Friday, April 03, 2009


Redding & Ragsdale. Sounds like a BBC comedy team or something, doesn't it?

C of E. Whenever I think there are no more belly laughs in the world of current events, the Episcopal Church, or its senile cousin the Church of England, always comes galloping to the rescue. Sometimes it's the Archbishop of Canterbury supporting sharia law, and sometimes it's the latest church-sponsored vandalism of the denomination's liturgy and theology. This week, though, it's a hilarious "spiritual" dilemma whose only possible answer is a thigh-slapper of post-modern irony.

A dilemma always has two horns. (Or should I say 'prongs'? I guess.) The first prong this time probably struck the enlightened Episcopal flock as excellent news. The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, has unanimously elected a new dean, Father Katherine Ragsdale. The origins of the school are closely associated with Harvard University, which is why it should surprise no one that the present-day institution is described as "socially liberal, particularly with regards to the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the priesthood." Father Ragsdale is herself a devout Lesbian, which may partially account for the glowing treatment she received in a current Boston Globe profile, despite her worrisome status as a Christian cleric. Another factor may have been her theological position on abortion, articulated in a recent speech to a pro-choice group:

[W]hen a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion - there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing.

These are the two things I want you, please, to remember - abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

But just as the announcement of Father Ragsdale's unanimous election was on the verge of precipitating a crescendo of release in the spiritual G(od)-spot of the Church's most enlightened, uh, members, this terribly disturbing report broke the mood entirely:

Episcopal Priest Ann Holmes Redding has been defrocked

The Episcopal Church has defrocked Ann Holmes Redding, the Seattle Episcopal priest who announced in 2007 that she is both Christian and Muslim.

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over Redding, informed the priest of her decision in a letter today.

Wolf found Redding to be "a woman of utmost integrity and their conversations over the past two years have been open, honest and respectful," according to a press release from the Diocese of Rhode Island.

"However, Bishop Wolf believes that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."

"I am very sad," Redding had said Tuesday. "I'm sad at the loss of this cherished honor of having served as a priest."

She also said she was sad at what seems to her to be a narrow vision of what the church accepts.

Redding, who had formerly served as director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, announced in June 2007 that for more than a year, she had also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Muslim prayers moved her profoundly.

It was an announcement that perplexed many, though Redding said she didn't feel a need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths, believing that at the most basic level they are compatible.

Redding's defrocking — formally called deposition — comes almost 21 months after Bishop Wolf first told the priest to take a year to reflect on her beliefs. [emphasis added].

Of course it's perplexing. How could a church which believes in none of the obsolete Christian articles of faith be incompatible with a religion that also believes in none of the Christian articles of faith? Even the most tolerant among us is tempted to the dark suspicion that there's something arbitrary, something personal in this Inquisition-like act of exclusion. Perhaps Father Redding is not herself a Lesbian, and Bishop Geralyn got snubbed at the sYnod. That would be a sorry rationale indeed for fucking up a promising church career.

Bishop Geralyn Wolf

No wonder so many Church of England Brits are taking the morally progressive step of getting "debaptised" this month.

If you don't blunt the horns prongs of a dilemma, it can become a schism, a potentially devouring split in the body of the church. That's why I'm happy to weigh in here with a close-cropped explanation that makes perfect sense with, for once, no resort to ad-feminam attacks.

It appears that Father Redding, in her 21 months of reflection, missed a detail of incompatibility (isn't the devil always in the details?) between her two faiths. Understandable. It took me 0.00002 seconds of Google searching to find it. But here's the rub:

Basically, Islam considers life as a sacred gift from God Almighty. No one is allowed to take or stop the life of anyone else except by way of justice or according to the Islamic law. Thus, the Holy Quran says: "Say: Come, I will rehearse what God has really prohibited you from: Join nothing as equal with Him; be good to your parents, kill not your children on a plea of poverty; We provide sustenance for you and for them; approach not shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which God has made sacred, except by a way of justice and law (Chapter 6, Verse 151).

In another verse, the Holy Quran says: "Kill not your children for fear of want; it is We who provide sustenance for them as well as for you; for verily killing them is a great sin.
(Chapter 17, Verse 31).

What should we understand from these two verses? First of all, it is a grave sin to take the life of children for fear of want as was the habit during that period. Neither is it allowed to do so for any other reason unless a great evil is caused by the presence of the fetus that may cause the death of the mother.

But is the fetus a human being? Is it part of the woman's body and she is free to do what she likes with it. This is the logic of modern materialistic way of life. Islam has something else to offer. It is completely different from all other concepts or religions. Here are a few details. As a comprehensive and unique way of life, Islam does not at all agree with those who say that a woman has full control over her body. This does not mean that Islam subjugates woman and puts them under men's control. Islam considers our bodies as a trust, which we have to preserve and maintain. It also confirms that the fetus is the creation of Almighty God. No one, not even the mother, has the right to get rid of it unless its presence threatens the life of the mother. For in that case, Islam allows abortion within those limits only. [Emphases added]

In a religious denomination which regards abortion as a blessing, this lone, sad backwardness of Islam is unfortunately sufficient to justify the removal of Father Redding from the clerical elite of the Episcopal Church.

Tragic. But final.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I could be of help. In these trying times, we don't need any more torrid controversies based on frivolous rumors rather than matters of deeply spiritual conscience. They lead to disappointing climaxes and catastrophic divorces. The Episcopatooty Church deserves much better than that. Time to open the windows and let fresh air wash away the dank clouds of suspicion and innuendo. What is Christianity if not a lavage of love dispelling destructive heat?

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