Anne Rice Leaves Christianity

There has been some buzz on the blogs about Anne Rice, most famous for her vampire stories (which inspired the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt/Kirsten Dunst film, Interview with the Vampire), has renounced Christianity. Though it appears she hasn’t renounced Christ. She grew up a Roman Catholic, renounced it, and came back. She even once shared the stage with former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. Now, she says that she can no longer be ‘anti-gay’ and ‘anti-feminist’, so she is leaving the church.

I admit that I am heartbroken for Ms. Rice. Long before she came back to the church, I became of a big fan of her vampire chronicles. I even loved Memnoch the Devil, one that wasn’t as critically acclaimed because of her long discussions of theology. I could see her trying to work out so much of what she believed, and it challenged me at the same time. She is such a gifted story-teller, and I was estatic to hear that she had come back to the Christian faith.

My friend Wyman pointed to a fantastic reflection by Russell Moore of Southern Seminary, and it sums up (in ‘Anne Rice Hasn’t Betrayed You’) what I believe our reaction to Ms. Rice’s announcement can be and what our hope for her needs to be:

Anne says she still loves Jesus but she doesn’t love Christianity. Yes, I know that it is impossible to love Jesus without loving his church. I’ve preached that for years, and I still believe it. But can’t you see how someone could wrestle against that? I am thankful that I had been a Christian long enough to have gained some kind of maturity before I saw just how vicious “Christianity” can be.

I think it ought to instruct us here as to how Jesus handled situations like these. Jesus was fierce in his denunciation of those with power, including religious and ecclesial power. He never shied away from confronting personal sin in anyone, including the wounded and vulnerable, but he did in a completely different way. Think of the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the demonized villagers, and on and on. Jesus never snuffs out that smoldering wick, never breaks that bruised reed. And it’s because he loves.

Yes, Anne Rice has renounced Christianity. Maybe it’s a permanent move away from the gospel, showing that she never quite made it all the way into communion with Christ. If so, let’s represent Christ and continue to point her to the Jesus she finds in some way mystifying. It could be that Anne is a Christian who is having a wave of doubt and rejection. So did the Apostle Peter, who also renounced Christianity and, as a matter of fact, cursed Jesus personally in the process. But when Jesus finds Peter in Galilee (right back on the fishing boats where he’d been called from in the first place!), he never even mentions the incident at the fireside.

That sums up what I would want to say. I do hope Ms. Rice can find an expression of Christian community where she will meet the Christ she has come to know.

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15 thoughts on “Anne Rice Leaves Christianity

  1. Good grief, I really hate this theology – is this the stuff coming out of Duke???? – that seems to conflate the mystical church with the human manifestation of church.

    Although I’m committed to the human manifestation of church, I don’t really blame Ms. Rice one bit. We are most certainly against a gospel that preaches that God sees gay and straight people as equal. And there is a good deal of people in the human manifestation of church who think that women are inferior to men.

    It IS difficult to preach a gospel of inclusion. Ms. Rice is right. Maybe we need to look at ourselves instead of pointing the finger at her.

    It most certainly IS possible to love Christ and to decide that one can no longer give one’s “yes” to the human manifestation of church.

  2. Pam: Wow, Pam, I have touched a nerve and don’t really know where to begin! I am not often on the receiving end of you like this.

    Other than the swipe against Duke, I think I see where you are coming from. I’m not sure that Moore is advocating what you’re criticising. Anne Rice has never made it a secret that she is pro-gay and pro-women. I thought that for a Southern Baptist to still take on board that she had encountered Christ genuinely while believing those things has to factor into the article. Also, the entire article indicates that one can encounter Christ even while not in the church, but his hope is that she will return instead of simply renouncing Christianity. Nor did I see Moore condemn her to hell, but simply reminded us of those who went beyond renouncing the church and renounced Christ himself (Peter). I think he is trying to say, look how that turned out.

    Moore used the language of ‘dark night of the soul’ for what she may be experiencing. A phrase associated with John of the Cross, so I wouldn’t say he’s discounting her at all.

    In any case, I think Moore wrote the article to say what you said – do not point the finger at her. Perhaps he said it in such a way you find objectionable.

