Virtual Voices

Giving up Christianity for Lent

Religion

As a former Episcopalian, I can sadly report that this story doesn't shock me.

The Rev. Steve Lawler, a part-time rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ferguson, Mo., is practicing Islam for Lent.

According to a report in Christianity Today, Lawler on Ash Wednesday began praying five times daily to Allah, studying the Quran, and adhering to Islamic eating restrictions.

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During Holy Week, he plans to fast from dawn to dusk, in imitation of Ramadan.

Lawler claims that his goal is merely to learn more about Islam than he could by, say, reading books on the subject.

Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri is not quite as sanguine about this unusual priestly practice of Lent. In fact, he's pretty clear that it's not acceptable. "He can't be both a Christian and a Muslim," he said. "If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church." Smith threatened punitive action if Lawler continues.

Pretty strong stuff for an Episcopal bishop these days.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lawler wasn't upset by the bishop's reaction. "It's a conversation, so I don't feel excluded or ordered about, and I understand Bishop Smith's concerns about what this would mean. I knew I was stepping into this as a discovery. It's turning out to be different than I thought, but also richer than I thought."

Lawler told Christianity Today that he gave up the Roman Catholicism of his youth because it was too conservative. "The Episcopal church is a fairly open church," he said.

And that's precisely the problem. While I'm glad to see Bishop Smith taking a strong stand against this inanity, the fact that an Episcopal priest could possibly think this was a good way to spend Lent speaks volumes about the state of the Episcopal Church today.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein

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