The pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs.

They are also the ones whose decisions sometimes leave them stranded in the mountains during the winter, such that their friends decide to eat them in order to survive.

Ann Redding was officially deposed from the Episcopal Priesthood yesterday, almost two years after coming out of the closet as both a Christian and a Muslim. I know and like Ann, so I've been following her saga and the commentary on it from the blogging peanut gallery. A lot of what's being said is (the old reliable) ignorant, prejudiced drivel - 'Muslims want to behead everyone!', 'Episcopalians are fruity queer-lovers!', 'Send her to Eye-ran!', 'All religious people are effin' idiots!', and so forth. The more sophisticated people attack her personally - I've heard her called selfish, deluded, attention-seeking and/or confused on a regular basis; some assume she's an airy-fairy ignorant liberal with her head in the clouds ("Woowoo...I'll just believe whatever I want because everything is true! Fairies and Crystals and Islam, oh my!") ; some have attacked her personality and skills as a minister. The 'Christian Post' called her 'A Left-Wing Priestess for Allah', which in context was meant to be derogatory - in case you were wondering. All of this, of course, is useful in that it allows us to ignore what she really is - a sharply intelligent, highly trained, deeply spiritual, impeccably honest individual, whose general sensibility about religion is in tune with a mainstream in her culture. In short, she's a prophet and a priest and a citizen with the audacity to be honest and public about the way she believes and practices religion.

My opinion about whether she should still be ordained as an Episcopal priest is neither here nor there, but what I will say is that I've known a lot of priests, and Ann's approach to religion is not far outside of an accepted norm in our church - she has just 1) expressed things more clearly than most and 2) chosen an unpopular group (those scary Muslims) to synchretize with. A question she raises for the Episcopal church: why has the letter of the law been followed more closely with her than with others? There could well be a legitimate answer to this question. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to answer it. I hope somebody does.

A question for the larger culture: who owns the term 'Christian'? Answer: it's in the public domain. Ann's very existence seems to be a challenge to a lot of people worried about brand loyalty and neat categories, which seems to be why so many jump quickly on the 'YOU CAN'T BE A CHRISTIAN AND A MUSLIM, dammit!!!!' train, despite the fact that in some way or another, she is. She might be a liberal or pomo or synchretized form of both, but, well, everyone in the West is liberal, pomo, or synchretized to some degree. To secular culture, what Ann's existence says is that 'religious' does not equal 'stupid', 'fundamentalist' or 'bigoted', and that is unsettling for some and easy to ignore/deny for others. To religious culture, what Ann's existence says is that 'Christian' and 'Muslim' mean a whole lot of different things. She's Christian and Muslim, whether you like it or not.

Is she the direction that religion is headed? She's a direction. Are most of us going to learn from who she is and what she represents? The hope in the midst of all of the ugliness is that her voice actually might be heard - even if it won't be the the voice of an Episcopal Priest. I for one am looking forward to the memoirs and the study institute. Hopefully she'll get there before the rest of us decide to eat her.


Josh said…
Tim, thanks for you thoughts on this. I think you hit the nail on the head--no one owns the term 'Christian'. While I'm uncomfortable with the way some live into that label, it is only mine insomuch as I live into it myself.

What does it mean to be 'Christian'? Let me show you. And so will Ann.
Aaron S. said…
Amazingly sad story. It's sad how bold the leadership of the Episcopal church wants to be on some issues, and how much they operate out of fear on so many others.
Shelly said…
Um, Tim, not OK to choose a title for this post that compares Ann to white people stealing the land of Native people, who are just trying to defend themselves from the smallpox bringers. Ann is doing the opposite of committing genocide.

Otherwise, amazing post. Ann will be vesting me at my deaconing in a couple weeks, and I had to clear even that with +Nedi and +Greg.

Also, never mentioned in the news stories is how lonely Ann had been for people of color in the Episcopal Church and how fed she felt when worshipping with Muslims - she finally got to worship God with other women of color. WE FAILED HER, with our old white boys network and white people's music and white people's condescension and fear. No one writes about that. That's not to say she wouldn't also be Muslim if TEC were more diverse (I believe God has placed this very special call upon her heart, which we see as "dual" but which she doesn't experience that way).

Also interesting is how the person who will be the next bishop of northern Michigan has a "lay Buddhist ordination". The right wing blogs are kind of mad about it, but it doesn't look like it's going to seriously impair his consecration. White dude, obv.

Also, because I'm late on this, SUPER CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING POSTULANTED! EEEEEEEEEEEEE! Tremendously exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!
Unknown said…
Thanks for the commentary all - interesting times, these.

Shelly, obviously not the aspect of that analogy I was going for with the title :) Point taken though. I'm hoping to be at the Deaconing.

I've been tracking the Northern Michigan thing w/interest as well, and thought about trying to work it into the post, so I'm glad you brought it up. Whatever the problems with the fact that fewer people seem to be scared of the old Caucasian Buddhist than the African American Muslim, in both of these cases, it's a really sad thing that few people seem to be listening to what the leaders are saying about faith/religion - they get the tweet or facebook update and start freaking out that the Episcopal church is 1) going to hell or 2) going to alienate it's precious and fragile remaining membership. I'm fine w/people freaking out, but I say that the church should have some balls and missional vision here. Accept that this sort of interfaith engagement is a piece of the Anglican witness in this country, and use these leaders to engage our society in some real religious dialog. Shuffling them under the rug and apologizing for their existence is so freaking 'liberal', in the pejorative sense. More opportunities missed...