If you've heard of Anne Rice, you've maybe heard that she has turned away from organized religion. She's not the first person to do this, nor will she be the last. For obvious reasons, though, her choice has capture the attention of many. If you go to her Facebook page you will find dozens and dozens of links that Anne Rice has posted - blog links, news-articles, TV interviews and other sources that comment on her decision to denounce her involvement with the Church.
I'm intrigued, as a pastor, by her choice. I've read several of her Vampire novels, and I read her Christ the Lord stories. Her provocative writing and subversive ideas fascinated and challenged me. It helped me understand where many people come from when they see the darkness of the world, a world void of God. I've never lived in that world, but she has, and she helped me empathize with those that have walked in that same valley of shadows.
When she announced twelve years ago her return to the Roman Catholic Church, of her embrace of the Lordship of Christ Jesus, of her renewed life with God, it was met with much rejoicing. A very interesting turn of events. But her encounters with the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, and her observations of the Christian denominations at work in the world caused her unbearable concern.
An intelligent woman who thoroughly researched the best and latest scholarship on the historicity of Jesus, as well as the theology of her childhood, she entered into the Faith aware. But the reality of the hierarchial Church and its pronouncements on social, political, cultural, scientific issues produced distress. She failed to make the connections between the teachings of Christ and the public announcements made by the Roman Catholic Church.
Many of the blogs and other articles have commented on her reasons for leaving, and have focused on the pros and cons of being in or out of a formal church community. I've read lots of articles, and I've not found many which focused on the actual issues that prompted her to walk away from religion. She's deeply loyal to Jesus Christ, but she can't in good conscience stay in the community. The point isn't really about whether she should or should not stay in the community. The more pertinent point is: how can the Church more wisely engage the world a public way about social, scientific, cultural, political, national, and global issues.
Anne Rice explained what the last straws were for her in rejecting religion while clinging to Christ - and it hinges on the failure of institutional Church leaders to wisely apply in her opinion the teachings of Jesus to the very modern and very complex dilemmas of our age. Anne Rice does not see the world the same way as the official Roman Catholic Church. She can't in good conscience support their conclusions about how the Church ought to respond to the AIDS epidemic, the role of women in religion, the rights of gays, the morality of birth control, etc. Anne Rice has articulated an informed response. Maybe she is very wrong. Maybe she is close to right.
What I like about Anne Rice's perspective is her insistence on the primacy of the teachings of Christ. It is her loyalty to Jesus that has instigated her rejection of organized Christianity. It is controversial. Let's face it, the Church and Science ought to improve their collaboration when it comes to health, the environment, technology, and explanations of how the world works. There is still a greater need for the Church and Society to enrich each other when it comes to morals, ethics, values, politics, art, the economy, community development, and war. Anne Rice is convinced that the Church can do better, and the path leads through the primacy of Christ's teachings itself. Not the primacy of the Pope. Nor the primacy of Protestant power-brokers.
The world is in darkness. Christ comes as the light. The Church - the institution and the vast number of individuals - needs men and women to critique it, to insist on less darkness, more Christ-light. As cultures continue to evolve, the Church must also labor relentlessly to minister in the age that it exists. The controversies will never end over the role of the Scriptures in shaping the decisions of the Church within society. Interpretation of the Scriptures is a vital task, and the conclusions we draw are never final. The more robust the discussion, the more vital the results. Maybe Anne Rice's public defection will further a wiser, more fruitful ministry of the Church in the world's third millennium since the resurrection of Christ.