come up with responses not to please but to say, This is how best we see God answering this. That will always be a clear and firm ‘No’ to any (new) social immorality and what has already been shunned by scripture. Religion with changing convictions is not worth keeping.
Why do people lose their faith in God when they see ministers fall and Christian institutions being less than reputable? Peter walked on the water with Jesus until he took his eyes off Christ. This is what happens when our faith isn’t grounded in the person of Christ despite the imperfections of his Church.
I believe Anne Rice loves Christ and loves what his Church represents and is existentially, not only in America, but also around the world. As usual, however, error often comes with an overcorrection to abuse. Is she now siding with culture against the church she loves? (Yes, you hear me correctly. You cannot love Christ and think yourself divorced from his Church. To be so is to be at odds with your faith and maybe even outside of it.
There is no way to read the scriptures and not find Christ represented as the “head of the body” [Eph. 1:22-23] and the groom of “the bride” [Rev. 21:2-6].) And why is it that people think Christ would be any more lenient against sin than his Church has been in holding the guard? Surely there would be no Church—it would have died in the first century. Ms. Rice cannot jump ship because Christ is aboard the ship and all else is chaos.
Stay in the Fight!
This reminds me of desert monasticism that arose in early Christian history. Many fled into the deserts to flee persecution and to live out their Christian faith distanced from the immorality that abounded in the cities. It led to spiritual revival and some of the saintliest personages and literature in all Christian history.
Yet that approach to living the Christian life is not one to be quickly emulated. Christians have to live in this world just like anyone else, and we will have to deal with very un-Christian institutions and situations. Jesus’s high priestly prayer to his Father says it all: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15).
We should count Christ’s prayer a promise of safety to us in our lives and evangelical mission since we trust that his Father heard him. We will get it right some of the time and not so right at other times. Still, we will press on in Jesus’s name and for his honor. But we are not to get fed up amongst ourselves despite inconsistent faith and differing viewpoints and abandon it all. Peter expresses this sentiment when he remembers the glory of Christ’s transfiguration (2 Peter 1:12-19).
There is also no place for Me-and-Jesus spirituality. In Christ there is no looking back to sin or looking away for isolation. Anne Rice should not flee any error she notices but rather engage it with a call to repentance.
I think this is the higher message to be dealt with, as opposed to other social issues she may actually be supporting. Christians should see Ms. Rice’s situation for what it is: a rebuke where we may be insensitive and less than Christ-like in our attitudes to some. But she need not now lead the army of devils that hate the Church and all religion but work to open dialogue and to transform.