We talk a lot on this blog about getting beyond boundaries. Folks do a lot of snarking here at denominationalism, parochalism, religious legalism, old definitions, and the kind of rigid cultural thinking that keep conflict brewing and prevent us from being our best selves.
That said, meet Anne Holmes Redding. Writer. Bible scholar. Former seminary professor. Episcopal priest. Christian. And Muslim.
For nearly 30 years, Ann Holmes Redding has been an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Her priesthood ended last Wednesday when Bishop Geralyn Wolf, who presides over Rhode Island where Redding was ordained, terminated Rev. Reddings’ right and authority to function as a priest in the Episcopal church. In today’s parlance what happened to Ann Holmes Redding is called deposition. In times past it was called defrocking (frock being the term for the official garment clergy wore while performing the priestly functions of the church).
The reason for Holmes’ defrocking? For the past three years Ann Holmes Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim.
Redding, once director of faith formation at a Seattle Episcopal church, found herself drawn to the Muslim faith after attending an interfatih service three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam’s humbleness before God stuck her profoundly.
The Episcopal church interprets Redding’s decision to become a Muslim as abandoning the church and goes on to say that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim. But that’s not how Redding sees it. She doesn’t see why the need to discount one faith in order to embrace the other. “I’m actually a better priest now than I have ever been. Because being a Muslim makes me a better Christian” says the now former Rev. Redding.
How does Redding reconcile the contradictions in the two faiths? She doesn’t even try. She feels no need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths, believing that at the most basic level they are compatible. Both religions believe in one God. They simply come at the matter from different perspectives. Sure, Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet while Christianity worships him as the son of God — but at the heart of both is belief in the one God. The perspectives and practices of Islam, says Redding, strengthen her witness to the good news of God in Jesus.
You can bet that there are plenty on both sides of this issue. There are Christians who question how in the world Redding can call herself a Christian, and there are Muslims who wonder how in the name of Muhammad she dare call herself a Muslim. But that’s their problem, not hers.
These are not Redding’s words, but I think what she’s saying is that at the heart of both religions is what theu testify about God — which is essentially the same thing. God’s goodness. God’s oneness. God’s love for creation. God’s power. God’s insistence that we love God and each other. Everything else is convention, tradition, noise, distraction, and keeps people locked in conflict with each other about whose religion is superior to the other.
What say you about the former Rev. Ann Holmes Redding’s insistence that it’s possible to be both Muslim and Christian? I must say that while I respect and admire Ann Holmes Redding greatly, I’m still scratching my head about this one. I’m still gathering my thoughts and feelings about it. It feels right, but I’m not sure. Perhaps we’re moving toward a post-religion era too. How bad can that be? Afterall, Redding shows us that you don’t have to renounce religion belief. Embrace the good in all religion, and refuse to choose one over the other. Both/and. Not either/or.