Friday, July 30, 2010
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.