“Open” Christianity

This morning, via Facebook, an acquaintance from another local United Methodist Church posted this link about Anne Rice “quitting” Christianity. Although in her various online posts Rice asserts that she remains committed to Jesus Christ, Rice shares the following:

“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.”

Both the above quote and what follows were shared on Rice’s Facebook fan page:

“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.”

I have to share my sadness that, for so many people (Rice included) the Church at large has become this experience of a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” For too many people with good hearts and a true yearning to connect with God, their experience in the Church – be it in the Catholicism that Anne Rice lives within, or in a mainline protestant denomination, or even in a so-called “non-denominational” church (there really is no such thing, but that’s a different observation!) – has led them to perceive of the church being “anti-” something, rather than “pro-” something. Many of us have had negative experiences in churches, or with “religious” people, or at the hands of “Christians”… and for some of us, it leaves such a bitter taste in our mouths that we cannot comprehend being a part of it.

Thankfully, I’ve also experienced the opposite. I’ve experienced churches that emphasize the “pro-” side of life. And I don’t mean “pro-life,” which is simply “anti-abortion.” I mean churches that focus on and emphasize the simple fact that Jesus Christ came to Earth so that all people, through the mystery and grace of God, could experience what I can only call “true life.” This is life that is “abundant,” and/or “eternal,” and/or “holy.” It is life characterized by the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is the kind of life Jesus calls invites us to, and this is the kind of life that the Church, when it is at its best, helps us to experience.

Song of LifeI’m grateful to be a part of such a local church right now – Song of Life United Methodist Church. Sure, I’m the pastor, so I’m “paid” to endorse the congregation. But the reality is also that in this local congregation I have experienced the true nature of the body of Christ – imperfect, to be sure, but a community of believers that truly strives to be “open” to God, “open” to one another; a community of people who may disagree at times, but honestly seek to live in such a way that they have “open hearts, open minds, and open doors” toward all people. I’ve been in churches where battle-lines are clearly drawn over particular political or theological agendas; but my experience at Song of Life is that all people are valued for who they are, and that we recognize that God loves us all, despite our mistakes or imperfections.

I believe that it is impossible to be a disciple of Jesus without a community of faith. We’re called to live in community, to love in community, and to grow in community. We’re called to support one another in community, and to be challenged by our community. As a Christian, I’ve been called to the carpet from time to time by others whom I value and respect, and they’ve helped me, with love and honesty, to see errors and mistakes in my life and faith, and then encouraged and supported me to be better. To be more Christ-like. I don’t think we can do so on our own; but I am also acutely aware that we cannot do so in communities that we find oppressive or misguided.

Wherever you are in your spiritual journey this day, I pray that you might have a faith home that is “open” enough to allow for differences, while also encouraging your journey into life! If you don’t have such a community, I hope you might come and visit us at Song of Life, or join the conversations just starting on our blog. In either case, may the spirit of the Lord be with you to guide and protect you.

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