D.C. Christians Lash Out Against Trump Church Visit: 'God Is Not A Photo Opportunity' Top leaders from D.C.'s Episcopal and Catholic dioceses denounced the president's recent appearances at religious sites.
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D.C. Christians Lash Out Against Trump Church Visit: 'God Is Not A Photo Opportunity'

D.C. Christians Lash Out Against Trump Church Visit: 'God Is Not A Photo Opportunity'

D.C. Christians Lash Out Against Trump Church Visit: 'God Is Not A Photo Opportunity'

D.C. Christians Lash Out Against Trump Church Visit: 'God Is Not A Photo Opportunity'

"I just felt like my presence here might remind some people what Christian faith is supposed to tell us about violence and about being on the side of the oppressed," says Sister Quincy Howard. Mikaela Lefrak/WAMU hide caption

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Mikaela Lefrak/WAMU

President Donald Trump's recent visits to two Christian sites in D.C. have galvanized the Christian community into joining the very protests the president seeks to quell.

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood for photos at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Northeast D.C., which is run by the Catholic men's organization the Knights of Columbus.

Down the road, a crowd of around 200 protesters — including many local Christian faith leaders — assembled behind a row of D.C. police officers and Secret Service agents. The crowd prayed, chanted "Black lives matter," and sang hymns.

"When I woke up this morning and saw that his next stop was going to be here, I knew that I had to come and represent the fact that Catholicism does not support him," said Quincy Howard, a Dominican sister. Cars and trunks honked as she held up her sign: "This Is Evil #BLM."

The Rev. Kevin Kennedy, a pastor at Saint Gabriel Catholic Church in Northwest D.C., said he was "personally insulted" by Trump's visit to the John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday. Mikaela Lefrak/WAMU hide caption

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Mikaela Lefrak/WAMU

Many people in Tuesday's crowd identified themselves as Christians who had not yet participated in any of the past four days of protests. They said Trump's appearance at St. John's Episcopal Church on Monday evening galvanized them to action.

Police used tear gas to clear protesters away from Lafayette Park Monday so Trump could visit the historic church near the White House. The church's basement had been damaged by a fire set during demonstrations the night before. Members of the church's leadership said they did not condone the presidential visit: The Rev. Gini Gerbasi, the church's rector, wrote in a Facebook post that she and a group of clergy and laypeople were forcibly cleared out from the church's patio ahead of the visit.

"The patio of St. John's, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today," she wrote. "A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second."

Soon after, a citywide curfew went into effect, helicopters flew close to the ground to disperse protesters, and police gave chase to those who remained outside.

Top leaders from D.C.'s Episcopal and Catholic dioceses denounced the president's appearances at religious sites.

Appearing on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show, Mariann Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, said Trump "misused" St. John's "for a political gesture."

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Catholic Diocese of Washington called Trump's visit to the shrine "reprehensible." Like Budde, he said the Catholic site was "misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people."

Presidents have long visited churches to rally support and spread messages from their platform. However, James Stocker, a professor of political science and international affairs at Trinity Washington University, could think of no historical precedent for Trump's visit to St. John's in the middle of a protest.

"Churches are often seen as sanctuaries, as holy places that should not be disturbed," he says. "There would not be this kind of outrage in the Catholic community in Washington D.C. if not for Trump's appearance yesterday."

Cosby Hunt came to Tuesday's protest at the John Paul II National Shrine with his wife, children and a group of friends. "We go to an Episcopal church, so we were outraged yesterday that he bum-rushed St. John's," said Hunt. "We're in the middle of a pandemic and a decade-plus of black people being killed in the street. It's just too much."

The protest dispersed peacefully after about two hours. Meanwhile, D.C. officials and law enforcement are preparing for a fifth evening of protests in the city.

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