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Mainstream US religious leaders criticise Trump after church photo

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House. Picture: Patrick Semansky/AP

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House. Picture: Patrick Semansky/AP

Published Jun 3, 2020

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Washington - Mainstream US Protestant

and Catholic leaders sharply criticised President Donald Trump

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on Tuesday, a day after peaceful protesters were forcibly

displaced for a staged presidential photo in front of a church

near the White House.

Trump won the 2016 presidential election with strong support

from white Catholics and evangelical Christians. Just months

ahead of the November elections, when he hopes to win a second

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term, Trump has been trying to appeal to those voters with the

photo in front of the Episcopal church, a visit on Tuesday to a

shrine to Pope John Paul II, and an executive order directing

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US agencies to "protect" religious freedom overseas.

But religious leaders have condemned the administration's

treatment of Americans protesting the death of George Floyd, a

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46-year-old African-American who died after a white policeman

pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in

Minneapolis on May 25.

Police on horseback and armed soldiers on Monday evening

used tear gas and rubber bullets to push protesters back before

Trump walked from the White House across Lafayette Square to St.

John's Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by fire amid

protests on Sunday evening. In front of the church, Trump held

up a Bible.

Trump has called for state governors to crack down on the

thousands protesting Floyd's death around the country, and

threatened  to send in the US military.

John Paul, the head of the Catholic church for nearly 40

years, would "not condone the use of tear gas and other

deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo

opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,"

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the top Catholic leader in the

nation's capital, said in a statement Tuesday.

Hundreds of shouting protesters lined the street near the

monument to the pope, holding signs that read, "Racist in

Chief," "Trump Mocks Christ" and "Our Church is not a Photo Op."

Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global

Concerns, a Catholic group that helped organise the protest,

said she was disappointed that Trump had not used either

occasion to try to bring people together.

"Our society's splintering. We are in the middle of a

pandemic with 100,000 dead," she said speaking of the

coronavirus outbreak, which she noted has disproportionately

affected people of color.

"President Trump identifies himself as a Christian and avid

reader of the Bible. And I just call him and all of our hurting

communities to remember the great commandment to love your

neighbour as yourself," Gunn said.

Bishop Michael Curry, the chief pastor and chief executive

of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, also

criticized Trump for using a church building and the Bible for

partisan purposes.

"We need our president, and all who hold office, to be moral

leaders," he said in a statement. "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.'"

Trump won strong support from white evangelical Christians

in the 2016 presidential election, while white Catholics backed

him by 60%, according to Pew Research Center.

Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop for the Evangelical

Lutheran Church in America, condemned Trump's decision to use

the Catholic shrine as a political backdrop.

"Denouncing this outrage cannot, however, distract us from

the deep wounds of structural racism and white supremacy that

have been reopened by the killing of George Floyd," she said in

a statement. 

Reuters

Related Topics:

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