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Anne Rice, Who Felt ‘Called to Be an Outsider for Christ,’ Dies at 80

In the News

Over her career as an author, Anne Rice, who died December 11 at age 80, wrote erotic books, Gothic fiction, and, after her conversion from atheism to Christianity, Christian-themed literature, as well as a memoir about her spiritual journey. She was best known for her series of novels collectively called The Vampire Chronicles, from which two movies were made: Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Queen of the Damned (2002).

Raised in an observant Catholic family, she was actively religious during her childhood and teen years. In fact, at age 12, she decided she wanted to be a priest and was disappointed when she learned that the priesthood wasn’t open to females. When she left home, however, and was exposed to the wider world and new ideas, she not only ceased to be religious; she also became an atheist and remained so for much of her adult life.

In 1998, by then well known for her Gothic fiction, she returned to the Catholic Church, and wrote the memoir about her conversion, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. At the time of her return to faith, Rice announced that she was writing no more of the vampire stories, but from then on, would write only for God. Subsequently, she produced two novels about Jesus: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

Many Christians among her fans were delighted by her re-embrace of the faith, but they later were shocked when, in 2010, she revealed that she had parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church. On her Facebook page, she wrote, “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.” 

Elaborating on what she meant by leaving Christianity but remaining committed to Christ, Rice described her beef with organized religion as she had experienced it: “In the name of Christ,” she said, “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.”

Following her announcement of leaving the church, Christianity Today interviewed Rice. The interviewer asked her what following Christ without being part of the institutional church meant for her.

“The most important thing Christ demands of all of us is to love our enemies as much as our neighbors,” Rice replied. “That is the radical core of his teaching. If we do that, we can transform our lives.”

She also said, “Christ reaches out to us individually. He’s saying ‘Come follow me; I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ These are beautiful things. I read Scripture every day, I study it every day, I’m mindful of it every day. I don’t claim to have the right interpretation of every passage, but I wrestle with it, and that’s what I think he wants us to do.”

Asked by the interviewer if she had considered moving to a different Christian group, such as mainline Protestant, Rice said she preferred to “step away from the whole controversy.” Responding to a query from CBN about the same time, Rice said, “I feel now that I am called to be an outsider for him [Christ].” 

The interviewer also asked Rice how she thought her decision to leave the church would affect her writing. 

“I think my writings will go on being the writings of a believer in Christ. I think I’ll be less frustrated and freer to write about the full dimension of what that means,” Rice said. But apparently she had rethought her decision to write no more thrillers, for she added, “I write metaphysical thrillers, and how this works out in fiction is always mysterious: characters confront dilemmas. The worldview of the novel is certainly optimistic and that of a believer. What characters will say … I don’t know until I start writing.”

After what some have called Rice’s “de-conversion,” she wrote three more novels for The Vampire Chronicles series.

The Christianity Today interviewer also asked Rice what the “last straw” was that led her to leave the church. While she said there were “a number of last straws,” she identified specifically her “mounting discomfort with the public face of Christians and Catholics.”

“I have no quarrel with any priest or bishop who doesn’t want to marry gay people or doesn’t want to have gay clergy. That’s fine, that’s the church’s decision,” she said. But she drew the line at the point where the church steps into secular culture and attempts to interfere with people’s rights, she said.

“The damning of the secular culture is upsetting and embarrassing,” Rice declared. “Secularism in America has done great things. It’s allowed people to live here whether they’re Catholic, Protestant or Muslim, and it has protected people from the extreme beliefs of their neighbors.”

Rice died from complications of a stroke in Rancho Mirage, California, where she had been living in recent years. According to a statement from Rice’s son Christopher Rice, who is also a bestselling author, the family planned to inter her at the family mausoleum at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, the city where she was born, had lived for most of her early life and where she had first connected with the church.

More on this story can be found at these links:

Anne Rice Lived as Large as Her Gothic Fiction. Esquire
Q & A: Anne Rice on Following Christ Without Christianity. Christianity Today

Remembering Anne Rice’s Long, Complicated, Ultimately Triumphant Spiritual Struggle. Relevant
Anne Rice: ‘I Must Be an Outsider for Christ.’ CBN 

Applying the News Story 

Rice’s decision to be a follower of Jesus without being involved in a church is not an unusual story. Most church rolls contain the names of several people who were once active in the congregation but who no longer attend church anywhere. Still, when asked if they are Christians, they say yes. For lack of a better term, we might refer to such persons as “inactive” Christians, though we should not assume that they have no commitment to still follow Jesus, or that they no longer trust him for salvation, or that they don’t try to live in society by Christian principles.

