Yesterday the Internet was abuzz with news that Anne Rice has renounced Christianity. The best-selling vampire novelist, who professed faith in Christ several years ago and has since written several books about Jesus and her conversion, publicly quit Christianity on her Facebook page. There’s a real opportunity here that hinges on how we respond to this, or, rather, how we respond to her.

Anne said that she was leaving Christianity because she just couldn’t be “anti-gay, anti-feminist” and so forth. The response was immediate, especially on Christian forums and comments on blogs and on various other forms of media.

Anne Rice is, at best, our sister-in-Christ who is going through a dark night of the soul. She is, at the very least, someone who has encountered something of the light of Christ, is drawn to it, and is now “kicking against the goads.” In either case, she is not our enemy.

Anne’s case is a little unique because she’s a national celebrity. She has a Facebook page that people pay attention to. But she’s really not all that different to the ex-prisoner, now following Christ, who told me not long ago that he’s contemplating giving it all up and going back to cocaine and prostitutes. Of course he is. We are walking through a time of temptation and wilderness, in which there’s a struggle in the air for every Christ-branded psyche.

But the church cannot see rejection of Christ as some kind of personal reproach or, worse yet, an ideological declaration of war. We have to love our prodigal sons and daughters so that if and when the dark night of the soul is over they have a place to come home to.

Anne says she still loves Jesus but she doesn’t love Christianity. Yes, I know that it is impossible to love Jesus without loving his church. I’ve preached that for years, and I still believe it. But can’t you see how someone could wrestle against that? I am thankful that I had been a Christian long enough to have gained some kind of maturity before I saw just how vicious “Christianity” can be.

I think it ought to instruct us here as to how Jesus handled situations like these. Jesus was fierce in his denunciation of those with power, including religious and ecclesial power. He never shied away from confronting personal sin in anyone, including the wounded and vulnerable, but he did in a completely different way. Think of the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the demonized villagers, and on and on. Jesus never snuffs out that smoldering wick, never breaks that bruised reed. And it’s because he loves.

Yes, Anne Rice has renounced Christianity. Maybe it’s a permanent move away from the gospel, showing that she never quite made it all the way into communion with Christ. If so, let’s represent Christ and continue to point her to the Jesus she finds in some way mystifying. It could be that Anne is a Christian who is having a wave of doubt and rejection. So did the Apostle Peter, who also renounced Christianity and, as a matter of fact, cursed Jesus personally in the process. But when Jesus finds Peter in Galilee (right back on the fishing boats where he’d been called from in the first place!), he never even mentions the incident at the fireside.

A lot of us (and I include myself in this) are a lot like James and John in the Christ-rejecting village. We want to call down fire from heaven on the opponents of Christianity (Lk. 9:51-54). That seems so prophetic and Christian and it also happens to confirm us to be right. Jesus’ response to this zeal ought to stop us in our tracks: “Jesus turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (Lk. 9:56).

Anne Rice hasn’t rejected you. Anne Rice hasn’t betrayed you. Would you pray for her, and for the other smoldering wicks and about-to-bolt potential prodigals in your church (and maybe in your home)? It could be Anne has been deeply hurt by what she has seen in Christianity. Or it could be that, like Jesus’ disciples, the closer she’s drawing to Christ, the more she is made uncomfortable by it. Let’s love her.

Jesus’ disciples, and Peter again, after all, were ready, it seems, to “quit Christianity” when on the Galilean lakeshore after he said some disturbing things. Jesus asked Peter, “Will you also go away?” But, at the end of it all, Peter had to confess, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:66-67).

Maybe Anne Rice will conclude the same thing. In the meantime, let’s not demonize the prodigal daughter. Let’s give her room to come home, if and when she wants. Let’s not verify her experience of angry, raging Christians.

Maybe it will take a vampire novelist to teach us that Light stings sometimes, when you’re coming out of darkness.