Several years ago I had the privilege of having Anne Rice discover my review of her book “Out of Egypt.” She left a comment. This was an honor, and also a frightening reminder that sometimes the subjects of my blog posts actually read them. In respect to her, when I reviewed “The Road to Cana” I forwarded it along to her. In private correspondence, she told me I did a great job. Well, I thought she had done a good job. When it came time to review her spiritual autobiography, I worried that the good feelings might ebb. As a courtesy, I sent it along to her… and never heard what she thought of that! (I will also be forwarding this to her.)
Anyone who was surprised by her announcement that she was ‘quitting’ Christianity clearly had not read her spiritual autobiography. In my review of it, I went on to say something that seems a bit prescient now:
I do not want one of conservative Christians to read what I just wrote and say “Well, I can write Anne Rice off, now!” What Anne says in this final chapter contains much of value. The fact is that people do have trouble disassociating God from the Church and the Church should take this into account when it acts, knowing that in driving people away from the Church, they can drive them away from God.
I also said in that review: “I cannot cover all of the ground that a good long conversation could more appropriately handle regarding such matters.” This is unfortunate, but true, and it remains true now. It is also true that if anyone is going to have that conversation it won’t be me. We have exchanged cordial emails, but that is the extent of our relationship. I do not presume that she will respond to this, or even read it. It is my hope that someone closer to her will step in to talk to her- not because she needs to be talked down from her position but because, as it seems to me (I am inferring- as dangerous as that is), she has found herself to be wounded by certain Christians, and only these Christians, or those with the viewpoints she rejects but whom she respects, can pave the way to that healing.
Judging from her other remarks, it would appear that Anne has been driven away from the ‘Church’ but not from God. For many, on their way out of the Church they kick God in Christ to the curb, as well, which is one reason why I launched a website not too long ago called The Death of Christianity. This again is no time and place to re-hash all of that. Suffice it to say that I believe the central problem is that Christians don’t know how to love as the Scriptures lay it out. I really can’t get into it now, but you can search this blog for more about what I believe on the matter.
In fashioning this response, I am in the difficult position of trying to respond to Anne’s position with only facebook status updates and past history to rely on. Readers (especially if that reader is Anne herself) will forgive any wrong inferences. With that important caveat out of the way…
The difficulty in dispensing with the Church and keeping Christ is that it is impossible and can’t be done. I’m not going to go Cyprian on you (“He who does not have the Church as his mother…”) because I think he was making a different point. Christians are not united by creed but by Christ, a person. You can step away from denominations and congregations but if you really stepped outside of the Church, you’d step out of Christ, because the Church is his body. (Eph. 5, 1 Cor 12:12-27, esp. 27).
The 1 Cor passage mentioned above is relevant in its own way because Paul points out that just because the foot says to the hand, “I am not the body because I am not a hand” the foot does not, in fact, cease to be part of the family. So long as Anne is in Christ, her declarations about not being part of the Church are no more than that- declarations. And what of those she would disassociate herself from? Is it her conviction that they are not in Christ? I doubt she would go that far. But if she thinks some Christians have been, well, asses, not even in this case can the hand say to the ass, “You are not part of the body,” for every body still has an ass!
That puts Anne in a bind, since by appearances she cares about the Christ of the Scriptures. These same Scriptures say, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Cor 5:12-13) This point seems to have been missed on a great many Christians who insist on judging those outside the Church, but in this case Anne is trying to set herself apart from the Church in order to judge it- but it must be judged from the inside. Let us remember the order laid out in Scriptures: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17)
In short, if Anne is to follow Christ and not his followers then Anne must, according to conscience, be prepared to stand within the Church and help it “grow into him who is the Head, that is Christ.” (Eph 4:15) It is even put more explicitly: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (vs. 25)
This is a duty and an obligation to our fellow believer, which no person who is in Christ has the ability to eject.
The last two passages help us transition into the areas where Anne seems to have taken the most offense. What does it mean to put off falsehood? Is there real consequence for those ‘who do not obey the Gospel of God’? The logic of the passage is that there will be consequence indeed, since there will also be consequence to the ‘family of God.’
