President Donald Trump’s decision to walk to a church near the White House Monday evening and wave a Bible – an act that led Attorney General William Barr to authorize the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful protesters from the area – might have been popular with his Christian nationalist base, but other U.S. faith leaders are appalled.
Here’s a sampling of some of the comments that have come to light since Trump’s stunt:
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign:
“Trump’s policies and actions are both religious hypocrisy and political insanity. His policies violate the theology of the church to care for the sick, the poor, immigrants. As Christians read in Matthew 23:23, Jesus says hypocrites ‘have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice mercy and faithfulness.’”
The Right Rev. Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the IX bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire:
“The third of the Ten Commandments is: Do not take the name of Lord your God in vain. It’s about using God’s name for a profane purpose. And that is precisely what the president did yesterday with the Bible and with the church – taking something dedicated to God and using it for a profane purpose. To engage in this misuse of the Bible and the church would be bad enough, but it is worse that peaceful demonstrators were brutally treated to accomplish it.”
(The Center for American Progress has compiled more reactions from religious leaders.)
The Rev. Bernice King, CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change:
"We cannot continue to allow tragic history to repeat itself. Religion used to enforce white supremacist structures and systems. Military used in response to protests against racism and to enforce white supremacist structures and systems. This nation has been here before."
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. (reacting to news that Trump would visit a Catholic shrine within Gregory’s diocese on Tuesday):
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth," Gregory said. "He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
"POTUS using a house of worship to shut down the voices of people of color is an affront to people of faith."
The Rev. James Martin, Jesuit priest and author:
“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.”
Stan J.R. Zerkowski, director of Lexington, Ky., United Interfaith Encounters :
“It certainly appears that a man who has little regard for this sacred text is using it simply as a prop.”
The Rev. Dr. Nichole R. Phillips, senior faculty fellow, Emory Center for Ethics:
"[Trump] is definitely delivering a particular way of understanding what it means to be an American, so for those who are part of his base who might be more religiously conservative or evangelical, his symbolism might have been acceptable or accepted. But for those of us who have a different understanding of what it means to be American ... it is offensive."
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of The Interfaith Alliance:
“Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice – right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters out of the area – is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen. This only underscores the president's complete lack of compassion for Black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism.”
The Rev. George C. Gilbert Jr., Holy Trinity United Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.:
“And Mr. President, I know you stood right here and held the Bible in your hand, but it is clear that you don't have the Bible in your heart. I must warn you, Mr. President, that the Bible you held upside down in your tiny hands teaches us that God is always on the side of the oppressed.”
If you’re a faith leader who was appalled by this display of Christian nationalism and want to help us protect church-state separation, contact AU’s Senior Faith Adviser Dr. Sabrina Dent (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join our network of faith leaders.
Photo: Protesters outside the White House. Screenshot from WJLA-TV