Friday, June 22, 2007

The Strange Business of the Muslim Episcopalian

I have over the last few days been attempting to get my mind around the assertion of the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding that she is both a Christian and a Muslim. I have done my research by going back to the "source" documents to make sure that I have fully grasped what this is all about. Then this morning, my day off, as I have been going about my chores I have been turning it around in my mind.

The furor surrounding Ann Holmes Redding has a number of fascinating dimensions, not least the appropriateness of her status as a priest in the Episcopal Church. During the last few years it seems that some of us have been regularly lectured about obedience to the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, and there have for some been dire consequences for stepping outside it. Now Dr. Redding has provided an interesting test case about whether all the talk about the doctrine and discipline of the church of these years is really serious, or if deep down it is about something else.

While the Episcopal Church has turned itself into a maximalist when it comes to obedience to the discipline and canons of the church as interpreted by the leadership, it has steadily become increasingly minimalist regarding doctrinal affirmation. Yet however many fundamental Anglican formularies are shaved away, the Nicene Creed is one fundamental doctrinal statement that the overwhelming majority say they accept.

If Ann Holmes Redding is now free to continue her idiosyncratic course without action being taken, then the creeds are up for grabs and any pretence of being a catholic and reformed church is being deliberately abandoned. That her bishop, Vincent Warner, does not seem to understand the theological implications of the statements Ms. Redding has made is a sad and ominous sign.

But there is more going on than this. I must begin by saying that I respect Ms. Redding's willingness to approach the Islamic faith with reverence and respect. While the aggression of popular Islam around the world has caused gred grief, I have learned from the likes of Bishop Kenneth Cragg that I will never fully be able to understand this religious confession if I do not treat it respectfully. I confess that as much as I attempt to do so, I find this extremely difficult.

Yet it seems Ann Holmes Redding has only managed to make this dual commitment to Christianity and Islam by stepping aside from a biblical and historical understanding of the nature of the trinitarian God and the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, toward a theology and Christology that has robbed from our Lord and Savior his must essential distinctives.

To be a Muslim is to accept Christianity as a way station preparing for the fullest revelation that is the Islamic obedience, and Jesus as a prophet making straight the way for Mohammed. The great rift between Islam and Christianity is radically different understandings of the nature and person of Christ.

As the Seattle Times summarizes Ms. Redding's belief system it is clear she has wandered far, far from anything that vaguely resembles the historic Christian faith. "She believes the Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally. She does not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus. She believes Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans. What makes Jesus unique, she believes, is that out of all humans, he most embodied being filled with God and identifying completely with God's will."

Perhaps her "progressive" Christian faith has led her in this direction, but her jump to Islam while attempting to continue holding onto her Christian standing would suggest that when it comes down to it the Christian doctrinal tradition is of little importance to her.

But there is more here. If she has in the past questioned what she might have considered to be the unfounded biblicism of those of us who are orthodox Christian believers, how is she going to handle the Islamic belief about the inspiration of the Quran as dictated directly by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed? That same Quran denies the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something that she says she believes in. It would seem that these two paths to most thinking people are incompatible.

It would be wonderful to think that this priest had discovered an appropriate way to breach one of the most agonizing religious gulfs in human history, and that neither Christians nor Muslims would have to compromise their beliefs to become brothers and sisters in faith together. However, it would seem that what it seems she has actually done is to deliberately let go of the most substantial distinctives of her Christian heritage in favor of an understanding of God that cannot appropriately figure within Christianity.

The more I have thought about Islam over the years the more I have come to appreciate the assertion of one of my seminary professors that Islam is actually a Christian heresy, and in its formative period borrowed much from the Christian church. Some have even suggested the the Nestorian church of the east, with its less-than-thorough grasp of the nature of the Trinity readily prepared for Islam to sweep the faith away through much of what is today the Islamic world. If I did not know the saving mercy of redemption that is available through Jesus Christ, there is much in the stark ethic of Islam that I might find attractive. However, it seems to me that with the best will in the world it is hard to consider these two religions as compatible bedfellows.

I would suggest that Dr. Redding has for a long time probably affirmed a somewhat relativistic understanding of the Christian faith that has now met and is being steadily subsumed by the appeal of Islam, and her embrace of it. Which way she goes will be interesting to see, but while she is making up her mind it is entirely inappropriate for her to be considered a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Church, however theologically suspect this denomination is.


Anonymous said...

One might say the same about her bishop who is "excited" about the additional perspectives. Of course, nothing in either case is likely to be done, as that would be judgmental and non-inclusive.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with much of what you say. But as I look through your blog postings over the past couple of years, I am struck by how many of them are spent railing, storming, complaining, chastizing, judging "the other side."

I would describe myself as a clergy person firmly in the progressive strand of our denomination who gladly embraces gay people in our community of faith, who rejoiced with the election of Bp Robinson not because he was gay but because he had the qualities and gifts to be a bishop.

I also rejoice that in my small, startup ministry I am reaching out to a lot of unchurched (and young and straight, I might add) people who are finding and being found by Jesus, and Him Crucified and Risen. I am humbled watching this growing community worship, pray, minister, study its way through the Acts of the Apostles, trying to learn what it means to be the Church, to be disciples of Christ, even unto the cross.

