Washington - Mainstream US Protestant
and Catholic leaders sharply criticised President Donald Trump
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
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
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
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
"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