After rapid responses last night from Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Episcopal and other religious leaders continued this morning to criticize the President’s photo call outside St John’s, Lafayette Square, and the circumstances and rhetoric surrounding it.
DC faith leaders gathered on the steps of St John’s this morning, saying, “Hands that hold the Bible will never measure hearts that hold the Bible.”
Nine bishops representing seven Episcopal dioceses across New England issued a statement, in part:
What President Trump did in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 was disgraceful and morally repugnant. 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. …
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. 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.
In a separate response, the Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Rev. Dr Shannon MacVean-Brown, wrote in part:
Last night the president used military force to violently disperse peacefully gathered people, including our siblings of the Diocese of Washington. Just moments before, the president said he supports peaceful demonstrators. Clearly, this was a lie. I denounce the use of force required to clear his way to pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square. Using precious objects of our faith as props in a display to uphold white dominance and violence is a blatant display of evil.
The words of our Bible are the lifeblood of our prayers. They teach us about peace, love and justice, and sustain us when we need hope. The words of the Bible connect us to the life and teachings of Jesus. Through him we have learned to love our neighbor and build beloved community. …
We must reaffirm our renunciation of evil, and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. Please pray for the people of St. John’s. Pray for the healing of our nation; that we would be healed from the viruses of racism and COVID-19.
The Very Rev Ian S. Markham, Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, wrote in part:
We are still mourning the loss of George Floyd. His loss is still a continuing agony in the lives of his family. As we seek to understand what is happening, it is important to remember that a family is still grappling with this great loss. A child is gone; a sibling has gone; a friend is no longer there. Hearts are broken. This is hard.
I want to celebrate the moments of hope. In several cities last night, the police took a knee to honor the lost life. Thousands of institutions and churches have issued statements, calling for repentance and for a world with a future which will be different. And yes, the demonstrations remind us all that people care about justice.
There is one moment I must condemn: the decision of the President to order the gassing of the crowd in Lafayette Square, and then to take the Bible to the Episcopal Church in that square. Five VTS students were present. The Episcopal Church must be clear that this act is not our witness. A parish church cannot be a prop. We stand with the aching mother and sibling whose tears remind us that their son and brother has gone and that is wrong.
Several religious news sites noticed a first person account of the moments before the President’s appearance outside St John’s on Facebook. The Rev. Gini Gerbasi is the Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, and was part of a group of several clergy and lay people providing support to peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, which lies between the church and the White House. The Religion News Service reports:
“They turned holy ground into a battleground,” said the Rev. Gini Gerbasi.
Gerbasi, who serves as rector at a different St. John’s Episcopal Church, in nearby Georgetown, arrived at St. John’s Lafayette earlier that day with what she said were at least 20 other priests and a group of laypeople. They were organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to serve as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.” …
But sometime after 6 in the evening, when volunteers were packing up supplies, Gerbasi said police suddenly began to expel demonstrators from the park — before the 7 p.m. curfew announced for Washington residents earlier in the day.
“I was suddenly coughing from the tear gas,” she said. “We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was.” …
Gerbasi said that as she and the seminarian watched, police began to expel people from the church patio.
“The police in their riot gear with their black shields and the whole bit start pushing on to the patio of St. John’s Lafayette Square,” she said, adding that people around her began crying out in pain, saying they had been shot with nonlethal projectiles.
Gerbasi and others eventually fled the scene, leaving emergency medical supplies behind. By the time she reached K Street several blocks away and checked her phone, Trump was already in front of the church holding a Bible.
“That’s what it was for: to clear that patio so that man could stand in front of that building with a Bible,” said Gerbasi.