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Anne Rice & community

One of the latest bombs to be dropped on the Christian world came last week when novelist Anne Rice announced on Facebook (where else?), that "Today I quit being a Christian." She went on to explain, "In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science.  In the name of Christ I quit Christianity and being a Christian."

Other remarks made it clear that this is a Jesus /yes, Church /no, situation (Rice was a Catholic). Rice said, "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." In other words, Jesus is great, but not organized religion.      
Just yesterday I read something written by a Christian leader praising Rice without qualification.  "She is trying to find a way to articulate her despair over hateful attitudes, unreasoning postures, mean-spirited behaviors, and un-Jesus-like actions in history by people who have invoked his name over evils ranging from anti-Semitism to child abuse, from Klan cross-burnings to televangelist sex-and-money scandals." He then added, "She has stated the obvious and joined the ranks of Isaiah, Amos, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul to say that authentic faith must be purged of ignorance, hatred, denial, and hypocrisy."

Okay, enough quotes, but I wanted to put everything into context.

I would imagine there’s not a person (Christian or not), who doesn’t sympathize with Rice to some degree. Christians aren’t what they should be. Churches aren’t what they should be. But not only is that not news, (it’s the equivalent of saying that AA is filled with people who have a problem with alcohol) --- most Christians and churches are at the forefront of this acknowledgement. They are admitted sinners! They are sinners in the midst of ongoing reform --- not a one is a finished product or claims to be! To paint all Christians and all churches with the hypocrisy or judgmental brush is grossly inaccurate and I don’t understand how doing so puts someone in the company of the prophets, apostles, and Jesus.  They were discerning. They weren’t against everyone --- only the pretenders!

When someone says that they are disappointed with some aspect of the faith community, it’s hard for me not to classify this with complaints about lawyers, doctors, bankers, (insert your profession), etc. We all get disappointed from time to time, but dropping out isn’t the answer. First of all, we need to maintain our connection because we will still need the services each provides (a fundamental aspect of community). But beyond that, we belong to each other, and because that is true we have a responsibility to try to help change whatever is wrong. To run away from community is to run away from ourselves.

The church at Corinth was hardly a model (of anything good), but you won’t find Paul counseling anyone to disassociate themselves from that congregation. To make membership in a community contingent upon meeting our personal standards is pagan according to Jesus (Matthew 5:46-47). It was also He who said that our witness to the world that we belonged to Him was our love of each other (John 13:34-35). You cannot separate Jesus from His community. To speak against His community in a wholesale way is to speak against Him! He told the church ravaging Saul of Tarsus that it was Him he was really persecuting (Acts 9:4).

I find it more than ironic that in a culture where the supreme virtue is tolerance --- these acts of intolerance are publicized and lauded by so many. It’s as if they are saying, "I’m not tolerating what I perceive to be your intolerance." Again, the vision of community that is being espoused by such actions goes back to accepting those who are like you. That’s not exactly novel and definitely not the way of Christ.

The church isn’t perfect, but its Lord is! And He has been bringing imperfect people together for 2,000 years. Community is possible (our world is no more diverse than the first century), but it is hard work. It takes lots of love in the form of patience, humility, and acceptance. They did it in the first century (despite the pretenders), and I refuse to believe that we can’t do it today.
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