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.