Every time I see the picture of the president standing by the signboard of St. John’s Church holding a Bible as if it were some talisman, I am stunned.
In my soul, it just seems so wrong.
So wrong for a politician to use sacred space to make a political point.
So wrong for physical force to have been used to remove peaceful protestors so the president could have a photo-op.
Trump stated he was “an ally of all peaceful protestors” around the time peaceful protestors were cleared from Lafayette Square by force and tear gas.
So wrong for that space to be used without the knowledge of the community to whom it belongs. That seems so much like a violation to me.
It is one thing for the leaders of that church to invite him, or any politician, to come and pray and address the congregation.
It is quite another for him to presume he can use that church, without any dialogue with church leaders, as a prop for his “law and order” rhetoric.
As a pastor, I feel violated, vicariously, by this action.
I keep thinking how would I feel if the governor or mayor or even the president showed up on the grounds of our church and stood by our sign without our knowledge or permission for a photo-op to make some kind of statement.
I think I would feel as outraged as Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
“I am outraged. … And I just can’t believe what my eyes have seen,” she said in a CNN interview. “Let me be clear: The president just used a Bible, the most 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.”
The president crossed a line here.
While many politicians blur this line continually, they do so on their own grounds or in places where they are abetted by religious leaders who should know better.
But on Monday, the president crossed a line by presuming the church was his to do with as he pleased.
And he used the power of the police to move people out of his way so he could get there. This was like pouring salt in the wound of racial injustice that gave rise to these protests.
This bothers me on so many levels.
He drew further critique the next day with another religiously based photo-op at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in northeast D.C.
Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory called this “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”
Perhaps the time has come for us to resist the efforts of politicians and religious leaders to co-opt the gospel for non-gospel ends.
Jim Holladay is pastor of the Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.