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Peaceful Protesters Tear Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Visit


The president's pose for the cameras outside a church here in Washington did not please the bishop who oversees it. Police used tear gas last evening on peaceful protesters outside the White House. They did that to clear the way for the president's photo opportunity. Afterward, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who is the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, denounced using the Episcopal church as a backdrop. And Bishop Budde is on the line. Good morning. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: What's wrong with what the president did?

BUDDE: Well, just listening to your summary I think expresses the dissonance and the tremendous disconnect between what churches are and what our sacred texts represent and the president's actions. He used violent means to be escorted across the park into the courtyard of the church. He held up his Bible after speaking a inflammatory, militarized approach to the wounds of our nation. He did not pray. He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country, but rather, he used our symbols and our sacred space as a way to reinforce a message that is antithetical to everything that the person of Jesus, whom we follow, and the Gospel texts that we strive to emulate our lives...

INSKEEP: It's pretty...

BUDDE: ...On...

INSKEEP: It's pretty clear, though, why he chose - or his staff helped him to choose that particular church to stand in front of. Your church appears to have been targeted during the protests in the last few days. Someone set a fire. Not a lot of damage, but one of the rooms was set on fire in your church complex there. And the president says, I'm the president of law and order. I'm going to protect people. And he goes and stands in front of the church. Did you not see that as an attempted message of support?

BUDDE: If it was an attempted message, it did not communicate support at all. It communicated misuse. Look; I wasn't happy about the fire. The violence on our streets right now is heartbreaking to me. I want to keep our focus on the precipitating causes of the events of this week and to concentrate my outrage at the wrongful death of George Floyd and the string of African Americans who have preceded him in this long history of abuse and violence. I want to acknowledge the loss of property but in no way equate it with the loss of life. I want to be a church that stands in solidarity with those who are making peaceful protest. And I am grateful to the first responders who helped put out the fire in the church. And I'd like to move on and focus on the primary issues that are tearing this country apart.

INSKEEP: And I want to ask...

BUDDE: And the president didn't - the president did nothing to address any of those deeper systemic concerns. And that is my objection.

INSKEEP: I want to ask a little more about George Floyd. But first, you mentioned the Bible the president held up. I believe reporters shouted at him, is that your Bible? He said, it is a Bible, held up the Bible for the cameras. Why does it trouble you that a politician would hold up the Bible and use it in just that way?

BUDDE: If he were reading his Bible, if he were quoting from the Bible one of the more inspirational passages that call us to love God and love neighbor and to seek justice, that would've been a perfectly appropriate use of our text. The Bible is meant to be studied and to be applied to life reverently and in the spirit of spiritual humility. But he seemed to use the Bible as an extension of his previous message in the Rose Garden. He - I mean, what preceded it is also contextually significant. He, with use of force, cleared the area so that he could walk across and hold that Bible up. It almost looked like a symbol of American military power. And I - that's a misuse of what the Bible represents. So that is deeply offensive to anyone who adheres to sacred Scripture.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you, as someone who has opened that book and spent a little time studying, what does your faith have to say not to the president but to the specific incident here, the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, the wave of protests that have swept across the country, the violence that has taken place in Washington and other places, and specifically the people who have been standing outside your church day after day? What does your faith have to say to this at this moment?

BUDDE: Our faith has many things to say because it speaks to every dimension of the human experience. And so our texts would offer words of consolation to those who are grieving. Our text would offer words of encouragement for those who are striving for justice. Jesus himself spoke of bringing the kingdom of God, the reign of God, God's shalom and universal love into the human experience. The Bible speaks of God's demand for us to walk humbly and to do justice and to love neighbor. And so all of those things are found in our texts, and those are the texts that I would point us to as a way of saying that God stands with those who are suffering. God walks with those who feel they are oppressed. And God also has harsh things to say to those of us with privilege and power who use that power to be instruments of oppression for others. And so, yes, for those in any kind of authority, we hear ourselves held in check by a higher authority.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, have you literally or metaphorically - do you stand with the protesters?

BUDDE: Absolutely, with peaceful, nonviolent protest, seeking justice in our land.

INSKEEP: Bishop Budde, thank you very much.

BUDDE: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde leads the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAKENOBU'S "REVERSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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