Episcopalian church leaders responded to President Donald Trump’s use of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op Monday evening, forcibly clearing what was by all accounts a peaceful protest outside the White House with flashbangs, tear gas, and brute force. “I am outraged,” Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, told the Washington Post, in the immediate aftermath of the staged spectacle. Budde told the Post that the church was unaware of Trump’s intention to use the place of worship for what was essentially a photo shoot with a Bible and that the church does not condone the president’s conduct. “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde said. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.” The head of the Episcopal church in the U.S., Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, accused the president of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”
“He did not pray,” Budde said of Trump’s publicity stunt in an interview with the New York Times. “He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years. We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.”
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.
— Mariann Budde (@Mebudde)
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees St. John Episcopal Church, reacts to Pres. Trump’s visit and says police using tear gas to clear out peaceful protestors is “antithetical to the the teachings of Jesus.” https://t.co/F4NBSBmfRU pic.twitter.com/p5Mbi8Ogt2
— Good Morning America (@GMA)
The rector of St. John’s, Gini Gerbasi, recounted in a Facebook post Monday night the moments that led up to the presidential publicity stunt.
The police in their riot gear were literally walking onto the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with these metal shields, pushing people off the patio and driving them back. People were running at us as the police advanced toward us from the other side of the patio… We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually – with SO MANY concussion grenades – back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S – a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day – SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!
I am deeply shaken. I did not see any protestors throw anything until the tear gas and concussion grenades started, and then it was mostly water bottles. I am shaken, not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of a cough I still have, but by the fact that that show of force was for a PHOTO OPPORTUNITY. The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today. A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second.
“I am DEEPLY OFFENDED on behalf of every protestor, every Christian, the people of St. John’s, Lafayette square, every decent person there, and the BLM medics who stayed with just a single box of supplies and a backpack, even when I got too scared and had to leave. I am ok,” Gerbasi concluded. “But I am now a force to be reckoned with.”
*This post was updated with additional comments from Right Rev. Mariann Budde after it was published.