She’s a dessert topping and a floor wax

crosscrescentLast week I looked at Bill Moyers’ puffy interview of The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and found it lacking.

In the comments section, reader Steven highlighted some of Jefferts Schori’s views on working in Muslim communities and added a juicy little tidbit about a priest in Washington state actually converting to Islam — while believing she remained Christian.

Well, according to another gauzy puff piece, this time in the newspaper (PDF) of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, there is an Episcopal priest who is also a practicing Muslim (see page 9) worshiping in a Seattle mosque. Moreover, this priest until very recently was the Director of Faith Outreach at the cathedral in Seattle (maybe the position involved more “inreach” than “outreach”). As a modest first step to avoid confusing the Muslim friends we seek to evangelize, may I suggest making an unambiguous statement by defrocking Episcopal priests who convert to Islam?

I read the article and it was, indeed, a completely uncritical look at a priest converting to Islam. I was going to highlight the piece this week and complain that no mainstream reporters had picked up on the dramatic story when a regular reader passed on a pretty good article about the issue in The Seattle Times.

Reporter Janet Tu employed a few journalistic devices that made the story read much better. Here’s how she began:

Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.

On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.

She does both, she says, because she’s Christian and Muslim.

Tu did such a simple thing, but it’s most appreciated. The first two sentences are written as fact. The third sentence does not say she is both Christian and Muslim but that she says she’s both Christian and Muslim. Many reporters would leave out the “she says” for one reason or another but when writing about contentious issues such as this, it’s vitally important to source the controversial statement rather than leave it in a story as fact.

Tu does a good job of quoting Christians and Muslims who explain the two religions are exclusive in the sense that one can’t be a practicing or faithful member of both. She also does a good job of quoting those who support Redding’s syncretism — most notably the higher-ups in the Episcopal Church.

The story is about one woman and her religious syncretism, but it’s also about the public response to the syncretism. Tu manages to let Redding tell her personal story without making it dominate the piece to the exclusion of the larger story. Neither does she shy away from doctrinal issues. Tu explains that Redding has never believed in original sin, has struggled with believing that Jesus was divine and always felt Christianity was a religion of privilege. Later Tu explains some of the doctrinal differences between Islam and Christianity.

Until Redding was laid off for budgetary reasons — not doctrinal ones — she was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral — the cathedral for the Olympia diocese. It was through her interfaith “outreach” that she was exposed to Islam and ended up converting to it in March 2006. One of the questions that arose while reading the story was whether the Episcopal Church would do anything about a priest who has, well, converted to Islam. Tu finds out the procedure for handling such situations:

Redding’s situation is highly unusual. Officials at the national Episcopal Church headquarters said they are not aware of any other instance in which a priest has also been a believer in another faith. They said it’s up to the local bishop to decide whether such a priest could continue in that role.

Redding’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting. Her announcement, first made through a story in her diocese’s newspaper, hasn’t caused much controversy yet, he said.

I have no doubt that Episcopal Church leaders said they weren’t aware of other instances of syncretistic priests, but I seem to recall a few stories in recent years of pagan Episcopal priests. Perhaps it would have been good to directly compare the previous instances and ask about them.

More than anything, though, I think this story needs to be remembered when national journalists are all sex-obsessed with the division in the Episcopal Church. I don’t begrudge Tu for not mentioning it in this story, but this accommodation of anti-Christian belief is precisely the stuff that repulses the pew-sitters in the dissident congregations.

It might also be interesting to consider the different treatment of the dissident congregations that aligned with African Anglicans and this priest who embraced a religion other than Christianity.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Here’s an unnecessary and unfortunate quote in what otherwise appears to be a good article from the Seattle Times:

    “I don’t think it’s possible” to be both, Fredrickson said, just like “you can’t be a Republican and a Democrat.”

    I wonder what prompted the political analogy from Frederickson. It is unfortunate, because it trivializes the situation. Believing that you can be a Christian and a Muslim is of much great consequence than splitting your votes between parties.

  • Chris Bolinger

    great = greater

  • http://n/a Ken Larson

    As a former parishioner of a church now apart from The Episcopal Church, I appreciate your attention to this story from Washington state. At diocesan conventions in the 1990′s we often would hear a priest say things — but without the head scarf — that clearly put them in the same category as Redding. Sometimes those priests were wearing vestments that identified them as bishops. So Ms. Redding is simply following a heretical tradition of sorts.

    It is nice to have something relevant to present to the folks worn down by all the talk of homosexuality. Clearly, there are a number of sins there from which to choose.

