Before going to church, where presidents have been worshiping since the days of James Madison, Trump gave a speech at the White House, emphasizing the importance of law and order. Federal police then used force to clear a large number of peaceful protesters from the street between the White House and the church, apparently so that Trump could visit.
“I’m upset,” Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger when her voice shook slightly.
She said she had received no message that Trump would visit the church and did not approve of the way the area was safe for his appearance.
She pretended to be president in front of the church – its plywood windows – holding up a Bible, which Budde said “declares that God is love.”
“All he has said and done is to turn up violence,” says President Budde. “We need moral leadership and he has done everything to divide us.”
In a written statement, President Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for party political purposes.”
“This was done in a time of deep damage and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or heal us,” Curry wrote.
“Prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to do” justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, “he continued, urging Trump and others with the power to be moral. “For George Floyd’s sake, for all who have suffered wrongly, and for all of us, we need leaders to help us be” a nation, under God, with freedom and justice for all. “
Budde and Curry are among the pantheon of progressive religious leaders who have long been critical of Trump’s political agenda. Episcopal Church’s policies include support for abortion rights, refugee refugees, an expansion of health care, and other issues that Trump has opposed or not embraced. According to the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Episcopalians are Democrats or lean Democrats, compared to 39 percent of Church members who are Republican or lean Republican.
Trump’s longtime religious allies, who are much more conservative for both domestic and foreign policy, saw his walk to St. John’s very different. “What kind of church do I need permission to attend,” tweeted Pastor Mark Burns of South Carolina after Budde and others said Trump should have told them he was coming. “Jesus welcomes everyone.”
Johnnie Moore, spokesman for several of Trump’s evangelical religious advisers, also tweeted positively about the incident.
“I will never forget seeing @POTUS @realDonaldTrump slowly & in total command go from @WhiteHouse across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church defying those who seek to trace our national healing by spreading fear, hatred and anarchy,” he wrote. “Having said, ‘I will protect you. “
Trump did not enter St. John’s on Monday night. No one associated with the church was present for their visit.
Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Clemson University who studies Christian nationalism, said the president’s appearance was an attempt to promote the idea of America as a distinctly Christian nation after its Rose Garden speech.
“Going to church, not going to it, not meeting any priesthood, holding up a Bible, but not quoting any scripture, after an authoritative speech, was about using religious symbolism for its purposes,” Whitehead said.
“It was a signal to the people embracing the idea of a Christian nation, that he will defend Christianity in the public sphere,” Whitehead said. “He said he was going to make America safe. That raised the question, for who? It’s largely white, mostly Protestant America.”
Budde – who spent 18 years as rector of Minneapolis before being elected bishop in the diocese of Washington – said that the Episcopal Church is separate from messages from the president.
“We believe that our sacred texts are learning so fundamental to our lives and everything we do,” she said. “It’s about love for neighbor and victim love and justice.”
Following a tradition that President Franklin D. Roosevelt set, Trump attended a church service at St. John’s before his swarm ceremony in 2017. He visited the church again the same year to mark a national prayer day for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and 2019 at St. John’s. Patrick’s Day.
Budde said she was told he was heading back to the yellow 19th century building on Monday by watching the news. “Nobody knew this was happening,” she said. “I don’t want President Trump to speak for St. John’s.”
Pastor Robert W. Fisher, head of the church, said he felt blinded by the visit. Usually, the White House gives the church at least 30 minutes’ notice before the president arrives.
“We want St. John to be a space for grace, as a place where you can breathe,” he said. “Being used as props really does take away from what we’re trying to do.”
Earlier in the day, Fisher said, he and other priests outside the church distributed water bottles and granola bars to protesters and expressed solidarity with his cause. He said he left the area to be interviewed on TV about the damage from the fire the previous night, and later looked at pictures of the protest that was dismantled “with disbelief.”
Fisher, 44, became rector of St. John’s in June 2019 and has not yet hosted a presidential visit. The church usually draws about 400 people on a typical weekend. But it has been closed since mid-March due to the broad shutdown restrictions to fight the new coronavirus.
Damage to the building from Sunday night’s fire and vandalism will cost at least $ 20,000, Fisher said. But he said the destruction should not be the focus of what has happened on the streets outside the White House.
Fisher said that when people have talked about burning the church, he has tried to redirect them, saying that it was probably a person who did not represent the majority of those protesting.
“It has pulled away from the more important message that we must address racism in this country,” he said.