A news splash took place yesterday when popular author author Anne Rice, spinner of sexy vampire dramas, publicly renounced her Christianity.
In her own words: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian … 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.”
She later stated on her Facebook page:
“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’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. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
What makes all of this such a news splash is that it was just a few years ago that she announced that she was a Christian – and she’s one of the most popular writers on the planet. And yet yesterday, she renounced Christianity.
I can totally relate to where Ms. Rice is coming from. Even though I’m an ordained United Methodist pastor, I’ve found myself feeling wary of telling folks that I’m a Christian for fear of being associated with “those sorts” of Christians. Tragically, many people under 45 years of age have come to associate the word Christian with “hateful, judging, exclusive, homophobic, and un-loving.” If that were actually what Christianity were about, I would want nothing to do with it either.
I fully support Ms. Rice and I wouldn’t change a hair on her head let alone her way of expressing, or identifying herself. I just wish more folks knew that not all forms of Christianity are judging, excluding, damning, oppressive, or in any way hateful or unloving. I wasn’t planning on coming out the Elephant community about this just yet, but Ms. Rice’s announcement forces the issue. I for one refuse to allow the religious right to co-opt and monopolize the word Christian. My name is Roger Wolsey and I am a Christian.
Because of my growing awareness of the challenges that people who love Jesus but who have a hard time liking Christians or Christianity, I have been writing a book which is less than one month from being completed – working title: “Kissing Fish: explorations in progressive christianity.” The following is the Introduction:
My church and my country could use a little mercy now
as they sink into a poisoned pit that’s gonna take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now.
What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me
I’m a doubting Thomas I took a promise
But I do not feel safe Oh me of little faith. Nickel Creek
I believe, help my unbelief! Mark 9:24
I probably shouldn’t be a Christian. And if you’re an early middle-aged Gen-X-er or a young adult Gen-Y “Millennial” in America, you probably shouldn’t be either. I say that I probably shouldn’t be a Christian because the odds were against it. Few friends who went to high school or college with me, and even fewer of my more recent friends and acquaintances, currently identify themselves as being Christian and yet somehow I do. Many of my peers were either not raised in “Christian homes” or were raised in the church but have since shifted away from Christianity toward other religions – or, mostly, to no religion.
This book is, in part, an attempt to understand and explain how I, a post-modern, politically liberal Gen-Xer, have come to b e an intentional follower of Jesus – who actually calls himself a “Christian.” My larger purpose is to share the approach to the Christian faith that I’m inspired and fed by to people who may not yet be aware of this perspective and path – the approach of progressive Christianity. I conducted an informal survey of young adults living in Boulder and without exception the persons surveyed had all heard of conservative Christianity yet only a small number had heard of “progressive Christianity.” Based upon numerous conversations I’ve had with others in their twenties to early forties around the country (at various conferences, via telephone, email, internet bulletin boards, chat-rooms, as well as social networking sites) it’s clear to me that this is true across the nation.
The intended audience of this book is young adults who don’t currently identify as being Christian – or who do privately, but hesitate to let others know this about them because the word “Christian” has come to be associated with positions, attitudes and behaviors that they don’t want to be associated with. Another group that this book will speak to are the multitudes who go to church and yet feel a disconnect and a gnawing sense of discomfort or dissatisfaction about it because they don’t agree or resonate with what’s often said from their church’s pulpit or in their Bible studies. People who are active within the Church and trying to relate and connect with today’s younger generations will also benefit by exploring the ideas discussed within these pages. Combined, this is a large audience indeed.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a theological education and I’ve thought a lot about God and Christianity. I’m knowledgeable about what’s going on in various Christian churches, websites, literature, and so on. I’m aware of what’s working, what isn’t, and what might work better for a growing number of people whose minds simply don’t “tick” the same way as older generations do.
