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About a half hour before D.C.’s 7 p.m. curfew went into effect, authorities fired flash-bang shells, tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protesters in an effort to clear a path for the president to visit St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op, complete with a Bible.
The Episcopal Bishop of the Washington Diocese responded on Twitter:
“Tonight President just used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.”
Bishop Mariann Budde joins us to discuss the incident and what is says about national leadership and the state of our country.
Produced by Lauren Markoe and Julie Depenbrock
- Mariann Edgar Budde Bishop of the Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church.
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. We didn't get a chance to ask Daniella Cheslow about Mayor Bowser's reaction. But Mayor Bowser, of course, has a live press several times a day and she had one today. So here's what Mayor Bowser had to say.
MAYOR MURIEL BOWSERSometimes when we talk about statehood people wonder why we fight so hard for it. And I think that the events of the last several days demonstrate that our fight for statehood is more than about getting two senators. But it's also about our right as taxpaying Americans to autonomy and the autonomy that can only be fully achieved with statehood.
NNAMDID.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser making the relationship between statehood and what's going on right now. Late yesterday afternoon clergy and seminarians had made an oasis of sorts on the patio of St. John's Episcopal Church, which sits on one side of Lafayette Park, the White House on the other. They had been handing out water and granola bars to people, who had been protesting police violence against black people when all of a sudden police using tear gas cleared the park, the patio and the area around the church. That accomplished, President Trump walked across the park. Stood in front of St. John's gates and held up a Bible for a 17 minute video opportunity.
NNAMDIMariann Budde is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. She joins us now. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington oversees the historic St. John's Church. Mariann Budde, thank you so much for joining us.
MARIANN EDGAR BUDDEGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about what the president did yesterday in front of St. John's?
BUDDEWell, first of all, let's start with everything that happened that afternoon. His address in the Rose Garden that was alarming in its tone of police force and armed conflict to respond to the protests in this country. The tear gas and the dispersing of a peaceful protest, the walking across and then taking the symbolic power of our sacred texts and holding it in his hand as if it were a vindication of his positions and of his authority and then standing before our church as if it were an appropriate backdrop for what he has just done.
BUDDEAnd I felt immediately that we had to disassociate those symbols and that space from what he had done and said because they are antithetical to everything that Jesus stands for in our lives and in this world and what we as a church were and are attempting to proclaim and to live as followers of his.
NNAMDIDid you know President Trump was going to do this? How did you find out about it?
BUDDEI was sitting at home watching the evening news with my mother, and so no. We had absolutely no warning. There was no warning for those who had been gathered at the church. The priest who was in charge of St. John's had no warning, and so we were as caught off guard as anyone else.
NNAMDIThere's at least one report that police in addition to tear gas also fired rubber bullets to clear the area between the White House and the church. Was that use of force in your opinion justified?
BUDDEI did not -- have not heard personal confirmation of that, but, of course not. The protest at that point was entirely peaceful as have been the majority of gatherings in front of the park since this began. When I've been there people have been disciplined. They've been expressing their views with dignity and with control, and they were -- it was at least half an hour before the curfew. And so no, there was absolutely no justification for any forceful dispersal of the crowd.
NNAMDIThe people who were at the church yesterday, what did they tell you about what happened?
BUDDEThey were -- well, they described in the first person what we've been talking about in the third person. They were there. They saw it. They felt the tear gas. They saw the panic. They were trying to provide comfort for the people who were running away. It was traumatic. And it was deeply offensive in the sense that something sacred was being misused for a political gesture that was clearly staged to communicate a message to someone about what the president assumes is his relationship between him and sacred authority. And that's what we needed to speak to. Even as we want to pivot the conversation, Kojo, back to the reasons why and what your guests have been talking about all this hour the reasons why people are taking to the streets in the numbers that they are.
BUDDEAnd the fact that so many of them are young people of all races and particularly people of color, who are trying to say that their dignity and their worth as human beings is being compromised and challenged and threatened and taken away. And they are calling upon us as a nation and as a people to respect their dignity and to give them the civic and human rights that all people deserve. That's the issue.
NNAMDIThe night before the president came to the church it had been set on fire by protestors. What was your reaction to that?
BUDDEWell, I mean, of course, we were upset about that. We didn't want anyone's buildings or property to be the subject of that kind of, you know, indiscriminant destruction. We were grateful for the first responders, who put the fire out so quickly. We go there in the morning and we assessed the damage. And we cleaned it up and we filed our reports. And then we got back providing hospitality for the people who were coming to protest because we didn't want to equate -- ever wanted to equate the destruction of property with the loss of an innocent life. And so we want to again, turn our focus there.
NNAMDIMary in Washington seems to know something about that. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYYes. Hello, Kojo. Yeah, I just left the city. I took one of children out, because they were being -- they've very upset about what's going on.
NNAMDIBut you wanted to talk about the church.
NNAMDIAnd we don't have a lot of time.
MARYI went past the church the night it was on fire. And I took pictures of it and honestly, I'm sorry, I just don't agree with the bishop. I think she's politicizing this now. I think as a Lutheran we are losing congregants every day. And this type of thing and this politicizing by the churches does not help us keep our congregants. Membership is down every year.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Bishop Budde respond.
BUDDEWell, first of all I want to thank you for calling and thank you for your perspective. I believe that I was speaking from the heart of my faith as a follower of Jesus. And so it is from that position where I have been called to respect the dignity of every human being and to strive for justice and peace. That is inherent to the Christian faith. I happen to believe that the reason we may be losing members is because we are not engaged enough. We are not speaking enough to the issues and the aspirations of rising generations. And that is where I will place my life's energy for the time I have left as bishop.
NNAMDIYou say the president's words and actions are dividing the country further. What do you think the country needs to be hearing from its president right now?
BUDDEOh, what we need is a president, who would lament with us who would offer words of consolation and we need a president who speaks hope who speaks resolve who is committed to passing and enacting just laws that are justly applied for all people who assures us that we are better than the worst violence that we see. And that he will protect the rights and the dignity of every American. That's the kind of president we need.
NNAMDIMariann Budde is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which oversees the historic St. John's Church. Bishop Budde, thank you so much for joining us.
BUDDEThank you so much, Kojo. Bye-bye, now.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Dr. Leana Wen about demonstrations, especially mass demonstrations during a pandemic in which a lot of people find themselves in close proximity to others. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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