Recently Anne Rice announced she's quitting Christianity. While I can't find the entirety of her statement, here is what the news included:
"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. . .. In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
I think it's obvious that Rice is working with a pretty inaccurate definition of "Christian." By what she says she obviously still clings to Christ and wants to lead a Christ-like life. Perhaps renouncing institutional religion or Roman Catholicism may have been more accurate, but there is still an interesting point to be made about "Christian."
The question "What is a Christian?" would get numerous responses from numerous people. Same with "Who is a Christian?" or "How can I tell if someone is a Christian?" So who defines "Christian"? Who decides who defines it? I would imagine the answer would be "society" but that simply regresses to "Who is society?" At the end, what we are dealing with is identity.
Sure, we like to think that we provide our own identity. We decide who we are. Yet there is no doubt that society/culture has a huge influence on determining who we are. From women being told they'll never be President to Nemo being told he can't do something because of his "lucky" fin, what people tell us about us influences what we think of ourselves.
So is Rice reacting in some way to what society/culture is telling her a Christian is? I say yes. Society/culture over the last several decades has defined "Christian" as the religious right. This is mainly imposed upon us through the media, but it also plays out in churches, work, and families. It's been a great PR battle that conservative Christians have won. In the overwhelming majority of instances when "Christian" is used in the media or in conversation, the basic image we get is of the conservative Christian. I doubt many people would think of Dorothee Soelle, Martin Luther King Jr., or St. Francis.
But the religious left is also to blame for this narrow definition of "Christian." Liberal Christians have done just what Rice has done--abandoned the Christian identity. If asked "Are you Christian?" they may reply with "Well I'm spiritual but not religious" or "Well. . . yes, but I'm not THAT kind of Christian." There's been a sense of shame involved in admitting being a Christian for many liberal Christians. This means that the only voice available to balance out the image that the religious right is offering is silent. There is no group to counteract the predominant image of Christian identity.
That is why liberal Christians must reclaim "Christian." The goal is not to shift the Christian identity to the left so that it excludes the right. That would be just as inaccurate and unfair as the status quo. What is desired is a broadening of Christian identity so that it includes the right AND left and everyone in between.
Liberal Christians must answer the question with pride: "Yes, I am a Christian." No qualifiers. No shame. If the conversation continues, they can feel free to add "but I am for birth control use" or "I'm against institutional violence of any kind" or "I'm for taxing the richer half of society in order to provide for the poor."
Reform will never come from outside of the Church. Leaving "Christianity" and then expecting it to somehow "miss" you and become more inclusive for you will never happen. Reclaiming "Christian" and reforming from inside the Church WILL work. This has been done and is being done now. And my same advice goes to conservatives who feel the Church is becoming too liberal--don't leave. We won't miss you. Stay and claim "Christian."