WASHINGTON (RNS) — A new book by former President Donald Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows offers a detailed account of the then-commander in chief’s infamous Bible photo-op at St. John’s Church in June 2020, during the height of the summer’s racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Meadows said it was Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who came up with the idea to “send a message to people of faith.”
But the book chapter essentially avoids mention of religious outcry at the stunt, nor does it note the forced removal of a priest and a seminarian from the patio of the church during the clearing of racial justice demonstrators from Lafayette Square outside the White House, which occurred right before the event.
Meadows, a onetime North Carolina congressman who describes himself as a committed Christian, details the lead-up to the photo-op in his new book “The Chief’s Chief,” published on Tuesday (Dec 7). Meadows notes his concern upon observing the growing crowd of demonstrators outside the White House in late May 2020, writing he “noticed that the crowds were getting a little too close to (St. John’s Church) for my liking.”
“I knew that these protesters had done massive amounts of damage to buildings over the past few nights, and I shuddered at the thought of the same thing happening to a sacred place like St. John’s,” he writes. “In the Oval Office, President Trump expressed similar concerns.”
The church was, in fact, damaged roughly 48 hours later on the evening of May 31, when a window was smashed and a fire was set in the basement nursery of the historic Episcopal church. St. John’s is often referred to as the “church of the presidents” because of its close proximity to the White House and because every president since James Madison has attended a service there.
The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington that oversees the church, expressed dismay at the destruction of property at the time, telling The Washington Post, “obviously we wanted the church to be a place of haven and safety.”
But Budde did not condemn the larger goal of the racial justice protests, noting she had been outside the church earlier in the day to participate in the demonstrations, standing alongside those handing out water to protesters.
“It’s a building. No one’s life is gone, but we have work to do and we’ll do it,” she told the Post. “Cleaning up, rebuild and focus on the rebuilding of our country which is more important.”
Meadows, however, framed the church burning in his book as an inevitable consequence of the protests.