The best-selling novelist of books on vampires and witches, Anne Rice, announced on her Facebook page last week that she was quitting Christianity, abandoning her Christian faith and keeping Christ.
Given her celebrity status, having sold almost 100 million book copies, Anne Rice's announcement has sparked a debate about whether one can leave Christianity and keep Christ, Parham observes.
"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," she wrote.
"When does a word (Christian) become unusable?" asked the former atheist, who converted to Catholicism in 1998. "When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?"
Rice told National Public Radio this week that she did not make her decision because her son is a gay activist.
"From the beginning, I've had gay fans, and gay readers who felt that my works involved a sustained gay allegory," Rice said. "I didn't set out to do that, but that was what they perceived. So even when Christopher was a little baby, I had gay readers and gay friends and knew gay people, and lived in the Castro district of San Francisco, which was a gay neighborhood. And so my experience with gay people long preceded Christopher coming out of the closet and becoming a gay novelist."
Rice told NPR, "Certainly I will never go back to being that atheist and that pessimist that I was. I live now in a world that I feel God created, and I feel I live in a world where God witnesses everything that happens... That's a huge change from the atheist I was when I wrote the vampire novels."
Given her celebrity status, having sold almost 100 million book copies, Rice's announcement has sparked a debate about whether one can leave Christianity and keep Christ.
From my vantage point, one can't separate Christ from Christ's community, called Christians.
At its best, Christianity serves as a community of vigorous discernment centered on Jesus that guards its members from a privatized faith and compels them to seek through self-sacrifice and service the good of all for the glory of God.
The first time that Christ's disciples were called Christians was in Antioch (Acts 11:26-30). These Christians were part of a community who upon hearing about a famine "determined that according to their ability, each would send relief." They acted based on what they had learned about Jesus Christ's story and acted through an existing community to help those in need.
At its worst, Christianity has been used to do evil. It has often served as a thin religious veneer over culture. Call it cultural Christianity. The vast majority of Americans identify themselves as being Christian without really practicing what Jesus mapped out in his inaugural sermon (Luke 4:18-19), taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and spelled out in the Great Commandment to love neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).
Cultural Christianity takes two contemporary forms. One is the self-centered individualism in which the individual decides what it means to be religious or spiritual or faithful. It's the religion of the Lone Ranger.
While Rice has rejected Christianity, she claims allegiance to Christ. But who is Christ for her? She wants a Christ in whom she can pour her own definition. She vaults individualism above community, surely an expression of self-centered religion.
The other form is theocratic nationalism in which conservatives misuse Christianity to justify their anti-everything agenda – anti-women, anti-science, anti-social justice, anti-action on climate change. Rice appears to reject this form of cultural Christianity, the religion used to maintain the status quo that allows for injustice and breeds prejudice.
At this junction, I hear what Rice is saying. I, too, lament the fact that too many Christians and too many churches facilitate too much hate and harm in the name of Christ.
But I also bemoan those who would justify their anti-Christian rhetoric based on the worst examples of Christian statements and behavior. These folk practice the very prejudice and deception that they criticize in others. They universalize the actions of fringe groups or rigid positions of some churches to all Christians.
Would that Rice and others remembered Jesus' teaching about removing the plank from their own eye before they criticized the splinter in the eye of others.
Having renounced Christianity by defining it in the negative, perhaps now Rice can post a statement on her Facebook page about the plank in her own eye.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. A portion of this editorial appeared earlier on the Washington Post's "On Faith" Web page.