20 December 2010

Shuns and Boycotts: Where's The Love?

Slowly fading from our social media memories are the blog posts and tweets about Ann Rice's decision to leave Christianity. But in case you've slept since then and forgotten, here's what she posted to her Facebook wall July 28:
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.
Then, a few minutes later, she added:
...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.
She clarified further:
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

My initial reactions to these statements were either she was sincere and wanted to start a firestorm of discussions or she was provoking a means of publicity.

Rice called the publicity accusation nonsense.
That's a very cliched accusation that's made against authors in particular. I can tell you this: Offending the Christian right in this country is not considered a good career move for anybody, especially not someone who has written two books about Jesus Christ.
Interesting. She states the "Christian right" is the group she offended.

I shared my thoughts about Anne Rice's statements at ThinkChristian.net and the discussions that followed were also...interesting. The link opens to my initial comment and the conversation that began. Feel free to read the entire post for context.

John Mark Reynolds in his post Escaping the Tyranny of Me says:
Poor Ms. Rice has fallen for the comforting delusion of this age that one can be a follower of Christ without being a Christian. She is a victim of the most powerful tyrant: herself.
Jason Boyett had this to say in his Beliefnet post Anne Rice Quits Christianity:
I've grown weary with the constant delineations (this week by Anne Rice and, well, all the time by less famous believers) that they can be Christ-followers without being a part of "Christianity." Or I've heard it put this way: I'm not religious...but I'm a follower of Jesus. Look, if you follow the religious figure Jesus Christ, then you are aligning yourself, whether you like it or not, with his other followers. That makes you a Christian, and that makes you part of the Christian religious system. You're not making a legitimate distinction by trying to separate the religion from your personal faith. You're just using cute wordplay. And only Christians feel the need to make the distinction. People outside the faith don't see it that way at all. To quote the kids from High School Musical, we're all in this together.

Christianity is flawed, but one of the things it gets right is community. If you join our system, you join a community of messed-up people. You join people who are trying to follow Jesus but who fail in horrible, Christ-dishonoring ways. The individual "just me and Jesus" thing may be attractive -- trust me, I get it -- but even Jesus surrounded himself with a community of disciples...guys who made him cringe from time to time, too.

Justin McRoberts sums it up well in his open letter to Anne Rice:
Aligning yourself with Christ means aligning yourself with Someone who not only declared his love for all God’s children (believer or not), but suffered and died in order to establish and maintain a relationship with those children.  It is this redemptive sacrifice that defines His love as characteristically His.  Having chosen to follow His example, it seems that at least part of the redemptive sacrifice you are being challenged to make is to associate and identify yourself with this shabby batch of miscreants who are often quite bad at practicing the religion you love. 
Pastor Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA, said in an email to The Christian Post:
I am sad that Anne experienced what she did. But something so important for Anne and anyone who wants to quit the church to understand, is it means quitting themselves.
We are the church.
Tom Davis points out in his article I Quit Christianity, Too how mindlessly we forget Paul's instructions to Timothy:
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.


Breaking that down, Paul is saying:
  1. Focus on your own sin by cultivating a pure heart that resists the temptations of your sinful nature.
  2. Speak kindness instead of quarrels when dealing with everyone (not just other Christians) so that you can teach.
Paul is instructing Timothy on how to live out the gospel ethic of love both inside and outside. Being "disputatious" is not part of the plan. In fact, Paul knows that we are drawn into such arguments with the greatest ease. Many Christians seem primed and ready for a fight wherever the fight is.
But perhaps Mark Driscoll, Founding Pastor Mars Hill, says it best of all these examples in this Newsweek article:
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.
The ABC video below peels back a shocking misperception or miscommunication on Rice's viewpoint: ( UPDATE 10/10/12: The original video I posted here is no longer available online, so I have replaced it with the ABC Report below. Unfortunately, Rice doesn't share the remarks in which I comment upon below, nor could I find those remarks shared in other video clips. But it does reflect her views at the time.)



She seems to lump the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of her leaving Christianity along with her "deep theological reservations" and "social & political implications" that occurred over the past year. The grouping is to say that the extreme views of many Christians - and the cult of Westboro (I refuse to refer to them as Baptist or church but pray they see the glory of God) - and her views simply were irreconcilable. Rice also implies support from thousands of Believers with the same reservations. Thus, thousands of persons of faith are also considering divorcing themselves from Christianity but continue following Christ.

While many Christians might not declare a shunning of Christianity, they may have participated in a boycott.

Perhaps the most infamous was the boycott of Disney. While the Southern Baptist Convention received the most credit for the ban on Mickey Mouse, the boycott of the Disney Company began with the Catholic League's objection to a movie "Priest" (Miramax, 1995). In 1996, the Southern Baptist Convention threatened to boycott over Disney's equal treatment of heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals. Also in 1996, the Assemblies of God started an independent boycott of Disney. The SBC initiated its boycott in 1997 and was joined by one Muslim, two Jewish, one mainline Christian denomination and dozens of conservative Christian faith groups.

Many of these boycotts remained until 2005.

The American Family Association (AFA) boycotted PepsiCo for a year from 2008 to 2009 after the company made $500,000 donations to Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 2008. Records from PepsiCo, HRC and PFLAG indicate repeat donations did not occur in 2009. Thus, the boycott ended.