The miracle, the absolute and sheer miracle of God's love is God's willingness to work with what's available, to accept both you and me, representatives of an earthen vessel called the Church that is full of cracks and fissures. We are both still able to bring the love of Christ to bear on a world where goodness and healing is desperately needed.

I pray that in your new ministry, you will be able to build up what is good and holy in your particular corner of the church, and spend less of your God-given energy on bitterness and fear. God speed.

Richard Kew said...

I find it interesting that those who make the most sweeping criticisms are the ones who are unwilling to attach their names to their statements, instead hiding behind the mask of anonymity. When I say this I am not pointing the finger at any particular group, because "anonymous" judges me from either end of the spectrum.

Firstly, as I have gone back over the last year or so of my comments what surprises me is how little I have said about the tragic rending of the Episcopal Church.

Secondly, the issue dividing the church is not sexuality so much as our understanding of the nature of God, whether we take his self-revelation in Scripture seriously, and the concomitant that flows from that, which is what it means to be human. I believe that so-called progressives have devalued revelation and are in the process of attempting to redesign what it means to be human.

Thirdly, neither is the issue the exclusion of certain persons -- I have had homosexual people in just about every congregation I have serve. Rather, it is an unwillingness of those of us who stand within the mainstream of Anglican Christianity to rewrite the ethical and moral values to be found in Scripture, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or whatever.

Fourthly, what I have attempted to do is to argue cogently a case that challenges what I believe to be the questionable course that the Episcopal Church has taken, and to attempt to do so theologically. My regret is that those who hold positions that oppose my own seem unwilling to respond theologically but, as in this case, tend to respond by personal attack and not seeking to rebutt ideas, theologies, worldviews, and notions.

Fifthly, there seems to be a standard barb from "the left" that those of us who cannot endorse what we believe to be the erroneous course that they are following suffer from fear and from bitterness. I confess to regret, sadness, hurt, discomfort, perhaps, having watched some wonderful works of God cast up on the shoals as a result of all that has happened.

It has been incredibly disappointing to watch the Episcopal Church follow a trajectory that has been so destructive. What I want to do is make a contribution to rebuilding the church that now lies in tatters and ruins.

Rev J+ said...

I agree with you 1000%. I keep asking why does studying a sin for 30 years make committing that sin and continuing to commit that sin ok just because it has been studies for 30 years? Does this mean, that if we undertake a study of murder for 30 years, that we might conclude that it too is OK?
I just don't get how people have concluded that since Bishop Robinson is a good guy, that this makes him fit to be a bishop, and further, I don't see how he could have gone through with it in the face of the Archbishop, and thousands of others asking him not to do it. I'm glad that I don't have the split of the entire Anglican Communion setting on my shoulders, wow, what a weight!

WannabeAnglican said...

If there's a villian in this story, it's Bishop Vincent, who refuses to discipline.

If you don't care enough about truth to discipline, you don't care enough about truth.

Grace Kim said...

+Vincent Warner is not Ann Holmes Redding's bishop. She is not canonically resident in the Diocese of Olympia, as a glance at the online clerical directory will confirm.

Anonymous said...

So where then is this Priest 'resident'? Who should be disciplining her. According to the story she was working at the cathedral until laid off earlier this year.

Anonymous said...

According to the Episcopal Clergy Finder (, she is canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island.

Steve said...

Martial Artist (Keith Toepfer) said...

Can anyone here shed light on the question of what Episcopal canon law has to say about a priest canonically resident in one diocese working as Minister for Faith Formation at the cathedral parish in a different diocese?

Anonymous said...

Ok, so we have a priest canonically resident in RI working in Olympia. One assumes the Bishop of Olympia has issued a license to allow this! Which he can of course withdraw as a first step in the process.
Jon R

Anonymous said...

This gets even weirder! I just had a look at this clergy finder gadget, working (until recently) in Seattle, home address Atlanta, and canonically resident in Rhode Island?
Jon R.

Craig Goodrich said...

One can't help but believe that Ms Redding's faith in Islam is no more firmly orthodox than her faith in Christianity.

There are any number of reasons why people subscribe to a particular religion -- social conformity and "belonging", subjective therapeutic "self-esteem", and so on. One could make the case that for most adherents (of whatever religion), social reasons predominate, as they have for millennia, while in our postChristian West nowadays the main motivator is therapeutic and personal.

But of course the only good reason for professing Christianity (or Islam or Taoism) is that one honestly believes its factual claims -- God exists in a personal sense, He created the world and exists apart from it, He has directly intervened in human history, and so on. And this basis of faith is of course what one minimally expects from clergy of whatever religion. Unless one is a modern Episcopalian; clearly Ms Redding is fuzzy on the factual in both religions.

* * *

As to Islam being a Christian heresy, the most interesting study I've seen of fragments of early Christian texts showing up in the Koran is one of the essays in the fascinating but dense volume What the Koran Really Says, Ibn Warraq, ed. The book's overall conclusion is that the origin and early history of the Koran is quite radically different from what is taught in the Muslim tradition.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Redding has been suspended from her duties as an Episcopal priest for one year.

Follow this link

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