E-pistle August 20

Vampires, Goats and the Death of the Church

You may have seen the headlines earlier in the month. Anne Rice, the novelist, says that she has quit Christianity. She announced her resignation in the regular way; she posted it on Facebook, the Wittenberg Chapel Door of our day. 
Anne Rice became famous as the author of Interview With A Vampire and all its sequels. Then in 1998 she gave up the creepy in a return to the Catholicism of her childhood. She continued to write, this time a new series called Christ the Lord, well received historical fiction based on the life of Jesus. The church, ever loving celebrity converts, embraced her completely.
But now Anne Rice has had enough of us. On her Facebook post she said, "I quit being a Christian. I'm out. 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. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
We need to listen to Anne Rice even as we may disagree with her and even as we find her announcement to be silly.
I want to say that I don’t want to be a part of an “anti” church either. I want to lift up all the “pro” work of the church – we are pro-life and pro-justice, pro-helping those in need and pro-caring for those in pain, pro-deep meaning and pro-joy that transcends circumstance. We are pro-forgiveness and pro-grace.
But the church is, and must always be, an “anti” church, as well. We must be anti-hypocrisy and anti-injustice, anti-oppression and anti-greed, anti-immorality and anti-selfishness. We must be anti-sin and anti-legalism.
Sometimes we get our antis and our pros mixed up. We are anti the right things and pro the wrong things. The church itself must continually confess its sin to the One who is our Lord and who calls us his bride. We have been unfaithful.
We need to listen to Anne Rice even if we disagree with her. (You can Google “Anne Rice” and get more hits than you can use. I would suggest this eminently fair Christianity Today interview and this careful response to her announcement.)
Anne Rice is not the only one I know who has quit Christianity while insisting they still love Christ. I meet them all the time; they were once members – some still are members – of LPC and other churches I love. They have not posted their resignations on Facebook, but, frankly, their reasons seem sillier and much more hurtful than Anne Rice’s.  

Here are some of the reasons the quitters give for quitting:

  • Sunday is the only day I have to sleep in
  • I have a house at the shore or in the mountains
  • I got out of the habit 
  • I had a bad experience with…
  • My child made the travel team
  • I just don’t get anything out of it anymore
  • The church is too political/not political enough for me
  • It doesn’t meet my needs
  • I, my, me

If any of you need another, maybe a better reason to quit, please see me. There are many. The church, Christianity, can be a very discouraging place. But branches die when they quit the vine. Fingers and toes and legs and arms rot when they resign from the body.
One of the greatly abused doctrines of the church states that “there is no salvation outside the church.” The Medieval Church used excommunication and the threat of hell to coerce all sorts of evil. But it is also a Presbyterian doctrine. Our PCUSA version of the Westminster Confession of Faith is more modest when it calls the church “the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God, through which men are ordinarily saved and union with which is essential to their best growth and service.” (6.141)
Why hang in there with the church? Because it is through the church and its witness, its people and it mission, that human persons are ordinarily saved. Indeed, the church is essential to our best growth and service.
When we quit the church for an extra hour of Sunday morning sleep, to nurse hurt feelings, to tan on the beach or fish on the lake, to indulge our over indulged children or rest our lazy minds – when we quit the church, we do ourselves, our world and our Lord great harm.
The Lord asks those on his left, “Where were you when I was sick, imprisoned, hungry, lonely, and in need? Where were you when I wanted to teach you and share my joy with you? Where were you when I needed to send you to do my work?” And they will answer, “It was the only day of the week I had to sleep in.”
I’d rather contend with vampires than with goats.