Primary election season is upon us. The ads have begun. The endorsements are being made. It is the season of attack and defense and I don’t mean football.
Traditionally, the Church does not involve itself in politics. We like to remain above the fray, distanced, not taking sides lest feelings be hurt, or people’s “Spiritual Experience” is damaged.
Until, that is, an issue emerges where there is so clearly a right and wrong side: the anti-slavery moment before the civil war (at least in the northern church), eventually Vietnam, civil rights in the ‘60’s.
There comes a time when we’re not left with a choice any more, when Scripture, reason, ethics, and simple justice demand we speak. Are we at that point now?
A great many in the Church have come to believe that the religious Right has co-opted the term “Christianity” for political purposes, in some cases to further agendas which are abusive to human rights and human beings.
It is in that spirit that this week’s Tuesday Letter is an excerpt from award-winning journalist and author Michael Rowe’s July 30 column in the Huffington Post. His topic is noted novelist Anne Rice and her decision to stop being a Christian. Here are excerpts; the whole piece is available online.
“’For those who care, “Anne Rice wrote, “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.’
Earlier this week on her public Facebook page, Rice had expressed her horror and revulsion at two different news stories that shared similar themes. The first was the co-opting of the “Christian’” imprimatur by the GOP-linked ‘Christian punk rock’ band You Can Run But You Cannot Hide—a band supported by Michele Bachmann– who believe that gays should be executed, and who deride America for not being “moral enough” to make homosexuality a capital crime like it is in Iran. The second story was an exposé of a seven-year old boy who had been indoctrinated into Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, whose sole great commission is virulent hatred.
For a woman who has written extensively about her journey from childhood Catholicism to atheism and back again, her very public announcement came as a surprise to both her Christian and secular fans….
Rice’s own personal trials have been Jobean in scope: the loss of her young daughter, Michelle, to leukemia in 1972; the death of her beloved Dutton editor, William Whitehead; the AIDS-related death of her best friend, gay writer John Preston. And, in 2002, came the cruelest blow of all, the cancer death of her husband of 41 years, poet Stan Rice. Any of us would be forgiven for collapsing — mentally, emotionally, or spiritually — in the face of any of these individual tragedies. Rice took them all on her shoulders and bore them courageously over the course of one of the most public and prolific literary careers of the modern age.
In 1998, Rice returned to her faith after years of describing herself as an atheist, and opened her heart to God. If some fans of her vampire, witchcraft, and erotic fiction rolled their eyes at her announcement that she would consecrate her writing talents to the glory of God in the future, others did not, and there was still a grudging admiration for her questing determination, as well as an intuitive sense that Rice was on a journey and they could either remain with her or step aside. In 2008, she laid out that journey in a searing, beautifully written memoir, Called Out Of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.
“Love” is a quantifiable commodity, much as “faith” is. Neither, if they’re true to their nature, can tolerate darkness. Both will eventually surge, gasping, towards the light.
Still, it is possible to murder faith.
You murder faith same way you murder love: one bruise at a time, with small, daily cuts, with grinding contempt, with neglect. You murder faith by exposing it to bullets inscribed with Bible verses that kill Afghan and Iraqi children. You murder it by separating an elderly lesbian couple in a hospital because their union is considered “unnatural.” You murder it by linking it to greed, to the “God wants you to be rich” movement which marinates in loathing for the poor and needy, in defiance of Christ’s commission to care for them, then call it “good for America.” You murder it by exposing it to any number of atrocities wrapped up in an inviolate nationalism that claims divine authority as its basis, with no room for dissent, and no mercy for dissenter.
It dies a little bit more every time a gay or lesbian teenager commits suicide because they’ve been taught to hate themselves because God “loves” them but hates what they are.
While Rice says her faith in God remains intact, her repudiation of Christianity is a threefold clarion call, one that should not be written off as a publicity stunt by a bestselling author, or condescendingly dismissed by the Evangelical establishment.
On one hand, her announcement is a profoundly courageous personal declaration of spiritual intent. On another hand, it’s a wakeup call to believers who sit by while unimaginable evils occur in the name of Jesus and say nothing other besides defensively whining that “all Christians aren’t like that,” or that the person reacting in grief and outrage is simply “persecuting Christians” because he’s a “nonbeliever” (whether he’s a nonbeliever or not.)
As she has said, she rejects Christianity in Christ’s name, and will follow Christ instead. In the words of John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The title “Christian,” in short, is meaningless in and of itself, especially without love.”
Strong words, I know, but we need to rethink the separation many of us might live between our faith and our politics. Evangelical Christians are bringing issues of justice front and center into political discourse, and we cannot let them co-opt the faith and use it for purposes that we deplore, and to the best of our understanding, would horrify Jesus as well. At least, that’s my opinion. I welcome yours.
See you in church.