“I am both Muslim and Christian”
By Janet I. Tu, Seattle Times staff reporter
The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding is practicing two religions she says are compatible at the most basic level, but many religious scholars insist the two are mutually exclusive.
Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.
On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.
She does both, she says, because she’s Christian and Muslim.
Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she’s ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she’s also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved.
Her announcement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obvious question: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim?
But it has drawn other reactions too. Friends generally say they support her, while religious scholars are mixed: Some say that, depending on how one interprets the tenets of the two faiths, it is, indeed, possible to be both. Others consider the two faiths mutually exclusive.
“There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different,” said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus?”
Christianity has historically regarded Jesus as the son of God and God incarnate, both fully human and fully divine. Muslims, though they regard Jesus as a great prophet, do not see him as divine and do not consider him the son of God.
“I don’t think it’s possible” to be both, Fredrickson said, just like “you can’t be a Republican and a Democrat.”
Redding, who will begin teaching the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University this fall, has a different analogy: “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”
Redding doesn’t feel she has to resolve all the contradictions. People within one religion can’t even agree on all the details, she said. “So why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?
“At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God — the meaning of the word “Islam.”
“It wasn’t about intellect,” she said. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.
“I could not not be a Muslim.”
Redding’s situation is highly unusual. 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.
Redding’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting. Her announcement, first made through a story in her diocese’s newspaper, hasn’t caused much controversy yet, he said.
Some local Muslim leaders are perplexed.
Being both Muslim and Christian — “I don’t know how that works,” said Hisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington.
But Redding has been embraced by leaders at the Al-Islam Center of Seattle, the Muslim group she prays with.
“Islam doesn’t say if you’re a Christian, you’re not a Muslim,” said programming director Ayesha Anderson. “Islam doesn’t lay it out like that.”
Redding believes telling her story can help ease religious tensions, and she hopes it can be a step toward her dream of creating an institute to study Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“I think this thing that’s happened to me can be a sign of hope,” she said.
Her biography from Wikipedia
Anne Holmes Redding (born October 22, 1951) is a former Episcopal priest, who was defrocked in April 2009 for having become a Muslim in March 2006. She grew up in Cheyney, PA. Her father was a noted civil rights lawyer in Delaware.
Redding identifies with both faiths “100 percent,” explaining that this is possible in the same way that she can be both an African American and a woman. Her remarks have evoked excitement and controversy among both the Episcopal and Muslim communities. She continues to worship in the Episcopal Church, as well as with Al-Islam Center of Seattle.
Redding was placed under pastoral direction by Geralyn Wolf of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, which has disciplinary authority over her, in July 2007. Following the 15 months of pastoral direction and six months of inhibition, Redding was deposed (“defrocked”) by Wolf on April 1, 2009, one week after her 25th ordination anniversary.
Redding is a graduate of Brown University (AB, 1976) the General Theological Seminary (M Div, 1983), and Union Theological Seminary (PhD, 1999). She has taught at Pacific Lutheran University, Payne Theological Seminary, and the Interdenominational Theological Center, among other institutions. At the time she became a Muslim, she was Director of Faith Formation and Renewal at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, where she continued to work until she was laid off (along with two colleagues) in March 2007. She was visiting assistant professor at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University from September 2007 through June 2008.
Redding has continued to speak, preach, teach, and write since the convergence of Islam and Christianity in her faith and practice. Venues include Riverside Church in New York City, Oberlin College in Ohio, the Claremont School of Theology in California, and the Center for Spiritual Living, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Seattle First Baptist Church, and Westside Unitarian Church in Seattle. She is the co-author, with Jamal Rahman and Katheen Schmitt Elias, of Out of Darkness Into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Christian and Jewish Sources (Morehouse Publishing, 2009).