Friday, June 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had some opinions about what he thought Christians would think.

In a Fox News interview airing this morning, Trump said that he thought his military-enabled photo op holding a bible in front of St. John's Church was playing well with Christians. "I think it was a beautiful picture. I’ll tell you, I think Christians think it was a beautiful picture."

The picture in question was accomplished by deploying National Guard troops, specifically instructed to use as much force as possible, against peaceful protestors near the White House. 

There's actually a lot of evidence as to what Christians think about the picture, starting with the clergy of the church itself. Here is how the parish rector, Gini Gerbasi, described it:

I drove home. Then Julia texted me: “Did we really just get gassed for a PHOTO OP?” My revulsion was immediate and strong, the reality of what happened sinking in: The president had used military-grade force against peaceful protesters, so he could pose with a Bible in front of the church. I sat in my driveway and wept. 
Before taking my current position as the rector of St. John’s in Georgetown, I had served as assistant rector at Lafayette Square. I understood the symbolism of its location, steps away from the White House. It’s known as “the church of the presidents,” because every one of them, since it was built in 1816, has prayed there. I’ve sat in Lincoln’s pew and preached to a sitting president. I knew the drill. When the president needed the park cleared, the police set up wooden barriers, sent police cars to block off streets, and stationed officers at key locations to block passersby. That is what “clearing the park” used to look like — orderly, gentle, peaceful. Now, clearing the park for the president looked like body armor, sounded like gunfire and burned the back of my throat.

In an earlier Facebook post about the incident, she described being forced off the patio of the church:

We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually—with SO MANY concussion grenades—back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S—a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day—SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!

The bishop responsible for St. John's told reporters, "I am outraged" that Trump was using the church "like a prop," adding:

In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd. 

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church also released a statement condemning Trump:

This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us. 
The bible teaches us that “God is love.” Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” 
The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts. 
We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Criticism of the assault on protestors near the church wasn't limited to Episcopalians. James Martin, a popular Jesuit priest, wrote:

Using the Bible as a prop while talking about sending in the military, bragging about how your country is the greatest in the world, and publicly mocking people on a daily basis, is pretty much the opposite of all Jesus stood for. 
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.

Rank-and-file clergy also denounced Trump. A Tennessee pastor called Trump's action's "blasphemy" and said:

He used the Bible, the most sacred, holy scripture of our lord and savior as a political prop. Donald Trump’s actions yesterday in using violence against American citizens for a photo-op should have every American concerned for the future of our democracy.

Even Pat Robertson—as prominent a figure in conservative evangelical politics as there is—said that for Trump to make militaristic threats toward protestors "isn't cool."

Trump's confusion about what "Christians" think about him may stem from the fact that even some of his most devout fans don't think he's one of them. Only 27% of Americans think Trump is religious himself. Trump's standing with conservative evangelicals has taken an enormous hit in recent months: he was down 15% with that group in a poll that closed just before the assault on protestors in front of St. John's.

Their skepticism is understandable. Trump rarely darkens the door of a church, has frequently gotten confused about some of the most basic concepts of Christianity, including whether he's supposed to ask God for forgiveness and whether his own denomination (Presbyterian) counted as Christian.

Who cares?

  • Whether or not you like Donald Trump is not what determines whether you're a Christian.