Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dust up

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.


Muthah+ said...

We have come from a tradition in which Elizabeth I said that she didn't want a window into men's [sic] souls to a place where there is a move to provide us with a covenant by which we must be evaluated in order to be considered orthodox. I am saddened by her bishop's actions simply because Redding's faith is broader than the Church's.

The whole story of Redding was designed as a red herring on HOB/D by the right and now this. What a shame that there is not some freedom to share the generosity of faith that God gives.

I would suggest that many of us have an idea of faith that is broader than the Church but now we cannot share that faith for fear of being inhibited. Not a good sign for the Church

Marty said...

The Unitarian Universalists will welcome you with open arms, Muthah.

Obviously if you have a form of faith that you dare not share for fear of being inhibited by your own church, then you would do well to resign your orders immediately.

Anything less is blatantly dishonest.

Andrew Gerns said...

In my view, there are two issues relative to Dr. Redding's situation that are in conflict. She is perfectly right to be able to explore her own faith and to worship in both traditions. What we have seen is a legitimate confusion which arises from the second issue: there is some basic responsibility for any ordained person to articulate the basics of the Christian faith in general. One of the things about this whole dust-up that stands out for me is the assumption that because Anne as an individual is exploring this path that she of neccesity cannot articulate or form persons in the Christian faith. Clearly the conversations she has had with both her bishops seem to indicate that Redding is capable of doing this.

Just as it is apparent that our anxiety is projected on to this case, it is also apparent that some of what Anne must pray about and chose is her responsibility to the wider community of faith because of her function as a priest.

As soon as she went public, the nature of her exploration changed. Maybe it's not fair, but that is a trade off people in pastoral leadership must alway weigh.

I don't think Anne is doing this, but at the same time it is worth noting that we who have been ordained responsibility must be careful not to work out our own 'stuff'at the expense of the communities we are called to serve. Our service is not about "us" is about Christ and Christ's people whom we serve.

Andrew Gerns said...

Thank you for your welcome. It is nice to know there is a place of refuge out there. Sometime I will talk of the great Trinity Sunday discussions I have had at a UU church when I was a clinical chaplain.

The function of tradition works differently in the UU tradition than in the Anglican. UU has always been a tradition that questions, and often opposes, orthodoxy because of the abuses that strict doctrinal adherance can bring. This explains both the openness and the rebellious streak I treasure in my UU friends and colleagues. Anglicanism is by nature more conservative because we live within Catholic tradition.

Our questioning and our openness is always bounded by scripture, tradition and reason--even as we sometimes push against it and discover anew what we mean by that.

david+ said...

Andrew, your charitable answer to Marty is commendable. Thank you.
I happen to disagree with most of your essay. I also disagree with "Muthah." When we are ordained we take solemn oaths that we believe certain things and not others. We don't get to cross our fingers and we don't get to play Humpty Dumpty with the words ("words mean exactly what I say they mean..."). I think the many who have actually left the Episcopal Church for other religions or denominations have more integrity than those who believe they are to stay and reshape Her into their own image of what She should be. Worse are the leaders who abdicate their role as guardians of the faith and allow a democratic process to determine what the Faith shall be for this age.
BTW, for Muthah to claim that the life of this confused woman (Ms Redding) was designed by the vast right-wing conspiracy is such a load...
I think we would all agree that the Episcopal Church is not what She once was. On the one hand, that may not be all that bad. On the other, there are some pretty silly people with some pretty funny notions trying to make some pretty important decisions. I wonder how it will all turn out.

Unknown said...


You're quite right that the issue is not "are these nice [sincere, spiritual, intelligent, ...] people" but "is it appropriate for these people to act as clergy in a Christian church while publicly professing this sort of faith?"

And it is that question which must be asked about Spong, Oakwyse, and all the rest. It's not a matter of digging for dirt, it's a matter of not hiding what's going on (and what has been going on for decades) in the Episcopal Church from the "average faithful". (And if you don't like the digging, perhaps the Horrible Truth should be buried somewhat deeper and not in such enormous quantities.)

You mention that Bishop Wolf is a convert from Judaism. But you don't propery emphasize what "convert" means.

Mrs. Falstaff said...

There have been many comments in the blogosphere to the effect of: "Well done, Bishop Wolf". There have also been many prayers offered for +Anne that she come back to the fold.

My personal opinion is that she should have resigned her orders *before* becoming a Muslim. That would have been the honourable thing to do, rather than trying to have her cake and eat it too.

Anonymous said...

The matter became an "issue" simply because of its oddness. It is an issue about faith and also about a person. This does not mean that the person is dreadful, unintellgent or "not nice."

What it means is that if a priest, or a bishop, finds herself (or himself) in such a dilemma, the thing to do is to talk to a spiritual director, a scholarly and discreet priest and, before going public, one's bishop.

The oddness of this story is not that a priest is conflicted about religious allegiance -surely there is an enormous difference between Islam and Christianity? -but that she believed her conflict to be so severe, or her views on compatibility "unique" that she did not excuse herself until she found resolution and a resolution in line with ordination oaths and commitments.

Mark said...