  • Eric

    I should stop being surprised by the fact that the “hierarchy” of the Episcopal Church is deliberately inconsistent. When I was at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, a university of the Episcopal Church, I knew a family who decided that they would renounce their orders as Episcopal priests and convert to Roman Catholicism. It was expected that the wife would lose her job at the seminary (despite the fact that there were Lutherans, Methodists, and a heterodox Catholic on faculty).

    Even more frustrating is the fact that this woman ATTEMPTS to make a mockery of the sacrifices of the Saints who have been martyred by Muslims while defending their faith. This includes the modern day Saints in Iraq like Fr. Ragheed Ganni and his companions. Her actions, which express her belief that there is not a significant difference between Christianity and Islam, further illustrates the fact that she thinks the Saints who have defended the Christian Faith against Islam did so in vain.

  • Martha

    “Officials at the national Episcopal Church headquarters said they are not aware of any other instance in which a priest has also been a believer in another faith.”

    Like the Druid Episcopalian husband and wife team of ministers (sorry, at this stage, I’m refusing to call Episcopalian ministers of religion ‘priests’ until they dang well act like priests), the Wiccan Episcopalian minister of religon, the Buddhist Episcopalian, the Women’s Eucharist ceremony that got yanked back in 2004 from the Office of Women’s Ministry website because it was a pagan ritual, the Presiding Bishop herself saying that she does not understand Jesus as *The* Way, since that would be putting God in an awfully small box, but rather as way, process, event – there seems to be rather a lot of things these officials are not aware of.

  • Jon Swerens

    When I first read the phrase “she was director of faith formation,” my tired eyes thought it read “director of faith fornication.”

    Oddly appropriate.

  • Jerry

    I have a great deal of sympathy for those with the syncretistic impulse like the Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan who said:

    The Sufi shows his universal brotherhood in his adaptability. Among Christians he is a Christian, among Jews he is a Jew, among Muslims he is a Muslim, among Hindus he is a Hindu;

    and Buddhism tends to be syncretistic but personally I’m bemused when an someone with an official Church position tries to be a Church leader and a follower in a different faith at the same time.

    I do agree that the story was a good one. It gave me a good picture of what she believes and how people from various points of view are reacting to her. She seems to be living out at least to some degree Inayat Khan’s description of the sufi point of view and I personally find that interesting. But to do it as a priest is kind of hard. It’s probably harder than a reporter writing a story and keeping his biases out of the result :-)

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  • Gerry Hunter

    Some ask, “Why”? Others ask, “Why not?”

  • Richard

    The “why notters?” in Mr. Hunter’s dichotomy rarely wait to see if there is an answer to the question.

  • tmatt

    Folks, you cannot make this stuff up.

    Click here for Zen-Benedictine theology.

    Click here for Liturgical Dances with Wolves.

    Here is the best old post we have on the druid story and some of the links still work. The latest is that the priest in question is a priest no more.

  • bob

    How does a member of the Episcopal Church prove they are *not* a Muslim? Do they want to?

  • Larry Rasczak


    Kudos for the Classic Saturday Night Live reference.

    That was one of the best skits ever…FOAMY was the product if I recall correctly.

    As for the ECUSA, it is best understood as a cultural/political/charitable organization these days… sort of like a VFW for folks who dodged the Vietnam Draft, only with a cross on top.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Ah, OakWyse, the Episcopal druid. Googling his name gives you this hit, which is his webpage on the witch/pagan clergy listing:

    By the way, OakWyse’s web page looks suspiciously like one of those character sheets I used in my Dungeons & Dragons playing days.

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    I wonder if they’re going to cover this little problem: in the Episcopal church she’s up front leading men and women, but in the mosque she’s in the back, quiet and submissive. I can’t imagine that going over well with the feminist wing.

    What are the rules of conduct that she adheres to during her non-worship times? Does she have any kids she’s raising, and if so, what are they? And what does her bishop and her colleagues say? (“Shape up or ship out” might not be long coming, judging by the Oakwyse incident.) How about any former instructors involved in her religious education?

    Seeing the rank absurdity of this Muslim woman/Episcopal priestess’ beliefs, with just a little digging I think it could prove to be an even more absurd tale, where she’s been encouraged in this direction by the action/inaction of others, poor training in theology, and abetted by a hierarchy that can’t be bothered to even learn about orthodoxy any more, much less enforce it. These kinds of stories are like watching a train wreck: you want to look away, but just can’t.

  • Charles

    “Ah, OakWyse, the Episcopal druid..”

    Now THAT should be a line from a SNL skit. Or maybe it’s more Python than SNL..?

    Good stuff, anyhow.

  • saint

    Here is Ms Redding’s Q&A at the paper. I submitted a couple of questions which didn’t make the cut.

