Last week here in Seattle, with 200 friends, the former director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, Ann Holmes Redding, celebrated both the publication of her first book, and 25 years as an ordained Episcopal priest.
Today, she was defrocked. For becoming a Muslim.
Twenty-one months after she announced her added affiliation, which spurred patient warnings and suggestions to search her heart from her disciplinary superior, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, she received today a letter "deposing" her. In it, Bishop Wolf states her belief--originally set forth by a church committee last fall--that "a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."
Ms. Redding, however, disagrees. In mid 2006, she was introduced to Muslim prayers, and "they moved her profoundly." Becoming a Muslim "is not an automatic abandonment of Christianity," she insists. Of her defrocking, she said, "I am very sad. I'm sad at the loss of this cherished honor of having served as a priest." She also is saddened by the "narrow vision of what the church accepts."
Eugene Webb, professor emeritus of comparative religion at the University of Washington, is on her side. He says today in my source for all this, the Seattle Times, "there are streams of tradition that are mutually exclusive; there are also streams that are not mutually exclusive. Ann is exploring those."
Fill me in, Ms. Redding. I read about Christians murdered by Muslims for their faith in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Israel, Australia, throughout Africa--and here on 9-11. Exactly which Muslim streams welcome female Episcopal priests?
Apparently, the now-retired bishop who previously supervised Redding in the Olympia diocese here in Washington, "said he regarded the priest's dual faith as exciting in its interfaith possibilities." I can only imagine.
Redding says she was "called to both faiths," and, given her new book, Out of Darkness Into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Christian and Jewish Sources, (co-authored with Jamal Rahman and Kathleen Schmit Elias) she could add a third. There might be a little confusion, however, over which wife Abraham actually favored (Sarah or Hagar), and which son was bound and nearly sacrificed (Isaac or Ishmael); the contradictions take off from there. Oh, there could be a little issue with Jesus versus The Prophet Mohammad, too.
Redding maintains she has not "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church," as the commission who studied her case charged. She was given ample opportunity to gracefully resign from the priesthood, or drop her Muslim moniker, but she refused both.
As a result, she's trying to stretch her fifteen minutes of fame, looking for a contract for her memoirs and starting "Abrahamic Reunion West," a nonprofit seeking to "bring together the Abrahamic faiths."
I wish her well on her religious adventures.
Unfortunately, the last thing I read about an organization aiming to make nice between Muslims and surrounding communities was pretty grim. About six weeks ago, the founder of Bridges TV near Buffalo, New York--the purpose of which was to "overcome negative stereotypes" of Islam--was arrested for beheading his wife.
I don't associate that murderer with Ms. Redding in any way, of course, but I'd like to see how she reconciles principles of the "religion of peace" with the Episcopal denomination with which 55% of our founding fathers affiliated. They seem mutually exclusive to me.