What does Mecca have to do with Jerusalem?

So, if you read the article I posted a few days back, you'll know that my former mentoring priest, and someone I consider a healthy role model, has decided to convert to Islam. Well, I guess conversion isn't the right word: she's now practicing both Christianity and Islam.

My initial thought was, "Ok", And that's about it. We'd talked about it a bit in our mentoring meetings, so it didn't catch me off guard, and I'm used to the whole multiculturalism/pluralism thing. It almost didn't even strike me as odd.

I've always been a "both sides of the story" kind of guy, and not one to get too riled up, so I was probably destined for a sort of wishy washy religious attitude--I like to think of it as theological openness and intellectual humility, and sometimes even historical Anglican spirituality. However, I have to say that I am now a little perplexed on this one, having begun to think about it a bit. I'm still tending towards "Ok", but it does make me think about how to classify what Ann is doing, and even how to classify what I'm doing theologically.

When I was an evangelical, I used to think that liberals shouldn't really call themselves Christians, b/c they often don't hold to the core historical beliefs of Christian theology. Now, I'm not so sure that it's that easy to define the "core historical beliefs of Christian theology", so I'm a lot more hesitant to say that I should be the one to define who's in and who's out in terms of Christianity. In Ann's case though, the same sort of issues arise that used to make me uneasy--it's surely unusual to claim to be both a Christian and a Muslim, and most of the Christian (and Muslim) community wouldn't recognize that you can be both. The situation is a little more complex as well, because Ann is a priest, and as a priest you submit yourself to the community at a profound level--it's akin to a marriage in the sense that you say you will place your own interests in the hands of the community with the trust that they will do what's best for you. You no longer decide (just) for yourself what you'll do, teach and believe. A lot of people are arguing that Ann needs to either renounce her priesthood or renounce her practice of Islam, b/c the two are practically and spiritually incompatable.

For me, that's a scary principle, because at some point what I feel God is calling me to will come into conflict with what the Church wants from me. (To be honest, that already happens all the time--I just haven't taken those vows yet!) Every priest, at some point, has to decide whether to lead and be a prophet, or follow and be a servant. The American in me says screw it, you should do what you want, but the Anglican says wait 'til a committee decides it's okay before you make any decisions.

The fact is though, a big part of the reason that I'm an Anglican is that we have theological latitude, and a genuine appreciation for intellectual honesty. That's why we're so damn noncommittal on everything--we know that someone else believes something different, and that we might need to adjust our approach in case they're right. Using scripture, tradition and reason is a complex process, and God's guidance generally isn't a clear thing. In Ann's case, I really think you have to give latitude in faith and practice. See what you can learn from what she's doing, and see if there might not be something of a way forward there. I'm not convinced that you can be both Muslim and Christian, but I'm not convinced that you can't. At the foundation of what she's doing is the same sort of religious uncertaintly that I believe in, as well as a rejection of the "magical" Christianity of the past, in favor of an embrace of the mystery of God. The fact that she's a priest with vows to the community does complicate things, but the fact is that in the Episcopal Church there's really no community concensus, which is why there is no centralized authoritarian structure. The decision will ultimately be made by either Ann or the Bishop, but if it were me, I'd say let's recognize her ordination and her pluralism. She could certainly find a community that wouldn't have a problem with it, so why not allow her to serve there? Isn't that submission to the community enough? It's not "historic Christianity", but in the same sense Christ wasn't a "historic Jew". Orthodoxy is shifting sands, and we need room to explore where the Spirit leads, even amongst our clergy.


Anonymous said…
I liked the comment about the guy that practiced all major religions because he didnt want to take any chances.
This issue reminds me of my classics studies--Rome in particular. As you know, not only did rome worship many gods, but they accepted the gods of the peoples whom the empire conquered.
To make the obvious tie to christianity, I respect the early christians for their disgust for the government (of course) and it's gods. Granted, their rejection of other gods or beliefs was in the midst of force--most people would reject anything forced upon them. On the other hand, i dont think anything would have been left undone had they simply bowed down to preserve their lives. I fully believe that one could be righteously hypocritical by denouncing any belief, which one truly does believe and practice. If one can be a christian and a muslim, couldnt one also be a christian and claim to not be christian? The latter seems less confusing.
Aside from that, I think it would be interesting to find any instances of pluralism in the early church and, as you say, in historical anglicanism, and to see how the issue was handled.
Very fascinating.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said…
Glad you're fascinated. I think there's a case to be made that the Christian/Muslim has to be some sort of third thing--not exactly either, but not exactly neither, either.

I don't know that I have much of a problem with denying faith in the face of death either--it's not the movie star heroic thing to do, but come on, if there really is a God, and he'd be mad about something like that, somebody needs to tell him to lighten up.

And re: Pluralism, I've heard a little bit about it, and it seems that essentially, whenever Christianity has converted a new people group, there's been at least some acceptance of integrated religious beliefs and practices. A lot of what Westerners know as Christian, of course, originated in old pagan ideas. Holy day dates, the veneration of saints, etc. I certainly think you can make a case that Xty can and should integrate ideas from other faiths. Still, what Ann is doing is a bit more complicated than a simple integration of ideas. It's practicing two faiths at the same time.