She’s a dessert topping or a floor wax

CrossCrescentSeattle Times religion reporter Janet Tu has been covering the rather juicy story of an Episcopal priest converting to Islam while seeing no conflict with her ordination vows in the Christian church. We discussed her mid-June story about the case already.

I liked how she didn’t bias the story one way or the other, using the simple trick of letting the priest in question characterize her own views while letting folks on the Muslim and Christian sides of the debate weigh in with their own views. She continues the trend with this fascinating update that was announced last week:

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a local Episcopal priest who announced she is both Muslim and Christian, will not be able to serve as a priest for a year, according to her bishop.

During that year, Redding is expected to “reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam,” the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, wrote in an e-mail to Episcopal Church leaders.

Redding was ordained more than 20 years ago by the then-bishop of Rhode Island, and it is that diocese that has disciplinary authority over her.

During the next year, Redding “is not to exercise any of the responsibilities and privileges of an Episcopal priest or deacon,” Wolf wrote in her e-mail. Wolf could not be reached for immediate comment.

“I’m deeply saddened, but I’ve always said I would abide by the rulings of my bishop,” said Redding, who met with Wolf last week. Redding, who characterized their conversation as amicable, said the two would continue to communicate throughout the year.

In the earlier story, Redding’s bishop in Seattle, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner of the Diocese of Olympia, said he had absolutely no problem with one of his priests converting to Islam while staying on the clergy roster of the Episcopal Church. But in this story he says he thinks Wolf’s decision is a good “compromise.” Apparently the bishopric in which you’re ordained has disciplinary authority over you. That’s how Bishop Wolf was able to step in and institute her decision. At the end of the year Redding will likely have to pick which of the religions she wishes to confess:

“I understand that one of my options would be to voluntarily leave the priesthood,” Redding said.

At this moment, though, she is not willing to do that. “The church is going to have to divorce me if it comes to that,” she said. “I’m not going to go willingly.”

So that should be interesting to watch. Redding converted to Islam 15 months ago. During that time she was in charge of faith formation at St. Mark’s Cathedral. She was removed from that position for reasons unrelated to her conversion in March. She didn’t publicly announce that she had converted to Islam until June. During the next year, she will teach at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution. She told reporter Tu that she believes she has become a better Christian since she converted to a religion that does not believe Christ to be the son of God.

IslamXPThis story helps highlight that the divide in the Episcopal Church and larger Anglican Communion is not over the more politically-charged stories that the mainstream media tend to be obsessed with. Rather, the divide is over some pretty basic theological differences, such as how seriously to take the Nicene Creed. Tu notes this in her story:

Some also saw Redding’s announcement as another sign that the Episcopal Church was veering too far away from Scripture, doctrine and tradition. The Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is already embroiled in deep conflict with the Communion over scriptural interpretation on issues such as homosexuality and the ordination of women.

It also shows that the Episcopal Church is not some monolithic block of Scripture-deniers, as it is sometimes portrayed by the mainstream media. Yes, you have Bishop Warner who sees absolutely no problem with one of his priests converting to Islam. But you also have Bishop Wolf, who clearly saw a major problem with the case and how it was being handled by the folks out West. It’s worth reporters looking into these divisions more. And if I were covering this story, I might do a profile of Bishop Wolf, who sounds like a rather interesting character in the story. She won’t discuss the details of her disciplinary action, but it would be worthwhile to learn more about her theological approach to the issues being dealt with in her church.

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  • Stephen A.

    I’m wondering how this is playing in Nigeria, where the Christians and Muslims are, shall we say, not playing well with one another. Not to speculate, but it must appear rather bizarre, as I expect it would to anyone who thinks about either Faith’s Truth Claims for more than three minutes.

    First the Episcopalian Druidic Priest and then this woman who thinks she’s a ChristoMuslim. Both raise serious questions about what’s going on in that Faith when it comes to doctrine and theology if its priests believe they can practice other religions concurrently. It warrants a serious, thorough and fair examination in the press.

    Kudos to the reporter for raising the ongoing battles within the denomination.

  • Corban

    ‘Rev’ (or even ‘Rt Rev’) Wolf was born Jewish, so she understands a thing or two about conversion.

  • Joseph Fox

    The reporter should have asked how many of the books of Harry Potter has Reverend Redding read as there seems to be something magical about her reasoning. But we should also remember that folks of the cloth can also have mental and/or medication problems.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    Wolf was born Jewish, so she understands a thing or two about conversion.

    I’d thought of that when I read she’d done the right thing – very kindly but the right thing – and suspended Dr Redding for a year to think about what she’d done.

    Everybody I’ve talked to who knows Geralyn Wolf admires her. I imagine leaving Judaism to come to her Christian faith caused her some psychological suffering, underlining the fact that the three great Abrahamic faiths are mutually exclusive.

    Undoubtedly, thanks in part to her own life, she understands the issues far better than either Dr Redding in Seattle or Bishop Warner in Olympia.

  • Alan

    Bishop Wolf leans toward the liberal side of the Episcopal Church, but has developed a reputation of dealing fairly and honestly with those in her diocese who are signficantly more conservative. If there is such a thing as “bishop temperment,” she has it.

  • http://andalsowithyou.blogspot.com franksta

    Apparently the bishopric in which you’re ordained has disciplinary authority over you.

