RELEASE: Christian Leaders Condemn Trump’s Exploitation of Religious Sites as Political Tool

Washington, D.C. — Last night, peaceful protesters were doused with tear gas and hit with flash-bang explosives so that President Donald Trump could hold a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. The incident took place shortly after Trump’s shocking declaration that he would take military action against Americans protesting systemic racism and police brutality. Today, even as protests continue to call for justice after the killings of Black Americans, the president and first lady held another photo opportunity at Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

In response, the Center for American Progress Action Fund has gathered comments from Christian leaders around the country who are condemning the president’s blatant exploitation of the Bible and sacred sites to advance a political agenda. These faith leaders are calling on the president not to turn a blind eye to the cause for which protesters are gathering.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival:

“Trump’s policies and actions are both religious hypocrisy and political insanity. His policies violate the theology of the church to care for the sick, the poor, immigrants. As Christians read in Matthew 23:23, Jesus says hypocrites ‘have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.’”

The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

“Yesterday, the president used force to clear a path through peaceful protesters to stand before an Episcopal church and hold up a Bible. Today, he visited the National Shrine and used a statue of Saint Pope John Paul II as a political backdrop for another photo op. In both cases, the actions of our president drew swift condemnation from our ecumenical partners who are responsible for these houses of worship. 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. His death and centuries of violence against Black and brown siblings in this nation cry out for our commitment to speak with one voice against Christian nationalism that confuses partisanship with discipleship and alongside all who are targets of racist ideologies and actions. As followers of Jesus Christ, we demand and will advocate for a more just, loving, and peaceful world where the lives of all people are treasured.”

Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress Action Fund:

“If the president actually read the book he was holding yesterday in front of St. John’s Church, he would know that it tells the story of God siding with the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. He would know that at the center of the book is the story of a pregnant, brown, unwed teenage girl living under military rule, who said that one day the powerful would be cast down from their thrones and the rich sent away empty. He would know that she gave birth to a brown son with wooly hair whose execution by the state would inspire generations to come to march, protest, and fight for freedom. Of course, the president did not read from that book during his photo op last night. If he had, he would have found only condemnations of his actions.”

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice:

“Last night, President Trump used police force to clear peaceful protesters so that he could get his photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church. This was a violation of everything that our nation and our Christian faith stands for. Today, he is using the Catholic faith in another photo op to defend his appalling refusal to address racism and police violence here in the United States. He is trying to create a false dichotomy of peaceful protesters vs. the church. That could not be further from the truth, and any Christian who believes President Trump does not understand Jesus’ message. Jesus stands with the marginalized. Saint John Paul II himself spoke out against racism multiple times during his papacy. This is the message that we as people of faith promote.”

Michael A. Vazquez, Religion & Faith Program Director, Human Rights Campaign Foundation:

“I was on the front lines when Donald Trump ordered the police to attack peaceful protesters last night in Washington D.C., all for a staged photo op in front of St. John’s Church. As a protester, advocate, and theologian, it was the most horrific experience of my life. Religion is not a political tool for tyranny but a medium for advancing justice, liberation, and equity. The Gospel of Luke records Mary, mother of God, singing that God will bring down the mighty from their thrones—that work of the Divine in the world is the work of facilitating justice. We will continue to advocate, resist, and fight for this country and the freedoms so many have died for—in our cries as we protest in the streets, and in our voices that will be heard on Election Day.”

The Right Rev. Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire:

“The third of the Ten Commandments is: Do not take the name of Lord your God in vain. It’s about using God’s name for a profane purpose. And that is precisely what the president did yesterday with the Bible and with the church—taking something dedicated to God and using it for a profane purpose. To engage in this misuse of the Bible and the church would be bad enough, but it is worse that peaceful demonstrators were brutally treated to accomplish it.”

Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas:

“Institutions of the Catholic Church should be places of peace, worship, and nonviolence. Sisters of Mercy stand with others to peacefully demonstrate that the Catholic Church does not support a divisive rhetoric that silences differing opinions, including issuing the horrific command yesterday to use tear gas and other means to silence peaceful protesters. On Pope John Paul II’s final pastoral visit to the United States, he called on Catholics to ‘eradicate every form of racism.’ The message of the president in recent days around racism, and most specifically the extrajudicial killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, is clearly in contradiction to the words of Pope John Paul II.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Sam Hananel at , or 202-478-6327.