Rice’s decision to follow Christ apart from the church is different from the inactives in that her rationale appears to be well thought out, is thoroughly documented and includes a choice not to apply the word “Christian” to herself any longer.

Her decision is also different from some other publicly stated “de-conversions” by people who had been well-known Christians. Many of those who say “I am no longer a Christian” also mean, “I no longer believe in Christ” or “I am no longer committed to follow Jesus.” Rice apparently made the first of those statements without making either of the other two.

Further, from some of her statements, Rice’s decision seems like an embrace of what we might call “secular Christianity.” She possibly intended her statement against the church for “damning the secular culture” to apply primarily to the Catholic Church, which was her main experience of a Christian faith community, but her refusal to try other denominations suggests that she was choosing secular life as the arena in which her faith in Christ would be not only practiced but also nurtured.

As far as we know, “secular Christianity” is neither an official belief category, nor the description of a specific religious practice. And the term is, in fact, an oxymoron. Typically, “secular” is defined to denote attitudes, activities or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis, whereas “Christianity” absolutely has a religious and spiritual basis. But the pairing of the two words raises some legitimate questions.

One question is, “Can one really practice the Christian faith apart from participation in a Christian faith community?” And another is, “Can one really practice the Christian faith apart from participation in the secular arena?”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, famously said, “There is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” That line is often quoted in support of church attendance, taking “social” to mean “in church, with others,” but it can just as easily mean “behaving in the spirit of Christ in public, with others.” We suspect Wesley meant it both ways.

Joe Carter, who is both a pastor and the editor of The Gospel Coalition website, wrote about a paradox of church attendance, saying, “While you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, if you never go to church you probably aren’t a Christian.” At TWW, we think there’s a parallel paradox as well: While you don’t have to practice your Christian faith in the secular world to be a Christian, if you never practice it in that arena, you probably aren’t a Christian.

In any case, we are using this lesson to consider the matter of what is needed to really be a Christian.

The Big Questions

1. What might it mean to reject Christianity and still hang on to Christ?

2. Is there a clear line of demarcation between Christianity and secular culture? If so, where is that line?

3. What are the dangers of secularity as the basis of one’s life? What are the benefits of secularity as the basis of one’s life?

4. What are the benefits of religion as the basis of one’s life? What are the dangers of religion as the basis of one’s life? For example, do we risk developing self-righteousness because we attend church? If so, how can we avoid that?

5.To what degree is living a Christian life an individual endeavor? To what degree is it a group endeavor? What aspects of our spiritual growth, including satisfying the hunger for righteousness, are related to participation in a Christian faith community?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another … (For context, read Hebrews 10:19-25.)

These two verses tell us a couple of things: First, even in the early church, there were people who decided they didn’t need to go to church (“neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”). Second, meeting together with other believers nourished those in attendance to love their neighbor and do good deeds. 

Questions: Quite apart from the larger question of whether it’s possible for someone to be a Christian without going to church is the more important one: Can you be a Christian without going to church? 

What does your attendance in church contribute to the faith of others who also attend? What does their attendance contribute to your faith?

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? (For context, read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.)

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (No context needed.)

Of all the biblical books, Ecclesiastes is the most secular. In 2:24-26 above, the author expresses that enjoyment of the good things of life is a legitimate way to live. The author is a believer in God and sees God as the one who made enjoyment possible.

That sounds good, but some might also see it as self-centered. However, in 12:13-14, which are the closing sentences of the book, the author wrote that keeping the commandments of God is “the whole duty of everyone.” Since faithfully keeping the Ten Commandment requires one to act for the well-being of others, he is acknowledging the importance of practicing the ways of God in daily life. He also notes that it is God who judges every deed.

If the author of Ecclesiastes were alive today, some might imagine him as a “secular Jew,” a term for an ethnic Jewish person who partakes in modern society and is not strictly religious. For example, among secular Jews, traditional Jewish holidays might be celebrated as historical festivals, while life-cycle events such as births, marriages and deaths, may be observed using non-religious practices.

