Thou shalt have no other gods before me … for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. —Exodus 20:3, 5
You would think that when an ordained Christian minister or priest publicly professes belief in a non-Christian religion, and publicly practices it, some degree of church discipline would be in order. Depending on the circumstances, the addled cleric might be subject to a formal rebuke and an exhortation to repent, or defrocked, or even excommunicated.
You’d think such a case would be a gross embarrassment to any church, and a blow to its credibility, weakening its witness for Christ.
But if the church entity in question is the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington, you’d be wrong on all counts.
Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, now a congregant at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, made national news recently by revealing that she also worships as a Muslim at Al-Islam Center, in the same city, and has been doing so for almost a year.
She’s still a member in good standing at her church, still a priest … and still, she says, a Muslim. No church discipline has been invoked.
How can this be?
The Redding Case
We requested interviews with both the current Episcopal Bishop of Olympia, Vincent Warner, and the newly-elected bishop who will take office this fall, Dr. Gregory Rickel; but neither granted an interview. Still, enough has been reported in The Seattle Times, The Episcopal Voice, and elsewhere to allow us to discuss the case.
Rev. Redding told The Episcopal Voice (June 2007, “On being Christian and Muslim”) that the Christian doctrine of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God “is not literal,” and likened the affirmations of the Christian creeds to “fraternity hazing—you have to say these words in order to be part of the club.”
From 2001 until this spring, Redding held a position at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, “in charge of programs to form and deepen people’s faith.”1 In March of this year she lost that position—due to budgetary reasons, said the dean of the cathedral, having nothing to do with her profession of Islam, according to The Seattle Times.
Redding cites her “early exposure to interfaith relationships” (Episcopal Voice) as a factor in her decision to follow two religions simultaneously: baptized by an African Methodist Episcopal minister, Sunday school at an Episcopal church, Unitarian youth group, etc. She said she was introduced to Muslim prayer practice in 2006 and immediately “knew she had been wrestling with a call to Islam” (Episcopal Voice). “I was following Jesus and he led me into Islam,” she said.
In the Footsteps of Jeroboam
Syncretism, defined by R. J. Rushdoony (citing the dictionary) as “egregious compromise in religion or philosophy,” is the operative word here.2 Redding’s Voice interview is a muddle of feelings, confused thinking, and false theology. For instance, she finds irresistible the Muslim practice of praying five times a day—as if there were anything keeping a Christian from praying five times daily or more.
As Rushdoony writes, syncretism “is destructive of the human mind, of rationality … [One who has embraced syncretism] has lost the capacity for clear thinking.”3 “If a man believes that orthodox Christianity can be reconciled and united, or live in peace with, modernism, humanism, Mohammedanism, or Buddhism, that man is a syncretist, not a Christian. A syncretist has always abandoned his original position, even though he refuses to acknowledge this fact.”4
Syncretism has been around for a long time, and is always offensive to God. Almost 3,000 years ago, Jeroboam I, the first king of northern Israel, installed golden idols at Bethel and at Dan because, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel …” (1 Kings 12:28). This fusion of Judaism and paganism, initiated by Jeroboam, “made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:34).
“Interfaith” is simply another name for syncretism: trying to combine all or several contradictory religions into “one path that leads to God.”
In the context of a church that has embraced syncretism—or, as they would put it, committed itself to the interfaith movement—Redding’s actions are not out of place.
The Episcopal Church in America has a strong interfaith commitment, to put it mildly. In fact, the church has openly promoted Islamic and Jewish mysticism, Hindu dance, Buddhist prayers and chants, and the actual worship of pagan goddesses.5 Its biggest and most famous churches—the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., to name two—regularly host “interfaith events” featuring all of the above.
St. Clement’s in Seattle is no exception. As Redding told the Voice, “Interfaith work is not just sitting in a room with a group of people and acknowledging our similarities and differences. For me, interfaith work happens when I respect others and God enough to reexamine my own beliefs.” Well, she has certainly done that.
A Disregard for Law
Rushdoony writes, “[T]he First Commandment, by condemning any other god or source of power, is condemning syncretism … Syncretism in every sphere emerges wherever there is a disregard for law.”6
The Episcopal Church in America is notorious for showing disrespect for God’s laws concerning sexual morality. The Diocese of Olympia is committed to the overthrow of Biblical prohibitions of homosexual activity. Its website (http://pop.olympia.anglican.org/) equates the practice of “blessing same-sex unions” with “social justice issues,” and features a “resolution” by the diocese chastising the worldwide Anglican Communion for not embracing homosexual “marriage.” Indeed, the Diocese of Olympia suggests that the Anglican Communion “apologize to those gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters hurt by these decisions.”
