Anne Rice, famous for novels like Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, among others, came close to death in 2004 when she had surgery for an intestinal blockage. In October of that year, she announced in a Newsweek article that she was dropping the vampire theme and would thereafter “write only for the Lord.”
She returned to Catholicism, the religion in which she was raised, though never fully embraced the church’s position on some social issues like equality for homosexuals.
She has now announced a turnaround on her Facebook fan page:
“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.”
Far be it from me to correct such a well-known author on word choice, but a Christ follower is a Christian. You don’t leave Christianity and still follow Christ. You may leave church, but not Christianity.
The distinction is important, because we need to keep in mind that there are plenty of churches, whether total denominations or individual congregations, that are behaving in ways that seem at conflict with God’s word. But that’s because the church, while created by God, is run by human beings who are more than capable of mistakes.
I understand her position. There have been plenty of occasions when I’ve found myself at odds with a church’s “official” position on things. But then in reading the Bible, I’ve gained insight into what God’s official position is, and I’ve come to believe that most of the conflict comes to a matter of interpretation and yielding to the temptation to act righteous just because you feel God is on your side.
But that’s not what church is supposed to be about, and for many, many churches, that’s not what it’s about at all.
Over the next few hours following her initial post, she posted clarifications. First, there was this:
“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.”
Then, this appeared:
“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.”
Again, substituting the word church for Christianity seems to make a little more sense.
USA Today columnist Cathy Lynn Grossman then pondered “new” religions that Rice might try instead of Catholicism, while pointing out that The United Church of Christ quickly put up a Facebook page “elaborating why the gay-friendly, tree-hugging, women-celebrated liberal denomination” would be the perfect fit for Rice.
It also pointed to a blogger who suggested that the Catholic teachings are often misunderstood and that Rice could actually love it if she really knew it.
But if Rice is really done with Catholicism, that’s her choice, of course. No one, Catholic or not, gets to make that choice for her.
To say that she’s leaving Christianity, though, is a little silly.
I’m not a fan of liver, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve become a vegetarian. I’ve been to a few movies that didn’t deserve what I’d consider stellar reviews; that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped watching all films. And I’ve been to stores that didn’t give me the level of customer service I felt I deserved, but I haven’t decided that I’ll never shop again.
So her reaction to the problems she lists seems extreme to me.
I wonder if she’s ever bothered to try other denominations of Christianity. I wonder if she’s ever set foot in other churches before coming to the conclusion that all churches are full of “quarrelsome, hostile and disputatious” people.
Here’s a clue: every church, just like every other kind of organization, is filled with people who don’t get it right. I’ve found that my church, an interdenominational church that combines elements from several different kinds of churches, has far fewer of them. Maybe that’s because a good many of its members have felt burned themselves by other congregations that have been too quick to judge.
As it sounds like Rice has been.
If she feels as though God has spoken to her about the error of her church’s ways, that’s fine. But considering her popularity and the platform she has built for herself, allowing her the ability to get such a reaction to such statements, maybe it’s time she reconsiders.
Maybe God wants her to speak out. Maybe God expects her to explain to the people in her church why they’re behaving in a way that is so contrary to His word. Maybe it’s speaking out, being a beacon of hope or a voice of change is precisely what God is expecting her to do with her talents. Stranger things, after all, have happened, right?
It’s easy to quit. It’s much harder to do something about a problem. Walking away is not doing something about a problem.
She has the ability, through her popularity, to help be that voice of change. If her “chosen” congregation isn’t willing to listen, there are others who will.
As for following Christ by walking out on the church, there’s a little problem there, too. The problem comes in the form of Christ cleaning out Herod’s temple of the money changers and merchants. He overturned tables and used a whip to run them out, saying, “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
Why should He do that? Why not just get disgusted with the scene before Him and just angrily storm away?
Obviously, because He felt that His Father’s house was worth saving. He was committed to the church being what the church is supposed to be, not what people, left to their own devices, can sometimes change it into.
But God placed value on the church: enough value to take a stand and fight for it. So how do you really follow Christ’s way if you’re willing to just walk out?
No one — certainly not God — said being a Christian, or a Christ follower, or whatever terminology semantic nitpicking brings us would be easy. In fact, the Christ she says she still wants to follow despite church made it quite clear that it isn’t.
That’s sort of the point. If it were easy, it wouldn’t mean as much.