The curious case of Anne Rice
Having been in many ways a cultural dropout for years, I had no idea until just a few years ago who Anne Rice was. Then I came across her testimony, describing how a leading vampire genre author had turned to Christ. I picked up her book on her conversion, and I found it to be both curious and a bit perplexing.
Rice grew up as a Roman Catholic in New Orleans. Interesting for someone so masterful with words, she really is a visual person first of all. All her earliest memories are images – visual snapshots of the things that formed her. It wasn’t until much later that she discovered the ability to translate those images into language.
And it is interesting that her return to Christ, after a life lived quite away from Him, was also driven not by words but by images. As Anne was drawn to Christ, she began collecting religious statuary, even traversing the world to do so. She begins watching live Masses on EWTN, but again the key word there is “watching”: she is absorbing the essence of the whole thing, primarily through the visual aspect, more than ruminating on and struggling with the verbal content.After reading the book I reviewed it at Amazon, irenically congratulating Anne for her achievement. But though my review did well in terms of reader feedback, I eventually took it down because I had no peace about it. I finally had to admit to myself that I had serious questions about what I had read. I was uneasy about the lack of focus on repentance, the lack of doctrinal questioning and struggle, and the uncritical acceptance of the Roman church’s authority structure. It seemed to me that Anne had enveloped herself in the atmosphere of Christianity – or perhaps of Christendom – and I that was a foundation I was not prepared to trust.
That was pretty much that for a while, until sometime last year, when Anne dropped the following bomb on her Facebook page:
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.
Once again I was perplexed. Leaving church is one thing, but does one who is truly Saved ever really stop being a Christian? I wondered if maybe semantics were confusing things, but Anne being a master wordsmith, I had to conclude that she means what she says.
Now I want to make clear that I am not endorsing Anne’s statement. I’m not saying we should leave our churches, let alone leave Christianity itself.
And neither am I saying that we should abandon political engagement. In an interview with Christianity Today, Anne goes on to decry Christian political involvement, specifically against the gay rights movement. But is there no place for advocating for “moral” law – say, for the protection of innocent unborn human life? After all, all law ultimately is based on morality. Where do we draw the line?
Anne’s position with regard to Christ and the church is ultimately something that she needs to decide on, and I can’t say that I fully understand it as it has been stated. But after considering the issues that she has raised, there are two things that need to be said.
Half a year ago, looking for fellowship, I joined myself to an online Christian community that was lively and looked promising. I enjoyed myself there for a season, and I dare say that I was able to help some people. Well and fine. But eventually I was forced out by the continual acrimonious doctrinal bickering that was going on. Never once did I see authority step in to curb it, yet they were quick to summarily ban several high quality posters for the mildest bit of independent thinking or for the unpardonable sin of questioning the use of authoritarian dynamic on others.
Now, if it were just one site doing this, we would not have a problem. But it is not just one site. I’ve been on the Net since 1983, and I don’t even want to tell you what CompuServe Religious Forum #2: Christianity was like back then. Let’s just say it was pandemonium, in the etymological sense of the word.
And over the years, I have seen the same thing time and again, to the point where I have to say that discord is a pervasive problem. Where then does one go for real online fellowship? For that matter, where does one go for real life fellowship? I have to agree to an extent with Anne’s evaluation that we are a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group”.
In the Epistles, the Apostles exhort us to let brotherly love cover all. We are to overlook offenses, forgo our rights for the sake of others, accept those who are weak in the faith, and not argue about doubtful issues. And in His High Priestly Prayer, just before He was taken, Jesus prayed to the Father that we would be one, so that the world would know that He is the One sent for the salvation of the world. What kind of unity did Jesus have in mind? Consider this:
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.
I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me. -John 17:21-23
That’s an organic unity so profound that we can only get glimpses of it. Yet if we are going to understand the fullness of the hope of our calling in Christ, if we are going to tap into its immeasurable power for overcoming the world, and if we are going to be effective witnesses to the love of God, we are going to have to press forward into the reality of this unity.
There is a time for taking a doctrinal stand. There is a time for disagreements, when core principles are involved. And in this fallen world there is even a time for separation. But we have a problem when contention and the splitting of doctrinal hairs becomes the dominant characteristic of our interaction. When that is the case we fall into the same judgment as the early Corinthian church, which though blessed with all manner of spiritual manifestations, was essentially loveless, divided and in need of rebuke and discipline.
The other thing I wanted to say is with regard to Anne Rice concerns her response to the problem – leaving the church. There are many, many Christians who are dissatisfied with the current state of the church. I saw an interview with noted Christian musician and worship leader Isaiah Hougton. He’s the guy who leads millions in worship each week on Joel Osteen’s TV program. He sells albums, he travels the globe, he performs for presidents. You might think that this guy is on top of the world, but surprisingly, even he admitted that he was tired of “just doing church”.
I visited a church once where the pastor got up and began thundering that we don’t need another sermon, we instead need to get out there and “do” the Gospel. Very true, I thought to myself, but let’s see where he goes with this. Sure enough, the church was treated to a forty-five minute sermon on how we don’t need another sermon. I wondered if I was the only one seeing the absurdity of it. The words were right, the spirit was wrong. And nothing was going to change. That pastor has continued preaching sermons for years now. What does that signify?
The world is looking for what is real, not for structures, hierarchies, rituals or formulas. Last year, Francis Chan, popular mega-church founder and best-selling author, left his pastorate in order to…. well, we don’t know exactly what he is going to do. He left to follow the Lord’s calling. He felt that he was falling into the trap of success. Was Francis right? I don’t know. But success can be a trap, even when it’s achieved within the Christian subculture. Francis at least had the courage to give up the plaudits of man and get out. One could say that he escaped the American dream. Last I heard, he was looking to start up a grassroots ministry in Asia.
I think we need to take a watchful and prayerful, rather than judgmental, position regarding a lot of the unusual movement within the church today. While that movement can be very disruptive to the church itself, it is even more so to the individual doing the moving. But let’s face it, the Gospel record is clear that, if nothing else, Jesus was disruptive. He never compromised who He was, and He never compromised the high demands of discipleship. That’s why he let the rich young ruler walk away. The Kingdom of Heaven is voluntary. If you’re not willing to pay the price, no one is going to force you to do so. But we mustn’t expect Jesus to change in order to fit into our comfort zones.
As we study the Book of Acts, we see that there was much disruptive movement, and even confusion, in the early church. Jesus told the first disciples to preach the Gospel everywhere. Apparently that wasn’t happening well enough, so a persecution conveniently arose which widely scattered the church. And where the church went, the Gospel went too. God works in strange ways.
I wish Anne Rice well, and while I don’t endorse her position fully, I think we would do well to consider her criticisms, in light of what the Spirit is trying to say to the church at this late hour. The reality around us is changing, almost daily, with regard to technology, culture, politics and economics. Difficult times are coming. The church is going to have to change shape and methodology to adapt to the new reality, in order to survive and to be effective. We have a choice. We can remain stuck in the status quo, or we can face the challenging new reality and cooperate with what the Spirit wants to do. Persecution may come, but eves in it, we have the chance to see the greatest expansion of the kingdom in human history. It’s already begun in places like China.
The message that Jesus gave the churches in the book of Revelation was that overcomers will receive glory, but the lampstands of those who will not heed the Spirit will be removed. The challenge is before us. The Lord wants His church to come home and be fully reconciled, and indeed, to stop being a stumbling block. He wants to live among us, and to impart His character and glory to us. He wants to do this for our sakes, and for the sake of a world which at this point is clearly falling apart. He is looking for willing vessels to empower for this very purpose. May the Bride prepare herself for the coming of the King.