Friday, July 30, 2010

rejecting Christianity

This week Anne Rice announced on Facebook that she is rejecting Christianity. She said "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." She went on to say that she will remain committed to Jesus.

I understand the sentiment. I have a number of friends who are walking the same journey. I understand... but I'm not convinced. Who says that Christianity is anti all of those things? Certainly not me and not any of the groupings of which I am a part. The journey presumes that there is one Christianity, one Church. There isn't and there never was. In spite of what many evangelicals will tell us about the "Early Church" there have always been a wide variety of understandings of doctrine, of practice, of the role of revelation... Yes, there are versions of Christianity, likely even a majority that are anti-gay, anti-feminist, etc. etc. but there are also versions that are both welcoming and affirming of GLBT folk, that stand with Paul in saying "in Christ there is no male or female," that are for all of the things Anne Rice sees Christianity as being against. Diane Butler Bass has a wonderful commentary on Rice's journey where she argues that Rice is really arguing for the need to return to an authentically liberal faith. I agree. Those of us who embrace a progressive version of Christianity need to stand up and own our faith publicly.

I do see another piece in Rice's journey and perhaps even more so in the journey of my friends... being a part of a community is messy. Disagreements happen. People get hurt. Organizations do stupid things and eat up resources that clearly could do more good somewhere else. In their optimism, these folk want to see a perfect community of faith where these wounds do not happen. When they cannot find it (or build it), they abandon the search. And they exit the community. I fear that their faith and their commitment to following Jesus will suffer without the support of a "church." I do not believe that following Jesus can be done as a lone ranger. It takes a community to which one can be accountable. It takes a community who do mission together. It takes a community who provide caring and support and challenge. I don't care how you name it, it is a "church" and it requires some degree of institutionalization. You have to plan to meet together, arrange for whatever leadership is required to make sure there is a time and a place and maybe even a plan for once everyone arrives. As the group gets larger, there needs to be a budget for space and a strategy for living out faith as a community. Like it or not, it is a "church." So yes, please reform the churches. Please build smaller and larger communities that truly reflect the ministry and person of Jesus. Do build institutions that struggle with their use of resources. Do meet together and ask the difficult questions, laugh together, cry together, eat together, play together, worship together, work together... They are and always will be institutions full of human beings with all of their strengths and weaknesses. They do fall short and sometimes even derail the very yearnings of God... but they are still necessary if we are truly to follow Jesus.


Michael Mahoney said...

Although I largely agree with you, Roy, I see this as little more than a publicity grab on Rice's part. She's not a Christian, but she's still committed to Christ. That's a little disingenuous, no? Hedge your bets much? I would disagree with Bass; Rice is arguing you should buy her latest book.

I don't see Christianity as being any of those things. Even though I do not believe gay marriage to be scriptural (I'll take Jesus' words over Paul's here), that doesn't make me "anti-gay" any more than it makes me anti-addict or anti-alcoholic or anti-liar. I'll embrace anyone, no matter their struggle, and try and point them toward Christ. He can take hold of them as He sees fit.

Your comments on what church should be are right on the money. If Rice were truly interested in making such a well-written point or changing the way people view Christianity, she would do that, and not grandstand on Facebook.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I've read a couple of pieces on this -- though not Diana's. I don't know the whole story, but it seems to me that either Rice hasn't paid attention to the rich diversity within the Christian faith or she has been too narrowly focused on the faith tradition into which she was born.

But, perhaps Michael is right -- maybe this is a ploy for a next book where she'll tell us how to be with Jesus but not the community.

Keith Watkins said...

The move from small, informal, religious relationship to organized community is one of the major themes in a book that has prompted me to develop an extended review essay (not yet finished or posted on my blog) with the title "A Church Rich with Custom, Filled with Wisdom." Author: Sidney Schwarz; book title: "Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue."