'I am outraged': DC bishop denounces Trump's church visit after police clear protesters with tear gas

Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington condemned President Donald Trump on Monday for his visit to St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House after law enforcement officers used tear gas to clear protesters from the area.

"Let me be clear: The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for," Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde told CNN.

"And to do so... he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. I am outraged," Budde said.

Budde is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese Washington, overseeing more than 80 Episcopal congregations, including St. John's. She is the first woman to serve in her position.

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Trump had just delivered an address from the Rose Garden Monday evening, pledging to be a "law and order" president and calling himself an ally to peaceful protesters. As he spoke, officers used tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and shields to force hundreds of protesters out of Lafayette Park by the White House. They had been peacefully demonstrating for several hours, demanding justice for George Floyd, who died while in police custody after a Minneapolis officer pinned Floyd's neck down with his knee.

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Despite an official D.C. curfew set for 7 p.m. ET, the officers began pushing the crowd out at 6:30 p.m., shortly before Trump's remarks. The president later walked with White House aides to the historical St. John's Episcopal Church, where protesters set fire in the basement  on Sunday night.

Across from Lafayette Park, St. John's is known as the "church of presidents" and has been attended at least once by every president since James Madison. 

"It's a Bible," Trump told reporters as he held it up for photos outside the boarded-up church.

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Trump's visit drew immediate backlash from those who criticized the police's use of force to clear his path to the church for a "photo op."

"Were thousands of peaceful protestors just tear gassed so Trump could have a photo op?" tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a communications director for former President Barack Obama.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House on June 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House on June 1, 2020.

Rev. Robert Fisher, of St. John's Church, told Fox News Monday evening that whoever set the fire in the church's basement "does not represent the majority of people that are out there peacefully protesting with an important message." He said clergy members were present during the afternoon to hand out water and prayed with protesters, which was "very hopeful, very peaceful, very loving." Fisher called Trump's visit "surreal."

Budde said she and her colleagues were given no notice Trump would be visiting the church, and found out while watching the news. 

"The president did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor … did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now, and in particular, the people of color in our nation who wonder if anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred work, and who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country," Budde said.

The Diocese of Washington distances itself "from the incendiary language of this president," Budde said. She said the diocese stands with those protesting racism and police brutality.

"I just can’t believe what my eyes have seen tonight," Budde said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mariann Edgar Budde slams Trump church visit during DC protest

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