President Donald Trump walks from the White House through Lafayette Park to visit St. John's Church on June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Weekend Plug-in: June 5, 2020

Editor’s note: “Weekend Plug-in,” featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced by Religion Unplugged.

What’s left to say about the week’s biggest religion story?

President Donald Trump’s now-famous walk from the White House to the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church literally broke the internet. Or at least it overloaded the Religion News Service servers. Credit an explosive report by national correspondent Jack Jenkins for that.

Rather than rehash the details from all the stories about Trump’s photo op, let’s see who was paying close attention.

That’s right — it’s time for a pop quiz. I’ll share the answers at the bottom of this column:

  1. Did police really use tear gas to break up a peaceful protest so Trump could cross the street and pose with a Bible?
  2. Who did authorities expel from the church’s patio before the president’s arrival?
  3. What version of the Bible did Trump hold up?
  4. Did the Bible belong to Trump?
  5. When did the tradition of St. John’s Episcopal Church as the “church of the presidents” begin?
  6. What well-known religion writer, in analyzing the president’s visit, wrote that Trump brandished “a Bible like a salesman in a bad infomercial?”
  7. Did Trump emerge from the photo op looking like a thug or a hero?

Bonus question: What religious site did Trump visit the day after the church photo op?

 

Power Up: The Week’s Best Reads

  1. Trump pushes churches to reopen, but black pastors in hard-hit St. Louis preach caution: Hey, remember when the coronavirus pandemic was all we were talking about?

Speaking of which: While many faith leaders have pushed for resuming in-person services, the Washington Post ‘s Griff Wiffe delves into the concerns of “black pastors in the Gateway City who have spent months seeking to nurture in their congregations a sense of respect for a virus that spreads silently and kills readily.” 

A few other worthwhile COVID-19-related reads:

  1. Amid protests, looting and COVID-19, a Minnesota black church hopes and prays: “Just a fabulous story (and great pictures!),” award-winning religion writer Kimberly Winston said of this Religion Unplugged story by veteran journalist Deena Winter.

To which I respond: Amen!

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Winter’s on-the-scene report from St. Paul, Minn., is full of crucial, compelling details. And the ending is superb, a testament to her writing talent. So be sure to read it all.

  1. Peaceful church protest in Brooklyn brings disruption, blessing and a call for change: The best journalism requires reporters on the scene. Enter Religion News Service managing editor Roxanne Stone with this firsthand account from New York City.

But that’s not all: Read this story, too, from Chicago-based RNS national correspondent Emily McFarlan Miller.

Wait, there’s more: Alejandra Molina, Los Angeles-based RNS national correspondent, covered a rally on the West Coast.

Most impressive: All three of these reports were published on the same day.

More top reads: Feeding America during COVID-19, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Christian Science MonitorWhere Jesus was baptized, Jordan vies with Israel for tourists, Jane Arraf, NPR … Nashville pastors protest and preach against police brutality, Holly Meyer, The TennesseanAs faith leaders minister to a community in pain, they also see reasons for hope, Evan Grant, Dallas Morning News The Museum of the Bible is winning over some of its biggest critics: Jewish scholars, Menachem Wecker, Washington Post Magazine Street art depicting Pope Francis highlights homeless struggle in Milan, Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service … Southern Baptists see historic drop in membership, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington PostNear Boston, a Friendly’s-turned-Hindu temple serves holy offerings to go, Aysha Khan, RNS … Southern Baptist Convention president’s church policies questioned, Adelle M. Banks, RNS … As protests erupt, Christians ask: What would Jesus do?, Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News.

Inside The Godbeat: Behind The Bylines

Congratulations to Christopher White, who has been named the new national correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

White, previously the national correspondent at Crux, succeeds Heidi Schlumpf, who was promoted to executive editor of the National Catholic Reporter in March.

I enjoyed getting to know White last year when we traveled to Israel with a group of U.S. religion writers.

Charging Station: In Case You Missed It

Here is where you can catch up on recent news and opinions from Religion Unplugged.

The Final Plug

Pop quiz answers below:

  1. Did police really use tear gas to break up a peaceful protest so Trump could cross the street and pose with a Bible? The president’s reelection campaign denied it, but faith leaders who were at Lafayette Park told RNS “law enforcement used chemicals that are regularly described as tear gas while breaking up the protest.” 
  2. Who did authorities expel from the church’s patio before the president’s arrival? At least one Episcopal priest and a seminarian, according to RNS. “They turned holy ground into a battleground,” the Rev. Gini Gerbasi told the news service.

  1. What version of the Bible did Trump hold up?: The Revised Standard Version. Mother Jones’ Molly Schwartz characterized that version as a “liberal” choice, quoting a clergyman who said the vast majority of evangelicals would view the RSV as a “deficient translation.”
  2. Did the Bible belong to Trump?: “Is that your Bible?” a journalist asked the president, as noted by The Atlantic’s McCay Coppins. Trump replied, “It’s a Bible.”
  3. When did the tradition of St. John’s Episcopal Church as the “church of the presidents” begin?: The church has seen every sitting president inside its walls since James Madison set the precedent in December 1816, as noted by Religion Unplugged’s Meagan Clark.
  4. What well-known religion writer, in analyzing the president’s visit, wrote that Trump brandished “a Bible like a salesman in a bad infomercial?” That would be CNN’s religion editor, Daniel Burke.
  5. Did Trump emerge from the photo op looking like a thug or a hero? The answer depends on which cable network one chose to watch. AP television writer David Bauder outlined the stark differences in major networks’ coverage and tone.

Bonus question: What religious site did Trump visit the day after the church photo op?: A Washington, D.C., shrine honoring Pope John Paul II. The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Sarah Pulliam Bailey explored questions concerning Trump’s “naked use of religion as a political tool.”

Meanwhile, Jill Colvin and Elana Schor of The Associated Press wrote: “Trump’s religious outreach marked his latest efforts in a series of overtures to mobilize conservative voters of faith, particularly the white evangelical Christians who are among his most loyal supporters. The furious, politically charged response to his gestures from less pro-Trump faith leaders, however, suggested his efforts to lock in one part of his base could backfire by turning off other religious voters.”

So, how’d you do on the quiz? I’d love to know. Tweet me @bobbyross.

 (Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor in chief of The Christian Chronicle. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)