WASHINGTON – Religious leaders in Washington criticized President Donald Trump on Monday after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators outside the White House to allow Trump to walk to a nearby church for a photo-op.
The incident took place just before a 7 P.M. curfew, declared by the mayor of Washington, went into effect.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump addressed the nationwide protests triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Shortly thereafter, the police forcefully removed hundreds of protesters from Lafayette Square, across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, despite the fact that the curfew hadn’t yet come into effect nor were the protesters violent in any way.
The police assault, it soon became apparent, was intended to clear the path for Trump to walk from the White House compound to the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House. Trump stood outside the church with a Bible in his hands, posing for pictures for the media.
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Later, protesters tried to set fire to the 200-year-old church building, but the Washington Fire Department managed to subdue the conflagration before it caused any significant damage to the structure.
The Episcopal bishop of Washington, who oversees the church Trump visited, told the Washington Post Monday night that she was “outraged” over the president’s conduct. “I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.
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She also accused Trump for inflaming violence in the country, adding that “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us, and has just used one of the most sacred symbols of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Michael Curry, the current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the first African-American bishop to hold that position, also released a statement blasting Trump.
“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,” Curry said in the statement. “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 added that “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.”
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, an organization that brings together hundreds of clergy from different religions and denominations, also denounced Trump’s behavior.
“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," Moline said.