Friday, March 18, 2011

Episcopal priest faces defrocking for giving up Christian identity for Islam rituals for Lent

From here:
The Rev. Steve Lawler
The Rev. Steve Lawler should have just given up chocolate or television for Lent.

Instead, Lawler, the part-time rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, decided to adopt the rituals of Islam for 40 days to gain a deeper understanding of the faith.

Two days after it began, he faced being defrocked if he continued in those endeavors.

"He can't be both a Christian and a Muslim," said Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. "If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church."

Lawler didn't foresee such problems when he came up with the idea. He merely wanted to learn more about Islam, he said, especially in light of the ongoing congressional hearings on the radicalization of the faith.

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, he began performing "salah" five times a day, by facing east, toward Mecca, and praying to Allah. He also started studying the Quran and following Islamic dietary restrictions by abstaining from alcohol and pork.

During Holy Week, he planned to fast from dawn to sunset as Muslims do during Ramadan.

But in Smith's eyes, the exercise amounts to "playing" at someone else's religion and could be viewed as disrespectful.

Plus, he said, "One of the ways (Lawler) remains responsible as a Christian leader is to exercise Christianity and to do it with clarity and not with ways that are confusing."

It's not the first time the Episcopal Church has confronted a priest over dabbling in Islam; in 2009, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding was defrocked two years after she embraced Islam because, her bishop said, "a priest of the church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."

Smith said Lawler would face punitive actions if he continued with the rituals.

Read it all here and here.


Wilf said...

In this case, his bishop does understand that Trinitarian Christianity is different from Islam, and that there are incompatibilties between the two; and he was willing to actually make a stand in this matter. Very different from the previous bishop of the Diocese of Olympia. Also worth noting: this bishop isn't even a Communion Partners bishop.

Dale Matson said...

If you are a Christian, you have already discovered the Pear of Great Price Jesus the Christ. Why rebury This Pearl to dig for another? At least his Bishop has honored his calling.

Sean C. said...

It is encouraging that the bishop is acting in a clarifying manner in this case. One has to take encouragement where one can find it, I guess! Learning about Islam is by no means a bad thing in itself, but effectively worshiping as a Muslim and calling that your Lenten observance is dangerously incoherent. There are all kinds of ways to learn about Islam. At the risk of being controversial, I'd suggest this one:

Andy said...

There are multiple avenues for an individual to study the tenets of islam without full-on immersion. I believe that +G W Smith's actions were correct, especially in light of heightened sensitivities. What this priest has considered a search could be considered an act of blasphemy by another.
If anything, it seems to be a Choose ye this day moment for Lawler+.

Kevin said...

+G W Smith has not been seen to oppose much of anything ('right' or 'left' leaning), so in some ways impressive he did something.

Chazaq said...

I don't see what the problem is here. The guy's an Episcopalian. He should be allowed to do whatever he wants.

Dale Matson said...

"I don't see what the problem is here. The guy's an Episcopalian. He should be allowed to do whatever he wants."
There are probably some who unfortunately agree with your statement. I hope you were being sarcastic.

Chazaq said...

Dear Fr. Dale Matson,

I was not being sarcastic. My observation is that Episcopalians pretty much do whatever they feel like doing.

Chazaq (A cradle Episcopalian)