Announcing on her Facebook page that she was doing it "in the name of Christ," author Anne Rice told fans last week that she was giving up Christianity.
If you are a Christian, take offense at her public remark, and are prepared to write her off as either someone who must not have been a believer in the first place or just another angry celebrity denouncing Jesus, hold on for a moment.
Anne Rice has sold over 75 million books. Best known for Interview With a Vampire and other Gothic novels, she had renounced the Roman Catholic religion of her youth at 18. As an adult, she not only became a successful writer but also lost her five-year-old granddaughter to leukemia and numbed her pain for years afterward as an alcoholic. Following surgery and a diabetic coma that almost took her life, she renewed her commitment to the Catholic faith in 1998.
Since that recommitment and its public documentation in 2008 with Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, she has dedicated herself to "glorifying God" and launched a series of Christ the Lord books. So what gives here? Has she decided God doesn't exist? Jesus was a fraud? The Bible is a myth? Hardly!
In her posting last Wednesday, she said she refused to be anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-science, anti-artificial birth control, anti-Democrat. Here is the crux: "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 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."
She followed up the next day with this: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I don't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers."
The 68-year-old writer is neither despairing of nor denouncing Christ. She is trying to find a way to articulate her despair over hateful attitudes, unreasoning postures, mean-spirited behaviors, and un-Jesus-like actions in history by people who have invoked his name over evils ranging from anti-Semitism to child abuse, from Klan cross-burnings to televangelist sex-and-money scandals.
No less than Karl Barth wrote: "Religion is the great enemy of God." Indeed, more evil has been perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional power across the centuries of human history.
Rice hasn't committed blasphemy. She has stated the obvious and joined the ranks of Isaiah, Amos, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul to say that authentic faith must be purged of ignorance, hatred, denial, and hypocrisy.
Despite denunciations sure to come, she has merely spoken the truth.
Rubel Shelly has preached for the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville since 1978. During that time, he has also taught at David Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. To contact Rubel or to subscribe to his newsletter, Fax of Life, send email to faxOfLife@woodmont.org