Earlier this week, author Anne Rice announced (via facebook) that she was giving up Christianity. Though a devout Christian, she'd had enough of the religion and no longer wanted to be connected to anyone who called themselves a Christian. This announcement continues to generate a lot of buzz on facebook, prompting people to instinctively jump to praise or judge her. "You took the words right out of my mouth" one commenter said. While another replied by stating that "liberals want to twist Jesus into whatever they want". Like any debate, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Here's mine.
If you are honest, it doesn't take long to see where she's coming from. Her problems with Christianity are not all that original. It's the same old "Christians are bigots that hate women, minorities and homosexuals." The church constantly fights bad press like this and to be honest, it probably deserves a little of it.
As Christians, we might need to apologize on some level for the times when we haven't been as accepting or understanding as we should be. It is a lot easier to judge someone than to love them. Judging and condemning is black and white. Loving people is messy. If anything, American Evangelicals have been too safe. And Jesus was anything but safe. We lost something somewhere along the way. At some point, some Christians stopped looking like Christ.
That's precisely Ms. Rice's issue. She is simply calling our bluff. You see, she made it very clear that, while she is giving up Christianity, she is keeping Jesus. My first question is, "is that even possible?" My initial response, is... um, maybe.
Keep in mind, the term "Christian" is only found a few times in the Bible. Jesus' message had nothing to do with forming an organized religion, swinging an election, or singling out a group of people and making it a priority to deny them of their goals. His message was more epic than that. It centered around repentance and had everything to do with the Kingdom of Heaven being real and present. So, can one simply remove all of the man-made baggage and just reduce the faith to Jesus? If so, I think that is what Ms. Rice is trying to do.
Don't fool yourself. We aren't in a position to judge her heart. I have no idea what her relationship with Jesus is like. For the sake of the argument, I'll assume that she has a genuine relationship with him. I hope that she does. And with that in mind, you could say that Ms. Rice is right. For a person in love with Jesus, it would be difficult to associate with people who do so much evil in his name. And she finally had enough.
But she is wrong about two things. First of which, she has a poor understanding of what Jesus was attempting to accomplish with the church. You see, I was never called us to a faith that was just "Jesus and me." To isolate yourself with Jesus, and from other believers, is a slippery slope. It is not heathy and might be the road Ms. Rice is walking down. I know it sounds very cavalier and even romantic (all I need is you Jesus, we say) but really goes against Jesus' wishes for his followers.
My guess is that Ms. Rice is not currently connected to a family of believers. If so, how could she walk away from the community? You can't pull the string out when it is so entangled with other believers. Additionally, it is a lot easier to bash millions of Christians when you don't know names and personal stories. With the appropriate distance, it's just a people group. And people groups don't have feelings.
Secondly, if a certain group of Christians are causing Ms. Rice to leave the religion, they are certainly not the Christians I know. They are just a minority. Yes, they are a loud minority but they are still outnumbered. While they may use his name, it is obvious that they do not follow the way of Jesus.
Jesus didn't carry picket signs. He carried a cross. So it should come as no surprise that the majority of Christians are not the ones hurling insults and locking people outside of the church. The majority of Christians look different than that. I know that to be true because I know them.
You see, the Christians I know are drilling wells in Zambia. The Christians I know are fighting to free young girls from the sex trade industry. The Christians I know forgive those who hurt them the most, even when the forgiveness could never be fully appreciated. The Christians I know are speaking truth, not through hurtful words, but through compassionate service. The Christians I know love their kids. The Christians I know help homeless veterans find work. The Christians I know tell the best stories. The Christians I know moved to Japan to share the gospel with those who haven't heard it. The Christians I know pray and mean it. The Christians I know live simply. The Christians I know recycle. The Christians I know aren't scared of constructive dialog. The Christians I know aren't scared to disagree. The Christians I know realize that our commonalities outweigh our differences. The Christians I know laugh. At themselves. The Christians I know voted for Obama. The Christians I know voted for McCain. The Christians I know are Biology teachers, nurses, stay at home moms, and preachers, and they are good at what they do. The Christians I know spend their money wisely and give most of it away. The Christians I know love as Christ loved the church.
The Christians I know aren't perfect. But they still look like Jesus.
I hope Ms. Rice gets a chance to meet some of the Christians I know.