A dessert topping and a floor wax no more

oilforwater250Of all the stories written about the defrocking of Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest who converted to Islam, the most widely disseminated seemed to be this one from CNN. That's unfortunate, since it was remarkably shallow and one-sided. No one from The Episcopal Church, much less the diocese that disciplined her, is quoted:

Redding said her conversion to Islam was sparked by an interfaith gathering she attended three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam's humbleness before God stuck with her.

"It was much more this overwhelming conviction that I needed to surrender to God and this was the form that my surrender needed to take," she recalled. "It wasn't just an episode but .... was a step that I wasn't going to step back from."

Ten days later Redding was saying the shahada -- the Muslim declaration of belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Mohammad as his prophet.

But Redding said she felt her new Muslim faith did not pose a contradiction to her staying a Christian and minister.

"Both religions say there's only one God," Redding said, "and that God is the same God. It's very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven't shifted my allegiance."

Later, CNN reporter Patrick Oppman quotes Redding as follows:

"When I took my shahada, I said there's no God but God and that Mohammed is God's prophet or messenger. Neither of those statements, neither part of that confession or profession denies anything about Christianity," she said.

On a day when Redding has just been defrocked, why would the reporter rehash these old quotes about her decision made years ago? Isn't the, you know, newsy portion of the story about what Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island has to say about whether there's any conceivable contradiction between being a Muslim and an Episcopal priest?

The reporter does quote a chairman of a comparative religion department at the University of Washington. In setting up his quote, the reporter notes that there are "many contradictions" between the two religions, but only points out one: Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet while Christians believe Jesus to be the son of God. Of course, traditional Christians believe Jesus is God and you can read more about this concept of the Trinity in the Athanasian Creed.

Anyway, other than these minor bits, the entire story is from the perspective of Redding.

A much better and infinitely more interesting story came from Seattle Times reporter Janet Tu, who broke the original story of the conversion a few years back.

Contra the CNN.com story, Tu begins with the official announcement from Bishop Wolf. The story has the response from Redding, a local, as well as some basic background on the story. And then we get more perspective from those in the church that disciplined her:

Redding's defrocking -- formally called deposition -- comes almost 21 months after Bishop Wolf first told the priest to take a year to reflect on her beliefs.

After Redding remained firm in her belief that she was called to both faiths, Bishop Wolf said in fall 2008 that a church committee had determined that the priest "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church."

Wolf barred Redding from functioning as a priest for the next six months, and said that unless Redding resigned her priesthood or denied being a Muslim during that time, the bishop would have a duty to defrock her.

Since Redding has neither renounced her orders nor withdrawn from the Muslim faith, Wolf decided to depose her, effective today.

The article puts Redding's story in context and notes how some people view her conversion to Islam as a call for the church to be more open to syncretism while others think its emblematic of how far the church has strayed from its doctrinal and historical center. Here's how someone from the latter group is quoted:

The Rev. Kendall Harmon, the canon theologian with the Diocese of South Carolina who also runs the traditionalist blog TitusOneNine, said Redding should be commended, on one level, for having the integrity to be upfront about what she believes.

But what's at stake is central to the church, he said. "To be a Christian is to be a Trinitarian and worship Jesus. If we're not clear on that, we have nothing to offer in our witness."

Though Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, they do not see him as divine and do not consider him the Son of God.

Redding does not believe that God and Jesus are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus. And she believes that Jesus is the Son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine -- because God dwells in all humans.

It's nice to have both the perspective of the traditional Christian and the response from Redding. It also makes the story so much more interesting. One of the other treats from the story is the way it highlights the difference between Wolf's discipline of Redding and the way the former bishop of the Olympia Diocese in Western Washington handled it. He'd said the dual faith track was exciting:

"We are internally incoherent on a massive scale," Harmon said. "What does it say about a church that you can be in Rhode Island and have that treatment, and be in Olympia and have another treatment, if it has to do with something this central?"

Tu also notes, however, that the current Olympia Diocese Bishop supports the defrocking. Finally, we learn that Redding has already published a book: "Out of Darkness Into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Christian and Jewish Sources." And she's working on her memoirs and seeking a book contract.

All in all, there's just a ton more information and much more balance on all sides than we saw in the other reports. One problem with all of the news stories is the lack of perspective from Muslims. Only one story even bothered to get a quote from a Muslim and I'm not sure it was representative of Muslim teaching on the adoption of multiple religions.

Please respect our Commenting Policy