Anne Rice, the famed author of “Interview with a Vampire,” garnered news a few years ago when she publicly announced she had become a Christian. Today, she created a buzz with the news she is done with Christianity. On Wednesday, Rice posted on Facebook:
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.
…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.
Today she continued:
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.
On first blush there are things I like about Rice’s confession.
- I like the fact she is honest about the blemishes of the church throughout history. There is no question there have been seasons the church has been less then sterling in her work and witness.
- I also like that Rice wants to keep any one group from cornering the market on the faith. For example, I bristle when political parties claim Jesus as their own, thinking their political ideology is in the fat middle of the Kingdom of God.
Thus, I think there are things in Rice’s words to, at some level, affirm. But her sentiments also create caution in me. I don’t think she intends this, but her words can be construed to say, “I believe in Christ. I just don’t want to follow Him.” How do I get there?
Rice lists beliefs she obviously considers right no matter what “Christianity” – the collection of believers throughout history – says. They are dogma to her. But what if, in following Christ, she discovers that Christ holds beliefs in conflict with hers? What does she do then? It appears she may have already shown us: just write off the church. Blame them for being wrong in it all. Say they’ve lost their way and don’t have a grip on modernity. But what if, on some issues, that’s imply not true? What if she’s just at odds with the biblical understanding of an issue. Then maybe…
She really needs to write off Jesus?
The Gospel accounts show us that Jesus gave teachings which very well may conflict with our fallen, man-centered ways of seeing things. His very own disciples (the institutional church at the time, by the way) felt this sting of this truth. John 6:6-69 records:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The real question we should ask ourselves is, Who do you really believe has the words to eternal life? You or Jesus?
If, like Peter, you believe that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” then what he says about anything and everything is true…even if it conflicts with what you believe about life, gender, sexuality, politics or any other area. And believe me, Christ will say “hard” things – things we need to wrestle with, repent of and embrace. Can the institutional church get things wrong? Yes. For that, she should repent. But, if in finding through the Scripture rightly understood, we are the on opposite side of Jesus and his Word (which Jesus completely affirmed) on any issue, it is we who are to move, not him. Divorcing ourselves from “Christianity” isn’t the answer to the conflict. It’s helping to work with the church to make sure she is hearing God’s Word clearly and truly (see Martin Luther).
The truth is Jesus died for the church. He loves the church. And if we want to follow Jesus, we must love what he loves and believe what he believes. Picking and choosing what we like about Jesus and his Word – embracing what fits our preconceived notions and rejecting the rest – only shows us we want our version of Jesus but not the real Jesus. This warning is for you, me, Ms. Rice and anyone who considers themselves a Christian.
Because to believe in Jesus is to follow Jesus.