Sympathy and controversy

CrossCrescent 01Remember the Episcopal priest who became a Muslim? We discussed coverage of her story here and here last year. The other day I mentioned my fondness for follow-up stories. And I'd actually been looking for a follow-up on the story of the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding. I knew her bishop had given her a year to figure the conflict out. I was curious what happened but hadn't seen any information.

Well, Janet Tu, the reporter who did such good work with the initial story, filed a follow-up last week. The story has two main functions. The first is the news about what the Episcopal Church is doing with regard to their Muslim priest:

In a letter mailed last week to national and local church leaders, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over the Seattle priest, said a church committee had determined that Redding "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church."

Wolf has affirmed that determination, barring Redding from functioning as a priest for the next six months.

According to church law, unless Redding resigns her priesthood or denies being a Muslim during those six months, the bishop has a duty to defrock -- or depose -- her, as the process is formally known.

Redding, who served as director of faith formation at Seattle's St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, said she has no plans to resign or to renounce Islam, any more than she would renounce Christianity. She does not believe she has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.

Tu did a good job of getting the news out in a straightforward fashion. (Incidentally, she later mentions that Wolf gave Redding 15 months to figure things out.) And it's great that she is updating readers on the saga. The other purpose of the story, I have to assume, is to paint a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of Redding.

"I'm saddened and disappointed that this could not be an opportunity" for the church to broaden its perspective and talk about what it means to adhere to more than one faith, Redding said.

"The automatic assumption is that if I'm one of 'them,' I can't be one of 'us' anymore." But "I'm still following Jesus in being a Muslim. I have not abandoned that."

The sizable story has tons of quotes from Redding but no response from the orthodox Christian position. And while I think Redding's personal views are interesting, I'm not sure if they're more interesting than a discussion of why the church is deposing her. Perhaps a bit of a mixture would have been better. The reader who sent us the story said it well:

The author hints that not everyone is thrilled with Ms. Redding's activity (and I'm sure MANY notable people are not), but she offers no quotations or views from the other side. It could be a case of sympathy for Ms. Redding, but it also looks like a case of not doing one's homework.

crosscrescent2 Whatever the case, it is an awfully sympathetic treatment of Redding. We hear she has no regrets in going public about her embrace of Islam but that she feels she was naive about the controversy her announcement would stir up. Here's one provocative quote:

Getting to know Islam was "like falling in love," she said. "You want to share it, you want to get on a rooftop and start shouting."

And then Tu goes into more history of Redding's announcement. I think a response from the church would have fit perfectly there. We learn that Redding feels she didn't break her ordination vows but we don't get a discussion of why she feels that way and why the church disagrees. We learn that Redding has had trouble finding work, only getting a part-time, temporary teaching position at Seattle University.

Her one regret is that she didn't reveal to her parishioners that she was a Muslim when she was leading them in a formation of Christian faith class. She will miss the collegiality of her fellow priests. And, also:

As one of the first African-American women the denomination ordained, Redding was sometimes the first female or African-American priest some parishioners had ever seen. "My symbolic role has been an incredible honor." Now she fears that some "will think I've somehow let them down."

Again, this is interesting. And really asks for some questions to be answered. Do people feel she has let them down, either as one of the first African-American women the denomination ordained or otherwise? We don't find out. It's a shame because this story provides a great opportunity to learn more about how the Episcopal Church handles discipline and where it feels doctrinal differences cross the line.

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