Episcopal priest banned from practicing Islam: The Church of England Newspaper, March 18, 2011 p 7. March 20, 2011Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Missouri, Multiculturalism.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
An Episcopal priest’s decision to give up Christianity for Lent has not been well received by his bishop.
On March 10, the Rev Steve Lawler, an assistant at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, Missouri, distributed a press release announcing that he would be practicing the rituals of Islam for the 40 days of Lent. However, Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri informed Mr Lawler that if persisted in this Lenten devotion he would be defrocked.
Speaking to a reporter for the St Louis Post-Dispatch about his spiritual exercises, Mr Lawler said that on Ash Wednesday he began the five-times-a-day Salah, the formal prayers to Allah required of all Muslims. He also began a study of the Qur’an and followed Muslim dietary laws. Holy week, Mr Lawler told the reporter, would see him fast from dusk to dawn in imitation of Muslim customs during Ramadan.
Mr Lawler obliged the photographer accompanying the reporter by performing the Salah, and faced east towards Mecca for the camera and prayed on his knees on a tasteful prayer rug. However, the priest stopped short of reciting the Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Mohammad as his prophet.
Bishop Smith was not amused, stating Mr Lawler “can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim.”
“If he chooses to practise as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church,” he told the Post-Dispatch.
“Playing” at Islamic practices was disrespectful, the Bishop said, telling the Post-Dispatch that as a priest Mr Lawler “remains responsible as a Christian leader is to exercise Christianity and to do it with clarity and not with ways that are confusing.”
While he could commend the priest’s desire to learn more about Islam, the way he went about it was wrong, the Bishop said. “You dishonour another faith by pretending to take it on. You build bridges by building relationships with neighbours who are Muslim.”
Informed of his Bishop’s views, Mr Lawler ended his Islamic flirtations.
A diocesan spokesman told The Church of England Newspaper that Bishop Smith “did not issue a pastoral directive having received Steve Lawler’s assurance that he will desist from the practices of Islam.”
However, the Bishop told Mr Smith, “I stand ready to issue a pastoral directive, if that proves necessary.” In the Episcopal Church a pastoral directive is a formal notice by a bishop to a cleric. Violating a pastoral directive can lead to being deposed from the ministry.
The Diocese noted that Mr Lawler “sent a letter of apology to his congregation but was unable to deliver it to them in person this past Sunday,” as he had left for Europe on vacation the day before.