Shuck and Jive

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Episcopal Priest is Defrocked for Being Muslim Too

I found the following story disturbing. An Episcopal priest has been defrocked because she is both a Christian and a Muslim. Her path is interesting. Check it:

The Episcopal Church has defrocked Ann Holmes Redding, the Seattle Episcopal priest who announced in 2007 that she is both Christian and Muslim.

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over Redding, informed the priest of her decision in a letter today.

Wolf found Redding to be "a woman of utmost integrity and their conversations over the past two years have been open, honest and respectful," according to a press release from the Diocese of Rhode Island.

"However, Bishop Wolf believes that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."

"I am very sad," Redding had said Tuesday. "I'm sad at the loss of this cherished honor of having served as a priest."

She also said she was sad at what seems to her to be a narrow vision of what the church accepts.

Redding, who had formerly served as director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, announced in June 2007 that for more than a year, she had also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Muslim prayers moved her profoundly.

It was an announcement that perplexed many, though Redding said she didn't feel a need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths, believing that at the most basic level they are compatible.

I think that there is no more pressing religious issue than finding points of connection between Christianity and Islam especially as there are forces in the world that want to escalate the tensions by promoting a "clash of cultures."

Rev. Redding is doing good work. I admire her. I don't see the problem with being both a Christian and a Muslim. We hold different identities together all of the time.

One could argue that a bigger paradox is being Christian and American. How can we hold loyalties to Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, at the same time as we hold loyalties to a military Empire that thinks nothing of starting wars all over the globe and whose 4% population consumes 25% of the world's oil?

Or how can we be Christian and capitalist? How we can hold loyalty to Christ who told us the kingdom of God belonged to the poor while holding loyalty to an economic system that scorches Earth, exploits the most vulnerable, and increases the gap between the rich and the poor?

Being Christian and Muslim is an easy one for me.

Religion in its institutional form remains in the dark ages.

Rev. Redding is showing us the way out.


  1. As a Presbyterian pastor in an interfaith marriage, I understand treasuring, revering, another tradition. I am praying faithfully when I go to synagogue. I suspect the Rabbi would not say that makes me a Jew, but it might be hard for anyone else to tell. My in-laws were quite impressed that I knew more than one verse of the Pesach songs! I'll be interested to follow more of Rev. Redding's story. Thanks for sharing, John!

  2. Thanks Susan,

    I think Rev. Redding is making public a reality that is becoming clear as your marriage is also showing. It is a time of deep ecumenism and plurality of religious expression and identity. We are mixing and interacting. While this is threatening for those who see religion in terms of purity, many others are saying no it doesn't have to be that way.

  3. Part of the irony here is that Reverend Wolf converted from Judaism to Christianity...

  4. Imagine an Episcopalian bishop standing for the Christian tradition. Amazing

  5. ...for a narrow version of the Christian tradition maybe...

    ...thankfully "the tradition" is pluriform.

  6. I really struggle about the Ann Holmes Redding case. I want to honor her search for God--and, yet, it seems to me that she took vows that she is no longer able to honor.

    The ordination vows in our Book of Common Prayer are pretty explicit--they require priests to "declare that I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."

    Ordination vows also require you to obey your bishop.

    You may not like those vows, but those are what Ann Holmes Redding promised to do. If she can no longer honestly hold to them, why not just step down? Why force the bishop to defrock her?

    I believe she can follow both Christianity and Islam as a layperson--but ordination vows require something different..something she can no longer uphold. She cannot say she believes that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. She cannot conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of our church. She cannot (did not) obey her bishop.

    Ann Holmes Redding is free to follow her spiritual path--she simply cannot do it as an Episcopal priest, because to follow her current path is to violate her ordination vows. Those of us in TEC are very attuned to the vows of bishops and priests right now, because a number of those who took the same vows that Ann Holmes Redding did have tried to take their parishes/dioceses out of the church and steal the silver while they are at it. We cannot, in good conscience, hold only "those people" to their ordination vows.

    Vows mean something--or they should. I cannot fault a bishop who (according to people in the know) has been very pastoral and restrained in this situation, from finally giving Ms. Holmes Redding the freedom she sought through her actions.


  7. Hey Doxy,

    I appreciate your insights and your struggle.

    I think your points are well spoken and I think they speak to the institutional quagmire with which we find ourselves.

    I think the issues we are facing are larger than Rev. Redding, and her personal beliefs and practices, even as she has, courageously in my view, embodied these issues in her ministry.

