(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.
A truly sacrilegious use of the Bible to bless a brutal stunt.
— Michael Gerson (@MJGerson) June 1, 2020
Michael Wear, a former faith advisor for Obama, described the series of events as “heartbreaking and infuriating.”
As someone who worked very hard to try to set a standard for responsible, ethical religious engagement from The White House, it is heartbreaking and infuriating to see a POTUS who has fallen short of every standard and broken every sense of propriety and respect and humility.
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) June 1, 2020
Meanwhile, Robert Jeffress commended the president for “protecting our great country from anarchists.”
Thank God for a President like @realDonaldTrump who is intent on protecting our great country from anarchists who are trying to destroy it. As the Bible says, “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 1, 2020
“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.
As an Episcopalian, I utterly disavow this use of my church as a racist prop.
As a Christian, I utterly disavow this use of scripture as a racist prop.
As a person of faith, I utterly disavow this use of God as a racist prop.
As a human being, I vow to work for love & justice. pic.twitter.com/kusCdhVvuC
— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) June 2, 2020
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.”
In front of the church, 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.
But we can't just blame him. His AG, @SenateMajLdr McConnell, and all the enablers who are silent are to blame, as well.
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) June 1, 2020
“This is idolatry,” said Rich Villodas, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens.
The symbolism of the president giving that speech and then walking to a church to hold a bible for a photo op is crazy.
To take the Lord’s name is vain is not to simply curse while using it. It’s when God is used to bless self-serving agendas.
This is idolatry.
— Rich Villodas (@richvillodas) June 1, 2020
Writer Austin Channing Brown was in disbelief seeing Trump visiting the church “after declaring war on his own citizens.”
I can’t believe this fool has violently interrupted peaceful protests, so he can take a stroll over to a church and hold up a Bible after declaring war on his own citizens.
— Austin Channing Brown (@austinchanning) June 1, 2020
Meanwhile, Nick Adams, author and Trump supporter, saw the President’s walk to the church as an act of faith.
Erin Burnett called President Trump holding up a Bible, a "bizarre" moment.
I find NOTHING bizarre about turning to God during one of our nation's most difficult times.
CNN is a disgrace.
— Nick Adams (@NickAdamsinUSA) June 1, 2020