If your only exposure to Christianity has been coming across those strident, fire-breathing, greedy, or overly sunshiney televangelists as you scan through the channels on TV; unwelcome knocks on your door from people who want to “save your soul;” or harsh exclusion and judgment from persons who claim to be Christians, it’s no wonder you’ve not been drawn to Christianity. If your only experience of Christianity has been hearing about campaigns to support American imperialism or war, or to bring about a return to mandatory prayer in public schools, force public schools to teach “Creationism” in science classes, remove references to Thomas Jefferson from textbooks, or legally limit what people may do with their bodies and who they should love, it’s not a surprise that you haven’t entered the doors of a church. And, if your only experience of Christianity has been with family members or neighbors who smother you with unsolicited religious pamphlets or cheesy forwarded email messages and patronizingly tell you that they’re praying for you for fear of you “going to hell” or being “left behind,” it’s no wonder you’ve not been much interested in Christianity. Unfortunately, these forms of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christianity have so dominated the media and our nation’s attention that they’ve almost hijacked and monopolized Jesus, Christianity, and even the word “Christian” itself.
There are a lot of people who call themselves “Christians” who are judgmental, closed-minded and not the sort of folks most of us want to sit next to on a long plane ride. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians who seek to influence our political process with agendas that bolster our nation’s march toward militarily backed corporate imperialism. There’s a lot of Christians who’ve been promoting repulsively archaic and anxious agendas that are homophobic and oppressive to women. There are a lot of people who call themselves Christians who seem to turn off their brains as they shun the truth and insights of contemporary science. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians who are hypocrites who are just as caught up in our society’s exploitive and addictive materialism, consumerism, and greed as most everyone else is. There are a lot of folks who claim to be Christians who don’t give a damn about global warming, or taking care of the environment, or addressing issues of war and social injustice because they expect to be “raptured up” into Heaven soon. Such persons effectively believe that “since Jesus will be coming soon there’s no need for any of us to be concerned about or responsible for what’s going on here and now on the earth.”
I’ve met plenty of Christians who come across as selfish, unloving, and hypocritical and as not seeming to give a rip about the plight and needs of other people. No doubt about it. There are a lot of those kinds of folks. I submit that they are by no means the majority, but they are loud and vocal and as far as the media seems to be concerned, Christianity has come to be pretty much equated with those ways and those kinds of people – as if those sorts of Christians speak for all Christians and all of Christianity. If those were the only ways of being Christian, I wouldn’t want any part of Christianity either.
Happily, there are other ways of being Christian – thank God! This book explores a certain approach to the faith that a surprising number of people aren’t familiar with and don’t know about, but probably would like if they did – the approach of Progressive Christianity.
If you’re someone who likes Jesus and his teachings but you don’t really want to be associated with “Christianity” or “Christians” and so you’ve decided to check “Spiritual but not Religious” on your Facebook, Myspace, or Match.com profiles, or if you’re someone who resonates with, or actually owns, any of the following bumper-sticker slogans:
“Christian – not closed minded”
“I like Jesus, it’s his followers who I can’t stand”
“Lord protect me from your followers”
“One nation, many faiths” “Prays well with others” “Coexist”
“My Karma ran over your Dogma” “Hate is not a family value”
“God bless everyone. No exceptions.” “Straight, but not narrow”
“I love my Church but I think we should start seeing other people”
or if you like the idea of seeing both the Darwin fish and the Christian fish emblems kissing each other on the back bumper of the same car, or if you simply think that Christianity ought to be more about love, grace, justice, and acceptance then this book is for you. Generation X refers to persons born between 1961-1981; Generation Y, 1982-2001  Apparently, some folks don’t care for Jefferson having advocated for the separation of Church and State, see: Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change, James C. McKinley Jr., March 12, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html  I can be selfish, unloving, judgmental, and hypocritical too. But, with God’s help, I’m striving not to be – and hey, at least I can admit this.
I realize that I may be swimming against the current, and that this may be too little too late. I feel like the last of a certain tribe of Mochicans, but I am called to do what I can. Who knows what God might be able to do with our modest efforts of daring to act on faith?
I’ll keep you all posted as things develop.
In Christ, namaste, peace, shalom, salaam, blessed be,
Wolsey is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity