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Episcopal Bishops Denounce President's Church 'Photo Op'

A parishioner from St. John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, photographed after the church had been defaced with graffiti this weekend. (St. John's Church/Facebook)
A parishioner from St. John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, photographed after the church had been defaced with graffiti this weekend. (St. John's Church/Facebook)
June 3, 2020

BOSTON -- New England's Episcopal bishops unanimously are calling out President Donald Trump's appearance in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Monday as "disgraceful and morally repugnant."

In an unprecedented move, they released a statement on Tuesday, also condemning law enforcement use of force and tear gas to clear a path for the president through peaceful demonstrators. Trump's display of the Bible in front of the church, without quoting Scripture, also disturbed them.

Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of the New Hampshire Episcopal Church, who drafted the statement, said he feels the church was trespassed upon.

"The blatant use of religious symbols merely to exploit the backdrop and the symbols of our faith -- a Bible, a religious setting - in order to say, 'I have the church behind me,' and he certainly does not have the Episcopal Church behind him in this," Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld stressed that the Episcopal Church has congregants from all political backgrounds. He described church leaders in New England and around the country as "united" in objecting to the presidential photo opportunity at St. John's. New England bishops wrote that the real injustice is the continued oppression of and violence against people of color in the United States.

The protest was in response to the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Bishop Thomas Brown of the Maine Episcopal Church echoed the need for healing.

"The real concern here is addressing the inequality and the pain that people throughout this land have been trying to say and have been wanting us to address," he said. "So, we who are white, we who have authority and privilege -- we need to be listening, and we need to be bringing people together."

The Episcopal bishops of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont signed the letter.

More information is online at episcopalnewsservice.org.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA