It has been about 18 hours, but I’m still stunned at the images from yesterday evening. The president of the United States deploying military police to use tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters to scatter them so that he could strut across the street and pose for a photo op holding a Bible in front of an Episcopal church.
The clergy and people of St. John’s Lafayette Square were offering their patio as an oasis yesterday — a place where protesters could come for water and granola bars and rest. An EMT was there in case anyone needed medical help. Clergy from around the diocese and other denominations were there both to peacefully protest and provide hospitality.
Here is a description of what happened from the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, an Episcopal priest who was there:
“We were driven off of the patio at St. John’s — a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day so that man could have a photo opportunity in front of the church. People were hurt so that he could pose in front of the church with a Bible. He would have had to step over the medical supplies we left behind because we were being tear gassed.”
Priests and laity tear gassed by military police on church property. In America. Think about that.
The bishop of the Diocese of Washington, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde was blunt in her criticisms. If you have not read her statement, please do. It is pasted below. She is outraged. So am I.
But as offended as I am as a Christian, and as an Episcopalian at the mockery made of our church, those are the lesser offenses. Much graver is the use of violence against peaceful protesters. And we must remember that at the root of all of this is the greatest offense of all, America’s original sin of racism.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking (or hearing me talk) about racism at St. Dunstan’s in recent years. I know that some of you think we’ve spent too much time on this topic. But the events of the last weeks show why it is so necessary.
As long as a black man cannot go jogging without fear of being lynched, it is necessary.
As long as a black man or woman must fear that any encounter with the police for any reason may end in death, it is necessary.
As long as systemic racism creates a permanent financial underclass of people with little hope for the future, it is necessary.
As Christians we have an obligation to not turn aside from these issues because they are “too political” or too difficult to resolve. We have an obligation to speak out against injustice and abuse of power.
For those among us who have been doing exactly that for decades it is easy to give into despair. So I share again with you a quote from the Talmud which I have pinned above my desk. On days like this it reminds me of what is important:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde’s Response to the President:
The President just used a Bible and one of the churches 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.
I am outraged.
The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.
We in the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in His Way of Love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest.