Today I Quit Being a Christian

According to ABC news: “Anne Rice has had a religious conversion: She’s no longer a Christian.”

If you don’t know, Anne Rice is a well-known author of vampire and gothic novels who famously rediscovered her faith in Christ several years ago and has been writing books about her spiritual journey ever since.

This week on Facebook, however, Anne made the following three announcements:

“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 to being 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.”

“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.”

“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 think Anne’s announcement can and should open up a healthy dialog for the community of believers. Most people don’t renounce the church so publicly nor do they make national headlines but many brothers and sisters I know have retreated from community worship and eschew the designation of “Christian” for titles like “Christ-follower”, or “Jesus-lover” because of negative associations with the other term.

There’s a reason for this. The organized American church is losing its saltiness and ceasing to be a light in the darkness. In many communities, there is no compelling reason to be a part of the visible church. No matter what you call us, we aren’t being what we’re called to be.

This isn’t a post about how we need to become more conservative or more vocal or less tolerant or any of those other things many people are preaching these days. This is a post about our need to get back to being what we are intended to be, which is – as Mike Erre writes in Death by Church –a “colony of heaven” – a “beachhead, an outpost, an island of one culture in the middle of another”.

We have renounced our citizenship in the world and have pledged allegiance to Jesus, ruler of Heaven and earth. But, too often, the American church has aimed only to be a different flavor of the world. It has thought our goal is to “beat the world at its own game” when really, we’re called to opt out of the game altogether, to stop playing games, to be game-changers.

I don’t believe that Anne Rice or any other follower of Jesus can opt out of the community of disciples. If we choose to follow Jesus, we become part of a “we”. God, the three in one, demonstrates within the Trinity itself that He calls us to be in community, in relationship, to love and to be loved, to exhort and to be exhorted.

It’s too easy for individuals (I know, I’ve tried) to become Lone Ranger Christians. Alone with God, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve got this life down pat. As soon as another human enters the mix, however, we’re exposed for the imperfect, impatient, self-centered beings we still are until the Spirit of God completes His work in our lives.

In many ways, our role as brothers and sisters is to aggravate each other enough so we keep returning to Jesus to be refined and made whole. Iron sharpens iron but as it does, it creates sparks and things heat up.

Lately, I’m less afraid that the American church will continue to thrive and be a respected authority in society and more afraid that it will. The early believing community was so subversive they were originally called “atheists” because they rejected the gods of the day and refused to worship the power of Rome. We need to head back in that direction.

We need worship that is subversive and threatening in its proclamation of who Jesus really is.

We need community that lives by rules handed down by a higher authority than the Supreme Court.

We need relationships with one another that cross all boundaries and bear witness to the power of love, confession, honesty, self-lessness and courage.

We need to be a community so different from the world, so free, so confrontative, so radical in our love and truth that we are not welcome except by those who hear the call of Christ and are ready, themselves, to renounce all they’ve ever known and join us.

We need to be agents of discomfort for those who have grown comfortable in the world.

I don’t know Anne Rice and I probably wouldn’t agree with her on many things but I understand what has made her do what she’s done. Many of us are doing the same thing without acknowledging it – even to ourselves. We’re still showing up at church but we aren’t really putting ourselves out there, we’re hanging on the periphery knowing something is wrong but feeling uncertain what to do about it. Or we’re hopping from one church to another thinking it’s just a matter of changing our address.

It’s not a change of address we need but a change of heart.

Those of you reading this, who know me personally, challenge me on this, as well. I’ve been wrestling with this issue for months – feeling the need for a deeper experience of community with believers but wondering how to make it happen, what it looks like, counting the cost.

God knew we would be tempted to give up on one another. He exhorts us in Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I see the Day approaching. Let’s not abandon ship but let us definitely give the helm over to Jesus.


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15 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Valerie says:

    Lori, I too, am a Christ follower. Yet, my husband and I can hardly bear going to ‘church’. I write devotions and publish them on the web. I study, pray, seek God, and do the things we are called to do. Two things, I believe Christ said, 1- love God and 2- love others. But the church….sorry, it turns me off.
    The church is not about getting the ‘rules’ right. It’s not about do this, don’t do that. The church is about being Christ’s eyes, ears, hands and feet to those around us. It’s about worshipping God and loving Him and our fellow man.
    Church is not a show, a spectacle, or a trendy social place to go with smiles pasted on faces hiding the confusion, apathy, sin we all struggle with. Church is where we go to gather to worship God. Where we interact with other believers (and perhaps curious non-believers) and where we learn/grow in our faith — in part. Through spiritual disciplines we grow as well.
    I believe the ‘Christian’ church should do some collective soul searching and see if we are indeed Christ’s ambassadors to a lost and dying world. Or if we are a contentious bunch of sinners who adamantly refuse to admit or even acknowledge who we really are.
    Remember, we are saved by grace. …..
    I disagree with you about being confrontational. I’m not saying don’t stand your ground. But I believe we can live radically different and authentic Christ-like (notice I did not say Christian) lives and love others to the love of Christ.

  2. Felicia says:

    Maybe I’m crazy – but the way I see it, Anne Rice is doing exactly what she is accusing others of doing. Judging those who don’t think like she does. We all get frustrated when we see someone claiming to be a Christian and then not being obedient to the things we believe God has shown us are part of the Christian walk. Whether we are judging someone for their view on homosexuality or judging someone for taking a stand – it’s the same problem. We are suggesting that somehow we have it all figured out and THEY don’t. THEY, of course, is whoever doesn’t think exactly as we do. We would all have fewer struggles and more peace if we focused more on doing what God has shown US to do and less on what others are or are not doing.

  3. Valerie, I’m with you on all counts. You misunderstand what I mean by confrontational. I believe that if the church is living under the vision of the kingdom of God, it will be intrinsically confrontational in the way it lives out truth – ie, loving those who are “unacceptable” to others, or refusing to pursue personal ambition or earthly power. We need to be less confrontational in our verbal confrontation of the world and more willing to live as we are called to live and let the Holy Spirit do the confrontation through our actions.

  4. Felicia, you’re not crazy.

  5. My spirit groans. Seriously, groans as I read this. I agree with you entirely and I’m going to disagree with Valerie on one point.

    Calling yourself a Christ-follower and not a Christian does absolutely nothing except open up the possibility of tarnishing another term. Not because “Christ-followers” are in any way worse than “Christians,” but because we are all the same. We all have the propensity to sin–to be bad examples of Christ. But, we all also have the obligation and the ability to represent Him. To say, “I’m separating myself from the rest of the wacky Christians (and YES, there are a million of them)by calling myself something different is just as judgmental as anything else we’re discussing.

    Also, here are my thoughts on the word “confrontational.” It is misused and thrown about far too often. I don’t believe we are to be argumentative. The Word says in James 3 “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” That is my goal: To harvest righteousness in my life and the lives of others by sowing seeds in peace.

    But, there is also a time to call sin what it is. Witness Jesus, who called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” Now, I am not Jesus. And I doubt I’ll ever call someone a viper, but we can’t just assume that our silence will in any way proclaim Christ. Often, people with good intentions and very little action tell themselves that they can just be a good person and someone’s gonna walk right up and ask if they can tag along to church with them.

    I’ve never seen that work.

    Like Lori said, we are to be a counter-culture! DIFFERENT than the world around us, and sometimes we must speak up. If we don’t, or if we do it poorly, the world has no light to look to. No salt! We must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must be Christians and like Lori said, we really need to get our act together. Sometimes we do such a bad job being His representatives, but I believe God is raising up a people in THIS generation with a heart after His own.

    Lori, thank you for a thought provoking post. I’m with you, girl. I apologize. This is an awfully long comment, but disowning Christ’s bride is a big deal. I know He loves Anne Rice, but I’m not sure he’d approve.

  6. Love the comment, Shannon. I don’t know Anne Rice at all but I’ve followed her website since she became a Christian. I know that public figures who claim Christ come under incredible pressure and scrutiny from all corners. I don’t know how I’d handle it. I have compassion for Ms. Rice and her struggle even if I disagree with where she’s landed for now. Growing in Christ is a life-long process for all of us.

  7. Karen says:

    What she has done here is irresponsible at best. Think of the people who may have been sitting on the fence and now, due to her sour comments about Christians (or “Christ Followers” if you prefer – though we all know it’s the same thing), are saying, “I sure don’t want to be a part of that.” They’ve just jumped and unfortunately jumped to the wrong side. I think this whole thing is a huge contradiction: you can’t renounce being a Christian and yet claim to still be a follower of Christ.

    Being a Christian by its very definition means following Christ. It was never intended to be, nor would anyone who is a Christian consider it to be, someone who follows the followers of Christ. If she was ever looking to human beings to define her view of Christianity, it is no wonder she has become disgruntled.

    What I don’t understand is why the actions of others, of mere humans, would lead her to renounce Christianity and to do so publicly. What was her motivation in sharing this with the world? Why was it so important for her to say — okay, I’ve tried it for a while and I don’t like the behavior of you Christian people so I’m outa here – but don’t get me wrong, I still follow Christ. But you Christians are “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous,” and I just don’t fit in.– Essentially, — I’m better than you.– How can she claim to be so tolerant and yet she herself be so hostile toward Christians? The whole thing just doesn’t make sense.

    It’s a slap in the face to those of us who do our best to do right by Jesus – we are fallible – we are going to make mistakes. This is just one more reason the world expects Christians to be perfect, and when we aren’t – and we never are because none of us are Jesus – the world taunts us and the Christian faith.

    I respected and applauded Anne Rice when she publicized her conversion from atheism to Christianity – for the impact that may have had on agnostics or other atheists in her midst. Now I find myself praying for her and the reverse impact she may be having on those seeking spiritual truths and finding instead a disgruntled Christian angry over the actions of the imperfection of humanity. I just pray her fans and those looking for a reason not to believe will look to Christ and His inerrable Word for truth instead of to the misleading views of an imperfect human (whether that person is Anne Rice or any one of us).

  8. Prayer is the right channel for anger and aggravation over this issue. I think we should also let it spur us on to deeper committment to BE the community we are called to be – to truly represent the Kingdom of God – to be the colony of heaven, the beachhead, the outpost, the city on a hill. Let it remind us to build and defend our section of the wall like the Israelites did in Nehemiah. If one hand is building and one is defending with the weapons of the kingdom, we don’t have a hand free to throw stones.

  9. Crystal says:

    Christ asked the apostles who he was once. And Peter said he was the Christ, the son of God. Christ told him that these were the keys to the kingdom and that only God could have revealed this to him.

    Later, Christ told Peter that satan had asked for him to sift him as wheat and that he had prayed for him and told him, “When you are converted” to strengthen the brethren. Peter later denied Christ three times.

    I think there is a vast difference between a head knowledge of Christ and a heart conversion.

    John the Baptist came preaching repentance and tilling the hearts of men so that the seed of the Gospel could take root and grow. I dont know if the seed of the Gospel can take root in any other kind of heart.

    I will pray for Ms. Rice that she does not judge the Lord by the company He keeps.

  10. That’s funny, Crystal!

  11. Thank you for this timely post, Lori. One thought I’d like to share…

    Paul’s ministry was to the early church. He taught, he led, he mentored. When there were problems (and there were MANY), he didn’t say, “I don’t like the way the church is acting, I’m outta here.” Instead, he dug in all the more, prayed all the more, wrote all the more, mentored all the more, and went out to encourage even more groups of imperfect people to worship a perfect God.

    I believe God calls us to do the same.

  12. Kay Stocking says:

    I’ve only recently come to realize the struggle I’m having is because of the institutional church – denominational, non-denominational, Spirit-filled, non-Spirit-filled. I’m not against the body of Christ “church,” but the religious, institutional church.

    I love the body and desire to see us rise up and be the body of Christ so the world will see the Jesus we’ve been telling them they need. While I don’t know all the answers for the “what abouts?” I know that what we call “church” today is not what “the church” is supposed to be.

    Thank you for being so bold as to write this and post it. Some, like me, need to know we are not alone in this change the Lord is bringing about in His church. At the same time, we all need to be challenged to step out of our familiar and secure places in the natural and the spiritual, so we can step into all of God’s amazing plan!

  13. Agreed, Vonda. Totally agreed.

  14. Kay, I have such compassion and empathy for what you’ve said. Don’t give up. You are not alone! But do risk staying and being the church.

    Be part of the adventure God invites us all to experience through following Him and being one of His mysterious, messy building blocks in this great body we create with our own lives.

  15. Cheri says:

    You said: “It’s too easy for individuals (I know, I’ve tried) to become Lone Ranger Christians. Alone with God, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve got this life down pat. As soon as another human enters the mix, however, we’re exposed for the imperfect, impatient, self-centered beings we still are until the Spirit of God completes His work in our lives.

    “In many ways, our role as brothers and sisters is to aggravate each other enough so we keep returning to Jesus to be refined and made whole. Iron sharpens iron but as it does, it creates sparks and things heat up.”

    Couldn’t agree more with these thoughts. And everyone’s comments on Anne Rice’s announcement are superb.

    Praying here,
    Cheri