The author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire novels before she returned to the Catholic Church twelve years ago, recently made waves when she posted the following announcement on her Facebook page:
“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.”
To which she later added:
“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.”
Quite a lot of ink has spilled (much of it virtual) since Rice’s statement went public. One can now view CNN video interviews in which Rice explains her position (one and two), read articles from noted media outlets such as the LA Times, Salon.com, First Things, Huntington Post, and, of course, peruse any of the gazillion comments on the blogosphere.
Having personally corresponded with Rice over the last year, I have followed her story with interest. In what follows I would like to offer four lessons that have occurred to me, lessons that apply to everyone, but especially to evangelicals.
1.) We Speak as Christians. Frankly, I have been a bit embarrassed by the amount of uncharitable vitriol expressed by some of us in the “Christian” community. For instance, one blogger writes:
“I’m tired of Anne Rice. I’m not impressed with her as a writer, and I find her efforts to publicize her religious mutations a sign of gross conceit. The attention others have given her “de-conversion” exaggerates her importance as a public figure and creates the impression that her reasons for leaving the church are profound. Really, folks. Do you care that much about this woman?”
There are certainly occasions to be direct. I’m a born and bred New Yorker; I love when people shoot straight. But the above quote is surely not an appropriate way to communicate, especially before the world on behalf of Christ. Paul’s words to the Corinthians are worth remembering at this point:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. … it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor 13:4-8).”
We must never forget that when we speak truth, according to the Apostle Paul, we necessarily do it in love (Eph 4:15).
2.) Fidelity to One’s Conscience. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Protestant that when I read Anne’s words, “My conscience will allow nothing else” used in reference to moving out from under religious authority, I think of Luther’s defense at the Diet of Worms. You’ll remember Luther’s statement before Emperor Charles V.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scripture or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. [He then added in German] Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
The crucial difference between Anne and brother Martin is the authority to which their respective consciences clung. Imperfect as he was, Luther, nevertheless, sought to base his life and teaching upon Scripture. Therefore, leaving Christianity was not an option. Likewise, we must keep our consciences tethered to biblical truth.
3.) What is Our Ecclesiology? How do we evangelicals give an answer for the ecclesial hope within us, or, stated more simply, what role does the church play in our life of faith?
It’s interesting how Anne’s departure from the Catholic Church is ipso facto a departure from Christianity. This is entirely common, by the way, among many of us who have been raised in the Catholic Church. As I told the Protestant friend who first invited me to her church, “Why would I switch golf clubs to imitation knockoffs when I own Big Berthas?”
What I want to call attention to, however, is the opportunity that we have to think carefully about our corporate identity. We may not express our view of the church in the same terms as Anne Rice, but if you look at our involvement in our congregations or look at our prayer life, we find that the degree of individualism is really not quite different.
4.) Log Removal. I wonder, have we Christians paused for a single moment to consider why Anne Rice is so exercised? With reference to her protest about the church being anti-feminist, anti-Democrat, anti-science, and anti-gay, for instance, do we have any measure of culpability?
I’m not for a moment suggesting that we dial down our commitment to biblical teaching; but I wonder if at times there is maybe a margin for improvement in the way that we communicate such ideas. Are we, for instance, consistently speaking the truth in genuine Christian love?
Whatever the answer might be in the final analysis, the humility of Christ would have us first pause and consider the log in our own eye before we seek to deal with the speck in someone else’s.
If you would like, you can hear me discuss this topic tomorrow at 3:30pm CT on Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live.