Friday, July 30, 2010

Anne Rice and Divorcing the Church

Anne Rice (who I didn't know existed until today) recently denounced Christianity. And to be honest, I completely understand why. In her words:

"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 quit being Christian. Amen."

I understand the sentiment, but in my opinion, the solution is all wrong. Christianity is complicated animal to say the least. It has been used as a staging ground for some of the most horrific displays of violence in history. And it has been the source of some of the most beautiful acts of compassion in recent history. When the Church is beautiful, we all want a seat in the pews. But when the Church becomes ugly it is only natural to ask, "What can I do?" And increasingly, the Christian answer has become: "Leave."

We can't continue to do this.

Though I agree with Anne Rice in "denouncing the antis," I disagree whole-heartedly with her solution. We as Christians have to stop seeing the church as a club that we can leave when we choose, and start seeing it as a family. Anne Rice decided to renounce Chrisianity because she didn't want to be anti-gay, anti-feminist, or anti-Democrat. But Christianity is none of these things. Christians are these things. More specifically, some Christians are these things. Christianity itself is not anti-gay, anti-feminist, or anti-Democrat. Christianity is based on the one crazy notion that humankind is estranged from God, and the only way back is through the salvific force of Christ's death on the cross. Everything else is secondary.

The fact is, I think some Christians are crazy. And most of those Christians, think I am crazy. But we have to stop seeing each other as warring sides, and start seeing each other (as G. K. Chesterton suggested) as ugly protrusions on an unshapely rock.

So what is the answer? What do I think we should do when we start worrying that our reputations will be ruined by being members of this ugly organism? My answer is to understand. Try to understand why some Christians are anti-gay. Try to understand why some Christians are anti-NIV, why some Christians are anti-tolerance, and why are some Christians are anti-Church. It's not enough to simply see that some Christians are this way, and divorce ourselves from them. We have to start asking why they believe these things in order to see what it is we hold in common.

There are Christians who say that you have to read the King James version of the Bible. I have to start understanding why they are saying this. Perhaps, they recognize that the Bible holds truth, and don't want to dilute that truth by making the Bible say whatever we want it to say. I admit, it is all too easy to misinterpret the Bible. But I disagree that we can safeguard against this pitfall by only accepting one translation. Regardless, I have to admit that the desire to preserve the truths of the Bible is a goal I am struggling toward as well.

There are Christians who say that homosexuality is a sin. I disagree with them, but I have to start understanding why they are so vehemently opposed to homosexuality. It's all to easy to claim that they are homophobes who want to oppress gays. The truth is, they courageously holding strong to an unpopular belief that they find in the Bible. I disagree with their interpretation, but agree that we must continue to consult the Bible, tease the truths out of it, and live unflinchingly by those truths. And honestly, I admire the courage it takes to stand up and champion a view that is so socially repugnant. It takes a lot of courage to look the world in the face and say, I know you're going to call me a demon, but this is what I believe. I have to start seeing why they behave like they do, and try to model that courage in my own way.

I personally do not believe in a fire and brimstone Hell, or a seven day creation, or the historical reality of the flood, or the Exodus from Egypt. I am not even certain of the historical reality of the miracles Christ performed in the Gospels. Many, many Christians disagree with me. But rather than hearing that I believe this and divorcing yourself from me, I want Christians to know why I believe this. I want Christians to understand that I believe in a God who works and speaks through human beings, and that the Bible is a terribly difficult book to read and interpret. And most of all, I want Christians to know that I think everything (even the resurrection) is secondary to the salvific force of the cross. I believe that Christ's death cleansed us of sin, and anyone who wants to become a child of God can—and must—do so through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

I know my ideas are not popular among so-called "conservative Christians," and the ideas of some "conservative Christians" are not persuasive to me. But the fact remains, we are all members of the same body. We are all black-sheep. The sooner we start learning from each other instead of pretending that we aren't related, the sooner the world will start learning from us. The Church as a whole is a complicated collection of people holding strangely opposing views, but the one view we all agree on, the belief that Jesus' death on the cross is our only means of unification with God, is the strangest belief indeed. This one idea is so dramatically counter-intuitive to everything we know about the world, that the difference between sprinkling and dunking a baby pales in comparison. As G. K. Chesterton said, "This is knowing not only that the earth is round, but knowing exactly where it is flat."


Mandy said...

Well written. Thanks for pointing me to Chesterton's chapter in Orthodoxy. I've tried to read that book before and couldn't hang with it, so it was nice to enjoy a bite-size piece. It has always amazed me how wise men of God can stand on such opposite sides of a fence. This idea of Christianity blooming within the strange confines of paradox is remarkable to me and full of grace and Truth. Even though I too agree with Anne on so many levels, what bothers me is that whether we flee the Church to save the "antis" or whether we flee the "antis" to save the Church, we are ignoring a piece of humanity that Christ died for. It seems strange to embrace one over the other. I tend to get more frustrated with Christians because I think, "They should know better. Don't they understand grace?" But in reading your thoughts and thinking through this, I see there can be as much pride in running away from the church as there can be in claiming the church is never wrong. Appreciate the discourse friend!

Joshua said...

I tend to get more frustrated with Christians because I think, "They should know better. Don't they understand grace?"

Totally understand.