Armed federal officers used flash grenades, fired rubber bullets and teargassed peaceful protesters outside the White House to make way for President Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, to visit St. John’s Church for a staged photo opportunity, as Trump held a Bible and brandished it as he and his White House entourage posed for photographs. The church, which is just across the Lafayette Park in the White House, has been a historical place of visit for presidents of the United States of America since early 1800s. But in yesterday’s case, however, Trump did not, as tradition, pray while he stopped by at the church. Rather, Trump only came to stage a photo op, an action that portrayed a partisan political stunt rather than a measure to heal the wounds, work against racial injustice, and call for peace. This left the leaders of the church, and indeed scores of American citizens, furious with Trump for abusing their sacred place.
Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, was furious with President Donald Trump yesterday for staging a visit to the church which is located across from the White House. Trump held up a Bible in front of the church, after Federal officers had cleared the area of peaceful protesters. Bishop Budde, whose diocese St. John’s belongs to, said in a statement that she was “outraged” by Trump’s visit, observing that he did not pray while stopping by the church, which has become, since the 19th century, a landmark in the area.
On her Twitter page, she said, “Tonight President just used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. The President did not come to pray; he did not lament the death of George Floyd or acknowledge the collective agony of people of color in our nation. He did not attempt to heal or bring calm to our troubled land. The Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbor; that all people are beloved children of God; that we are to do justice and love kindness. The President used our sacred text as a symbol of division. We are followers of Jesus. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. We stand with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd through the sacred act of peaceful protest.”
Trump had expected to take advantage of the incidence where a part of the church, its nursery, was put on fire by the irate section of the protests recently, and his actions, and speech in front of the church yesterday evening, was a calculated political move. But the church did not appear to hold grudges against the protests or the protesters in general.
“He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment,” Association Press quoted Budde as saying in an interview last night. “There was nothing I could do but speak out against that,” she added, calling for a focus on “the deeper wounds of the country” amid ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice. Budde said the church was “just completely caught off-guard” by the visit, with “no sense that this was a sacred space to be used for sacred purposes.”
The protests waxed stronger as Trump threatened violent control using the police and military, after the police killing of George Floyd in the city of Minneapolis. It spread into Washington DC and St. John’s suffered minor damage Sunday night from a fire in the church basement. Budde said “our suffering was minimal” compared with businesses that were destroyed by recent looting, even as she defended the goals of peaceful protesters responding to Floyd’s killing.
“We can rebuild the church. We can replace the furnishings of a nursery,” she said, referring to the damaged area. “We can’t bring a man’s life back.”
Presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who is the first African American presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, expressed his disgust, saying “This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.
“The bible teaches us that ‘God is love.’ Jesus of Nazareth taught, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’ The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts. We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.'”
Rev. Greg Brewer, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, said “As a bishop in the Episcopal Church, and an American citizen, I am shaken watching protestors in Lafayette Park gassed and cleared so that the President of the United States can do a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible.This is blasphemy in real time.”
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, issued his own statement saying that Trump had “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”
“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” added Curry, the first African American to hold that leadership post for U.S. Episcopalians.
Budde took her position at the church in Washington in 2011 after spending 18 years in Minneapolis. So, her stance against the brutal killings by racist police officers, and especially of Floyd in Minneapolis, is understandable. “I want to build up the liberal church again so we can be a legitimate conversation partner in the public arena,” she had vowed at the time.
Budde is among other Washington National Cathedral leaders who issued a statement that excoriated Trump’s “racialized rhetoric” some time ago.