Friday, July 30, 2010

Anne Rice Keeps the Faith...and Leaves Christianity

...following Christ does not mean following His followers.
Anne Rice

Several news outlets (click to read here, here, here, here & here) are reporting "controversial" Facebook posts from Anne Rice, the acclaimed author of vampire-and-then-Jesus novels. Here's the news: she no longer calls herself a
"Christian." Rice has been a self-proclaimed and outspoken Catholic "Christian" for more than a decade. Why has she left the label? Here's a sampling of her wall posts from the past 48 hours:

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.
Wednesday at 12:36pm

And 5 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.
Wednesday at 12:41pm

And then this yesterday:

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.

The Gentile followers of the so-called Jewish Messiah named Jesus were first called "Christians" in Antioch, a city in the southern portion of modern-day Turkey. That was a couple of millenia back. In the 21st Century, of course, Christianity is "an organized religion," or as we say at EasyYolk, an awkward & diverse cluster of (mostly)sincere communities who imperfectly pledge allegiance to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. This is just our way of saying that Christians come in all sorts of different flavors and packaging and, quite often, they don't really taste or look appealing. In other words, the product known as "Christianity" has a lot of different brands and not all of them are equal.

What seems to have finally pushed Rice over the cliff is the overwhelming association in North America of Christianity with a brand of faith that uncritically, arrogantly or ignorantly sets itself at odds with gays, women and anyone finding their home outside of the Christian tradition. A handful of polls and books have chronicled this trend over the past few years. Of course, in the past 30 years this brand of Christianity has ambivalently married itself to a blend of Republican politics and anti-politics, while placing priority on a spiritual-future gospel that proclaims personal piety & eternal salvation in heaven. And BTW, despite its overall flaws (as chronicled by well-intentioned Evangelical scholars like Mark Noll and George Marsden...and plenty of scholars of various academic disciplines outside of Evangelicalism), this brand of Christianity is close to my heart--most conservative Evangelicals I know are actually quite sincere, generous, accepting and loving people.

I suspect that the progressive Catholic Rice has mainly become disillusioned with the powerful and plentiful conservative evangelical movement. Its mass appeal through charismatic leaders, passionate practices (energetic worship music and sermons), "absolute truth" & mainstream branding has made it widely synonomous with "Christianity" at large. Perhaps she is tired of having one conversation after another (with sincere friends and Twitter followers) in which she inevitably is placed in a position of apologizing for the anti-intellectualism, escapism and fear-mongering of many of her distant Christian siblings who unfortunately get all the headlines.

Rice's recent comments represent a slow breaking of the levees of organized Christianity. At 68, she is an elder stateswoman of sorts, a voice from a different generation that finds a lot of resonance with younger Christians. Many folks continue to be inspired by the 1st century carpenter's son from Nazareth and are intentionally committed to following his way, but they do not want to be associated with the baggage of his more popular followers. Men and women who unofficially belong to this movement do not want to leave Jesus, but instead, want to leave the counterfeit baggage of the organized, institutional forms of it in their wake. It is overstated and a touch cliche, but they "want spirituality, not religion."

Perhaps this trend is simply the inevitable result of a fragmented, consumerist culture that demands instant gratification and custom orders. Therapists might urge these irritated & jaded adherents to not "cut off" from the establishment. But what happens when their well-intentioned concerns are received with silence from the establishment leadership? As the 500-year legacy of the Protestant and Radical Reformations have taught us, these Jesus people leave and start their own movements.

Today, EasyYolk salutes Anne Rice's decision to leave "Christianity" for Christ. As her 83,580 "fans" meditate on courageously transparent Facebook posts that reflect her own painful journey with Jesus and his followers, may their voices be a ripple effect for the humility, compassion, love, service, forgiveness and passion of Christ in this world.
Update: Anthea Butler, an African-American Christian and a professor of religion at Penn, shares her thoughts here.

--Theological Autopilot


  1. As always, I appreciate, the perspectives and passionate reflections of EasyYolk. Here's where I disagree and do not "salute" Anne Rice. First, I understand Rice's feelings. I've been there: disappointed, disillusioned, and despairing the current cultural moment. But, sustaining a Christian witness in America is difficult. Did we think the call to discipleship would be easy? My question to Rice would be as follows. Does she think that commitment to Christianity exists outside of the church? Does she think that she can remain committed without the weekly sustenance and support of the Christian body? Being a disciple is not an individual commitment but a commitment to be a part of the family of God. Yes, discipleship entails living and learning to love people who are stubborn, backwards, and often irritable. But, its in this communal-commitment we learn about our own blind spots and experience the transformative power of God (for all). How disappointing it is for me, one who serves weekly at a local church, when I hear about another positive, thoughtful Christian voice who has lost vision. Rice's lack of moral courage, fortitude, steadfastness, and vision is disappointing. (I expect more especially from a novelist who understands that it takes time to change people's moral imagination.) When will progressive Christians abandon their cynicism and root themselves within local churches? When will they learn from the lessons of history and meet people where they are at? Social change cannot happen in isolation but in only in cooperation and community with those who we disagree.

  2. Pastor Dale, as always thank you for your contributions. You raise great questions that we will tackle in later posts, especially concerning the role of a local church body in the life of Christians. We may want to do a series of back and forth posts a la NT Wright and Marcus Borg.

    As you know, the daunting challenge of Christian fundamentalism leaves many of us cynical and apathetic on some days. It seems like it was one of those weeks (years?) for Rice! It will be interesting to follow Rice in the weeks and years to come. I wonder where her "non-Christian" journey with Jesus will take her? I am assuming that fellow pilgrims who continue to embrace the word "Christian" will challenge and encourage her just as she will challenge and encourage those who continue to participate in more established faith communities. Their dialogue and active service together will be a laboratory for transformative experiments of the Spirit of God. I hear her recent words as largely symbolic gestures that identify the overwhelming baggage of American "Christianity" today. They point to a "free agency" option that invites others to follow Jesus without being defined by that particular cultural default narrative (overwhelming in certain locales) which leads many to leave the faith altogether, while alienating "outsiders" even more.

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