New England Episcopal bishops are among religious leaders across the country critical of the June 1 appearance of President Donald Trump, Bible in hand, before a historic Washington, D.C. cathedral
The cathedral, which Trump walked to from the White House after law enforcement officials used force to dispense gathered demonstrators, suffered minor damage the night before during protests following the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes May 25 at a Minneapolis deli.
The seven bishops, including the Right Rev. Douglas Fisher, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, issued a statement calling Trump’s visit “disgraceful and morally repugnant.”
“What President Trump did in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 was disgraceful and morally repugnant,” the statement reads.
“Displaying a Bible from which he did not quote, using as a mere backdrop an Episcopal church where he did not pray, and – more callously – ordering law enforcement to clear, with force and tear gas, a path through demonstrators who had gathered in peace, President Trump distorted for his own purposes the cherished symbols of our faith to condone and stoke yet more violence.”
Saying Trump’s “tactic was obvious,” the statement continues, “Simply by holding aloft an unopened Bible he presumed to claim Christian endorsement and imply that of The Episcopal Church.”
“Far more disturbingly,” the signers add, “he seemed to be affecting the authority of the God and Savior we worship and serve, in order to support his own authority and to wield enhanced use of military force in a perverted attempt to restore peace to our nation.”
“His actions did nothing to mend the torn social fabric of our nation,” reads the statement, a reference to the nationwide protests and violence that have followed Floyd’s killing and Trump’s response.
“Instead, they were a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between the people of this nation, and even between people of faith. No matter where we may stand on the partisan spectrum, we, as Christian leaders called to proclaim a God of love, find his actions repugnant. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to seek healing over division, and make peace in the midst of violence.”
While saying Episcopalians “may rightly feel outraged and insulted by having the symbols of our faith used as a set prop in a cynical political drama,” that statement adds, “The real abomination before us, however, is the continued oppression of and violence against people of color in this nation.”
“Let us reserve and focus the energies of our indignation to serve our Lord Jesus Christ’s higher purpose: to extend love and mercy and justice for all, and especially for those whose life, liberty, and very humanity is threatened by the persistent sin of systemic racism and the contagion of white supremacy,” it concludes.
Other signers include the Right Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, Bishop Suffragan, Connecticut; the Right Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan, Connecticut; the Right Rev. Thomas James Brown, Bishop Diocesan, Maine; the Right Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan, Massachusetts; the Right Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Massachusetts; the Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop Diocesan, New Hampshire; the Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop Diocesan, Rhode Island; and the Right Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, Bishop Diocesan, Vermont.
A number of the signers had also issued separate statements, including Fisher who said Floyd’s killing “points to the racism that is part of our society.”
“We have all been traumatized by the footage of one man’s death,” Fisher said of the video of Floyd, with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck, telling Chauvin who has been charged with his murder he could not breathe.
“We have also seen people of every color take to the streets to give voice to their anger and frustration. This moment asks something of all of us. More than ever, we need God to breathe on us. We need the courage of the Holy Spirit to stand up against the brutalization of black lives. I bid your prayers for Mr. Floyd’s family, for the safety of all those giving witness to his murder, and for those police officers doing their jobs to keep the peace.”
The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, also issued a statement on the diocesan website calling Floyd’s death “tragic and unnecessary” and “the fallout from it, has once again served as a sad and painful reminder of the racial divide which still cuts across our nation.”
While saying “every one of us needs to confront the injustice that is the reality of life for people of color,” Rozanski added that “undertaking violent protests and targeting law enforcement personnel is not a solution.”
“As a people of faith who believe firmly in the sanctity of life and that racism is a sin, let us pray for an end to this violence and the beginning of a meaningful effort to address the underlying currents of the racial divide found everywhere in our country, a dialogue in which we listen attentively to hear and acknowledge the voices of those who deal with racial injustice in their daily lives,” Rozanski said.
“Then work to achieve real change in our communities.”
Today, Trump visited Washington’s Saint John Paul II National Shrine, which is run by the Knights of Columbus.