Faith Community Outraged Over Trump's Church Photo-Op During Nationwide Protests
Religious leaders in Washington and around the country began criticizing President Donald Trump on Monday, June 1, 2020 immediately after he used St. John's Episcopal Church as a backdrop and the Bible as a prop for a photo-op.
The incident took place soon after Trump announced in the Rose Garden that he had ordered police to get rid of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square across the street from the White House so he could walk through the park to the nearby church. The police followed the president's order by using tear gas, flash grenades, and firing rubber bullets at demonstrators. People are wondering why Trump didn't wait 25 minutes later when the curfew would have started.
It has been reported that Trump wanted a photo-op because he was angry that the media gave the public information that he had been in an underground bunker while protests were going on just steps away from where he resides. He told aides he wanted to be seen outside the White House gates.
During the photo-op, Trump posed for pictures for the media as he stood in front of the church while holding a Bible awkwardly in his hands as if it was a foreign object.
Upside Down Bible
Everybody has accidentally held a Bible upside down as the president did. It might be only a few moments before the person would turn it the right way and perhaps open it to some passage to read. However, the president did not open it and read anything from it. When asked if it was his Bible, he said it was "a" Bible (with emphasis on the “a”).
The nation is dealing with more than one crisis. The last thing the country needs to see at a time like this is for President Trump to stand in front of a historical church he doesn't attend with a closed Bible.
Episcopal Bishop of Washington Speaks Out
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde oversees the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. She criticized President Donald Trump because of his visit to St. John's Episcopal Church amid protests over the death of George Floyd.
Bishop Budde told the Washington Post Monday night soon after Trump's visit that she was “outraged” over the president's action. She said neither she nor anyone else was given even a courtesy call that the area would be cleared so Trump could use the historic church as a backdrop. Buddle indicated that she found out about the event when she saw it on television along with everyone else. She said, "I just can't believe what my eyes have seen."
Budde also accused Trump of inflaming violence in the country. She noted that the leader of the country did not pray or acknowledge the agony of our country. She added that Trump's message is "antithetical to the teachings of Jesus."
The bishop described what Trump did in front of the church she oversees "was an abuse of the spiritual tools and symbols of our traditions and of our sacred space."
Budde did not think it was appropriate for Trump to hold up a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition without opening it to read a scripture to encourage people and help the nation heal. She described the photo-op as a charade.
CNN's John Berman on New Day was asked if Trump was a frequent visitor to the church. The bishop did not hesitate. Instead, she immediately said, "No, he's not. He is not a man of prayer who comes to the church on Sunday mornings. He is not one to worship at St. John's regularly or any of the churches of our diocese.
St. John's is the house of worship that has been used by American presidents for more than a century since the days of James Madison. However, the bishop indicated that President Trump has not been to St. John's for worship since the morning of his inauguration on Friday, January 20, 2017. He did visit the church again later that year to mark a national day of prayer for victims of Hurricane Harvey and in 2019 on St. Patrick’s Day, but he has not been inside the church since.
At the end of his speech in the Rose Garden, Trump announced, "Thank you very much, and now I am going to pay my respects to a very, very special place."
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Speaks
Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the first African-American bishop to hold that position, released a statement criticizing Trump's action.
“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.”
Curry is the bishop who delivered the inspiring message when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married on May 19, 2018.
President of Interfaith Alliance Speaks
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, criticized Trump's behavior. He oversees an organization that brings together clergy from different religions and denominations. Moline stated:
“Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice – right after using military force to clear peaceful protestors out of the area – is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen. This only underscores the president’s complete lack of compassion for black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism."
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida Shares His Views
Greg Brewer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, tweeted that he was shaken while watching protestors in Lafayette Park being mistreated during a peaceful demonstration.
He said he was also disturbed when he saw the President of the United States do a photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church holding a Bible. Brewer concluded, "This is blasphemy in real-time."