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CHURCH CORNER: Faith without community?
The author Anne Rice, famous for her vampire novels, has become the face and voice of those folks who are fed up with organized religion, tired of church infighting, angered by faith communities that take positions and actions out of sync with, even contrary to the teachings of Jesus. In her frustration, Anne has vowed to cling to Jesus while flushing the whole stinky mess of those who claim to follow him. She’s done with church. And who can blame her, really?
The news reports shameful stories of pedophilia, adultery, greed and corruption among leadership across the whole spectrum of Christianity. Numerous national church bodies get in bed with partisan politicians to gain influence for their own political and theological ideology. The Christian witness can be so divided and divisive, so narrow and condemning as to make most any believer sick unto death. The church has been compared to Noah’s Ark… if it wasn’t for the storm on the outside, no one could tolerate the stink on the inside! It’s a sad commentary on the brokenness of those who claim to follow Jesus. But then, what do you expect from a community made up of sinners only?
Anne can’t have Jesus without also having the messy crew that seeks to follow him. There are no solo Christians. And despite its many failings, the church is the body of Christ Jesus in the world. Anne may leave certain expressions of the church (Roman Catholic in her case) but she can’t follow Jesus without living among the sinners who seek to follow too.
I encourage Anne (and you) to visit other Christian faith communities. She’ll find faithful Christians who aren’t anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-science, anti-life, or pro-war, pro-prosperity gospel, to the far right of center, or caught up in nationalistic civil religion instead of seeking to live in faithful witness to a compassionate Jesus. But you and Anne ought not to expect anything near a perfectly faithful community. Remember, Jesus came for and claims for followers only those who are sinful, broken, selfish, foolish and unclean.