August 4, 2010
Ann Rice has recently declared in her blog (with thanks to Scott May and the Episcopal Café):
“For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. 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. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
“As I said below, 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.”
There have been a flurry of responses including a group ‘welcoming her to the UCC’ and a copy cat effort to tell her that the Episcopal Church is where she needs to be. It does seem that most people think that what she is really leaving is the Roman Catholic Church.
The various comment streams that I have seen on this suggest that there are many people who feel as she does about the Church but who do not seem to talk about worship or community. Being connected to a community that has deep disagreements in its midst about social and ethical issues also means recognizing that we are all creatures of God. Many commentators sympathize with Ms. Rice’s need to be clear about who she has been created to be without being told that she is wrong on every front by Christians who seem to ‘know better’ and who on every front appear to be ‘hypocritical’.
Even Ms. Rice and those who sympathize with her appear to be falling into the trap of those whom they are rejecting and that is assuming that ‘The Truth’ is both singular and obvious. We live in a series of interconnected and sometimes conflicting imaginative worlds shaped by philosophy, science, the arts and so on. ‘Humanity’ is not the same post Galileo or Descartes or Einstein as it was before them. But it takes a long time for the consequences of such insights to become normative in any sense and then, in time, be supplanted by new movements. All of them affect people of faith along with everyone else.
The consequence of this is that Christian Community becomes a very visible place in which those major shifts in perception are navigated thoughtfully and critically (and often with much weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth). It is not always fun and there are usually power games being played in the process as one group or another seeks to ‘hang on’ to their sense of security and place in the world, fearing that some shift will shake them up. This will be particularly true with any issue that is in any sense ‘ethical’ because in the end, ethics are deeply personal and none of us really like our worlds being shaken. ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell’ is a compromise that we live with and prefer in many spheres because it means that we can hang on to whatever structures we live within (usually the ‘values’ we were taught in our formative years) without having to make difficult shifts.
In one example: a recent conversation in our staff about how to be more conscious of our using an expanded range of images and language for talking about God and humanity will mean that our children won’t have to do the difficult work of ‘undoing’ or ‘unlearning’ things we have taught them.
So while I wish Ms. Rice well, I choose to stay among people who are gathering around the Communion Table each week in the midst of hearing an enacting the story of what is of true and ultimate worth, together seeking and allowing our lives to be shaped by what really matters, even re cognizing that there are frequently deep disagreements among us about how we would like the world to be. In the end, our common humanity is more ‘real’ tan our differences, but our differences and how we deal with them can have a great deal to do with our (sometimes unwitting) inhumanity to each other.