President Donald Trump has spent the past 24 hours trying to send a message: He is the law-and-order president, and he has the support of American Christians. First came his waltz last night through the White House gates and across Lafayette Square, where protesters had just been dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets. Trump posed, stone-faced while clutching a Bible, in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. This morning he visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, solemnly holding hands with the first lady before a larger-than-life statue of the wildly popular pope.
Some of Trump's supporters applauded these gestures. “By holding up the Bible, he was showing us that it teaches that, yes, God hates racism, it’s despicable—but God also hates lawlessness,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a vocal supporter of the president, told my colleague McKay Coppins on Monday night.
But progressive clergy, including those who lead St. John’s and other Episcopal churches, instead felt rage.
The president’s visit to St. John’s “did not bring any healing. In fact, it’s caused great division,” Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, told me in an interview today. “That Bible that the president held up—it might have been helpful if it were opened.” In a statement, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington went even further in condemning Trump’s visit to the shrine of John Paul II: “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.” The late pope “certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter, or intimidate [human beings] for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” he added. Both Gregory and Curry have the distinction of being the first black leaders to hold their respective roles.