Perhaps the best example of how absurd AFA boycotts can become was on November 19, 2010, when an email from AFA instructs supporters to boycott Dick's Sporting Goods until December 25 because:
Our research of the Top 100 retailers in America, Dick's advertising is likely the most "anti-Christmas" of all. We looked high and low for "Christmas" at Dick's, only to find they couldn't care less if they offend you and other Christians. Sure, Dick's wants you to buy their products...but no retailer in the nation has appeared to go out of its way to snub "Christmas" more than Dick's.
At the end of that same day, the company had responded to AFA with plans to include "Christmas" will be in their campaigns after November 28.

Did someone not do their homework? Did the campaign nudge Dick's into spreading Christmas cheer?

Does it really matter?

I do think boycotts are useful tools if used correctly. If a store is selling a dangerous or defective product, a boycott makes sense if one has attempted to discuss the issue with the store first. AFA follows this motto, however, they take the boycott one step further by essentially saying, "Stores, once we pay you for goods, we don't want you to support homosexual employees, gay agendas, or any other social/political/cultural agenda with our money. Plus, we're going to tell others not to give money to you until you stop doing this."

Sounds a bit like bullying or extortion.

Boycotting a business because they don't say "Merry Christmas" and placing them on a "naughty list" is perhaps the most misguided of efforts. While it's attempt is to try and keep Christmas in the public eye, such decorations and cheerful words don't ensure that Christ is being honored or uplifted. Nor does this ensure that customers are getting honest deals or employees are being treated fairly.

Another form of boycotting that's perhaps even more judgmental is when Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, and Michael English each went through their own divorces and sexual scandals. Both times, their music - so powerful and iconic in multiple Christian music fields - was pulled from CD racks and removed from playlists. For a time, their life-choices caused radio stations across the country to shun them.

Yet, even some more mainstream celebrities who have made a name for themselves in the Christian field have also been abandoned and shunned. Anna Broadway writes in her post Why I Can't Boycott Mel Gibson:
That’s probably the greatest loss of all, in our tendency to snap superficial judgments of friends and exes, pastors and celebrities alike. Not only are we missing part of the truth about them, we’re also missing a bigger picture of God revealed when we acknowledge the pain of seeing tremendous sinfulness and inordinate worth in the same dusty being. And, really, think of that — think of someone whose deeds you find repulsive, then ask yourself what future God would have for them. Is it a life at best lived in penance for his or her crimes to date? Or could even that debased, destructive life be transformed by God into something truly beautiful?
What disturbs me even more than the immaturity we have in our hearts to both those of faith and those dying in their sin, is how freely we share these opinions online where all can read for all time. Debate and disagreement is healthy, yet we use the Bible and Scripture as weapons trying to wound the other person or force them to see our point.

Amy Henry describes in her WORLD article how Believers Behaving Badly is becoming too much the norm:
Disagreement is a big part of online discussion, and I get that. I love a good debate as much as anyone. But what I see here sometimes goes beyond cordial discussion and the respectful exchange of ideas. And I cringe when I think of what nonbelievers must think of some of our interchanges.
Justin Wise also gets in our face with 7 Reasons I Don't Like Most Christians:
We think we know everything. This one could take all day. I’ll save you, though. The more I know Christ, the less I am sure of. And not just spiritual things, everything. That’s why I don’t understand why cranky Christians think they have a lock on everything from who’s going to hell to who’s going to win the election (or who should win the election) to what day we should hold services on. God is great and knows all. We do not.
George Elerick points out in The Nameless Other how our theology needs rebooting in the wake of forgetting Jesus' words: 
Jesus says we must love ‘one-another’. Even in that phrase is the idea of oneness. Wholeness. Completeness. And unity. When we go out with our arsenal of labels ready to deploy on those we meet (whether consciously or subconsciously) we must remember the damage these labels do.
We've forgotten the basic commandment: love one-another. Not just fellow Christians but also those who don't know Him. Not just friends of Jesus but also those who relish the idea of being His enemy.

The easy solution is to shun other Christians...to drop-out of Christianity. Sure, Anne Rice may say what she did was hard at first but it's gotten easier. Being a Christian isn't suppose to be easy. Yet, we've been lulled into thinking that something's wrong with our faith if we're not drowning in blessings.

Our outlook is tainted and flawed. Humans are tainted and flawed. It's not up to use to change their minds. More importantly, our focus should be on being where He needs us when He needs us there. Not what other people think, say, or do. Everyday could be a struggle if that's what the Lord wants for you. And it'd be okay because He's in control. We can look forward to struggles because through Him we can conquer the struggles. In the end, He is glorified.

Shunning other people is also easy. Ignoring or avoiding that church member that made you mad - easy. Gossiping about the pastor and his preaching or leadership style - easy. Passing by the homeless person or other outcast because they make you uncomfortable - easy. However, praying for each of these people or getting involved to offer help or ideas - that takes courage and long-term commitment.

Boycotting businesses is also easy. Often, it's so easy that all you need to do is fill-in some blanks on a web form and click a submit button. But trying to find out if there's some underlying troubles at that business, employees in need of Christmas cheer, or someone seeking to know why they feel Christ isn't real - that also takes courage and patience.

James 3:9-10 says:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
If James were around today, he'd likely agree this applies to the written word. Father God, may we use Your discernment more freely before we open our mouth or hit the submit button.

1 comment:

  1. Consistent Christianity requires first and foremost the knowing of Jesus Christ...not just knowing OF HIM. As Chuck Swindoll once preached, it takes grace to achieve a consistent walk with Christ.

    Grace is the Spirit giving us thoughts of doing good towards someone who may or may not have wronged us. We forget that God sees "the big picture" and what may seem to be an injustice to us may be God working in someone else's life.

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