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U.S. faith leaders blast Trump’s church photo-op as ‘antithetical to the teachings of Jesus’

  • Before Trump’s Photo-Op, Reverend Gini Gerbasi, who serves as rector at a neighboring church, said armored Police forcibly removed her and other priests from the patio of Saint John’s Episcopal Church

By QUINT FORGEY, Politico, 06/02/2020

Washington-area faith leaders on Tuesday fiercely condemned the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters outside the White House to accommodate President Donald Trump’s visit to a nearby church, going so far as to suggest the staged photo opportunity was “antithetical” to the core tenets of Christianity.

That particular rebuke from the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, came after the president threatened the use of military force on Monday evening to quash a nationwide wave of racial unrest if state and local officials refused to activate the National Guard.

As Trump addressed reporters from the Rose Garden, police officers and National Guard units fired rubber bullets, deployed flash bangs and set off tear gas bombs to force protesters from Lafayette Square, on the north side ofthe White House.

The tactics by law enforcement allowed Trump to cross the street with top political aides and senior administration officials and stand in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he brandished a Bible “as if it were spiritual validation and justification for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and to the God of justice,” Budde said.

“I felt in no uncertain terms that I had to disassociate us from that symbolic gesture and to speak a word of justice and peace to the nation,” Budde, whose diocese oversees St. John’s, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Still, the bishop said Trump remains “welcome, as anyone is welcome,” to worship at the so-called “Church of the Presidents,” which was partly damaged by a basement fire during protests this week.

“The presidents are welcome as citizens of this country to pray alongside fellow citizens, to kneel before God in humility and to rededicate themselves to the task to which they’ve been elected,” she said.

Budde added, however, that Trump “is not entitled to use the spiritual symbolism of our sacred spaces and our sacred texts to promote or to justify … an entirely different message.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued an extraordinary statement later Tuesday morning ahead of Trump’s scheduled trip to the city’s Saint John Paul II National Shrine, arguing it was “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

The late pope, Gregory said, “was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings,” and “certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway sought to defend the president from the attacks by members of the clergy, and told reporters that “the words photo-op itself call into question” Trump’s motivation for visiting St. John’s on Monday.

“It’s very unfortunate that people of faith would call into question what is in anyone’s heart, including the president’s, [and] what compelled him to go over to St. John’s and hold up his Bible,” she said. “The politicization of that by people of faith is very unfortunate.”

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