Ann Rice, the one time popularizer of the current vampire genre, has announced that she is leaving Christianity. She recently talked about her decision with Joy Behar. What is fascinating about her announcement is that she still professes a faith in Christ and actually feels that in order to keep following Christ she has to separate herself from organized religion and what she perceives as the judgmental actions of many Christians. Part of her decision is that she wants to make a statement that she is not like those “other” Christians.
Rice holds views on issues of ethics and morality that would certainly be on the theological left. She refuses to be “Anti-Gay, Anti-feminist” and “anti” several other issues. Her desire is to say that her commitment to Christ requires that she distance herself from followers of Christ who she perceives to be judgmental and bigoted. So for all of the hype about her leaving Christianity she clearly still sees herself as being a follower of Christ.
The bottom line issue for her is that in trying to remain committed to Jesus she has to step away from the public debate and arguments the swirl around the church and among Christians. In fact she makes it clear that in order to keep Christ at the center of her life she has to step away for a time and get with God.
I for one want to applaud her. Though I would disagree with many of her positions, I deeply respect that she is doing everything she can in order to stay close to Jesus. She may be giving up on organized religion and the public debate over issues of faith. But she is NOT renouncing Christ. In fact, she is trying to hold up and honor Christ as best she can. If you watch the whole interview that becomes abundantly clear.
What I hope can come out of her decision is two things. First that she would come back from her self-proclaimed wilderness experience with a renewed understanding of who Jesus is and how we as Christians need to engage the world in a more Christ-like manner. It would be a benefit to the rest of Christianity if we could learn that from her experience. Second, would be that all who claim to follow Jesus would do whatever it takes to make sure that He is at the center of their lives. There may be some equally radical thing you need to do to make sure that nothing gets in the way of following Jesus.
There is however one concern that I have and it is a deep concern. There is a growing notion in our culture and in the church that one can follow Jesus without the church. In the sense of not needing to be a member of a particular local congregation, I get that. But in the sense of not needing to be connected with and identified with other followers of Jesus, sorry, not an option. Being a follower of Jesus means being committed to others who are also struggling to follow Him. It is only in the context of deep, committed relationships, over time, that we can really be shaped into the people Jesus wants us to be. A season of wilderness like Rice is taking can be the right thing for a season. It is a disaster for one’s faith if it becomes prolonged and permanent. The God of the Bible and this Christianity is a relational being. That is one of the main lessons for the Trinity. We are made in God’s image and part of that means that we are to be relational as well. Will there be conflicts and disagreements in those relationships? You bet there will. But that is how we learn to be like Christ and forgive one another serve one another.
In the end, Ann Rice needs the rest of the Body of Christ and we need her. That is what family, the church is to be about.
Blessings to you Ann as you walk the wilderness. Don’t stay away too long. I look forward to what the future of the faith looks like with you in it.