Many of you have already read and digested the interview between prominent author Anne Rice and Christianity Today published last month. If you have not, I highly encourage you to read it. Rice is a woman of words who can express the hearts of so many who just can't get the words out.
She appears to have no cause or agenda to promote, just a telling of her personal story and continuing journey of faith. Her story, though, is a reflection of the hearts of untold masses in the United States, especially the South, and, therefore, a warning worth pondering. She hits a vein that could explode at any minute in a world no longer looking for the right answers but figuring out the right questions. It's a world hoping to find the lost God who is worthy of demanding our awe and receiving our love.
As you may recall, there was much hurrah ten years or so earlier when this atheist writer of vampire books "became a Christian." Now we have to decide what to do with her recent announcement: "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."
With one Facebook posting, the author has seemingly invited the wrath of organized evangelical religion and the cause-oriented, church-growth focused, denominational systems. In one fell swoop she has declared that there is nothing relevant, endearing, or authentic in the religious system to hold her in.
"I wanted my readers to know that I was stepping aside from organized religion and the names Christian and Christianity because I wanted to exonerate myself from the things organized religion was doing in the name of Jesus," she wrote. And I wept when I read that.
Oh, the things we do in the name of Jesus that must make Jesus weep. I envision a perplexed Son looking over to the Father with huge tears rolling down his cheeks saying, "Dad, I don't understand it. It's in my name they say those things, do those things, hate those people, build political parties and systematic theology that try to prove which people I love and which people I hate. And all I ever taught was that they should first love you and then love their neighbor. I even explained that the real indicator of being my follower was wrapped up in loving your enemies. What happened to my followers being known for love?"
Rice says, "Christians have lost credibility in America as people who know how to love. They have become associated with hatred, persecution, attempting to abolish the separation of church and state, and trying to pressure people to vote certain ways in elections." This last statement will hurt, but if you look deep within our religious systems you know she is right. And she says, "I wanted to make it clear that I did not in any way remain complicit with those things."
The interviewer from Christianity Today asked Rice, "What will it look like to follow Christ without being a part of the institutional church?" She responded, "The most important thing Christ demands of all of us is to love our enemies as much as our neighbors. That is the radical core of his teaching. If we do that, we can transform our lives.
"Christ reaches out to us individually. He's saying, 'Come, follow me; I am the way, the truth and the life.' These are beautiful things. I read Scripture every day, I study it every day, I'm mindful of it everyday. I don't claim to have the right interpretation of every passage, but I wrestle with it, and that's what I think he wants us to do...I feel called to declare that I am a believer. I have my bible, and I'm deeply committed to Christ. I don't contest people who do it the other way...I affirm my faith in Christ every time I get the chance. It's what transformed my life. I've affirmed it over and over again. I get occasional e-mails from people who say, 'How can you turn away from God?' But they just haven't Goggled."
I heard from a noted and internationally recognized theologian regarding this article and the comment was, "This might well be the shot fired across the bow." I would say we should heed the warning story of Anne Rice. Notice its timing and significance. This could be some of the best news we've heard in a long time for today's environment of change, where kingdoms are truly clashing, and the world is awakening to the reality that maybe the organized institutional church doesn't truly reflect the heart of Jesus' message and God's intent.
Maybe it's time to stop trying to be right and pretending that we are not sinners because we have passed a moral litmus test. Maybe it's time to admit we are in great need of a God who stirs an awe within us, a God who is love; a God who is faithful and loves each of us beyond our limited human comprehension.
Whether Ann Rice's letter is a warning shot across the bow of organized Christianity or a shot that will be heard around the world, or maybe even the cosmos, I am again filled with hope that the world can, through His Church, discover the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. A Kingdom that is supernatural, experientially relational, and where all the Law and the Prophets hang on loving God and loving man. Period.
David VanCronkhite David.VanCronkhite@gmail.com