“Secular Christian” is a less common term, and unlike secular Jew, it includes no ethnicity component, but some people use it to mean, “somebody who does not practice Christianity as I think it should be practiced.” A more useful definition might be “a person who draws his or her controlling values from both the Christian faith and the secular culture, and when those clash, not necessarily giving more weight to traditional Christian values.” Another useful definition might be “a person who claims to be a Christian but gives little or no evidence of being influenced by that belief.”

Questions: In what ways do Rice’s comments about the church and secular society fit or fail to fit one or more of the suggested definitions? Is there another definition for secular Christian you would suggest?

Would you qualify your practice of Christianity with the word “secular”? Why or why not? If you would, what are the positive things you mean by that? Why negative things might you be implying by the term? Is it better to be a secular Christian than not be Christian at all? Explain.

Acts 2:46-47
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (For context, read Acts 2:43-47.)

Some of the first members of the early church apparently worshiped daily. Acts reports, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple … praising God …”

Questions: Assume you are speaking to a Christian who has decided to withdraw from church but continue to be a follower of Jesus independently. What practices would you suggest that person do at home to replace the spiritual nourishment that congregational worship and study provide? What would you suggest to replace the spiritual encouragement and accountability that one’s fellow congregants provide?

Luke 9:23
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (For context, read Luke 9:23-27.) 

One can debate whether one can be a follower of Christ apart from the church, but as these words from Jesus make clear, there is no being a follower of Christ without discipleship. And this is a stark command. 

It’s not clear that Jesus’ immediate audience understood that taking up one’s cross was a reference to his coming death, which at that point, had not yet occurred. But it had happened by the time Luke recorded this scene, so his original readers would have understood Jesus to be saying that to follow him, one needs to be ready to lay down one’s life just as he did. But notice that Jesus said “take up their cross daily,” which emphasizes that discipleship is not merely a readiness to die during some possible persecution, but a continuing, daily yielding of one’s life to the call to follow Jesus.

Questions: What specifically might it mean for a follower of Jesus to deny oneself daily? to take up one’s cross daily? to follow Jesus daily? In what ways do you give daily attention to your faith when not in church?

James 2:17
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (For context, read James 2:14-26.) 

The apostle James makes a dual analogy: Faith is like the body and works like a person’s spirit. Just as a body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. While certainly we can work good within the Christian church, we can — and should — also work good within society.

Question: What are some ways you can show your faith by your works outside of the church?

For Further Discussion

1. Back in 2010, after Anne Rice announced she was leaving Christianity, author Karen Spears Zacharias wrote “An Open Letter to Anne Rice.” Read and discuss the letter.  

2. Respond to this: Being a follower of Jesus means we ought to bring Christ to all that we do. Here are some examples:

  • While doling out powdered milk to starving children during the Spanish Civil War, Dan West said “What these people need is a cow, not a cup,” which was his inspiration for founding Heifer International. 
  • The actor Don Murray created a refugee relocation program while serving as a CO during the Korean War. He chose Brethren Volunteer Service for that program. In 1956, politician C. Estes Kefauver was delayed at a campaign stop so Murray was asked to tell Hollywood stories to kill time, but instead he talked about his years with BVS, which led audience member Hubert Humphrey to suggest to John F. Kennedy that he start something similar. That led to the Peace Corps. 
  • Peacemaker M.R. Zigler demonstrated the foot-washing ordinance as a founding delegate to the World Council of Churches delegates to show the theological undergirding of Brethren commitment to service. 
  • And there is this, attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila:
    Christ has no body but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which He looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
  • Read Matthew 25:31-46.

3. This statement is from Neil Edlin, rector of St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Catholic Church in Orange, California: “So, can you be a Christian and not go to church? If avoiding church is the goal, then the answer has to be, no.” Do you agree? Explain.

4. The late Ghanaian theologian and pastor Kwame Bediako once wrote that a gift the African church has to give to the Western world is the unity with which it approaches life. There is no separation of life into the secular and sacred or the material and spiritual, he explained. “Questions of human identity, community, ecological equilibrium, and justice,” he wrote, have answers that are fundamentally material and spiritual. The material and the spiritual are intricately intertwined.
              How might this view help churches in the United States? 

Responding to the News

Make an effort to ask members of your congregation this question: Why do you participate in church? And be ready for some surprising answers.

Prayer

Be with us in our spiritual journeys, O Lord, so that we are able to distinguish your call from the pull of our own yearnings, and follow you daily and faithfully. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

  

In class, we will talk about some of these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.