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Can You Really “Follow Christ” and “Quit Christianity”? — #2

The worst part of a big family are some of the people in it — eccentric uncles, hypercritical aunts, lewd grandpas, and gloomy cousins; there are divorcees, perverts, swindlers, and moralists. Yep, every family has its weirdos. And make no mistake about it: God’s family is BIG. So big that, in the Book of Revelation, it is described as “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9).

Can you imagine the number of weirdos in a group that size?

Several years ago, my essay “The Ark” received the Editors Choice Award for Issue 2.3 Issue of Relief Journal. It is a bittersweet chronicle of my time in the ministry and why I left. Throughout, I used Noah’s ark as a metaphor for what the Church is like. Here’s an excerpt:

Author Frederick Buechner wrote that God chooses “…for his holy work in the world… lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and holier-than-thous and stuffed shirts and odd ducks and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists.” I had never mistaken God’s family for the Cleaver clan, but becoming the default arbiter between the Beave and Wally got to be taxing. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that I could recite Calvin’s Tulip from memory, articulate eschatological timelines, and construct a killer three-point sermon. I also had to indulge a dysfunctional flock.

But is any flock not?

Perhaps a more seasoned minister would have been unfazed by the tedium. But the nagging drip of discontent and indifference, petty squabbles and cultural quirks, became like water torture, with each successive droplet eroding my inspiration. Like the crew on Noah’s ark, I spent a lot of time shoveling shit.

If you’ve been a Christian for any time, you must admit that some parts of the Church reek. I think that’s what Anne Rice, in part, was reacting to. Whether it’s a televangelist pronouncing the end of the world or a militant calling for the execution of homosexuals, things are often done and said in the name of Christ that are a flat-out embarrassment. Face it: Apologizing for people on the fringe is a regular part of the Christian life.

Just like it is part of a big family.

Of course, some will say that ALL mainstream Christians are extremists. But while that caricature may add strength to their argument, it’s just not true. Besides, is it right to respond to the fringe by leaving the fold? Which is precisely what some in the “Follow Christ / Quit Christianity” crowd suggest to do.

Despite this, if Anne Rice is really a Christian it is impossible for her to really “quit Christianity.” She might “quit” the institutions and organizations that claim to represent Christianity. She could stop publicly identifying herself as a Christian. Yet a genuine Christian can no more leave the Body of Christ than I can free myself from my biological family. Sure, I can move to another continent, change my name, and break off all communication with my siblings. But I can never, ever, change my genetic makeup.

The only way for someone to really leave Christianity is if they were never really part of the family. (And before you start teeing off on me — I’m not inferring Anne Rice isn’t a Christian.)

And here’s something else: The person who quits Christianity to follow Christ is forced to construct their own individual version of Christianity. By renouncing this version or that version of Christianity they are, in fact, defining what they think Christianity should look like. But this can become a slippery enterprise. I mean, are we the individual arbiters of what it means to follow Jesus? Like it or not, “quitting Christianity” to “follow Christ” tells me as much about your version of Christianity as the versions you are rejecting.

And just to further irritate the matter, it always amazes me that those who reject Christianity because of the nuts on the fringe, do not apply the same measurement to those on their side. Take for instance the gay divide. Apparently, some of what has propelled Ms. Rice’s decision to “quit Christianity” is a perceived anti-gay bias (read:. homophobia, bigotry, hatred, etc.) among Christians. Problem is, there are extremists on the pro-gay side as well. (Like NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association which advocates for legal sex between adult males and consenting minors. Or is their position mainstream?) Point being, Christian extremists are used to indict ALL of Christianity. Liberal extremists are not.

I could go on.

As I responded to one of the commenters yesterday, “I love Anne Rice.” I don’t agree with her indictment of Christianity, and I think she potentially perpetuates a harmful stereotype and response. I agree with some of her feelings. Organized religion can be oppressive and certain individuals therein can be jerks. And, out on the fringe, are all manner of oddballs. But the answer is not to “quit Christianity.”

I am no longer a pastor, in part, because of the problems with Christianity. Nevertheless, it’s still my family. Those “lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and holier-than-thous…” all share my genetic makeup. As does, I think, Anne Rice.

“The Church is like Noah’s ark,” said Reinhold Niebuhr. “If it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside.” The answer, Anne, is not to leave the ark. It’s to shovel shit.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • E. Stephen Burnett August 5, 2010, 9:13 AM

    More than shoveling whatever-you-want-to-call it, don’t you think perhaps Rice must not claim to follow the Lord, then fail to do what He says? To not expect “fruits” from professing Christians without the “roots” — the Gospel that includes claiming several things are sins that Rice implies are actually okay? To avoid saying, in effect, “I like Jesus, but I can’t stand His bride”?

    Just a few thoughts. But great stuff. I enjoy reading your perspective.

  • Renee G. August 5, 2010, 10:40 AM

    I had a similar discussion last night with my father (which… with all the headlines yesterday, i knew was inevitable haha)
    He was trying to press the point that the homosexual community is quick to pull the “Biggot/Hater” card when it suits their purpose, and that it is extremely biased and unfair to be judged as such just because you dont agree with their lifestyles for religious reasons.
    My argument is that you can place that same idea on any human sect: Men/Women, Black/White, Gay/Straight, etc. within each sect there is ALWAYS a group that wants to ‘cry wolf” and act out for attention… and its very disconcerting that those small groups “Squawk” so loudly; it leads people to think that EVERYONE in that sect thinks and feels the same way.

