Anne Rice

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Anne Rice says she is tired of the hypocrisy of the church and has decided to leave Christianity, but keep Christ. This attitude is so typically American since it reflects the influence of radical individualism on American religion. With the end of the hegemony of the Anglican Church after the American Revolution the Second Great Awakening began in the last decade of the eighteenth century; it continued through the first decade of the nineteenth century. It was this movement that made the United States a national characterized by individualistic Evangelical Protestantism. The religion of the frontier emphasized individual salvation and an individual decision for Christ. It is a short step to invite people, as Southern Baptists often do, to “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.” It is an even shorter step from this position to claim that a relationship with Jesus is wholly personal and that institutional Christianity is, at best, optional.

There are a number of difficulties with an overly individualistic religion. First, it ignores the fact that human beings are intrinsically social creatures–as Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a political [i.e., social, M.P.] animal.” To separate Christ from a Christian community is to separate Christ from the social aspect of human nature. Second, individualism encourages doctrinal chaos. If each individual accepts Christ on his own terms, then each individual can mold Christ into his own image. Often, this image is of a Jesus who tells us to “love each other and be nice to each other.” But as Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas has noted, if all Jesus said was for us to be nice to each other, “then why the h..l did they crucify him!?” In part, Jesus was crucified because of claims like he made in the Gospel of John, where He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This statement would have been clear to a first century Jew–Jesus was claiming to be God. It was that claim that helped get Jesus crucified, not some general message about love.

Anne Rice has made no secret that she does not agree with all the statements of the Roman Catholic Church regarding sexual ethics. Rice believes that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, a position opposite to that of the Roman Catholic Church. If she really believes that the church’s moral teaching is wrong, then the only way for her to have integrity and follow her conscience would be to leave the church. But that does not imply that the church’s teaching is incorrect; a good natural law argument can be made against the moral acceptability of homosexual practice, and it is clear that the Biblical witness as well as church tradition opposes homosexual practices. As far as Rice’s claim that church leaders are hypocritical–this is no different than any other organization, secular or religious. It is not a good reason to leave the church.

Sometimes I believe that the increasing secularization of American society might be a blessing in disguise for the Christian Church. Many Americans go to church only because it is socially good for them. If it becomes less socially obligatory to go to church, those such as Rice, who do not wish to abide by the church’s precepts, can leave. Then the church will be like it was in the era before Constantine in the fourth century, when those claiming to be Christian were serious about their faith.

Although not everyone accepts Biblical authority, the New Testament is the earliest written witness to Jesus’ teaching and the beliefs of His earliest followers. From a Biblical point of view, it makes no sense to say “Jesus yes, the church no.” St. Paul says that Christ purchased the church with His own blood; so if one rejects the church, one rejects Christ’s blood, a key part of the Christian doctrine of redemption. In addition, St. Paul calls the church “the bride of Christ,” so to reject the church is to reject the church’s husband, Christ Himself. One cannot separate a head from the body anymore than one can separate Christ, the Head, from the Church, His body.

Anne Rice may say she is a follower of Jesus–and in some ways, she may be if she loves her neighbor as herself and focuses on loving God with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind. However, part of the experience of loving others, including loving difficult people, is in the context of community. What better place to exercise such love than the community of sometimes flawed, sometimes exacerbating, yet often loving, Christians.