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Can a person belong to two religions?

The journey of Rev. Ann Redding.
Reactions by others to her decision.

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Sponsored link.

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Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a Muslim - Christian?

Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, 55, graduated from Brown University, earned master's degrees from two seminaries, and received her Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, NY. She felt called to the priesthood; in 1984, she was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, USA. She will teach the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University in the fall of 2007. She has a life goal to create an institute to study the three largest monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In 2005-Fall, a Muslim leader gave a talk at St. Mark's Cathedral where Redding worked. She was moved by his prayer. During 2006-Spring, another Muslim leader taught a chanted prayer to God at a cathedral's inter-faith class. She began reciting the prayer daily. She began to study Islam intensely. in 2006-March, she became a Muslim by reciting the shahada -- "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet."

She says that:

"Coming to Islam was like coming into a family with whom I'd been estranged. We have not only the same God, but the same ancestor with Abraham."

She attends Friday services at a mosque, prays five times a day, and identifies herself as following two religions. She said:

"I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I'm both an American of African descent and a woman. I'm 100 percent both." 1

The Associated Press reports that:

"She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God - the meaning of the word 'Islam'."

Redding describes her acceptance of her additional faith:

"It wasn't about intellect. 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. ... I think this thing that's happened to me can be a sign of hope."

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Reactions by theologians to her religious inclusion/conversion:

Her friends generally support her. But religious authorities hold mixed opinions. Many of the latter feel that beliefs taught by Islam and Christianity make the two religions mutually exclusive. Others believe that it is possible to interpret the tenets of the two faiths in such a way that a person can accept both faiths simultaneously:

bullet

Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, said:

"There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different. The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus? I don't think it's possible [to be both, just like] ... you can't be a Republican and a Democrat."

bulletReferring to one person being both a Muslim and a Christian, Hisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington said: "I don't know how that works."
bulletLeaders at the Al-Islam Center of Seattle where she prays, believe differently. Programming director Ayesha Anderson said:

"Islam doesn't say if you're a Christian, you're not a Muslim. Islam doesn't lay it out like that."

bullet

Officials at the Episcopal Church, USA do not know of any other of their priests who believes in a second faith along with Christianity. They indicated that it is the local bishop's responsibility to decide whether she can continue performing the functions of a priest.

bulletEugene Webb, professor emeritus of comparative religion at the University of Washington, said that it is possible to be both Muslim and Christian: He said:

"It's a matter of interpretation. But a lot of people on both sides do not believe in interpretation. "

bulletIhsan Bagby is an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. He notes that Islam tends to be a little more flexible on matters of belief. Muslims can have faith in Jesus, he said, as long as they believe in Mohammad's message.
bulletMahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, notes that in Islam, God is one an indivisible and unique. He said:

"The theological beliefs are irreconcilable. For Muslims to say Jesus is God would be blasphemy."

Most Muslims believe that belief in the Trinity is belief in polytheism 2 and is the most serious type of blasphemy against God.

bulletFrank Spina, an Episcopal priest and professor of Old Testament and biblical theology at Seattle Pacific University, states:

"I just do not think this sort of thing works. I think you have to give up what is essential to Christianity to make the moves that she has done. ... The essence of Christianity was not that Jesus was a great rabbi or even a great prophet, but that he is the very incarnation of the God that created the world.... Christianity stands or falls on who Jesus is."

He also notes that Episcopal priests have taken vows of commitment to the doctrines of the church: "That means none of us get to work out what we think all by ourselves."

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Reactions from non-theologians:

bulletDoug Thorpe was a member of St. Mark's faith-formation committee with Redding. He has noted how her decision has deepened her spirituality. He feels that Redding is being called:

 "... by her very presence, [to be] a bridge person. And we desperately need those bridge persons."

bullet"mOok" at mOokblog writes:

"Surely, given Christianity and Islam’s opposite positions on Jesus’ humanity, his Son-ship, his divinity, his crucifixion and his resurrection, if the way you 'understand Jesus is compatible with Islam', then by definition the way you understand Jesus is incompatible with the Christian faith."

"Honestly, this is the sort of stuff that I’d have expected to hear from Jade Goody or Helen Adams on Big Brother, not from a priest in the Christian Church who has a PhD! ..."

"And news just in: it's possible for a fish to be a spaceship, a pizza to be a bicycle, a frog to be a sky scraper, a tomato to be an aqualung and a potato to be prime minister of Bulgaria." 3

bulletMichael P.F. van der Galiën wrote on the Moderate Blog Network:

"I think, from a theological perspective, that it is quite an interesting question: can one be both Muslim and Christian (at the same time)? My initial reaction is 'of course not.' However, when I thought about it for a while, I thought 'well, the way she explains it makes me think it is possible, in so far that it is all a matter of interpretation.' Redding has a somewhat different definition of what it means to be a Christian than I do, but I would not dismiss her views too easily. For one thing, many, many European Christians probably share her views."

"You could say that she has found a ‘middleground’ which makes it possible for her to say that she is both. Of course, this does not mean that Christians and Muslims who interpret their respective Holy Books a bit more literally than Redding does, cannot disagree with her and say that she is not a Christian / Muslim; it does, however, mean that she can defend her position. ..."

"It is a very interesting thought process. The result is, I guess, that more strict Christians will consider Redding to be Muslim, and stricter Muslims will consider her to be Christian. Then we have the group who are less strict and believe she can be both, and, lastly, some people will consider her to be neither." 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today. Punctuation and spelling were corrected in the blog quotations.

  1. Janit I. Tu, "Reverend drawn to Muslim faith," The Columbian, WA, 2007-JUN-17, at: http://www.columbian.com/

  2. "Islam and Christianity; Common grounds," Reading Islam, 2003-JUL-13, at: http://www.readingislam.com/

  3. mOok, "The Theological Toilet," mOokblog, 2007-JUN-08, at: http://m0ok.wordpress.com/

  4. George Conger, "US Priest says Islam Christianity are united," 2007-JUN-07, at: http://geoconger.wordpress.com

  5. Michael P.F. van der Galiën, "Episcopal Priest: 'I am both Muslim and Christian'," The Moderate Blog Network, 2007-JUN-17, at: http://www.blogowogo.com/

As of 2007-JUN-18, A Google search for redding islam christianity returned about 2,800 hits. Two days later, it reached 3,300.

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Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-JUN-18
Latest update: 2007-JUN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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