Ann Holmes Redding has what could be called a crisis of faiths.
For nearly 30 years, Redding has been an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Her priesthood ended Wednesday when she was defrocked. The reason For the past three years Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim. “Had anyone told me in February 2006 that I would be a Muslim before April rolled around, I would have shaken my head in concern for the person’s mental health,” Redding recently told a crowd at a signing for a book she co-authored on religion. 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.” Watch Redding say, “Being a Muslim makes me a better Christian” » The imam at the Islamic Center in Seattle, Washington, where Redding prays said she brings the best of both traditions to her beliefs. “Coming from an example of wanting to be Christ-like and coming from the perspective of wanting to follow the best example — the example of our prophet Mohammed — it all makes sense then,” Benjamin Shabazz said. There are many contradictions between the two religions. While Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet, Christianity worships him as the son of God.
Diocese statement on defrocking Redding (PDF)
James Wellman, who chairs the department of comparative religion at the University of Washington, said that while it is not unusual for people to “mix and match” beliefs, it is almost unheard of for a minister to claim two religions. “When you take ordination as a Christian minister, you take an explicit vow of loyalty to Jesus. It’s hard for me to understand how a Christian minister could have dual loyalties,” Wellman said. Redding said she sees the theological conflicts but that the two religions, at their core, “illuminate” each other. “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. To her parishioners and family, though, Redding has turned her back on her faith and office. There was, she said, “universal puzzlement” at her decision to convert to Islam but still remain an Episcopal minister. “I have people who love me very much who really don’t want me to do this, and I love them very much. And I would love to be able to say, ‘Because I love you I will renounce my orders’ or ‘I will renounce Islam’ … I hate causing pain to people who love me, that’s not my intention,” Redding said. The Episcopal Church also rejected Redding’s religious choice. “The church interprets my being a Muslim as ‘abandoning the church,’ ” she said. “And that [there] comes an understanding that you have to be one or the other, and most people would say that. It simply hasn’t been my experience that I have to make a choice between the two.” The Diocese of Rhode Island, where Redding was ordained, told her to leave either her new Muslim faith or the ministry. A diocese statement said Bishop Geralyn Wolf found Redding to be “a woman of utmost integrity. However, the Bishop believes that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim.” Even though she has been defrocked, Redding said she is not capable of turning her back on either faith. She said she wants to continue speaking about and teaching religion and perhaps even travel to the Hajj, a journey to Mecca that every Muslim is supposed to make in their lifetime.
Redding said she does not want her belief in two religions to diminish the value she holds for both Christianity and Islam. Each faith by itself is enough to fulfill a person spiritually, she said. “It’s all there. I am not saying you have to go somewhere else to be complete. Some people don’t need glasses, some people need single lenses. I need bifocals.”