Anne Rice is in a season that many, if not all, Christians experience: the great joy of coming to personally embrace the love, forgiveness, and new life that Jesus offers is then followed by the troubles and trials of learning the teachings of the Bible and living with fellow Christians. Truthfully, both are difficult.
Every Christian struggles, to varying degrees, with different parts of the Bible because they call us to repent of beliefs we formerly held and ways in which we formerly behaved. Anne Rice struggles with the Bible's opposition to homosexuality and its teachings on gender roles. She also struggles with the teachings of the Catholic Church on birth control and politics, and many Protestants would likely agree with her in principle.
Additionally, every Christian has seasons in which he or she struggles to lovingly live in community with fellow Christians as the church. This is because some Christians are so self-righteous, mean spirited, and just plain annoying that even their pastors are occasionally tempted to preach in one of those "Jesus, Please Save Me from Your Followers" T-shirts.
The problem for Anne Rice is that, unlike other Christians who get to work out their faith struggles in private, she is a public figure who decided to write, "In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian" on her Facebook page, which only invites the kind of vicious online responses that pushed her to make the statement in the first place. To her credit, though, she was clear that she still loves Jesus Christ as her God and wants an ongoing relationship with him.
Her Facebook post led to the very important questions I was asked to answer for this blog, "Can you leave Christianity and keep Christ? Can you be spiritual without being religious?"
The answer is yes and no. Yes, you can leave Christianity for a while and still be a true Christian. However, you cannot stay away from church and community with fellow Christians forever.
The Bible speaks to this very issue. The apostle John wrote the book of 1 John specifically so that people might know whether they are truly Christians and have eternal life with God (5:13). To serve that purpose, John describes numerous evidences of change in someone's life that indicate he or she has become a Christian. For example, 1 John 3:14 says, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers."
Rice would admittedly like to have an ongoing relationship with Jesus, but not with his people. Yet this sort of relationship is one that is simply unacceptable, for "whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:21). To use an illustration, imagine a single woman falling in love with an amazingly wonderful single man who happened to have a lot of children, some of whom were rotten kids that he adopted in an effort to transform them. Now, imagine that woman wanting to be married to the man but have nothing to do with any of his children. That kind of relationship is devastating, but it is the kind of relationship Rice wants with Jesus and without his spiritual children in the church.
My guess is that she will eventually return to church. In time, she will realize that she is being judgmental, self-righteous, and intolerant, just like the people she is stereotyping. If she is a true Christian, God will lovingly, graciously, and patiently help her to see not only how others have treated her, but also how she has responded to them.
In the meantime, Christians should not be offended by her rejection of Christianity. We should instead use it as an opportunity to search our own lives to see how we have been vicious, cruel, mean, unloving, and difficult to others, and repent of our own sin without fixating on what we think are her sins.
We should also pray for her. My guess is that she's simply struggling with what it means to be a Christian while hurting. She lost her daughter Michele to leukemia in 1972, buried her gay best friend John Preston, who died of AIDS in 1994, and in 2002 she buried her husband of forty-one years, Stan Rice. Her son, bestselling author Christopher Rice, is a gay rights activist whom she loves even while she reads the Bible's denial of his lifestyle as a God-honoring one. So, let her fellow Christians pray, love, and wait for Jesus to keep working on her as he is on us, thanking him that at least our struggles are not as publicly scrutinized as hers.