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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ann Rice is No Longer a Christian

While I was away on vacation, the novelist Ann Rice stopped being a Christian.  This is what she said 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."

There is a lot to talk about in Rice’s statement, more than one blog could carry.  Reading her words, and hearing the subsequent interview on NPR, I found myself feeling a lot.   The emotions range from impatience to jealousy, and everything in between.  As a churchgoer, I am impatient with people who leave because of the “quarrelsome, hostile” nature of the church.  The church, like every other gathering of human beings, is filled flawed human beings. But also as a churchgoer, I am jealous because in many ways and for many of the same reasons, I would like to walk out the door with her. Maybe she is just more courageous than I.

Ann Rice is not the first, nor will she be the last to make distinctions between being committed to Christ and being a Christian. ABC News Editor and ordained minister Dr. Timothy Johnson is not as pessimistic about the church as Ann Rice.  But in his book Finding God in the Questions he writes: “This is just one of the many reasons why I have come to prefer the phrase  “follower of Jesus” rather than the label “Christian”. The latter word too often simply indicates blind support of the various aspects of the religion called Christianity” (p.134).

I do not pretend to know what is right for Ann Rice.  I do believe that some people are called to stay within our organizations and be what John Gardner called “loving critics.”  Others are called to work for change from outside the organization.  Each has a perspective that is unique. Either can be a faithful call.

I do know that we need community to grow spiritually.  It is not possible to be a follower of Jesus (or any faith I presume) without relationships.   Killian Noe writes in Finding Our Way Home:

Just as some biological families are healthier than others, so are some spiritual families. But the fact remains: we must have some spiritual family if we are to grow up spiritually. We must have context—or what Parker Palmer calls a ‘congruent community’—if we are to become who we were created to become. If we are to become our truest selves—created in the image of God to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to pour out our lives as Jesus did for the sake of the whole human family—then we must grow and mature in the context of a spiritual family…

As you may know, there is a saying in the 12-step program that goes, “We will love you ’til you love yourself.” God works through people to reveal to us the truth that we are loved, like the prodigal, while we are still a ‘long way off’ from being who we were created to be. It is tempting to separate the love of God from the love of community—to sever the head from the body—but we only come to know ourselves as truly loved in the context of authentic community, where we are both known and loved.

As a churchgoer, I grieve wounds of the traditional church today.  Clearly we have not been our best self as an organization. We can do better, and for those of us in churches there are many hard questions we need to face.

At the same time I am also excited about the new forms of “congruent community” that are springing up within and outside of the traditional church.  There are many people and places out there that are holding people as they seek to grow in faith. I hope Ann Rice has, or finds, such a place to grow.

PS:  If you belong to an authentic spiritual community, let us know…maybe there are other readers of this blog in your area looking for such a place.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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  1. Thanks for a rational response Doug. Good words regarding the concept that we are community-needy folks - who we are and who we can be is best discovered and nurtured among the welcome and embrace of others. Love Killian's words.

  2. I joined Ann Rice long ago. Now attending a Quaker Meeting that does not require creeds to follow. Just be a follower of Christ's example in living life as well as other Spiritual Masters from other faith traditions. I wearied of meetings and committees that would "look at" issues e.g. homosexuality, the inerrancy of scripture, etc....Over the years during major crisis in my life friends have come into my life that were my spiritual community whether they would have identified it as such or not. That was not forthcoming in a "congregation." The word Christian has been bastardized by the Religious Right and Christ would throw them out of the temple.

  3. SEEKING GOD ON YOUR OWN IS ONE WAY TO GET REALLLY WIERD!!! Go to your first Love, Jesus Christ the day you accepted him into your heart. Read Gods word and depend on that as God reveals his path for you. Man will let you down Christ will not. CONFUSION IS NOT OF GOD!! BLESSINGS TO YOU. :)L.SANCHEZ

  4. Chuck Swindall said we're (the church) is "the only group who shoot their wounded." Why can't we all get along or at least keep an open mind toward each other? Isn't that what God wanted or does God want controversy?

  5. I know I need a spiritual community, but sometimes, since I've moved so often, it is very difficult to find that community. Seems way too many people are afraid to really reveal who they are, so then developing that needed community is almost impossible. Thanks for the thoughts, Doug -- they made sense to me. I've recently had thoughts of giving up on the organized church. I'll hang in there.

  6. You have touched on a very important point. There are many different kinds of community that have value. For instance, a community can form to build a Habitat for Humanity house. But I think a community is always going to be limited if people are, as you say, afraid to reveal who they are. At the risk of giving advice, I would say hang in there with that kind of community.

  7. Thanks for the posting Doug. As one who is habitually attracted to the church, it is nice to see it thoughtfully defended. The problem is less the church then the fact that when people associate in any form...families, the local school board, the outboard motor asssociation, the book club...their is conflict and pettiness as interests and agendas collide. As Donald Miller suggests, this will not change until each one of us hangs that sign around our necks that says, "I am the problem."
    Hope you're well.
    Tim Stohlberg
    Caribou, Maine