‘His tactic was obvious’: New England Episcopal bishops lambast Trump for ‘cynical’ Bible photo-op

The president's actions "did nothing to mend the torn social fabric of our nation," the bishops say.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, Monday, June 1, 2020. –Patrick Semansky / AP

Nine bishops from across the Episcopal Church’s New England dioceses slammed President Donald Trump on Tuesday for posing with a Bible in front of a church in Washington, D.C., calling the move “disgraceful and morally repugnant.”

“His tactic was obvious,” the bishops who helm the church’s Province 1 dioceses said in a joint statement. “Simply by holding aloft an unopened Bible he presumed to claim Christian endorsement and imply that of The Episcopal Church. Far more disturbingly, he seemed to be affecting the authority of the God and Savior we worship and serve, in order to support his own authority and to wield enhanced use of military force in a perverted attempt to restore peace to our nation.”

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On Monday evening, Trump and a cohort of aides left the White House and walked to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church soon after police under federal authority used tear gas against peaceful protesters speaking out over police brutality to accommodate Trump’s movement.

Moments earlier, the president addressed the nation and vowed to use military force against violent protests should local and state officials not quell the crowds themselves.

Outside the church, Trump held up a black-covered Bible.

“We have a great country,” the president said. “Greatest country in the world.”

In their statement, local bishops said Trump used symbols of faith as political props.

“Displaying a Bible from which he did not quote, using as a mere backdrop an Episcopal church where he did not pray, and – more callously – ordering law enforcement to clear, with force and tear gas, a path through demonstrators who had gathered in peace, President Trump distorted for his own purposes the cherished symbols of our faith to condone and stoke yet more violence,” they said.

According to the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, the church received no advanced notice of Trump’s visit.

Budde told The Washington Post she was “outraged” by the incident.

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“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,” she said.

“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde added. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

According to the Post, the church has been a sacred space for presidents dating back to James Madison. On Sunday, a fire was set in the basement during protests over the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody last week.

The New England bishops, representing dioceses in each of the region’s six states, said Trump’s actions “did nothing to mend the torn social fabric of our nation.”

“Instead, they were a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between the people of this nation, and even between people of faith,” the bishops said. “No matter where we may stand on the partisan spectrum, we, as Christian leaders called to proclaim a God of love, find his actions repugnant. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to seek healing over division, and make peace in the midst of violence.”

Still, the bishops said that despite the church’s strong feelings spurred by Trump’s photo-op, the real issue remains the violence against people of color in the United States.

“Our church may rightly feel outraged and insulted by having the symbols of our faith used as a set prop in a cynical political drama,” they said. “The real abomination before us, however, is the continued oppression of and violence against people of color in this nation. Let us reserve and focus the energies of our indignation to serve our Lord Jesus Christ’s higher purpose: to extend love and mercy and justice for all, and especially for those whose life, liberty, and very humanity is threatened by the persistent sin of systemic racism and the contagion of white supremacy.”

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