I heard yesterday that Anne Rice, the famous horror novelist (Interview With the Vampire) and Catholic revert (she took up writing novels about Jesus a few years ago) had “quit being a Christian.” She made two Facebook posts on Wednesday to announce this to the world and her readers:

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.

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.

She followed these up with a number of quotes from the New Testament, and makes clear her continuing commitment to Christ. What I think she actually means is that she’s decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church because of her disagreements with its moral teaching (I’m not sure what that stuff about “anti-Democrat”–Catholics are evenly split between the parties–“anti-secular humanism”–huh?–and “anti-science” are about–you’d think she was leaving an independent Baptist church, not Rome). Whether she will land in another Christian church I don’t know, though given the centrality of the Body of Christ to the mission of God in the New Testament, I would certainly hope so.

Normally, I wouldn’t have commented on this. Ms. Rice, though a well-known person, isn’t a leader in the church. Her statements are too short to be really clear, and I suspect to at least some extent she is reacting as a political liberal to trends in Catholicism that offend her politics, rather than as someone who has made a considered theological judgment regarding the truth or falsity of Catholic teaching. What caught my attention here was not so much Ms. Rice’s announcement as the response from the Rev. Geoffrey Black, president of the United Church of Christ, who despite his denomination’s aversion to evangelism saw an opportunity, and took off like Van Helsing after getting a hot tip:

“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,” said Black, the UCC’s general minister and president. “Many in the United Church of Christ can understand and appreciate her insistence that she must follow a God of love, justice and inclusion.”

“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,” Black said. “Hopefully, declarations such as Anne’s will challenge and alter our definitions of Christian discipleship and, in the process, change the church itself. 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 has been in severe decline for decades, in part because its leadership has virtually repudiated both the theological basis for and the need to engage in evangelism. But let a celebrity announce, in essence, that her politics are more important to her than her Catholic identity, and the UCC leaps into action.

In response [to Rice’s Facebook announcement], the UCC launched a public campaign on Facebook — “You’d Like the UCC, Anne Rice” — to offer support for the author and introduce her and others to the denomination.

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

There something grotesque about a denomination that couldn’t care less about the spiritual welfare of millions of non-Christian and unchurched people, but will engage in a “public campaign” to snag a disaffected celebrity from another Christian church just because their politics line up. It’s almost like…well, you know: