President Trump on Wednesday dismissed criticism from religious leaders who condemned the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House Monday evening to clear the way for him to walk across the street to be photographed holding a Bible in front of a church.
“Most religious leaders loved it,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. “I heard Franklin Graham this morning thought it was great.”
Franklin Graham, the son of the late Rev. Billy Graham and one of Trump’s strongest evangelical supporters, thanked the president in a statement posted to Facebook.
“President Donald J. Trump made a statement by walking through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church that had been vandalized and partially burned Sunday night,” Graham wrote. “He surprised those following him by holding up a Bible in front of the church. Thank you President Trump. God and His Word are the only hope for our nation.”
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent Trump supporter, declared Trump’s visit “completely appropriate.”
But among religious leaders, Graham and Jeffress appeared to be in the minority.
“The president of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a Bible, and had pictures of himself taken,” Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement. “In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.”
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said in a statement Monday: “Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice — right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters out of the area — is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen. This only underscores the president’s complete lack of compassion for black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism.”
“Using the Bible as a prop while talking about sending in the military, bragging about how your country is the greatest in the world, and publicly mocking people on a daily basis, is pretty much the opposite of all Jesus stood for,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest and author, said in a statement to NBC News. “Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything.”
“Not only was this manipulative,” Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, said on Twitter, “it was desecration.”
In a hastily delivered address from the Rose Garden on Monday, Trump vowed to use the military to put an end to violence and looting that has marred protests in several cities.
“I am the president of law and order,” the president said.
As he spoke, Washington, D.C., police and the National Guard used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear Lafayette Square (located between the White House and the church) and the surrounding area. At least one Episcopal priest was among those teargassed.
Even far-right televangelist Pat Robertson was critical of Trump’s response to the protests.
“You just don’t do that, Mr. President,” Robertson said on his television show Tuesday. “It isn’t cool.”
Trump also refuted multiple reports that Secret Service agents rushed him to a White House bunker on Friday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the executive mansion. According to the Associated Press, the president spent nearly an hour in the bunker, which was designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks.
On Fox radio, Trump said he went to the underground bunker “for an inspection,” claiming he was there “during the day” and for “a short period of time.”
“It was a false report," Trump said. "I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny, little, short period of time. And it was much more for an inspection."
According to multiple reports, the president's frustration with news coverage of him sheltering in the bunker is what drove him to stage a photo opportunity at the church.
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