US bishop ‘outraged’ by Trump’s church visit

Elana Schor

A US bishop has sharply criticised US president Donald Trump 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 of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which St John’s belongs to, said she was “outraged” by Mr Trump’s visit amid widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

She noted that the president did not pray while stopping by the church, a landmark known for its regular visits from sitting presidents since the early 19th century.

Ms Budde said: “He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment.

“There was nothing I could do but speak out against that,” she added, calling for a focus on “the deeper wounds of the country” amid ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice.

Ms Budde said the church was “just completely caught off-guard” by the visit, with “no sense that this was a sacred space to be used for sacred purposes”.

In order to facilitate Mr Trump’s statement there, she said, she believed tear gas was used in the area between the White House and the church.

As protests nationwide flared following the police killing of Mr Floyd, St John’s suffered minor damage on Sunday night after a fire in the church basement.

Ms Budde said “our suffering was minimal” compared with businesses that were destroyed by recent looting, even as she defended the goals of peaceful protesters responding to Mr Floyd’s killing.

“We can rebuild the church. We can replace the furnishings of a nursery,” she said, referring to the damaged area. “We can’t bring a man’s life back.”

Mr Trump poses with a bible outside St John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House (AP)

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, issued his own statement saying that Mr Trump had “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes”.

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” added Mr Curry, the first African American to hold that leadership post for US Episcopalians.

Ms Budde took her position at the church in Washington in 2011 after spending 18 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 Mr Trump’s “racialised rhetoric”, firmly aligned her faith with the goals of peaceful protesters driven by Mr Floyd’s death to decry systemic racism.

“In no way do we support the president’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation,” Ms 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.”