(RNS) — Posing for the cameras, President Donald Trump held a Bible at St. John’s Church near the White House on Monday evening after law enforcement cleared protesters out of the area with tear gas before his visit.
The protesters appeared to be acting peacefully before they were dispersed by force.
Tear gas canisters could be heard exploding as Trump spoke in the Rose Garden. He then walked over to the 200-year-old church that over the weekend was set on fire as demonstrators clashed with police.
Trump is urging the nation’s governors to get tougher with violent protesters and to deploy the National Guard.
He said in the Rose Garden that he is an ally of peaceful protesters, but he stressed that “I am your president of law and order.”
Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Washington Post columnist, denounced Trump’s photo-op at St. John’s Church as an act of sacrilege.
Michael Wear, a former faith advisor for Obama, described the series of events as "heartbreaking and infuriating."
Meanwhile, Robert Jeffress commended the president for "protecting our great country from anarchists."
"As a person of faith, I utterly disavow this use of God as a racist prop," said Diana Butler Bass, a religion scholar and writer.
The Rev. William Barber II pointed out that "Trump held up the Bible, the very Bible that condemns and judges his actions and policies as contrary to the way of love and justice."
"This is idolatry," said Rich Villodas, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens.
Writer Austin Channing Brown was in disbelief seeing Trump visiting the church "after declaring war on his own citizens."
Meanwhile, Nick Adams, author and Trump supporter, saw the President's walk to the church as an act of faith.