Straight from the ecclesiastical “Believe It or Not!” department comes the following headline: “Episcopal Priest Defrocked for Wanting to Remain a Muslim.”
According to a news story released by the Seattle Times, Episcopal priest Ann Holmes Redding professed her faith in Allah, reciting the ancient Islamic creed, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” One would presume at this point, Redding might realize it was time to start looking for a job. However, she saw no contradiction between being a devout, practicing Muslim and a devout, practicing Christian.
At one level, such twisted logic would hardly seem to warrant what Jane Austin called the “compliment of rational opposition.” However, in our live-and-let-live culture, many will leap to Redding’s defense, celebrating her openness and sensitivity while denouncing the Episcopal Church for revoking her priestly office. I, by contrast, am thankful to live in a nation where one is free to believe and practice as one chooses, and I am thankful for a church that recognizes the confession “Jesus is Lord” is the irreducible minimum of Christian faith and practice.
The problem here isn’t that Redding wants to be sensitive and open. There was no one more sensitive and open to others, especially those different from himself, than Jesus. The problem is putting Christianity and Islam into a blender and coming out with a spiritual smoothie does violence to both religions. While I am no expert on Islam, I do know the core confession of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God’s truly divine, truly human one-of-a-kind Son. Thus, for Christians, Jesus is the decisive clue to ultimate reality. For Muslims, Muhammad is. This is a fork in a road that leads to two very different understandings and experiences of God.
Bottom line, it all comes down to Easter: If Jesus is just another prophet on the order of Muhammad, who died for keeps and lives on merely as a memory or spiritual influence, then one can make of Christianity whatever one will. But if Jesus was truly raised, leaving his empty tomb behind like the spent cocoon of a newborn butterfly, then he is Lord of a new creation, a new kingdom, a new world. Sin and death are put on notice; the dawn of God’s new day has broken.
Such a robust Easter faith need not and must not degenerate into Christian arrogance and elitism, as if Christians alone were persons of worth and value. To the extent Redding’s spiritual journey is fueled by such a concern, I am somewhat sympathetic. But I am confident Jesus’ true Easter triumph is a much more powerful incentive for loving my neighbor, and yes, even my enemies, than any sentimental religious or philosophic appeal.
At the end of the day, Christians must love and respect their Muslim neighbors not because religiously speaking, these two faiths are more or less the same, but because their Easter Lord told them that in his name and for his sake, they could do no less.
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.