Does it imply something about my politics? Does it tell you what sort of a car I drive? Is it a label sewn into my clothes, like the once-celebrated label of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union from this 1981 ad campaign? Yes, I confess I used dress like that. In fact, I used to know all the words to that hokey song. Does that confession tell you anything about my Christianity?
The famous author of vampire novels turned “Christian author” Anne Rice has apparently grown tired of being labeled a Christian. Here’s the statement she released via Facebook:
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.
In a discussion about her statement on First Things, Rice added this comment:
It is possible for a well informed, well educated and well intentioned Catholic, after considerable reflection, to walk away from the church. It does happen. … Whatever my faults, and I have countless faults, I am committed to Christ and I do have good intentions. I have endeavored to be honest with myself and others about my lifelong spiritual quest.
I believe Rice has had a sincere encounter with Jesus Christ, and I take her at her word that she does not intend to reject Christ so much as all that she has come to associate with that word Christianity. Rice is an articulate and talented writer who understands the meaning of the words she is using. She may not fully understand the problems with her new intention to “walk away from the church,” but she is certainly expressing sentiments that are shared by many who have grown frustrated with the church and how Christianity has been hijacked by political operatives of both the left and the right.
(If you are interested, I favorably reviewed Anne Rice’s first novel on the life of Jesus here.)
Jeff Dunn, who writes for The Internet Monk, had some good things to say about this whole issue of what it means to be called a Christian. I’m going to quote from him extensively because he says it better than I could:
The first time we find the word “Christian” in the scriptures is in Acts 11:26 where we read that “in Antioch the Lord’s followers were first called Christians.” I’m not sure that it was a compliment then. The “Lord’s followers” were being called “little Christs” as the way they lived caused them to resemble Jesus the Christ. And that, in those days, was not a good thing. It branded one as a rebel, an outcast in the Jewish religious system. It was not, apparently, a name these followers adopted for themselves, but one that was put upon them by observers of their way of life. In a short time, to be known as a Christian meant your life and the life of your family was in danger. Saul — before he became Paul the Apostle — went from house to house, dragging men and women off to jail just for being known as Christians. …
Over the centuries, the name Christian has gotten farther and farther away from its original meaning: “little Christ.” Today in our Western culture, we use it as an adjective to describe the forms of entertainment we are comfortable with (Christian music, Christian movies, Christian fiction), the style of clothing we wear (Christian t-shirts), the kinds of businesses we deal with (Christian doctor, Christian hair dresser, etc.). We hear it used as a verb to describe one’s actions (“That wasn’t a very Christian thing to say”). And we use it as a noun to label what we believe. “I’m a Christian.”
It is this label that is in question today. Just what allows one to be called a Christian? Is it by subscribing to a set of beliefs? By the act of baptism in infancy? Does one earn the right to the name for repeating a certain vow or confessing a specific creed? The answer to each of these questions is both “yes” and “no.” …
The name Christian has accumulated so much baggage over the years it is now very weighty to carry. When I say I am a Christian, people may automatically assume I am against gay marriage, against national health care, against President Obama, against taxes, against the Democratic party agenda. The first thing that comes to their minds is not how I reflect Jesus in my life, but the cultural and political things I am against. — What’s in a name, Jeff Dunn
That last sentence is, I think, what has driven Anne Rice to say what she has said. Let me repeat what Dunn observes: “[When someone learns that I am a Christian,] the first thing that comes to their minds is not how I reflect Jesus in my life, but the cultural and political things I am against.”
Is that what Jesus intended?
The label Christian can’t mean anything we want it to mean, of course. Christ calls us to a life of obedience to God, which means that we are called to turn away from certain attitudes and values and behaviors that God has called sin. We are called to allegiance to him, and we are also called into fellowship with people of who are different racially, culturally and politically. We are commanded to love these brothers and sisters in faith. We are also commanded to love those who reject Christ. Jesus commands us to love Christians and non-Christians with the same love that we have for God himself.
In the redemptive ministry of Jesus, God has engaged in a radical inclusivity in which all are invited to participate. Christianity is the ultimate big tent. In Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Luke 14:16-24, after the host has been snubbed by many of the invited guests, he orders his servant to go out into the streets to bring as many as will come.
After the servant had done this, he reported, “There is still room for more.” So his master said, “Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.” — Luke 14:22-23, NLT
The Christian church has at times had a very unfortunate — and un-Christian — tendency to shut its doors against some whom God would include in the gift of the cross. We have this human flaw, this pride, that makes us want to be exclusive. We limit the guest list, where God seems to want his house to be full.
By rejecting the label “Christian” and Christ’s church, Anne Rice has made a serious mistake. Ironically, in her frustration with those who would draw the circle of inclusivity narrowly, she has herself made the circle too small, excluding those with political and doctrinal views she does not agree with.
Politics is the means by which we organize a civil society. Christians must be engaged, which means that we have to take a serious interest in politics. But many of the political questions of our day are questions without clear biblical answers, even though they almost always involve the application of Christian principles. For instance, God commands governments to act justly and to treat citizens with fairness and compassion. He has nothing much to say, in Scripture at least, about universal health care.
Christianity makes for strange bedfellows. If we are Christians, and if that label means that we live our lives as “little Christs,” we will be known as a people who love “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10). Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Tea-partiers, Socialists, Fascists, all are invited to kneel before the cross of Christ. Together. In a group hug. Smiling, even.
It’s a good thing we have eternity to work these things out.
Photo credit: tomrue.net