Anne Rice is quitting Christianity.

In a recent Facebook post, the renowned writer of vampire novels, who turned back to the Church a few years ago and penned two volumes of historical fiction about the early life of Christ, says now she is turning her back on the Church.

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 10 years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” Then this later follow up: “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.”

I’m sad about this. I wish she hadn’t done it. I have some things to say in response.

The first thing: “I’m sorry.”

I know it will rub some people the wrong way to hear me say this. It’s like those who think a national leader who criticizes or apologizes for American behavior abroad is unpatriotic and undeserving of the office. But the pastoral office gives me a close-up view of the church as it is, not as I want it to be. I see its warts, its hypocrisy, and its fearfulness that sometimes overcomes its faithfulness. I see it all in the church the way I see it all in the mirror. You understand; I see that in me, too.

It reminds me of the old joke of the man who rolls over on a Sunday morning and announces to his wife that he just doesn’t want to go to church today. His wife pushes him out of bed and bellows, “You have to go; you’re the preacher.”

Now, most of the time I can’t wait for Sunday. I suppose that’s partly because I actually love (and mostly like) the people that make up the church I get to serve. But that doesn’t mean they’re angels, anymore than I am. We’re all “frail creatures of dust and feeble as frail,” as the old hymn puts it. We stumble and we bumble our way behind the infallible Christ, trying our best not to be his leprous bride, as he leads us along.

The Church in every age could have done and should now do a better job of being more Christ-like. But our views on things owed to conscience aren’t always right just because we appeal to conscience. Conscience, too, can be distorted.

Divorcing the Church but continuing to carry on a romance with Christ is spiritually awkward at best. Attempting to do so only leaves you with a church of one — yourself. Is that really any better than being part of a church that includes other sinners besides you?

Who we are comes down to whom we love and are loved by. We are relational beings. Not to love the Church means to love someone else more — in this case, not Christ, who is always still found in connection to his trying but failing Church. We are apt to love the world more instead: the world that often lives a story counter to the gospel of that very Christ who says you must love your neighbor as yourself.

“You are what you eat,” nutritionists like to say. But “you are also whom you eat with.” At the Communion rail we receive Christ and each other, feasting upon his flesh and blood (however conceived) alongside flesh and blood sisters and brothers we may not like very much or even respect, but are called to love just the same.

George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. This column is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on the magazine’s “Worship” page. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.

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