More thoughts on Ann Redding

Well, I'm back from New Orleans (which I'll write about soon, I'm sure. Meantime, check out http://saintmargs.blogspot.com for stories and pics from the trip). I'm also home sick, recovering from too much heat and exhaustion! As such, I recently had time to have a long email exchange with my mom about Ann Redding, my former discernment mentor and the (former?) Episcopal Priest who is also a practicing Muslim. Here's the content of that, for those who are still interested in this sort of ecclesiastical minutia. You'll find that I've wavered a bit since my last post:

Mom: "There was a clip in last week's Dayton paper about the priest I assume was your mentoring priest before she was laid off, since she was director of faith formation at your church, and that's basically what you've been doing with your discernment process. I assume the topic of the article had something to do with why she may have been laid off, also. I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts about her beliefs. I've read some about Islam, but I'm not sure about the complete doctrine of that faith. Do you think the two faiths are compatible, or are there basic differences that can't allow her to say she is Muslim and Christian at the same time? I was surprised to see the article in our paper...it must be creating somewhat of a controversy if it made national news."

Tim: "It's interesting to hear that Ann's saga has gone national, but it is definitely an interesting story. My understanding is that she didn't really want it to blow up like this, and had actually kept her "conversion", if that's the appropriate term, relatively secret for about a year. I met with her on a fairly intimate level for 6 months, and she didn't tell me that she considered herself officially Muslim. She talked a bit about having had her prayer life enriched by picking up queues from Islam, but I thought it was more of a general new insight, rather than a new religious identity. In relation to her layoff, the leadership at the Cathedral has said that her faith didn't have anything to do with it, and they'd been aware of what she was up to from the beginning. The Cathedral hasn't shied away from controversy before (they kind of like it, I think), has embraced interreligious dialogue, and there were others laid off, so I don't entirely disbelieve them. Who knows though.

In terms of how I feel about it personally, basically, I don't know that you can actually be both a Christian and a Muslim--you end up in one camp or the other, or in some third camp that isn't quite either. I generally don't like to define "Christian" too strictly, because we all have our biased view of what lines we should draw for who's in and who's out, and I think there should be a lot of latitude. However, it seems to me that in Ann's case she has actually adopted a liberal Muslim belief system--she holds to a view of Christ which is consistent with traditional Islamic belief, and recognizes Muhammed as a great prophet of God--while continuing to practice Christian worship, and having a deep respect for the teachings of Christ, etc. I have a real respect for Ann's faith and intelligence though, and am upset that there's been a typical sort of knee-jerk reaction to this--with people treating her as if she were some sort of unthinking liberal, demonizing her, etc. She's an academic as well as a deeply faithful person, and I know that she's crossed her t's and dotted her i's theologically, and has done what she thinks is right spiritually. I have the same sort of respect for her faith as I do for the devout Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist who commit themselves to doing what they believe to be correct. Many or most might disagree with her decision, but I think that Christians should learn from what she's doing rather than ostracizing her. I think her bishop probably made the right decision in removing her collar (this is something that I've wavered on, for reasons you'll pick up on below), but to dismiss her faithfulness is something unacceptable for those of us who know her.

This situation does get to the heart of the difference between Episcopalians/Anglicans and most other denominations though. Generally, we don't define who's in and out based on propositional beliefs, but on worship and practice--being an Episcopalian really comes down to sharing in the Eucharist, and being committed to acting out Jesus teaching to love God and love your neighbor. That leads to a lot of latitude, and it's why we seem to produce so much controversy--you really can believe almost anything about God and be an Episcopalian. That's why we get demonized so often, and it really is a difficult tension to maintain. Now we've hit a point in our history where by necessity we're having to define theological requirements propositionally, but it's not something we like to do. At the heart what you find is that most Episcopalians are committed deeply to many propositional truths--Christ is savior, scripture is God-breathed, God is present in the Eucharist, etc.--but we're also deeply committed to the need to allow for differences in opinion. We don't want the Church to be a taskmaster to anyone, partially because many of us are scarred by other forms of religion that were. I would guess that most Episcopalians wouldn't want to see Ann cut off from communion, even if they do think she can't remain as a priest while practicing another religion. (The requirements for priesthood are of course more stringent and defined than the requirements for baptism. Compare the differences in the vows taken here: baptism, priesthood).

Well, that's probably a long enough novel for now!"

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