article

08.02.10

Anne Rice's Christianity Crisis

The Facebook announcement by bestselling author Anne Rice that she has “quit Christianity” has set off a firestorm among believers. But many in Christian circles are sympathetic. Kirsten Powers reports.

Anne Rice just gave Christianity the pink slip.

In 1998, the legendary author had returned to her childhood faith of Catholicism, announcing she would no longer pen vampire novels but instead "write to glorify God." Last week, she announced she had "quit Christianity."

In a posting on her Facebook page, she 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. 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."

I feel your pain, sister.

Like Rice, I developed a deep faith later in life and, like her, I brought with me liberal views that aren't normally associated with devout Christians. I also brought a dim view of organized religion, and a particular hostility to evangelicals, who I viewed as anti-intellectual bigots. The truth is, had I known the day I tagged along with a new boyfriend to his church, that it was evangelical—and not merely Presbyterian—I would never have set foot in the place. But I did, and as much as I tried to resist, my life was ultimately radically altered. With time, I came to call that church my spiritual home and today many of my closest friends are evangelicals who have turned my stereotypes on their head.

Nonetheless, Rice's story is all too familiar to me, and I suspect many other people. American churches are too often hotbeds of intolerance and cruel condemnation.

Although she says she hasn't abandoned religion, Rice herself says that other Christians have told her that she isn't a real Catholic; that she isn't really saved; that she is going to Hell, and that she should stop misleading people and leave the church. "My commitment to [God] is as firm as it ever was," she told me. "I want to keep that commitment front and center in my life. But I have to walk away from the churches. The anger and frustration becomes so toxic that you have to conclude this is coming between me and God, and I can't let that happen. I can't follow his followers."

This is reminiscent of what Mahatma Gandhi once said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Or, in the words of another famous Christian, U2 frontman Bono, who said: "Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit."

But there is an alternative.

I was fortunate to get plugged into a community who take their faith seriously but have rejected the epidemic among devout Christians of spiritualizing conservative politics. Many of them are leaders in a new movement that seeks to restore the faith to its original purpose, which—believe it or not—isn't to elect Republicans or trash gay people. (In the same way, it isn't about electing Democrats or fighting for middle-class tax cuts.)

One emerging leader is Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist pastor, who grew up in the bosom of conservative Christianity; his father was the president of the Southern Baptist convention and Merritt graduated from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. "I am finding disillusionment with Christianity in America," said Merritt, who just released, Green Like God—Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Christianity "has become so bogged down with cultural baggage that it has marginalized its followers. I know exactly how Anne feels: that Christianity has been hijacked."

Gabe Lyons, another Liberty University graduate, agrees. Lyons founded two influential Christian organizations, Catalyst and the Q Forum, which regularly bring together hundreds of young Christian leaders. Rice is actually in line with those decades younger than her, Lyons said, pointing to research that his organization has done that show young people between the ages of 16 and 29 see Christianity as "anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, and too political in alarming numbers."

Lyons, the author of UnChristian, added that he was pleased that Rice "was able to see the difference that so many others never do—that is, that Jesus was none of the above. The true Christian faith has never been about the points she refutes."

American Christianity is suffering from a hangover from decades of indoctrination by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a host of other religious leaders who falsely cloaked right-wing Republicanism in biblical principles. Worse, these leaders modeled the decidedly un-Christian behavior of treating certain groups with contempt. Even if Robertson et al. were actually justified in viewing liberals, gays, feminists, and Muslims as their enemy, their response is simply not rooted in Scripture. (See, for example, "love your enemies" and "bless those who persecute you.")

A popular bumper sticker—"I love Jesus but I hate his fan club"—reflects this growing frustration with the church among devout Christians. Something needs to change, or more Anne Rices are going to walk away. Says Merritt, who hopes Rice will reconsider her divorce from the church: "We need people like Anne Rice in the church. If she leaves, where will we find the prophetic voices that call the church back to what Jesus would want it to be?" Great question.

Kirsten Powers is a political analyst on Fox News and a writer for the New York Post. She served in the Clinton Administration from 1993-1998 and has worked in New York state and city politics. Her writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Observer, Salon.com, Elle magazine and American Prospect online.