A few weeks back, when the big story in Olympia should have been that they have elected a new Bishop, a back page story turned one person into a global symbol of "All-That-Is-Wrong-With-The-Church."
The Rev. Dr. Anne Holmes Redding is a priest who has been living and ministering in Washington state, and holds a doctorate in New Testament. Her story appeared in the back pages of the paper of the Diocese of Olympia stating that she is a priest who is at once a Christian and a Muslim, and can hold both traditions at once. The Bishop of Olympia didn't say much except that it posed for us interesting questions. This week her bishop (Holmes is canonically resident in Rhode Island) inhibited her for a year so she can think things over. Bishop Geralyn Wolf is a convert from Judaism, so probably has some experience in what it feels like to live in two worlds at once on the way to a new or different kind of spiritual home. Anne says she may or may not go voluntarily, but she is (wisely) not closing any doors yet.
Full disclosure: Anne Holmes Redding is a seminary classmate of mine. I always found her to be a wise, intelligent and deeply spiritual person. We haven't spoken in over twenty years, but I have faith that she is doing what she is doing in good faith.
The difficulty of course, is that this dust-up is no longer about Anne. It is about us. Almost as soon as her story was published it has been appropriated by others for their own use.
Mostly this story is bring used by radical conservatives to whip up their base and cause confusion for the average faithful and sow dismay among their enemies. She has become a symbol, and the willingness of anyone (left, right, center, oblong) to withhold judgment is seen as a example of doctrinal wishy-washiness.
For the record, the dismay this has caused has in reality been quite independent of where one stands in the current Episcopal-Anglican Realignment Wars. And, for the record, I have told the members of my church who have asked, all two of them, that as far as I can tell Bishop Wolf did the right thing in the right way. I don't believe a person can the two religions in this way for very long without choosing one way or the other. That's all I have to say about that. But as I said, facts are not important here.
I suspect there is both more and less than meets the eye here. My guess is that in the context of the people who know her and her day-to-day story in Olympia understood the context of her journey when they published this piece. I am with Tobias on this. She needs space to discern, learn and pray. I wish Anne the space to find her way.
But like it or not, her story is no longer her own property. Her name and story is one more added to the list that the so-called Reasserters trot out everytime they want to prove How Bad the Episcopal Church Has Become. What people say about Gene Robinson or Jack Spong has nothing to do with the reality of their person--it's what they represent that's important. Just so, she has lost her name and become "That Woman Priest Who Became a Muslim."
If it were not so, then these folks would have said "Three Cheers for Bishop Wolf!" and, "look at how wise the discipline of the church can be!" Instead, they want it both ways.
That's because Anne is not Anne in this story, she has become a symbol quite separate from herself. Her story has has become a kind of litmus test of our own anxieties. We can't stop this process. It just is. Just keep in mind that if the story generates any anxiety it is our own. It is our choice to turn into a story within the narrative that reinforces our own opinions and knocks down the people we oppose.
We can choose to "tsk tsk" her and the church, or we can turn the page.