Big news was made this week when famous author Anne Rice announced that she’s quitting Christianity. Read it here. In the Cnn.com piece, Rice writes, “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian … 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.”
This was all the news reported, but Rice’s “resignation letter” was actually much more faithful and poignant. She explained she had been raised a Catholic and had left the faith for decades and had come back to the faith later in life. She continues to love Jesus, but is resigning from being a “follower of Christ’s followers.” In short, she loves Jesus but she doesn’t want to align herself with Christianity in general.
This was major news as Rice wasn’t just a famous author who happened to be a Christ follower, but she had recently been publishing Christina writing, with several narrative biographical pieces on the life of Jesus as well as an auto-biographical explanation of her own faith journey. And now she is calling it quits.
Despite the media’s obsession with the story (It makes a great headline) this isn’t that shocking right? Don’t you often hear the same sentiment from those in your lives: “I’m intrigued by Jesus but I can’t get behind Christianity.” Or some version of that….many in the PNW love to “respect” Jesus as if he was just a historical character who once did some cool stuff. But as far as reading scripture to learn more of Jesus and turning life into a passionate pursuit of self-denial as one grows in the faith…that isn’t so popular. Brian McLaren has posted a rebuttal of sorts here and I like what he says. Essentially he says, ‘Anne I support you, I understand your frustration of Christianity, but at the end of the day I align myself with people of all failed religions.’ Says McLaren: ” I’ve decided that if I’m going to have solidarity with one failed religion, I might as well have solidarity with them all.” Huh?
Is this all we can muster? An appreciate for Christ but disdain for all things to do with his followers (Rice) or merely seeing Christianity as one of many failed religions but our task is to find solidarity with other religions (McLaren). Doesn’t sound very good to me. McLaren suggests his thoughts are what Jesus meant with his repeated teaching on the Kingdom of God. But with all due respect Brian, I do not think that is at all what Jesus meant by Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God, the glorious future promised with the arrival of the new King Jesus Christ that will be brought to completion one day when God creates Heaven on Earth, is a real place, occupied by real people, who believe in a real God who has transformative power. Yes, Ms. Rice, Christians are broken people who have failed miserably at times and allowed themselves to be identified by what they are against (social, political, sexual, etc) rather than who they are for (the person of Jesus Christ). I confess I am one of these same Christians. I fail miserably at times. I judge others. I have a log in my own eye and see the stick in others. I preach justice and mercy and yet fail at times to treat others better than myself. In short, I am a fallen human. And yet, and yet, I am a work in progress. I am a Christian who is being formed into the image of God. I live in the tension of the Kingdom of God that is already been promised of Jesus Christ death and resurrection, but I also live in a “not yet” world that hasn’t been fully redeemed by Christ’s final work of establishing the new kingdom here on Earth. And if I disengage with the church, and the other followers of Jesus who are also struggling with their own fallenness but yet who have given their heart and mind and soul over to Jesus hoping for transformation, I am missing the point of Jesus’ teaching. See, God cares deeply about us individually, and collectively. We are not isolated beings on our own stars that God wants to be alone. God wants us to live together, share together, be transformed together, and worship Him together. But the challenge arises when we are anywhere together….because of our humanity…when humans gather together they bring with them their own problems, failings, judgments, and struggles.
Yes the church is a mess. But it is a beautiful mess we are called to engage in, help fix, step in and be shaped and transformed by each other on our faith journeys towards the Creator God revealed through Jesus Christ. It is this very struggle which brings out the best and worst in humanity and in the process teaches us about the very nature of God. Read the bible and you understand that God cares deeply for His people collectively and individually. And when we give up on Christianity and say we are going it alone, we are telling God we have lost faith in His collective people.
Trust me, I get it. Christianity as a religion has issues because at the end of the day, any religion is just a human construct trying to frame understanding around God’s awesome power. It is catching a waterfall with a Dixie cup….it just isn’t going to work perfectly at all. And yet, we are called to go to the waterfall together. To collectively hold our Dixie cups into the stream of God’s activity, to dip into the rich living waters of God’s awesome power, and pull out even a few drops and share and bless it with others. It is God’s deepest call for us as His creation to engage this struggle together.
So Anne, please be patient with us other Christians. Yes, we are a bunch of losers and hypocrites who often fail miserably to represent Jesus perfectly. But please, walk with us and engage with us as we journey towards Christ. As we walk together, Jesus promises to comfort us and teach us more about Him in the process.