UCC Makes Pitch to Ex-'Christian' Author Anne Rice

The United Church of Christ is trying to get Anne Rice to join its flock after the Interview with the Vampire author announced her highly-publicized decision to "quit being Christian" this past week.

Just days after Rice's announcement, the 1.1-million member UCC launched the"You'd Like the UCC, Anne Rice" campaign on Facebook to offer support for the acclaimed author and to introduce her and others to the historically liberal church body.

"Many of us who are Christian share Anne Rice's values of inclusion and reason," remarked UCC's communications director, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, who initiated the Facebook campaign. "It's important that she and others know that a church like the UCC exists."

This past Wednesday, Rice declared in her Facebook fan page that she "quit being Christian" after finding it "simply impossible … to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group."

"For ten ...years, I've tried," the 68-year-old author wrote. "I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

After having grown up in a Catholic home as a child back in New Orleans, Rice came to reject her faith when she was 18 to gain freedom and search for knowledge.

In 1998, however, after nearly four decades of denying God, the long-time "Christ-haunted atheist" returned to the Catholic Church, saying she was finally ready to surrender to Him.

She has since devoted her time writing books that are "directly to God and devoted to Jesus Christ" rather than the vampire novels that gained her fame and wealth.

Though some viewed Rice's announcement as the author's abandonment of her relatively newfound faith, Rice made clear the day after her comments that her 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," she clarified in her Facebook fan page Thursday.

But to the former Vampire author, "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," she concluded.

In light of this, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the UCC's general minister and president, extended the denomination's hand to Rice, noting how many in the church body can "understand and appreciate her insistence that she must follow a God of love, justice and inclusion."

"I am certain that Anne Rice's public repudiation of Christianity has been a difficult, but seemingly necessary step for her to live authentically as a person of faith and reason," remarked Black in a public statement Friday.

"Too often we have confused following Christ with defending the institutional church, and we have unnecessarily insisted that we must be of one mind, instead of one heart," continued Black, whose denomination was the first mainline church body to support homosexual marriage.

"I, along with many in the UCC, share Anne Rice's commitment to a personal relationship with Christ that affirms life in its fullness and diversity, not denies its beautiful and sometimes complex realities."

The UCC, which touts itself for its inclusiveness, has historically favored progressive or liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, and abortion.

In 2005, the denomination became the first major Christian body in the United States to make a statement of support for "equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender."

Since the passing of its resolution, however, the church body has witnessed a large membership decline.

In 2000, the denomination spanned over 6,000 churches. In 2008, the year of its most recent annual report, the church body claimed to be comprised of about 5,320 churches.

Though a continued decline is expected, Black said last year after his election that the "big bleed is over."

The recently installed president also said he believes the trend can be reversed as UCC churches welcome immigrants, single parents and people of color.

He said there is an "eagerness" within the church body to be a "vanguard of reintroducing people to a still-speaking God."

In addition to Rice, the UCC is hoping that its latest campaign will reach out to others who may have become disenchanted by the stereotypes placed on the Church.

"Hopefully, declarations such as Anne's will challenge and alter our definitions of Christian discipleship and, in the process, change the church itself," Black stated.

Black, who was installed as UCC's president and general minister in April, officially took over the denomination's helm last October.

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