Monday, August 02, 2010

Anne Rice and Christianity

It's been a few days since author Anne Rice made her big statement on Facebook about how she was quitting Christianity.  She basically says she can't deal with some of the so-called "antis:"

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 .

There have been positive reviews of Rice's reasons for leaving the faith, with some (like Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren even saying that they had thought of leaving the faith at one point or another for the very same reasons.

I don't want to make light of Rice's concerns. There have been a lot of people that have been hurt by Christians. The Church has done a lot of bad things in the name of Christ.

And yet, I keep thinking that Rice's reasons for leaving Christianity are pretty superficial. As Rod Dreher has noted:

I'm sorry, but this is weak, and makes me wonder what really happened. Surely a woman of her age and experience cannot possibly believe that the entirety of Christianity, current and past, can be reduced to the cultural politics of the United States of America in the 21st century. Does she really know no liberal Christians? Has she never picked up a copy of Commonweal? Does she really think that if she asked a Christian on the streets of Nairobi or Tegucigalpa what they, as Christians, thought of Nancy Pelosi, they would have the slightest idea what she was talking about? And Christianity, anti-science? Good grief. Has she not noticed that Catholic Church, to which she did belong until yesterday, has affirmed evolution, and embraces science? How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

To be clear, I (of all people!) do not wish to judge harshly people who have lost their faith. But to lose it over something as groundless and as trivial as the reasons she's given? Please. And if she's determined not to join a quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious group, she'd better stay away from religion, from politics, from, well, humanity. Because that's how we are.

Rice makes the claim that the church is filled with people who are quarrelsome, divisive and bigoted. All true. But the fact is, it has been from the beginning.

In the gospels, Jesus leaves his ministry to his disciples. Now, the disciples were not the cream of the crop. I mean, if I were Jesus, I would not consider handing over the ministry to these idiots. Let's take Peter for example. Peter was basically bigoted against anyone that wasn't Jewish and God basically had to hit him over the head to tell him to go and minister to a Gentile.

God might have made a mistake in handing over the ministry of Christ to flawed humans, but that is what happened. For two millenia, we have had churches taking care of the poor and going on crusades. We have had them bless slavery and work to abolish it. The good and the bad live together.

The church is not perfect and if we expect perfection, we can expect to be sorely dissapointed.

I can't look into Ms. Rice's mind, but I wonder if she was expecting a perfect church were there was no homophobia or where everyone is pro-choice. And what really makes me mad is that she seems to not notice that there are liberal Christians out there, let along gay Christians.

As a gay man and an African American, I have every right to want to leave Christianity. The church has not always been kind to gays or to blacks. That said, I stay in the church because I believe in a God that loves me because of who I am and because I have met Christians who have shown their love of me regardless of me being gay or being black.

But then, my faith is bigger than someone's position on stem cell research or abortion. I want to be in Christian fellowship with someone, even someone I might disagree with on issues, because that person is a sister or brother in Christ; and I will pray with them regardless of where they stand in the culture wars.

I think Erik Kain is on the right track when he says:

Rice left her Vampire novels behind her when she returned to Catholicism and wrote a pair of fictional biographies of Christ. Then, in 2008, she wrote a memoir – Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession – explaining her return to her faith after years of spiritual wandering. Now, just a couple years later, she’s so troubled by the sexual abuse scandals in the Church – scandals which aren’t exactly new or post-2008 at any rate – that she can no longer believe in Christ? She’s so troubled by the anti-gay elements in Christianity that she can no longer believe that Jesus Christ is her savior? She should talk to all the gay Christians out there.

This just seems horribly superficial to me. I suppose it’s possible that Rice never really understood her faith to begin with. I suppose when politics and the culture war become everything – including how we’re received in our various social scenes – then God really does become little more than a piece of clothing, worn for a bit until it goes out of fashion, then easily discarded.

My faith in Christ, my reasons to go to church and work with my sisters in brothers, is about trying to live out the Christian faith the best way I can: in service to others, learning to love the stranger, learning to love the enemy, learning to forgive and living in God's grace. Faith isn't about adherance to a checklist, but it is a relationship with God and each other.

There will be folks who will want to keep my out of the church for being gay. They can try, but they can't take away my faith. It's too bad Ms. Rice allowed hers to be taken away so easily.

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