    Not necessarily. There is a fairly standard procedure for incardination between dioceses just as in Catholicism, typically for active priests who move from a full-time cure in one diocese to one in another diocese. Barring incardination, a priest must have permission to preach and administer sacraments from the Ordinary where he/she serves. Technically, Dr. Redding is “licensed” in the Diocese of Olympia, but “canonically resident” in the Diocese of Rhode Island. I haven’t seen any discussion anywhere of why she maintained her canonical status in RI rather than being incardinated.

  • Jeff

    Another missing part in this story is the fact that Ms. Redding is not the only person of the opinion that one can be a Muslim and a Christian.

    Driving across the Arizona desert this weekend, I was listening to Michael Medved when someone called in who was a Muslim/Christian who feels Islam has deepened his appreciation of Christ. In fact, he still considers himself a Christian. Of course, he doesn’t believe in the resurrection or Christ’s divinity, but there you go.

    So, it would be interesting to know how widespread this phenomenon is. For a truly enterprising reporter, this actually raises the question of who can rightfully call himself a Christian. That “ghost”, if you will, is all around Mitt Romney and the Mormon issue this blog has been covering. It’s a huge issue, not only for this current story, or Romney, but for the ecumenical movement as well, which is predicated on the notion that there is some official standard of what makes a Christian.

  • Jeff

    BTW, Mollie, where did that picture come from?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I wonder what would be the reaction to someone who claimed to be a Moslem, but did not believe in the inspiration of the Koran or the prophethood of Mohammed.
    I suspect they would get much less respect than the Gary Willses and CFCs who inbsist they are “Catholic” even though they reject the magisterium.

  • Michele Hagerman

    The thing I’m interested in with regards to this story is the fact that the now-suspended priest is African-American. Given the influence of the Nation of Islam within some parts of the African-American community, I would be very interested to learn if Ann Redding’s race had any influence in her decision to become a Muslim.

  • Camassia

    According to the Seattle Times article, race was a factor:

    She began praying with the Al-Islam Center, a Sunni group that is predominantly African-American.

    There were moments when practicing Islam seemed like coming home.

    In Seattle’s Episcopal circles, Redding had mixed largely with white people. “To walk into Al-Islam and be reminded that there are more people of color in the world than white people, that in itself is a relief,” she said.

    It’s a reminder, actually, that a lot of African-Americans belong to Islamic organizations other than the Nation of Islam.

  • Larry “Grumpy” Rasczak

    “I wonder what would be the reaction to someone who claimed to be a Moslem, but did not believe in the inspiration of the Koran or the prophethood of Mohammed.”

    I believe it involves getting your head chopped off and haivng the video posted on the internet.

    Jeff raises a great point about the person who “… still considers himself a Christian. Of course, he doesn’t believe in the resurrection or Christ’s divinity…”

    At some point, in the Anglosphere at least, it became impolite to say someone was “unchristian” or “not a Christian”. I speculate that this was in the Victorian days when being a “Freethinker” was rather shocking and caused a bit of social ostracisim. Saying someone is/was “not Christian” is somehow an insult, when saying someone is “Not a Platonist” or “not a Buddhist” or “downright unaristotilian” is not considered an insult.

    Perhaps it is because the word “Christian” got bundled up with charity, polite manners, tollerance, and being well scrubbed.

    None the less, someone who does not believe in the Nicean Creed can not properly be called a Christian, any more than someone who does not agree with Das Kapital can properly be called a Marxist, or someone who does not play an instrument can be properly called a musician, or someone who has not completed Marine Corps Basic Training can properly be called a Marine.

  • http://flatlandsfriar.blogspot.com Brett

    Nice follow-up — but I’m really writing to note how much I loved the good old-school SNL reference in the headline…

  • z-man

    “….or someone who does not play an instrument can be properly called a musician….”

    but we just watched The Music Man last night; in the end, I really thought Prof. Hill was a musician after all!

  • Dennis Colby

    “someone who does not believe in the Nicean Creed can not properly be called a Christian”

    Hey, somebody should tell the Oneness Pentecostals that; they seem pretty sure they’re Christian. And why stop with the Nicene Creed? What about Chalcedon?

    The point is that it’s pretty hard to create a hard and fast definition of what constitutes a Christian. This problem is at the heart of this story and all those “Is Romney a Christian?” stories.

    I think Janet Tu has done a great job meeting that challenge – giving Redding a chance to explain herself, while making it clear that the burden of explanation is on the person who thinks it’s possible to be both a Christian and a Muslim.

  • Ian

    “The point is that it’s pretty hard to create a hard and fast definition of what constitutes a Christian.”

    I think Larry had said it quite well previously. It’s pretty simple to start with, believing that Jesus is the son of God, died for us and rose again is probably key, something someone of the Islamic faith does not believe, making them not a Christian.
    What I cannot fathom is how a person who was/is a “Christian” minister cannot understand this core principal.

  • Brian Walden

    “During the next year, she will teach at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution.”

    The TEC should trade it’s conservative churches to the Catholic Church for the Jesuits. It would be a win-win deal.

  • Scott Allen

    Seems to be informative, nonjudgemental reporting of a genuine news story.

    I would have covered it as a “slippery slope” story but that’s obviously not appropriate for the Seattle Times. Bishop Wolf, who as a woman is not Biblically qualifed for her office, finds it troubling when another woman priest decides that the Bible is insufficient for her purposes…
    …the leaven they added decades ago has nearly leavened the whole lump. Gal 5:9

  • Bob

    “No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also” — I John 2:23

    “It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son” — Qur’an 19:35