    We are facing an unprecedented time in human history. Impending global resource crises, the threats to Earth, its species and people, obligate us to a a deep ecumenism that draws from all of the wisdom traditions. We need to work and to identify as one human family. We need all the help and cooperation we can get.

    Our religious, spiritual, and wisdom traditions, to borrow a metaphor from Matthew Fox, are different wells tapping into a common river.

    The 'adversary' is not other faith communities or religions. The adversary is injustice, ignorance, tribalism, and threat to our very life on Earth that all religious traditions recognize.

    It is especially critical that Christians connect with Muslims at this time. The dangerous mythology of a 'clash of civilizations' between 'Islam and the West' needs to be countered by deep engagement with each other.

    As far as ordination vows are concerned, well, yes, I take them as well. But they are more than simply promises to obey ecclesiastical rules. They are vows ultimately, to God, to the River, known by many names and reached through many wells.

    I think our religious institutions are missing the larger hope here. Rather than focusing on individuals who "misbehave" and then picking off these prophetic voices one by one, we need to listen to the great ecumenical movement between and among our traditions that is happening, frankly, outside of our institutions.

    This cannot be a task simply for laypeople alone, on their own. It will require the work of institutions and their professional representatives rethinking what it means to be human.

    There is a precedent for what Rev. Redding has done. It is in the work of Louis Masignon, a Catholic priest who participated in Islam from the inside.

  8. I guess Pastor Shuck, where I would have questions or reservations about your vision for an ecumenical future is that it presupposes as the foundation a position of religious pluralism which seems to not take seriously the individuality of the religious traditions.

    So while there may seem to be incredible respect for all the traditions, it in fact relativizes all the religions, saying that their religion is not actually about what they say it is about - 'their well' - but rather it is *really* about 'the river.'

    Not that I disagree with you on the ridiculousness of the "clash of civilizations" model, or any way-of-being in the world which encourages violence or conflict; but it seems to me to sort of marginalize all traditional religious believers and imply that the center of their faith should not be in their faith, but in pluralism; which you imply is the only way we are going to get beyond "injustice, ignorance and tribalism"

    Certainly this could be a hasty read of your position, so I am open to being wrong here. And I hope not to seem rude or mean spirited.

  9. I don't intend to be absolutist or foundational regarding religious pluralism.

    I don't even need to in order to say that religious traditions change. They continually change over time.

    Their institutional rules change. Their theological convictions change.

    Traditions merge and separate.

    I do believe we are in the midst of a pretty big change.

    I think we are seeing this change in the ecumenical movement between religious traditions as they discover each other, as my first commenter suggested, even in one family.

    This will inevitably move toward integration.

    This is larger than Rev. Redding "breaking the rules" as I see it, but part of a larger shift as religious traditions respond to changing realities.

  10. So if it is an inevitable result of contact with other faiths, how is it that all previous contact over the centuries has not resulted in integration?

    A question that I would have is how would a respect for people of other religions compare to a position of affirming all religions? Are they compatible or at odds with how you see the future needing to be?

  11. A lot of integration has already taken place. Ask a person what the difference is between a Methodist and Presbyterian today as opposed to 200 years ago.

    Most don't even know or care, but they did some time ago.

    We now find ourselves in official relationships with other denominations.

    In my parents' generation it was a sin for Catholics to be in a Protestant church and vice versa.

    I think you can just look around and see people dabbling in all kinds of different traditions.

    It is the institutional clergy who have not yet caught on.

    I don't see this as a religious issue per se, in that it is religion vs. religion.

    I think it is really religion vs. social, political, economic, injustice.

    As we work together for common goals in practical matters (ie. Muslims and Christians working together against racism, social injustice, etc.), we will find people appreciating and adopting each other's religious practices as well.

    At the very least each will affirm that the other's path is valid for them.

    The Rev. Reddings will be more common, at least I hope.

    Of course another path is possible--institutional circling the wagons--and the purging of heretics.

    Those heretics will go somewhere, probably, and that will likely be to form other institutions that have a broader ecumenical (perhaps pluralistic) scope.

  12. Rev Redding must have known that the teachings of Islamic and Christian religious traditions are incompatible. However, as the new 30-year research project (Brothers Kept Apart) has shown, there is harmony between the principal teachings of the Bible and the Qur’an.

    Therefore, it is possible for Rev Redding to be a Muslim and a Christian, but she could not follow both Islam and Christianity.