SEATTLE, Wash. In what may be the first claim of its kind, an Episcopal priest in Seattle says she's both a Christian and a Muslim. What's more, her bishop finds the claim exciting and considers her still in good standing.
"Why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?" Ann Holmes Redding told The Seattle Times in an article June 17. "At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That's all I need."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., on his blog June 20, said that in order to believe Christianity and Islam are congruent, Redding is explicitly denying what the Bible teaches.
"This is yet another reminder of the basic principle that religious liberals can negotiate themselves to any position they desire," Mohler wrote. "Once you commit yourself to a methodology of denying Scripture and orthodox Christian doctrine, you can declare yourself to be a Christian and a Muslim, a Christian and a Druid, or a Christian and an Atheist for that matter."
Redding, a priest for more than 20 years, said she became enamored with Islam in the fall of 2005 when a local Muslim leader spoke and then prayed at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, where she was employed as director of faith formation. The way he fell prostrate on the floor captured her attention because it illustrated total surrender to Allah, she said.
Later, she heard another Muslim leader chanting a prayer, and the chanting appealed to her, Redding said. In March 2006, she made a Muslim profession of faith, stating there is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger. Now Redding has no trouble using Allah and God interchangeably.
"It's the same person, praying to the same God," she told The Times.
Ralph Webb, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Anglican Action program, noted that the "Episcopal Church continues to find new, creative ways to allow for heterodox faith variations at the local level. First, there was a 'local option' for same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church. Now there's apparently an unofficial 'local option' for clergy who profess dual faiths."
The idea that a person can become a Muslim while remaining an Episcopal priest in good standing trivializes both faiths, Webb said.
Redding, 55, grew up in Pennsylvania, and her father was one of the lawyers who argued the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of the nation's schools, The Times said. She graduated from Brown University and then earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
An African American who wears her hair in dreadlocks, Redding told The Times that becoming a Muslim was like coming home after years in predominantly white congregations.
"To walk into Al-Islam and be reminded that there are more people of color in the world than white people, that in itself is a relief," she said of the local Muslim worship center.
Among her medley of beliefs is that the Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally, The Times reported. Redding also does not believe Jesus and God are the same, and she believes Jesus is the Son of God in the same way all humans are children of God and that Jesus is divine like all humans are divine because God dwells in all humans.
Jesus is unique, she believes, because He best lived out the qualities of someone filled with God. Redding said she does believe Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, though she doesn't yet know how to reconcile that to Islam.
"That's something I'll find a challenge the rest of my life," she told The Times.
As for Muhammad, she's still getting to know him.
Redding said she doesn't care what people think about her embracing two major world religions because they can't take away her baptism and no one can dispute her Muslim profession of faith.
Redding typically carries a black headscarf with her, she said, so she'll be prepared for prayers five times a day. "I pray not to cause scandal or bring shame upon either of my traditions," she said.
Whether God or Allah is supposed to answer that prayer, it isn't working, her critics say, considering that she has caused both controversy and shame, especially upon a Christian denomination that is facing a schism with the larger Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality.
"The blurring of Christian distinctives is evidence of a spiritual confusion that can only harm Episcopalians," Webb, of IRD, said. "And while it's been said that 'all politics are local,' Bishop [Vincent] Warner's acceptance of Rev. Redding's syncretism compromises the whole church.
"The Episcopal Church's unofficial acceptance of clergy with dual faiths represents inclusion run amok," Webb added in a June 20 news release. "It clearly illustrates the overwhelming gap in faith and practice between the Episcopal Church and the majority of the Anglican Communion not to mention the universal Christian Church."
Mohler said the only way to be both a Christian and a Muslim is to completely redefine what it means to be both Christian and Muslim.
"As Aristotle famously argued, two contradictory propositions cannot be simultaneously true," Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said. "Nevertheless, the outright denial of the principle of non-contradiction is one of the hallmarks of the postmodern age. Postmoderns gladly embrace contradictions and refuse any responsibility to resolve them."