Is this where I begin making arguments against homosexuality, ‘science,’ and Democrats? This seems to me to be besides the point. The real point is whether or not there is anything about our relationship with Christ that calls us to have a different perspective than those who aren’t in that relationship. The point is whether or not Christ transforms us or we transform Christ. Are we to be made in the likeness of Christ or do we make Christ into our own likeness? Do we regard fellow Christians and nonChristians “from a worldly point of view”? (2 Cor. 5:10-6:2) (Anne, if you’re reading this, you should look at that passage)
It is enough, for now, to argue that as ambassadors of Christ we have an obligation to the world- “as though God were making his appeal through us.” God is not “counting men’s sins against them” but that is not because they are not sins and of no consequence, rather because they are of the highest consequence, prompting the mission of Christ: “he who had no sin to be made sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
When we look at the life of Christ, the God-Man who has so mesmerized Anne and millions of the rest of us, we see this utterly serious approach to our predicament. In John 8, though Jesus says he does not condemn the adulterous woman, he still tells her: “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When asked about divorce, Jesus reasons, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses [allowed divorce]. … Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10).
Jesus did not dispense with the order of creation in his quest to redeem it. Nor did he render men righteous by refusing to label behaviors and attitudes as sinful. On the sermon on the mount, he said that even looking at a woman lustfully was adultery and the sort of thing that justifies eternal punishment. He did not say: “Look at women lustfully all you want, because I have forgiven it.”
He came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Christians, then, do not have carte blanche in saying that all behaviors and attitudes are acceptable before God simply because he has paid the price for all of them. If that were the case, he could have just as well abolished the law.
Where does this leave us as Christians when engaging each other and the world? It means that our salvation is not in meeting the demands of the law but it also means that we cannot dispense with God’s commands, either. It isn’t always easy to determine how we should play this out within society, but let us remember that when Jesus went into the houses of sinners, like Zacchaeus, he did not dispute with the abusive tax collector that it had been wrong for him to cheat people.
Anne has made it clear that she plans on following Christ, just not his followers. If it is the case (as surely it is) that some of his followers have crossed over a line, it doesn’t follow that there isn’t a line. What we need is discussion about where that line is and how we walk it. If Anne is able to show a better way in her life from the Scriptures then she has a duty and an obligation to reveal it to her brothers and sisters- adopted, just as she is.
At the same time, as a follower of Christ (and not a follower of the followers of Christ) she has an obligation not to perform unkindnesses in the name of kindness to those who are outside of Christ. Christ came to be sin in order to rescue us from the consequences of sin. How terrible our sins must then be and what a price was paid! It might be important to inform people of this reality.
Can we regard people in the same way knowing this? It is not my desire to dissect any one of the things that Anne listed that she refused to be (ie, ‘anti-gay’ ‘anti-secular humanist’) etc. Rather, the larger issue, as it appeared to me, was that her statements suggested that we could make our way as Christ-Followers on this earth while still regarding ourselves and each other as the world, would.
But this is not possible, at least, not for long. Eventually we come to a point where we are indistinguishable from the world, and our ‘faith’ becomes just an excuse to operate in such a way as our heart has already determined. Then we are salt that has lost its saltiness.
Or, to put it another way, Jesus, whom Anne insists on following, declared: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” (John 15:18-27)
As I skimmed through the thousands of comments on Anne’s facebook statuses related to this, the general feeling was that the world very much was happy with Anne for her announcement. I am not suggesting that any of us should be arrogant and belligerent asses, but I do think that when the world thinks highly of us that is reason for concern- provided we intend to really follow the God of the Universe.
When the world loves us, watch out.
I wish Anne all the best and I am confident that, based on what I’ve read to this point, I will some day walk arm and arm with her in the full presence of Christ. However, I would not be fulfilling my duty and obligation as one believer to another if I did not voice a word of caution: watch out, Anne, watch out.
You can, and should, oppose Christians to their face if they are acting out of line (Galatians 2:11, illustrating). But if the world takes you as its sister, it is only with great difficulty that Christ can have you as his daughter, since you can only be part of one family at a time.