Home Christian News Trump Abused ‘our sacred space’ with Photo Op, Bishop Says

Trump Abused ‘our sacred space’ with Photo Op, Bishop Says

Mariann Edgar Budde

Hours after sustaining fire damage during riots in Washington, D.C., the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House became the center of another firestorm. Following a Rose Garden speech in which Donald Trump declared himself “an ally of all peaceful protesters” yet also threatened to deploy the military against unruly crowds, the president walked across the street to St. John’s and held up a Bible. “We have a great country,” Trump said, later adding, “We’re going to keep it nice and safe.”

The president didn’t address the ongoing protests across America—some of which have turned violent—or what sparked them: the death of George Floyd, a black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Bishop Decries Abuse of ‘our sacred space’

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of Washington’s Episcopal Diocese, quickly spoke out against Trump’s unexpected stop at St. John’s. No one reached out beforehand about “using the church as a backdrop in that way,” she says. “I was outraged that [Trump] felt that he had the license to do that, and that he would abuse our sacred symbols and our sacred space in that way.”

Budde says of the president: “He did not pray. He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country.” Her faith tradition, Budde says, doesn’t support Trump’s “incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation” but rather aligns itself “with those seeking justice” for Floyd’s death, “in faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.”

When asked if Trump was welcome in the future at St. John’s, known as “the church of the presidents,” Budde said all citizens are welcome “to kneel before God in humility.” And when asked what she’d preach to the president, she replied, “I would give him the same message I would give to all of us: That we have to look deep, we have to go to the root causes of the pain that we are witnessing. We have to keep our focus on the sacredness of every human life and the outrage and anguish that we are hearing from so many of our nation’s young people and people of color.”

Other Faith Leaders Respond to Photo Op

A range of religious leaders echoed Budde’s anger. Jesuit priest Father James Martin tweeted: “This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything.” Rabbi Jack Moline, Interfaith Alliance president, called the incident “one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen.”

On Tuesday morning, a group of D.C.-area African-American Baptist pastors received permission to pray and speak in front of St. John’s. “We are enraged as local pastors,” one said, and call “for repentance of this president and this government.” Another referred to Trump’s photo op as “the rape of a church and God’s Holy Word.”

Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear said in a statement, “The Bible is a book we should hold only with fear and trembling, given to us that in it we might find eternal life. Our only agenda should be to advance God’s kingdom, proclaim his gospel, or find rest for our souls.”

Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter, tweeted that the president “made a statement” in front of St. John’s Monday evening, proclaiming that “God & His Word are the only hope for our nation.”

Trump adviser Johnnie Moore also praised the president’s appearance at St. John’s, tweeting that Trump’s “in-total-control walk” to the church defied “those who aim to derail our national healing by spreading fear, hate & anarchy.”

On ChristianityToday.com, Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald describe Trump’s photo op as “jarring and awkward,” writing, “It did not play well, even with many of the president’s supporters.” They add, however, that the Bible’s contents have the power to “heal our deepest wounds and cut through the most hardened hearts.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.