Seattle 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.
This 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.