    • E. Stephen Burnett August 5, 2010, 10:47 AM

      Similarly, many Christians are quick to decry all their homegrown “creationist” “quacks” (which itself is indiscriminate, not crediting more logic- and grace-based creation advocates, as opposed to true quacks).

      But most people do not expect all evolution-believers to go around constantly on the defensive because some people who believe evolution also claim they were abducted by aliens.

      Why the difference?

      There’s only so far Christians can do in trying to please the world. Sometimes nonbelievers are honestly wanting to see better from those who claim to represent Christ. But often all the world-spawned cries of “hypocrisy” and “you’re not doing enough” are smokescreens to cover up what would otherwise be their own convictions.

      • E. Stephen Burnett August 5, 2010, 10:52 AM

        Scripture seems clear that God’s people ought to concern themselves more about what He wants from His people, than what nonbelievers (or Christians) say they want to see happening.

        Yet even Christians’ motivations to please God should be based on striving to get more of Him and to be more like Him. It’s based on delight and gratitude for His grace, not duty and a desire to use Him for another means: to change the church, world, or even self.

        But non-Christians — and some professing Christians who lean liberal — don’t get that. They seem to prefer “social action”-driven Christians, and yet somehow expect a magic world in which they’re motivated to be perfectly loving and change the world all at the same time. Sorry — you can’t expect the fruits without the roots!

  • Ren August 5, 2010, 11:01 AM

    I appreciate the “family” analogy. No matter how hard I try there’s no way to disconnect myself from my family tree. If God’s “seed” is in Anne Rice she can rail against these supposed attrocities all she wants but it’s like decrying her own DNA. there’s always black sheep in every family. They must be listed in the geneology but they don’t need to be invited to every family reunion.

  • Rosslyn Elliott August 5, 2010, 10:05 PM

    Mike, good thoughts. You also might be interested in this post along the same lines by a friend of mine.

    http://robersonblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/anne-rice.html

  • Mike Duran August 6, 2010, 3:07 PM

    I found these comments by columnist Rod Dreher to the point. Please read ENTIRE POST. Here’s a snippet:

    “If [Anne Rice]really has lost her faith, then that’s a tragedy. But to have lost something so deep and precious because American fundamentalists got on her last nerve? I don’t get it… And if she’s determined not to join a quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious group, she’d better stay away from religion, from politics, from, well, humanity. Because that’s how we are.”

  • APG December 12, 2010, 7:01 PM

    .

    If I could meet her in person, I would
    love to say “Thank you Anne Rice –
    for so very articulately stating what
    I have felt in my heart for years” !!!!

    One’s ‘Faith-in-Christ’ should IN NO WAY
    be tied into the man-controlled ‘Religion’
    that so many refer to as “Christianity”
    (especially that apostate, psuedo-religious
    political-movement called ‘evangelicalism’)

    It took me forever to realize that my
    relationship with God (as established
    through Christ Jesus, God The Son) was
    IN NO WAY dependent on the apostate
    psuedo-religious movement sweeping
    America in the name of the “church”.

    If Christ were walking the earth today,
    a lot of these same “religious” types
    would be the first to demand that He
    be ‘crucified’ — and based merely on
    who He chose as FRIENDS (women,
    gays, foreigners, immigrants, the poor,
    the rejected, the downtrodden, the rich,
    men, old, young, happy, sad, and so on).

    The “evangelicals” (not to be mistaken
    for TRUE FOLLOWERS of Christ) and
    other “church” types have essentially
    hijacked the Christian ‘Faith’ in order to
    turn it into a mammon-worshipping,
    power-mongering, “Religion” of hate.

    These people are more akin to a system of
    ANTI-CHRIST (i.e. “against”-Christ) than
    to anything tied into WHO CHRIST IS.

    Their evil has reached such profound levels
    that even people who know and love Christ
    are turned off from them and their words
    (again proving these “church” types are
    really nothing more than anti-Christ,
    self-righteous Pharisees and are not
    even remotely related to Jesus Christ).

    Never again will I waste my time stepping
    into the psuedo-religious social-club that
    is known as “church” or associate myself
    with the political-clique that is known as
    ‘christianity’ — because FROM NOW ON
    — I realize that I do NOT “need” either
    in order to have a relationship with MY
    LORD JESUS CHRIST (in fact, those
    two entities were actually ‘interfering’
    with my relationship with God)

    THROUGH CHRIST — GOD HAS OPENLY
    EXPRESSED HIS LOVE TO ‘EVERYONE’
    (no matter if rich, poor, gay, straight, male,
    female, sickly, healthy and so on) — AND
    CHRIST (not the so-called”church”) IS
    ‘THE DOOR’ and ‘THE WAY’ TO GOD!!

    ALL ARE WELCOME TO APPROACH AND
    TO ENTER THROUGH ‘THE DOOR’ TO GOD!!

    NO ONE IS REJECTED BY JESUS CHRIST !!!

    JESUS LOVED AND LOVES EVERYONE !!!

    LET’S ALL TRY TO REMEMBER
    THE BIBLE VERSE OF ‘JOHN 3:17’:

    “For God did NOT send His Son
    into the world – to condemn
    the world, BUT that the world,
    THROUGH HIM, might be SAVED !!!!”

    JESUS CHIST – and *not* the institution known
    as “the church” or the religion called “christianity”
    — IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE!!!

    LIKE MANY OTHER PEOPLE – I AM DONE
    WITH THE CHURCH & WITH CHRISTIANITY
    — AND FROM HERE ON OUT – MY FOCUS IS
    ON (AND FAITH IN GOD RELIES IN) JESUS
    CHRIST AND JESUS CHRIST ALONE !!!

    .

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