A black Muslim, a priest, and an Episcopalian walk into a bar…
*wait for it*
…and they are all the same woman.
Meet Ann Holmes Redding:
Until recently, she was a womanist biblical scholar, an Episcopal priest with more than 20 years under her robe, the Director of Faith Formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle—and a convert to Islam.
After Redding publicly professed both Christianity and Islam in June of 2007, she was asked by Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island (who had disciplinary authority over Redding) to take a year off and reflect on her beliefs. In the fall of 2008, a church committee determined that Redding had "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church." Earlier this month, when Redding refused to resign her priesthood and also refused to deny being a Muslim, Wolf "defrocked" (formally deposed) her.
Redding still considers herself both a Christian and a Muslim. In a 2007 interview with The Seattle Times, she addressed what some consider a contradiction:
Her announcement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obvious question: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim?
But it has drawn other reactions too. Friends generally say they support her, while religious scholars are mixed: Some say that, depending on how one interprets the tenets of the two faiths, it is, indeed, possible to be both. Others consider the two faiths mutually exclusive.
"There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different," said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. "The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus?"
Christianity has historically regarded Jesus as the son of God and God incarnate, both fully human and fully divine. Muslims, though they regard Jesus as a great prophet, do not see him as divine and do not consider him the son of God.
"I don't think it's possible" to be both, Fredrickson said, just like "you can't be a Republican and a Democrat."
Redding, who will begin teaching the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University this fall, has a different analogy: "I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I'm both an American of African descent and a woman. I'm 100 percent both."
Redding doesn't feel she has to resolve all the contradictions. People within one religion can't even agree on all the details, she said. "So why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?
"At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That's all I need."
Its recent schism aside, the Episcopal Church's tradition is one of tolerance and recognition that doubt and questioning can co-exist with faith. After being raised in other Christian traditions, I joined an Episcopal Church nearly six years ago, in part because it was a place of worship where I didn't have to check my brain at the door. I'm not sure, though, if I can wrap said brain around Ann Holmes Redding's religious duality, nor around her likening this duality to being both black and a woman.
Still...I smell a rat. I don't know if this rat is sexist or racist, or both. But it reeks. Consider:
Redding was deposed not long after a Michigan diocese elected Thew Forrester, a white male lay-ordained Buddhist, as a bishop. Forrester reportedly denies the divinity of Jesus, has altered the Book of Common Prayer for use in his parish, and considers the Koran sacred. Forrester's consecration will require the consent of a majority of bishops and standing committees within the Episcopal Church over the next several months.
Then there's Bishop John Shelby Spong (also a white male) who denied both the divinity of Jesus and the Virgin Birth. He was allowed to retire on his own in 2000, after 45 years in the priesthood.
So to summarize: You can be gay or Buddhist or not really feeling that whole "Jesus is God" thing...and be an Episcopal priest. But you can't be a Muslim and an Episcopal priest. Or maybe it's that you can't be a black female Muslim and an Episcopal priest?
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