Fellowship Church pastor Ed Young said the stunt was meant to teach the Grapevine congregation about the paradox of Jesus as both lion and lamb, WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, reported Monday.
Stacy Smith of the Humane Society of Flower Mound, who attended the service, said the lion's handlers ran around the cage, poking and taunting the animal.
"Thousands and thousands of churches are able to convey the same exact message without using live animals," Smith told the news station.
Young said the Easter sermon was part of a five-week long series about animals at the church called "Wild."
"We would never do anything to endanger our people," he said. "Also, we would never do anything to endanger an animal. We love animals."
Young has a history of creative sermons -- in January, he and his wife spent 24 hours in a bed on top of the church's roof as part of what he called a "sex-periment," WFAA reported.
Grapevine police are investigating whether Young violated any laws with Sunday's live sermon props.
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