The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington sharply criticized President Donald Trump on Monday for staging a visit to the historic St. John's Church across from the White House, where he held up a Bible after authorities had cleared the area of peaceful protesters.
The Rev. Mariann Budde, whose diocese St. John's belongs to, said she was “outraged” by Trump's visit and noted that he didn’t pray while stopping by the church, a landmark known for its regular visits from sitting presidents since the early 19th century.
"The president also did not “acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country," Budde said in a statement posted to the diocese's Facebook account after Trump's televised visit.
The Rev. Gini Gerbasi, Rector of St. John's, said the clergy was given no warning Trump was coming. She told WUSA she was wearing her clergy collar when she was forced off the property due to the tear gas.
She accused the president of trying to "look Christian" by holding a Bible in front of the church.
"It would be far more Christian if he would behave according to the words in that book rather than carrying it around as a prop," Gerbasi said.
As protests flared nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, St. John's suffered some damage Sunday night from a fire in the church basement. The D.C. Fire and EMS department late Sunday circulated a picture showing the church building secured, and Budde tweeted: “A building can be rebuilt. The deeper wounds of our nation remain our focus.”
In a Monday night interview with CNN after Trump's appearance, Budde said that she heard from many people of faith “wondering what on earth did we just witness."
Budde took her position at the church in Washington in 2011 after spending years in Minneapolis.
“I want to build up the liberal church again so we can be a legitimate conversation partner in the public arena," she told The Washington Post at the time.
The bishop, who last year joined other Washington National Cathedral leaders in a statement that excoriated Trump's “racialized rhetoric," firmly aligned her faith with the goals of peaceful protesters driven by Floyd's death to decry systemic racism.
“In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation,” Budde said in her statement. “In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd.”
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, accused the president of using the church for politics.
“Let me be clear. 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," Martin said, according to a tweet by NBC News reporter Peter Alexander.