Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Still-Clueless Priest

As we begin the day we celebrate the heavenly birthday of St. Patrick, who used the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, we return to the saga of the Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding courtesy of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, who is the subject of this article posted to the paper's web site Sunday afternoon.

Dr. Redding's saga first made Pastor Zip's Blog in July 2007, after the Seattle Times picked up the curious story in the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia featuring a priest who claimed to be both Christian and Muslim. Olympia's Bishop didn't seem to think there was a problem. But then it turned out that Redding, while serving in Olympia, is canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island and that Bishop recognized otherwise and quickly suspended her from any priestly activities for a year of "Pastoral Direction," a year that was extended due to the Lambeth Conference. Last October Bishop Wolf inhibited Dr. Redding, giving her a deadline of this month to show why she ought not be defrocked.

Writes the Journal's Richard C. Dujardin,
But these days, as she approaches the 25th anniversary of her ordination as an Episcopal priest on March 25, Redding, who lives in Seattle, faces controversy of a different sort. She is on the verge of being defrocked by Rhode Island Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf because of her insistence that she can be a Muslim and Christian at the same time.

Bishop Wolf, who is Redding's canonical superior, has told Redding that her conversion to Islam through her recitation of Shahada, the basic Islamic creed, constitutes an abandonment of the Christian faith and that unless she recants by March 30, she will no longer be a priest.

The warning, formally issued by Bishop Wolf with the backing of the diocesan standing committee last September, has been among the communications that began in September 2007, soon after Bishop Wolf attended a meeting of the House of Bishops and heard stories about a priest claiming to be both Muslim and Christian.

Bishop Wolf recalls getting up at that meeting and saying such a stand was misguided because the fundamental teachings were incompatible. Only after returning to Rhode Island, she says, did she discover that Redding, a former parishioner at St. Stephen's Church in Providence, had been ordained by her predecessor, Bishop George N. Hunt. Because Redding never shifted her canonical residence, Bishop Wolf is her superior.

"I had her come in because I didn't want to rely on a newspaper story," the bishop recounted. "I said to her, 'This is a spiritual challenge for you to decide where you are in terms of your understanding of the Christian faith, especially Christ's passion, and resurrection and incarnation. I want you to take some time to seek spiritual direction.' "...

When the bishop and priest met again last September, Redding repeated her view that she saw no conflict between embracing Islam and following Jesus. It was then that Bishop Wolf said she would begin proceedings to have her deposed.

In Bishop Wolf's view, the moment that Redding recited the words of the Shahada, the creed that says "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger," she gave her allegiance to Islam and abandoned the Christian faith.

"As I understand it, Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Christ. They don't believe in the death of Christ or that he is the Son of God, which are cornerstones of the Christian faith. Yes, there are people in every religion who try to stretch the basic tenets of a belief, but if you choose to be a priest within the Episcopal Church you are speaking for the church and its teachings. It demands a commitment."

Reached at her home in Seattle, Redding said Thursday that unless something causes her to radically change her convictions in the next few weeks, she will "continue to be faithful to the call and invitation that God has given to me."

She says that while she had been familiar with some of the teachings of Islam, she began looking at them more seriously after inviting Muslims to speak at the cathedral in the aftermath of 9/11.

But it was a personal crisis, one she does not wish to share, that led her, she says, to a realization that "I needed to totally surrender myself to God. Surrender to God is what Islam is about."...

"It never occurred to me I was leaving Christianity any more than the early disciples of Jesus would have felt they were leaving Judaism by becoming his followers," she said. "It was only after the fact that I recognized it could be very confusing to many people."

And how does Redding place herself between two faiths, one which holds that Jesus is the Son of God and another that regards Jesus as a prophet and forerunner to Muhammad but not God's Son?

Redding, who'd like to be a bridge between the two faiths, insists that the two religions are closer than many think. The Koran, like the New Testament, teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. She says she finds that Muslims are more firm in that belief than many Christians she knows, who seem not to be sure.

She says she continues to believe that Jesus is divine but goes on to explain that she believes there is an element of the divine in all of us. "We are all children of God."

"When Christians say that Jesus is the only-begotten son of God, we are putting into words an understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus and the unique intimate relationship we have with him and his mission," she says. "But I don't think that the 'only begotten Son' language is to be taken literally."

In a departure from traditional Islamic teaching, Redding holds that Jesus was crucified and was resurrected. She argues that the Koran doesn't explicitly deny that Jesus was crucified but only that the Jews did not crucify him.

However, Imam Abdul Hameed of the Islamic Center of Rhode Island disputes her reading. The Koran, he says, makes clear that Jesus was not crucified or killed, but was "lifted up" to God.

"I think she is a little confused. There is no possibility for one to be both a Muslim and a Christian," Hameed said. "If she doesn't believe that [Jesus] is the son of God, she is not Christian. And she can't be a Muslim if she believes Jesus died on a cross."

Redding says she prefers to stay away from some of the constructs theologians have built to help decide "who is in and who is out, who is going to heaven and who is not."

"The Trinity is a wonderful way of thinking about God. … But will I reduce God to a formula? No.

"To those who say you have to believe in the formula, I say, 'No, God cannot be packaged.' "

Even now, facing the possibility of being defrocked, Redding continues to worship at various Episcopal churches and to receive communion. On Fridays, she goes to recite prayers at the Islamic center....

But even Redding believes she is in an uphill battle. She says her situation might be easier if the the U.S. Episcopal Church itself weren't under pressure from conservative prelates in other countries who want the church to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion for ordaining a gay bishop. She notes that many of the church's sharpest critics are Third World prelates who are competing with Muslims every day.

Bishop Greg Rickel, who became leader of the 33,000-member Olympia Diocese after the controversy started, said he agrees with Bishop Wolf that Redding can't be a member of two faiths.

But he adds: "I also want to say I love Ann Holmes Redding. She has taught me a lot and I enjoy her company. As a person of faith here, she gets a lot of support."...
Read it all here. Tip of the biretta to TitusOneNine.

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