"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."
She also stated, “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.”
She added, "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."
For those who are unfamiliar, Anne Rice is one of the best selling novelists of all time. She has written books on vampires and witches, which are full of graphic sex and violence. Under a pseudonym, she apparently has also written “erotica.” (But personally I cannot imagine how those books differ from the ones about vampires and witches; the latter were pretty raunchy.)
Ms. Rice is from New Orleans, but also lived in Denton, Texas as a teenager. She was raised a Roman Catholic, but left the church at age 18. For a period she described herself as an atheist, but in 1998 she returned to the Catholic Church with a renewed faith in God. She publically declared that this conversion experience would affect her writing as she intended to use her writing talents to glorify God. In the 2000s, she published several books with religious themes.
As an adult, she lived most of her life in New Orleans. However, prior to Katrina, in an effort to simplify her life, Ms. Rice moved from New Orleans to California to be near her adult son.
My own family lived for many years in Houston, which is in Southeast Texas. Due to the geographical proximity, I have had a certain familiarity with Louisiana. I’ve discussed in this blog my particular love for and fascination with the culture and people of New Orleans. Anne Rice apparently went to the same college as my mom, though not at the same time. I have also explained in this blog that most of my Christian walk I was a Catholic, but our family is now happily established in an Episcopalian parish. At least at first blush, Anne Rice and I may appear to have certain things in common, and one might assume I admire her.
However, before discussing her decision to leave the Church, I should admit that I’m not exactly a fan of Anne Rice. I’ve tried to read some of her books, but have finished just one or two. Years ago, I did see the film adaptation of Interview with a Vampire. But I just never understood the whole obsession with vampires and witches. It is not interesting to me in the slightest. Quite honestly, I find the subject matter gross, creepy and terribly overrated. My apologies to any readers who might fall into this category, but I’ve always found fans of Ms. Rice’s work to be very odd and unappealing. I have also never liked Ms. Rice’s goth style. She used to dress in a very dramatic, bizarre fashion. I’m all for freedom of expression, but at least her pre-Christian fashion sense used to spook me.
Despite all this, I can relate in some ways to Ms. Rice’s decision to leave the Church, and I mourn for her. This was obviously a difficult decision for her. She explains that it has caused her pain, but in good conscience she felt she had no other choice. In her interview with “All Things Considered,” Ms. Rice seemed to have been particularly disappointed with the Catholic Church’s political activism on the issue of same sex marriage. She was frustrated that the Church decided to “donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society.” I certainly empathize with and share Ms. Rice’s concerns on this point. I believe that that recent type of secular politicization of the church has alienated many Christ followers, and has repelled many who might otherwise be attracted to the Gospel message.
I was also moved by a part of the interview where Ms. Rice explained her decision to leave the Church: "... I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, and I believe that statement." I definitely agree with this point. History has shown this to be true repeatedly. Good people failed to speak up in sufficient numbers in Germany in the 1930s; millions of people lost their lives as a result. Good people failed to speak up in sufficient numbers in our own country when African Americans were routinely terrorized and lynched in violation of our secular laws (and our nation’s supposed Judeo-Christian values); even people who worked in law enforcement typically failed to intervene. We who are Christ followers--and who value all parts of the Body of Christ and God’s creation--have a duty to speak up in defense of the vulnerable and disenfranchised in this world.
Although I can understand Ms. Rice’s motivations in leaving the Church, I cannot say I share them. I have not written about the motivations behind my own family’s decision to leave the Catholic Church because they aren’t relevant to the focus of this blog. Denominational squabbles sadden me greatly; the fracturing of the Body of Christ is a tragedy. In this blog, I don’t want to devote time to discussing the relative wisdom of one denomination over another. This is not a blog about theology.
Nonetheless, it may be helpful to clarify that my family’s decision to leave the Catholic Church was not due to theological or political disagreements. This is not to say that my husband and I agreed with every single teaching and decision of the Catholic Church. However, we did not have a theological or political falling out. Though I may share Ms. Rice’s disappointment with the secular politicization of the church, that disappointment has never provoked in me a desire to leave. I may have moved from one room to another, but I have not left the house. I believe you can speak up and be a force for positive change within the church if you stay.
More fundamentally, I deeply believe that being involved in a church community is an important part of living our Christian faith. Jesus taught that we should love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor. Personally, I don’t think you can just love your neighbors from afar. We have to get to know our neighbors and spend time with them to truly love them. Jesus always did that. His ministry involved spending time and building relationships with all kinds of folks. Indeed, some of them seemed pretty repulsive per the cultural norms in which Jesus was raised and educated.
Loving our neighbors is not always easy. Frankly, it can be pretty messy at times. We don’t always agree or even get along. But I think God wants us to work through all that messiness to truly understand what love is, and to be able to see the reflection of God in each of our brothers and sisters. One thing that has been a challenge to me in my walk—and is likely a challenge to many other Christians—is the realization that not only does God love me profoundly and infinitely, but he also loves (just as much) the folks I think are jerks. The wacko who cuts me off on the highway, people who say unkind things about me, the xenophobic activist trying to blame our country’s problems on desperate people who risk their lives to come to this country to feed their families. God loves each and every one of them as much as he loves me. He doesn’t play favorites. One of my challenges as a Christ follower is to evolve and mature to grow to see such folks the way God does. I cannot do that if I cut myself off and refuse to associate with them.
Anne Rice’s NPR interview is available at the link below:
Matthew 18:19-20 (New Living Translation)
“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
Mark 2:15-16 (New Living Translation)
Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”