The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, was seething.
The president of the United States had just visited St. John’s Episcopal Church, across from the White House, a day after a fire was set in the basement amid protests outside over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Before heading to the church, where presidents have worshiped since the days of James Madison, President Trump gave a speech at the White House emphasizing the importance of law and order.
Federal police officers then used force to clear a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators from the street between the White House and the church, apparently so Trump could make the visit.
“I am outraged,” Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled.
She said she had not been given any notice that Trump would be visiting the church, and did not approve of the manner in which the area was secured for his appearance.
“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,” Budde said.
She noted that Trump stood in front of the church — its windows boarded up with plywood after demonstrators shattered glass there and in many other buildings on nearby streets Sunday night — holding a bible, “one that declares that God is love.”
“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde said. “I am beyond. We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us, and has just used one of the most sacred symbols of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
She paused, chuckling as one does when describing a shocking, hard to believe scene, “holding it in front of one our churches and I am speechless.”
“No one knew this was happening,” Budde said of Trump’s visit, which she said she learned of by watching the news. “I don’t want President Trump speaking for St. John’s.”
“We so dissociate ourselves from the messages of this president,” she said. “We hold the teachings of our sacred texts to be so, so grounding to our lives and everything we do, and it is about love of neighbor and sacrificial love and justice.”
Budde said there were around a dozen clergy members at the church and nearby Lafayette Square all day Monday to support the protesters, who had gathered once again to protest the killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man, and demand racial justice.
The clergy left as the District’s 7 p.m. curfew was approaching.
As Trump stood in front of the church, flanked by aides and holding up the bible, a reporter asked if it was his. “It’s a Bible,” the president replied.
“We have a great country,” he said. “That’s my thoughts. Greatest country in the world.”
Following presidential tradition set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Trump attended a service at St. John’s before his swearing-in ceremony in 2017. He visited the church again that year to mark a national day of prayer for victims of Hurricane Harvey and in 2019 on St. Patrick’s Day.
George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer triggered protest in Minneapolis and other cities in the U.S. and Europe.
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