Yesterday evening, police in Washington, DC used tear gas, flash grenades, and batons to clear peaceful protesters, including clergy, seminarians, medical personnel, and members of St. John’s Episcopal Church, out of Lafayette Square for the sole purpose of creating a political and partisan photo-op of Mr. Trump holding a Bible in front of our fellow Episcopal Church.
The Bible he held has much to say about how we ought to live our common life. It teaches us to care for the stranger, to love God, and to love our neighbors. It teaches us to love even our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us.
The problem is not that Mr. Trump stood outside a church with Bible in hand. The problem is that he used violence to get there and exploited sacred symbols for purely political purposes—and without even the courtesy of getting in touch with the bishop or rector who first heard of this on the news. As the Bishop of Washington, Marianne Budde said last evening, “Let me be clear: the President just used a Bible, the 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. 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.”
At the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, we regularly pray for the president and other political leaders. We pray that they might be led to govern with equity and justice, bringing life to those in the shadow of death. Our prayers for the president will continue, as they should. But because we pray for equity and justice, we cannot condone the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We cannot condone the exploitation of a church and Bible as props that only further division.
Law and order have but one legitimate goal: justice. Justice has but one true foundation: love. That is why our Baptismal Covenant calls each and every one of us to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. So, we err on the side of compassion, and hold to those promises we made at Baptism. And we rightly call on Mr. Trump and all political leaders to do the same in carrying out their work on behalf of all human beings in this nation.
In Christ’s Peace,
The Rev. James Harlan, Rector
The Rev. Burl Salmon, Associate for Christian Education, Pastoral Care, and Outreach
The Rev. Margaret McGhee, Curate
Please also read statements from our Bishop and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.