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Bishop Condemns Trump After Peaceful Protesters Were Hit So He Could Walk to Church

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Bishop Condemns Trump After Peaceful Protesters Were Hit So He Could Walk to Church

2020-06-02 17:37:07

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)

It was easy to see Donald Trump's desperation late Monday as he arranged for a peaceful protest to turn violent. He wanted to be seen leaving the White House and walking to a nearby church where he oddly held up a bible. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was "outraged" that he did this just to share "a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus."

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper a few hours after Trump's display at St. John's, a church that has been used as a place of worship for a long line of presidents.  

There had been a peaceful protest on Monday outside of the gates at the White House. The group was dispersed with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets. This was not because they had become violent or even unruly. It was only so they would clear the path so Trump could be videotaped walking to the church.

The president had select aides surrounding him in front of the church. These included National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, Attorney General William Barr, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. 

The church is currently closed and boarded up, but Trump remained outside for several minutes, then returned to the White House and went inside. The church's exterior had been defaced by rioters on Sunday, and a small fire had been set in the basement. Church leaders said the majority of the building was "untouched."

"We have the greatest country in the world," Trump said outside the church. As he held up the bible he had brought, he was asked if it was his bible. He answered, "It's a bible." 

"I am outraged," Budde told Cooper. "The president did not pray when he came to St. John's, nor ... did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now."

"And in particular, that of the people of color in our nation, who wonder if anyone ever — anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred words," the bishop continued. "And who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.  

"And I just want the world to know that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love ... we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love."

Budde had plenty to say about Trump's display. The protests were touched off after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin arrested George Floyd and held his knee on his neck until he died. It's led to the officer being charged with third-degree murder, three other officers being fired, peaceful protests, rioting, looting, and a return of the "Black Lives Matter" sentiment.  

"We align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others," continued the bishop. "And I just can't believe what my eyes have seen."

Along with criticizing Trump for using St. John's as a backdrop for his photo-op, Budde was also upset that he used a bible as a prop. 

"Let me be clear: the president just used a bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus," she fumed.

On Tuesday Budde was asked by CNN's John Berman on "New Day" if Trump was a frequent visitor to St. John's. She replied, "No, he's not," and added, "He is not a man of prayer on Sunday morning." 

"We know that," she continued. "And he is not one to worship at St. John's regularly or any of the churches of our diocese." Budde referred to it as a "charade that in some ways was meant to bolster a message that does nothing to calm — to calm the soul and to reassure the nation that we can recover from this moment, which is what we need from a president, and that's what the faith communities stand for."

Before dispersing the peaceful protesters so that he could make his walk to the empty church, Trump spoke to the press and referred to himself as "your president of law and order." He vowed that he would return civility to the streets and that he would use the military if the violence didn't stop. 

"If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them," he said.

Trump was reportedly upset that news coverage of the last week of protests said he was hiding in an underground bunker. He told aides he wanted to be seen outside the White House gates, and this led to the decision of the photo-op at St. John's. 

Budde stressed this the president's presence in front of the church and his responses to the protests from around the country were not welcome.

"What I am here to talk about is the abuse of sacred symbols for the people of faith in this country to justify language, rhetoric, an approach to this crisis that is antithetical to everything we stand for." 

This was not the first time the Episcopal Church has gone up against Trump. They disagreed with him on a variety of issues including suggested cuts to social services and the border wall.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, said in a statement that Trump had "used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan purposes," adding, "This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or heal us." 

Bishop Greg Brewer of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida wrote on Twitter that he was "shaken watching protesters 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." He added, "This is blasphemy in real time."

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