I sent the original Seattle Times to a dear friend of mine, a young liberal woman who's baccalaureate from a well-known private college was in religion.

My friend flirted with the Episcopal church during college, but now is engaged to a Roman Catholic and is converting to Roman Catholicism.

However, it is interesting how someone who has been a Baptist, Episcopalian, and now a Catholic, who studied religion at a liberal private college, can provide clarity on this story.

These are her words:

My favorite quote of this article hands down is: "I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I'm both an American of African descent and a woman. I'm 100 percent both," which has got to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. What sort of bizarre reasoning is that?

And what is even more surreal is she was director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, and that's a pretty scary thought.

And her reasons for this additional conversion are ridiculous. It must be some kind of identity crises.

"As he [the visiting local Muslim leader] dropped to his knees and stretched forward against the floor, it seemed to her that his whole body was involved in surrendering to God." Good grief. As if spending half the service on our knees wasn't counting. And as if you couldn't prostrate yourself before God before or after the service or at home. I recall striking that pose while begging Jesus not to let me fail first-year Spanish at college. (I didn't either). I read some Muslim prayers in college. They are quite pretty and nice, and I could even imagine incorporating elements of them into the prayers you ordinarily say, but to lurch off and profess a new faith, one that is in direct conflict with the religion IN WHICH YOU ARE A PRIEST is insane.

But at least a ray of reason from the Muslim community: Being both Muslim and Christian — "I don't know how that works," said Hisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington. And "The theological beliefs are irreconcilable," said Mahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion at Temple University in Philadelphia. Islam holds that God is one, unique, indivisible. "For Muslims to say Jesus is God would be blasphemy."

And speaking of blasphemy, "She does not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus" is an early Christian heresy, Arianism, that taught that Jesus was not co-eternal with God, but was created. At the first council of Nicea in 325, bishops gathered to fight the Arian heresy. That's why we say "We believe in in one lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, of one being with the father" in the Nicene Creed every single Sunday. I wonder if that woman chokes on those words.

And if she wants to act like a heretical nut, fine, but both she and her bishop should be stripped of their priesthood if they can no longer fulfill the requirements of their office, namely, being solely devoted to Christianity and serving the Lord, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. (Yes, it does seem wild to have to state the obvious).

There was a bible verse I was trying to think of this morning, but I didn't find it until just now. The disciples are arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest. Jesus rebukes them, saying "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35), then picking up a little child he tells them "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42).

An Episcopal priest, the former director of faith formation no less, sees no difficulty in being both Christian and Muslim and continue in her duties at the church. If that is not a stumbling block for her parishioners, then I cannot think of one greater. She has a position of great responsibility to God, the Episcopal Church who ordained her, the church in Seattle who hired her, and the parishioners she serves, and I am completely aghast she is being allowed to continue, and even more so by a Bishop who calls this "exciting." If she wants to be a bubble off plumb in her own personal life, fine, and she could probably get a great job teaching at a college (my alma mater would probably love her), but she has absolutely no business administering anything in the church.

This makes me feel very sad for the Episcopal priests I've met in the past ten years, individuals who were dedicated to serving the Lord and their flock. People who were not flashy or courted the limelight, but quietly and steadily and with great love and compassion performed the jobs they were ordained to do. I am so saddened that the behavior and lunacy of some priests and bishops has cast such a damaging shadow over an organization that is intrinsically good.

In the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other..." (Matthew 6:24). He is referring to the difficulty in serving God and wealth, but I think it is applicable in this apostate priest. She thinks she's both, but cannot be, because there are tenets of Islam which completely contradict Christianity. The Christian and Muslim communities would benefit so much more if she chose to devote all her time, energy and education (advanced degrees are not always an indicator of smart people) to one. Not both, and thereby diluting each one's message and clarity of vision.

And for the entire Episcopal Church in America - "If a Kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand... no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered" (Mark 3:24, 25, 27).

She is one of the plunderers.

You know who else are plunderers?

"Officials at the national Episcopal Church headquarters said they are not aware of any other instance in which a priest has also been a believer in another faith. They said it's up to the local bishop to decide whether such a priest could continue in that role."

WHERE IS THE ACCOUNTABILITY??? IS THERE NO OVERSIGHT? Is there no one in this hierarchy who can say, "No. This is wrong, and we're not going to allow it, we don't care if her bishop condones it or not. And while we're at it, just where does the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner stand on Christianity?"

No, I'm not advocating a return to the Auto de Fe, but this nut needs to go. This is so much worse and destructive than debates about ordination of gays - that's fluff compared to an out and out attack on the fundamental premises of Christianity that priests (all Christians!!!) are obliged to believe."For Christians, belief in Jesus' divinity, and that he died on the cross and was resurrected, lie at the heart of the faith, as does the belief that there is one God who consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" the paper sums up neatly. She is rejecting this, and as a priest she needs to be relieved of her duties and that the officials at headquarters won't step up and act is repellent.

Andrew Gerns said...

I am taking a minute to take a string of comments that have been sitting in my handheld (and in Google's server) for several days and posting them. Sorry about the delay in moderating new comments. atg+