On her Facebook page, Anne Rice, vampire-turned-Jesus novelist, Catholic-turned-atheist-turned-Catholic again, vented her frustrations with organized Christianity and announced that she was leaving the Church again. Not for atheism again, but for her own personal following of Christ, outside of the trappings of the Catholic Church or any other denominational or church structure.
Personally, my heart breaks for Anne Rice. I don’t know here. I haven’t even read any of her books. But like most Christians, I know some of her pain. She looks around at the Church as a whole, looks back at Christ, and throws her hands up at the large disparity between the two. I’ve been there. Rice may personally know Christians who seem to be so godly on the surface, but underneath … that’s a different story. I’ve been there, too. Maybe, she’s even had some Christian personally engage in hurtful hypocrisy that wounded her in a deep way. Unfortunately, I bear some of those scars myself.
Regardless of the dichotomy Rice sees between Christ and the Church, it gives us no reason to leave. As many have said, “You can’t love Jesus and hate His bride.” I don’t think Rice hates the Church. I think she’s disappointed with the Church. But all the same, you can’t stay with Jesus and leave His bride.
Examining the religious life and history of Rice paints a fairly representative portrait of American religion. Most people were raised in some type of Christian environment. Most then leave their childhood faith as they encounter the world of different perspectives in college. Similarly, most return along the way to the safe, familiar ground of faith as they grow older and start a family. Then, they begin to drift back away after finding themselves disillusioned with the faith that had so many positive childhood memories. VBS cookies and Kool-Aid becomes church splits and budget fights.
Anne Rice is decidedly liberal in her view point. She says she left because the Church was anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science, etc. She found it difficult to reconcile the stated positions of the Catholic Church with her own personal convictions. She wants a Christianity that lines up with what she feels.
When asked about the prospect of joining a more liberal denomination, Anne Rice told the LA Times:
I respect completely people who want to find a church that’s more in accord with what they can morally accept. But for me, walking away is the thing right now. In the name of Christ, in the name of God.
That’s part of the problem, the attempt “to find a church that’s more in accord with what they can morally accept.” That is American religion. Look around, find something that suits you and stay with that, until it doesn’t suit you any longer. If you can’t find one that fits, then go home and start one of your own. Be your own preacher, teacher and congregation. You can, as Rice does, still claim to follow Jesus, but you will just do it in your own way outside of Christianity.
William Lobdell wrote an op-ed about Rice’s “defection” and how it is a sign that American Christianity is not well and there’s evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize – or want to admit.
The former Times religion writer, who himself struggled with faith after writing about it for a living, lays out facts that are indisputable. “Unaffiliated” is the fastest growing religious segment in the United States. The trends are even higher for young adults, making the case for even more future growth. Lobdell quotes and references the research of Christian pollster George Barna, which demonstrate the sizable gap between how Christians live and the values they profess.
I believe he even rightly comes to the core of problem. Many Christians are wont to simply dismiss the vast differences between Gospel principles and believer behavior as simply evidence for the fallen nature of man. That excuse will not cut it. Lebdell reveals the true reason:
But if one adheres to the principle of Occam’s razor — that the simplest explanation is the most likely — there is another, more unsettling conclusion: that many people who call themselves Christian don’t really believe, deep down, in the tenets of their faith. In other words, their actions reveal their true beliefs.
He’s right in that, but he’s wrong that this fact spells doom for American Christianity, In fact, I believe the opposite is true – this bodes extremely well and can be exactly what is needed for true growth and a revived faith among the believers in the states.
What makes Christianity so oft-putting today? Hypocritical Christians, who do not really believe what they profess. Who are the ones leaving in droves? Hypocritical Christians, who do not really believe what they profess. This is not me calling Anne Rice a hypocrite. I believe she is sincere about what she believes, but ill-informed about what the true Gospel is all about – along with most Americans.
As more and more people leave behind their cultural Christianity, the opportunity presents itself for true followers of Christ to shine. Before they were too covered in the mud and muck of those whose lives showed no difference from the world. As the trend continues, Christianity will once again be allowed to flourish as what it is – a counter-culture, with a lot fewer members.
A smaller army is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God tends to prefer them sometimes. With less human resources, Christians tend to trust in God’s resources a lot more and God tends to move in greater ways as His work cannot be explained away by good planning and an ample workforce.
I grieve that Anne Rice and those like her do not feel at home in Christianity. I believe their leaving is a loss. However, I cannot help but be hopeful that, as He did with Gideon, God is preparing the Church in America for great victories as our number gets smaller and smaller.