  • holmegm

    Some ask, “Why”? Others ask, “Why not?”

    And some say “urglflgrgrg”, but them I usually give a dollar and point toward the Rescue Mission …

    There was a time we would have asked silly questions like “which is rational? which is right?”

  • Eli

    Hilarious title. The question I have is whether it’s sad or just funny watching train wrecks like Redding in progress. On the one hand you want to reach out and help straighten things out since it seems so tragic and at the same time it’s not exactly your problem, now is it? Regardless, it is certainly ‘interesting’ in the same sense that Nietzsche said the sick were interesting.

  • Martha

    “How does a member of the Episcopal Church prove they are *not* a Muslim? Do they want to?”

    bob, that’s easy! Do they believe Jesus Christ was born of a virgin? If yes, then they’re Muslim. If no, then they’re a modern up to date latest best cutting edge theological thought Piskie!

  • Martha

    “And what does her bishop and her colleagues say?”

    Funny you should ask that, Kevin. According to the “Seattle Times”:

    “Redding’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting. Her announcement, first made through a story in her diocese’s newspaper, hasn’t caused much controversy yet, he said.”

    Granted, this may have been said through gritted teeth and a fixed smile just to get the nosy reporter out of his hair, but equally likely in TEC, the Bishop is genuinely thrilled, thrilled! to have something this cool in his diocese.

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    Yes, Martha, you’re probably right about the “something cool” bit. Too bad she’s not a lesbian, too. Then they’d probably have her replace Jefferts-Schori, in keeping with The Episcopal Church’s primary value structure, and it’s recent emphasis, it seems.

    It’d be good to have more in-depth coverage, though. The little blurbs just aren’t satisfying. I wonder why in these days of unlimited space for news on the web (relative to the restrictions on printed news), we’re not treated to transcripts of complete interviews. Surely they’ve nothing to hide? (Cough.) Or are we supposed to agree that the drastic shortening and reworking of quotations in a quest for truthiness is somehow “added value”?

    The Q & A section in the Seattle Times (which is truly cool, by the way) for the article shows mostly a whole bunch of nicyness, and no theological depth at all on the part of most of the questioners and definitely on the part of the answerer, with no apparent knowledge of or confrontation of the serious and irreconcilable differences between Christianity (which apparently is no longer the religious group to which Episcopalianism prefers to belong) and Islam, chief among which is the absolute denial by the latter of the Sonship of Jesus in any way, shape, or form, a denial enshrined in the Qur’an and in the mosaics of the Dome of the Rock, the oldest attestation of this denial. While I agree that some of the wording in the article does show that the reporter was aware that there is a conflict here, there’s a whole lot more that could’ve been done to make this a much more interesting piece of writing, if not a much less controversial incident.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    It appears that TEC is getting nervous about the Redding affair as this interesting note on the AAC blog site suggests:

    AAC Note: Jim Naughton, an influential Episcopal communicator, said he hopes the news of a Seattle Episcopal Priest claiming to be both Christian and Muslim is ignored. Naughton, Canon for Communications and Advancement for the Diocese of Washington, in an e-mail to Episcopal communicators said “I fervently hope that it will be possible to ignore this story until it slips back beneath the radar.” This is yet another example of TEC’s house built upon sand and not on the rock that is Jesus and his Word.

  • bob

    Martha, you’re right. Well put. I recall a few years ago someone saying that the really worst thing anyone could do to Bishop Spong would be to translate his stuff into Arabic. Then see what happens when another audience reads what he says about Mary, mother of the Prophet Jesus….

  • Jeff in CA

    Larry (#13),

    It was SHIMMER.

  • jeanie

    I would wish she had had her “crisis of faith” or whatever she calls it, quietly. The bloggers are having a field day making the Church look and sound shallow, silly and without conviction. Might they be correct???? jeanie

  • Steven in Falls Church

    The bloggers are having a field day making the Church look and sound shallow, silly and without conviction.

    I think the Church is doing a pretty darn good job on its own of making itself look shallow, silly, and devoid of conviction.

  • Stephen A.

    My question is, if a male Episcopal priest becomes a Muslim, does he have to leave his gay lover?

    The astute observation above that she must sit quietly in the back of the Mosque doesn’t really fit into the Episcopal mindset.

    More theologically relevant is what Kevin raises in an excellent point above about the two religions’ view of Christ. He either IS or is NOT God. The two are not reconcilable.

  • jeanie

    The key word in these last posts is “quietly”. She should have “quietly” decided which faith suited her best and either moved on or stayed where she was. Instead she chose to dilute both to suit her own philosophy.