    Perhaps I would not have said what he did in the same way. I think he is trying to say there is a unique relationship between Christ and the human manifestation of church. I don’t think the yes to Christ and yes to the human manifestation are as easily separable as you do. I believe Christ draws us to himself and with that to others. We can all experience those ‘dark nights’ when we feel isolated from the church and that’s ok. I don’t think we give up hope for a reconciliation.

  3. I didn’t mean to take a swipe at Duke. I honestly don’t understand the Dukian ecclesiology and I’m trying to figure it out. It seems very Roman Catholic: outside the church is no salvation. But I have no idea if that’s a correct idea because people seem to assume that understand it and when I say “Is it this?” they seem to get upset that I’ve got it wrong. It’s an honest question: what is this ecclesiology? It’s not one I heard in the UK.

    I took the statement that it is impossible to love Jesus without loving the church. “Impossible” didn’t seem to leave a lot of room for differing opinions. I’ve seen two people renounce Jesus because they were convinced about this impossibly. That’s why this ecclesiology worries me.

  4. I didn’t so much take offence at your comment about Duke as I didn’t understand it. It’s usually a question I get from conservatives who use it to accuse me of being a liberal. That didn’t make sense coming from you.

    I have heard about the Duke ecclesiology, and I am not really able to define it. Perhaps it has rubbed off without me realising.

    I did learn a strong emphasis on community, in which the calling to Christ goes with the calling to community. That’s why I see the two ‘yeses’ as inseparable.

    I can’t explain what Moore meant by ‘impossible’. But, I can understand that a rejection of the church is at least partially a rejection of Jesus. That’s why I agree with his conclusion that the hope is ultimately for reconciliation. Perhaps it can’t happen in this lifetime, though.

  5. Will, I’m all for community and I can totally understand how working together to support fellow disciples, to understand them and to reconcile with them is an important function of the human manifestation of church.

    However, in the US, I see an awful lot of alignment of the human manifestation of church with the Kingdom of God. To give to the church is to give to God; to give to other helping endeavors is to help, but not to give to God. When the church fails us then God has failed us.

    To me, the human manifestation of church will always be a group of fallible human beings who profess Jesus as Lord and who have not yet reached perfection. In my view – and I guess this might be oddly conservative – the church will never perfect itself so as to bring in the Kingdom. Only God will do that.

    So I don’t think it’s impossible to follow Christ outside the Church although I do think that it’s giving up the practice of discipleship, in some senses.

  6. I think I can more or less agree with your first, third, and fourth paragraph! I would still say there is a much stronger connection between the human manifestation of the church. Somehow, I can’t let go of following Christ and being part of the church, however fallible. I’m not judging Anne Rice (at least in the sense of condemning her – I do understand the feelings of wanting to leave the church at times).

    As far as your second paragraph, it’s not so much that I disagree is that’s not been my experience. I came from a very individualistic form of conservative evangelicalism that stressed the kingdom of God as heaven and attaining it on death. Perhaps that’s where what I learned at Duke struck a chord and that’s what I fight against (i.e., the overly individualistic forms of Christianity).

  7. Will and Pam,

    In trying to grasp this conversation, may I interject an honest question concerning the term “the human manifestation of the church”? “Human manifestation” as opposed to what exactly? Do you mean a “merely humanly manifested group calling themselves a church” as in, for instance, a club (i.e., in fact a non-church)? I’m just wondering what the alternative to the qualified definition of “church” you’ve given here is, unless you are contrasting it with an idea of “the church” eschatological or somesuch…but even then, it is humanly manifested right?

    I’ve been at youth camp all week and my brain is fried, so help me out here! 🙂

    Thanks.

    Wyman

  8. Do you mean a “merely humanly manifested group calling themselves a church” as in, for instance, a club (i.e., in fact a non-church)?

    Yes.

    As in (made up example) “Give 10% of your income to the church and you will be giving to God. If you give 5% of your income to The Red Cross you’re cheating God out of 5%”.

    As in “I am fed up that the XYZ denomination won’t endorse marriage for gays and equality for women so I am leaving the XYZ denomination and ceasing to call myself a Christian and calling myself simply a follower of Christ”.

    As in “I was hounded out of my church by a powerful lay cabal because I didn’t believe in the Rapture. If this is the way the church treats its servants, then I don’t want to have anything to do with the church and I’m ceasing to call myself a Christian and calling myself simply a follower of Christ”.

  9. On the Duke ecclesiology:

    Stanley Hauerwas likes to provoke controversy by saying there is no salvation outside the church. Overall, the Dukies put a great emphasis on the community. I sometimes think in reading them that they put too much weight on the shoulders of this gathering of sinners we call the church.

    It is almost like a reverse Niebuhrian move. Niebuhr argued that individuals could be saved, but human groups were always prone to evil. The Dukies – who have no love of Niebuhr – seem to imagine that in groups humans can achieve a level of sanctification that they cannot attain as individuals.

  10. I am still mystified as to how Duke came into this (other than that is the seminary I attended). But, I don’t think Duke’s position can be entirely equated with Stanley Hauerwas. Yes, he is a strong influence there, but I only took one class from him. My ecclesiology came from Richard Hays and Geoffrey Wainwright (who introduced me to NT Wright and Lesslie Newbigin). I don’t think any of those four would count themselves as Hauerwasian. But, they do (or in Newbigin’s case, did) place a lot of importance on community. As I said in my own journey, I think they were speaking primarily to a part of the church who believed in a ‘It’s just me and Jesus’ evangelicalism and all that mattered was my personal salvation. The emphasis from the four I mention is that Jesus came to start a community, not simply provide a way to heaven.

    Perhaps we do say that sanctification comes as being a part of the community. But I fail to see how this is radically different from what Wesley taught.

  11. Perhaps we do say that sanctification comes as being a part of the community. But I fail to see how this is radically different from what Wesley taught.

    I agree with you regarding Wesley and I agree with you regarding community.

    I simply don’t believe that the human manifestation of church is going to bring in the Kingdom. And I don’t believe that when people leave it because we have failed to be fully Christian that they have abandoned Christ.

  12. No, they haven’t necessarily abandoned Christ, but in leaving the church (which is necessarily manifested humanly with all the human foibles that come in the package) for the green pastures of “my own personal Jesus,” they are doing something profoundly tragic, right? Unless they are then reuniting with a more faithful communion. I mean, surely we can agree that the abandonment of the church itself is a very serious error if it is being abandoned for the Lone Ranger Christendom of the self?

    And, again, when we say we’re leaving “the human manifestation of the church,” why don’t we just go ahead and say we’re leaving “the church” (assuming, of course, that we mean we’re “abandoning all human manifestations of the church.”)? On this side of Heaven, what else is there but the human manifestation of the church? (I’m still not getting these qualifiers. They don’t help.)

    There are lots of ecclesial fellowships I would have to walk away from in good conscious. What I could not do, however, is proclaim myself free from the nuisance of the fallen-and-struggling communion of saints so that “Jesus and me” could walk off into the sunset unfettered by the inconveniences of other Christians and their problems. Unless, of course, we’ve become apostles of Harold Camping and just proclaim the whole thing apostate…except for our own particular approach to Jesus. But then we just end up with “The First Church of Me.”

    I hope and trust, btw, that this is not what Rice is saying. And charity demands that I assume it isn’t. But IF it is, then it is a very serious mistake.

    Furthermore, my own understanding of my own heart and my own sinfulness makes it more and more difficult for me to write off “those Christians over there who aren’t following Jesus as they should” (my quotes)…at least not until I’m following Him as I should.

    Sorry this was so long.

  13. Wyman, I totally agree with your views on community and church.

    However, speaking as someone who was informally excommunicated from the church of my birth, I also know that it can be difficult to try to stick around when people don’t want you there.

    Furthermore, my own understanding of my own heart and my own sinfulness makes it more and more difficult for me to write off “those Christians over there who aren’t following Jesus as they should” (my quotes)…at least not until I’m following Him as I should.

    Which is why I don’t want to write off people who leave the Church either.

  14. WOW! Interesting dialogue. Can anyone join in?

    Couple of quick thoughts while ploughing through…… isn’t the Church, all who follow Christ and become “the body of Christ”? rather than a denomination or building? So maybe it is impossible to leave…..
    Secondly, I was taught that you can be a Christian and not belong to a church just as you can be a really good footballer and not play in a team…. (I think that translates to American) but why would you?
    I am pro-gay and pro-feminist and a Christian working full time for the Methodist church. I don’t feel the need to leave. Should I?

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