Saturday, August 11, 2007

Muslim Priest

I'm always a little slow on the news, so you've probably already heard about this one. But it's personal to me, so I thought I'd at least mention it.

The other day, I got a call from a friend who is a priest a couple of counties south. He called me to let me know a mutual friend had been effectively suspended from her active priesthood because she announced a couple of months ago that she is Muslim. Still Christian but now also Muslim.

It's a funny thing. This friend, Ann Holmes Redding, worked up until recently at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle where another friend – my former boss – is the Dean of the Cathedral. Years ago, Ann sang a beautiful solo at our wedding, and when we went through a painful period was a great comfort to us. Added to that, Ann is brilliant and gifted in so many ways. So, I care what happens to her.

But, you ask, can a person be both a Muslim and a Christian?

As I've said before, if Jesus is to be believed, what leads to salvation is our loving God with all our heart, mind and soul, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Can a Muslim do that? Sure. Can a Christian do that? Absolutely. So, if the question is, can both Muslims and Christians be embraced by God's love and be granted entry in to heaven, then my answer is YES.

That might not be the question, however. Now, there are many who profess to be Buddhist Christians or Taoist Christians – most of what I've heard has to do with eastern religions – and in the Orient, there seems to be little problem with a person holding complimentary religious views. Maybe you read Life of Pi which was so popular a couple of years ago. The main character ultimately embraced Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, causing his entire family heartburn. So embracing more than one faith is not unheard of, and I suppose it works for some.

What Ann has said – I haven't spoken with her, mind you, only read in the papers – is that she feels at home in the worship and loves how it speaks to her. She loves the discipline of the worship, too, (something that Christianity once maintained as well. We have, in western Christianity, bowed to the demands of capitalistic society. Take the number of people who work on Sundays as a small example. But I digress.). It's undeniable, faithful Muslims live out their faith with enviable and joyful dedication. Their gain.

I believe that we Christians could take much that is good and lovely in Islam and learn from it.

And yet, I for my part can't see how to reconcile the two, at least as far as my faith life is concerned. There are tenets within the two traditions which are mutually exclusive, the divinity of Jesus being a chief one. Islam doesn't recognize Christ as divine, as the Son of God, whereas that very position is the foundation of Christianity. Another part of Christianity that I cherish but that is not part of Islam is the NON-requirement of those very disciplines. They are enriching, joyful, a blessing to the soul, but those who do not fulfill their obligations, according to Christ, are still very much part of the family. And then there is my understanding of what Christ said – that ALL those who love God and neighbor will live eternally. I am no expert in Islam, but I believe that is not Muslim doctrine.

Of course, there are a lot of Christians who don't really believe what Christ taught – they'd rather have Christianity be a private club open only to those who fulfill all the secret rituals and say all the right things. Which is to say that even within Christianity, there's a bunch of confusion about what we believe. So, if someone finds a little bit of heaven in the arms of another faith as well, who am I to say it can't happen?

AND YET, there is the issue of leadership. It's one thing to carry both traditions in one's heart and find a closeness to God in both. It is something else to be a leader, to teach and preach to those who entrust themselves to you. I wear that leadership very uncomfortably and am constantly uncertain if I'm doing the faithful justice. But since each denomination, each faith, can grasp only a little of God's divinity, it seems to me that we should concentrate on that piece and preach it as faithfully as possible. Yes, leave open the reality that God is bigger than any of us can grasp, but as another priest wrote, we take a vow as priests to uphold the teaching of the church, and becoming a Muslim doesn't do that. I think it's difficult to teach that Christ is God if your other religion denies that very thing.

I love Ann, and I wish her well on this journey of faith. Maybe some time off to clarify where she is and where God is calling her is a good idea. Either way, I'm sure God will lead her home in the end.