"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."
I think your particular brand of Christianity is the moss-strewn style of your home city, New Orleans. That is, I think you are a Roman Catholic. I admire much about the traditions of Catholicism, but your final sentence there echoes the line attributed to the Protestant Luther: "Here I stand I can do no other."
So, I say, Ms Rice: Don't leave the church. The church needs Reformers like you and old Luther.
I understand your frustration, Ms Rice. I'm the pastor of a church, but I often question my own belonging as well. Regularly I'm shocked by the words and actions of those who claim to speak for the church or for Jesus. They seem so loud. I wonder how I fit in.
You went on to say:
"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."
Let me add my own "Amen" to yours. I think the Jesus (whom you so honestly wrote about in your "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" book) was not any of the "anti's" you list. He welcomed outsiders (lepers and prostitutes in his day, GLBT persons in ours). He included women (who appeared to be the benefactors who kept him and the boys in bread). He loved people and supported policies (both religious and political) that put people above politics, above rules, above tradition.
I think the Jesus to whom you remain committed understands your frustration, your refusal, your quitting. I think he liked people like you (and, I pray, like me). My hunch is that Zacheaus, the woman at the well, the man at the pool of Bethsaida, and others had probably given up on religion too. They probably saw enough quarrelsome, hostile disputatious folks on the inside that they moved to the outside, too. I bet they were quitters. Simon Peter was a big quitter, Thomas was doubter. The rich young ruler bowed out.
And that's exactly the point: Jesus loved the quitters, the failures, the outcasts, the doubters, the people in the edges. Quite honestly, Jesus was the ultimate failure, quitter, outsider.
He failed at convincing the people around him to love one another. They killed him for living out a love that welcomed all to the table. He quit trying to play the power games, the who's-at-the- right-hand-of-God games. Those games of power lead the list of "anti's" you mentioned. Jesus quit (maybe never started) the power games and instead preached a peaceable kingdom. He was the outsider, choosing to be last instead of first, choosing to give rather than to buy, choosing to die rather than to live.
So, interestingly, your leaving Christianity makes some sense. That may be one of the best ways to be a Christian, by bidding the institution adieu, by opting out.
Or, there may be another way... Maybe you find a group of other quitters, other losers, other seekers, other failures. Maybe that's where Christ is found.
Another Catholic writer, another Southern woman like you, Flannery O'Connor, wrote about troubled folks. She described the club-footed, the wooden-legged, the hearing-impaired, the mentally-challenged, even the nymphomaniacal. Often as not, those "grotesques" were Christ figures.
I'm the pastor of a church, and my blog is public, so I hesitate to say this, but it's true -- our congregation is full of losers, maybe not as outlandish as Miss O'Connor's characters, but full of people with questions about their faith, full of people who maybe didn't fit in other places, full of folks with troubles, pains and problems.
On the outside, we may look fairly well put together. But on the inside, I get the sense that some of our souls are as mysterious and shadowy as the characters in your books.
A lot of people in the church I serve would understand your leaving Christianity. What's so impressive about them is that they're always inviting others back in. Not so we can fill up the place (church growth is not always our best thing) and not so we can prove by numbers that we're right (we're no mega-church, and our doctrines may be a little squishy). No, I think the reason is that the best losers, the best quitters, the best failures care about other people in their losing, quitting and failing. Seems to me that's what Jesus was about.
So, Ms Rice, if you ever want to wander back into Christianity -- or at least into some little corner of it, try this congregation here at the corner of Parmer and MoPac in Austin, Texas. It's a long way to make it every Sunday from your home in New Orleans, but we'd be glad to have a quitter like you. Amen?