Anne Rice not a Church-goer … then she is … now she's not …. What's up?
In light of Anne Rice’s recent announcement that she is leaving Christianity but holding onto Christ I am pondering the following:
What does it mean to react to vs respond to the Gospel, to God, to Christ, to Christianity?
What are the parallels, if any, between Anne Rice and the stance taken by Martin Luther centuries ago?
What does it mean to ‘leave’ a doctrine?
These are fantastic, articulate questions.
I brewed myself a strong cup of coffee, and sat down to settle into it.
1. Your distinction between “reacting” and “responding” intrigues me.
Reacting reminds me of what reptiles do well. They tend not to thoughtfully consider situations, options, motivations, and complexities.
Responding suggests more of an evaluated reply.
As I read the reports of Anne Rice’s departure with your question in mind, I found that on the surface she appeared to “respond.” She spoke of having deliberated for some time about this move, and that there was indeed wrestling involved.
However, her reasons for leaving were stunningly simplistic. To be sure, one can find examples of precisely what she is naming: sexism, prejudice against homosexuals, close-minded and dogmatic thinking.
But two thoughts came to mind:
a) that sort of thinking is surely also to be found in the secular world;
b) that sort of thinking is surely not to be found across the board within the Church.
I was struck with the irony that her decision came not long after my tradition, the ELCA, voted to welcome gays and lesbians in relationship. An interviewer brought this point up to her. She replied that although she was pleased with the vote, she needed to “walk away from the whole controversy, the whole conversation.”
I appreciate fatigue, truly I do. And I appreciate disgust even at the Church, truly I do.
But I don’t appreciate blanket statements so very much.
There is much that the Church has done and continues to do that deserves righteous indignation. But one appears awfully simplistic and judgmental if one suggests that these acts define the Church through and through, and that one somehow is above reproach enough to find something better….alone….without the interference of relating to others….because that always muddies the waters.
2. There are some parallels, I suppose, to Anne and Martin. Martin left because he thought that the pope usurped his appropriate powers, and he felt that the Church’s teachings were skewed.
But there are some key differences:
a) He did not want to leave. What he wanted to do, despite all of the muck and frustration and danger and anger, was to stick around and reform the Church.
b) Once he left, he did not retreat to a private corner, or shake the dust off of his shoes and blast the entire Church. He set out to build up a new way of being Church.
I really really understand why a person would want to leave the Church. The Church can be clumsy, capricious, and downright wrong.
But it is indeed hard to remain a Christian and not be part of a Christian community, for a couple of reasons.
a) Jesus did not just come for me. Jesus came for the entire world.
I respect a private faith as much as I respect indignation at the Church! There are good reasons to be so frustrated that one walks away! And there are good reasons to craft a deeply personal, private faith. That is not the point.
The danger is that one establishes an “exclusivity” with Jesus, and assumes that whatever one has going on privately with Jesus is way better than what those church-goers are up to, do the degree that one doesn’t need others for one’s own faith.
I’m not so convinced that that is true.
b) Connected with that is the reality that we are all fallible. Community (granted, a healthy community) helps us think through matters collectively and conversationally, so that one doesn’t become navel-gazingly arrogant.
See, I know of specific congregations who would largely agree with Anne Rice’s perspective, and I think that both she and these other gatherings of people suffer the loss of that possible relationship.
I must add, however, that there is a reason that denominations are suffering such attrition these days. We have too often made ourselves and our message irrelevant and/or archaic. Ann speaks a prophetic voice to us, and that ought not be missed in this dust-up.
3. There are reasons to leave certain doctrines and denominations which uphold them.
Although, as I’ve made clear in other blogs, I actively supported (and still do) the recent ELCA decision on the ordination of gays and lesbians in relationship, I understand better the grief and anger of those who are leaving if I imagine how I would respond were the ELCA to withdraw the validity of women’s ordination.
To be in relationship with anyone–person or institution–necessitates a fine balance of humility and principle.
If one concedes that no one–including oneself–is perfect, then one greets frustrating exchanges with more compassion and less haughtiness.
Still, there is a reason why I am ELCA Lutheran, and not Missouri Synod, for example, or Roman Catholic, or Jewish. There are some things I hold to be central, and the ELCA folks seem to resonate with my convictions more than do other traditions. So I suppose I have, to use your language, left those doctrines.
But were I to blast these other traditions with a wide swath of disgust, I would not only ensure that present conversations would cease, I would also guarantee that further conversations would be that much more difficult.
And I would do a fine job of making clear that I am certain that I cannot be wrong, and am always right…or at least on balance right-er than these other misguided or ignorant people in the other pews.
So. A first run at your question(s).
In short, I have felt most every one of Anne Rice’s frustrations. But I’m not sure that leaving the Church with a generalized Pox on the House is helpful, accurate, or fair.
I’m eager to hear if you have some follow-up!