The diocese’s website also displays a tolerance for goddess-worship. It does not display a love of God’s commandments. Where disrespect for God’s laws thrives, right doctrine cannot flourish.
Works of the Flesh
As in other “progressive” denominations where Buddhist prayers are chanted from the pulpit and sodomy is something to be “welcomed” and “affirmed” as a “gift of God,” an appearance of righteousness is preserved by works of the flesh, hence these churches’ emphasis on “social justice” and “ecology.”
The National Cathedral, for instance, held an “Interfaith Convocation on Hunger,” June 11, and has also hosted a “Consultation of Religious Leaders on Global Poverty” (“Participants will call for a recommitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as laid out by UN members in 2000”), interfaith concerts, conferences, and so on.7 St. John the Divine has hosted, as guest preachers, the Dalai Lama, atheist Carl Sagan, and global warming guru and politician Al Gore, all in aid of “forging a new liturgy of sacred ecology” and saving the planet, which “will not long continue to tolerate the abuse to which we have subjected it.”8
What Christian could possibly be against alleviating hunger and poverty, or stopping pollution?
But those who preach and practice a “social gospel” have a theologically false view of justification. “The good which is required of him by the Lord is something far more and different from the humanistic and humanitarian idea of the good,” Rushdoony writes. “God alone is good (Matt. 19:17); we manifest His goodness to the degree that we believe in the Lord and obey Him; our goodness is an aspect of His grace in us. Our justification as well as our righteousness is from the Lord.”9 And, “Biblical justification is by imputation. Although man is not righteous before God, God the Judge imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the sinner and declares him justified.”10
Biblically, there is absolutely nothing we can do to justify ourselves: it is done for us, by the sovereign grace of God. We are to do good works because our faith in God, and our love of God, moves us to do them.
For “progressives,” their good works become idols. Some progressives are aware of this temptation. Jim Wallis, founder of the arch-progressive group Sojourners, writes, “We were tempted to make an idol out of our simple lifestyle. Our identification with the poor threatened to become an idol … And through it all, there was the danger of making idols of ourselves, of taking pride in our role as ‘radical Christians.’”11
If we are justified by our good works, and our lofty good intentions, then it doesn’t much matter what we believe, does it? We can cherry-pick the Scriptures, turn the Bible’s teaching on personal morality upside down—and, yes, worship Allah at the mosque on Fridays and Jesus Christ on Sundays at our church.
It’s Only to Be Expected
Taken in context, Rev. Redding’s simultaneous embrace of Christianity and Islam is the kind of aberration that ought to be expected.
The Episcopal Church in America, Diocese of Olympia, has created the ideal conditions for such an aberration.
*Its “interfaith” bent is a form of syncretism that Redding has merely taken one step further than others. Is she more to blame than clerical colleagues who preach and practice goddess-worship, hold workshops on Sufi mysticism, and proclaim the equal worth of all the world’s religions? Redding fits right in.
*Episcopal lawlessness, particularly with respect to sexual morality, has robbed church leaders of any moral authority. How can a bishop who “blesses same-sex unions” tell any colleague or congregant what’s right or wrong? The scriptural boundaries have been shattered, the scriptural road maps cast aside.
*As long as anyone in the church can appease his conscience by being against poverty, war, and racism, and as long as having the right stand on social justice is more important than right doctrine, there can no longer be even a concept of right doctrine.
No one in the Diocese of Olympia can correct Rev. Redding because no one in the diocese has the scriptural authority to correct her. If “gay marriage” is permitted, if the divinity of Christ and His exclusivity as Savior are denied, if the Bible is not recognized as God’s Word, on what grounds does an Episcopal bishop discipline an Episcopal priest for practicing a non-Christian religion? The bishops are already practicing a non-Christian religion themselves!
We ache for our Anglican brothers and sisters who have not followed their Episcopal leaders into apostasy, who remain faithful to God and His Word. The worldwide Anglican Communion has pleaded with the Episcopal Church in America to cease and desist. Many American congregations have seceded from the Episcopal Church and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of Biblically faithful bishops in Africa and South America.
The Episcopal leadership has as yet shown no inclination to repent. As long as they take no steps in that direction, they can expect more embarrassments of the kind provided by Rev. Redding.
1. Janet I. Tu, The Seattle Times, June 17, “I am both Muslim and Christian,” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003751274_redding17m.html
2. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 599.
3. Ibid., 600.
4. Ibid., 599.
5. “ECUSA Flirting with Paganism?” http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=268
6. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004), 246.
9. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 628.
10. Ibid., 631.
11. Jim Wallis, The Call to Conversion (New York: HarperCollins, 2005 edition), 151.