This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anne Rice.

“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.”

“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.”

Anne Rice is a well-known author.  She had written several popular novels about vampires, and erotica, before her conversion to Catholicism.  Since then she has published two novels about the life of Jesus.

The two paragraphs above are her recent Facebook posts announcing her quitting of Christianity… but not Christ.  These words have become fairly viral on the internet, and have been widely responded to.

On the one hand, the Christianity she describes is not exactly the Christianity of my personal experience.  I grew up in the church.  My dad was a Pastor on the liberal side of things.  While I knew where were plenty of people in the church who were “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-artificial birth-control,” “anti-Democrat,” “anti-secular humanism,” “anti-science,” and “anti-life,” some of whom I knew personally, I also knew and participated in the other side of the church, which was pretty much “pro” all those things.  My dad was involved in the civil-rights movement, and the anti-war movement, and the anti-nuclear weapons movement.  That is the side of the church I knew.

Surely someone as smart as Anne Rice doesn’t think that all those "anti" statements characterize all of Christianity.  There is a significant and very active minority that agrees with her.  And there always has been in the church a remnant who have actually sought to follow the love and justice seen in Jesus.

At the same time, I also am very well aware of the “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” side.  May dad received a lot of grief for some of his stances.  In my own career as a Pastor and as Stated Clerk of a presbytery, this aspect of the church’s character has become glaringly visible.

Churches contain, and seem to attract, many small-minded, fearful, angry, self-righteous, smug, anal, hypocritical, and downright nasty people.      

And I know the history: I know about the Crusades, Inquisitions, Pogroms, Apartheid, witch-hunts, religious wars, and so forth.  Christians were instrumental in the slave trade, in the genocide of indigenous peoples, in the worst excesses of capitalism, horrendous crimes against women, and in the many manifestations of ecocide. I am reminded of Christian chaplains having to convince reluctant fliers that it was okay to bomb defenseless Japanese civilians.  Most of the people who perpetrated and facilitated the Holocaust were Christians.  Christians participated enthusiastically in the slaughter in Rwanda.  

Christianity has been still further denigrated more recently by the hatred spewed by the religious right and the sexual abuse scandals.  And so on.

Seen only in this glaring negative light, Christianity is not something I would want to join or be identified with either.  On bad days, I have had thoughts similar to those of Anne Rice. 

I truly embraced the faith when I encountered the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his later writings, mainly from a Nazi prison, he speaks mysteriously about “religionless Christianity.”  My other theological mentor, Karl Barth, talked about a distinction between religion and faith, saying that Christianity was supposed to be the latter and not the former.  So when Rice writes: “In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity,” and “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity,” it is not unintelligible to me.  I can relate.

My wife’s little church, which had been losing members, had an epiphany when one of the long-time members said, “I’m just going to call it: we’re not going to be the institution we once were.  What if we just decided to be a small group of people trying to follow Jesus?”

Christianity-as-we-know-it is in trouble. The institutional edifice is slowly crumbling like so many of our church buildings that no longer have the congregations to keep them up.

But people wanting to try and follow Jesus Christ… that is a group that I hope is growing.  That is a group we could cultivate, a spark we could blow on and feed fuel to.  It may not, and almost certainly won’t, be completely recognizable.  But perhaps the Holy Spirit is calling for a new manifestation of the Way of Jesus in our own time.  Maybe it will have less to do with doctrines and institutions, buildings and clergy, and more to do with small groups of people seeking to follow Jesus. 

Anne Rice is certainly not alone in giving up on a lot of things taking the name of “Christianity.”  But she hasn’t given up on Jesus Christ, and neither should we.  Because he hasn’t given up on us.  And his Holy Spirit is still working within, among, and around is, in all things.      

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