Tennessee faith leaders react to Trump photo-op

(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Religious leaders from across Tennessee reacted to a White House tweet showing President Donald Trump’s response to protests that have rocked the country in recent days. 

The video displayed in the tweet shows President Trump walking toward and standing in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in front of the church’s boarded windows. Police allegedly used gas on protestors to clear a path for the president, and officers can be seen in the background.

Just prior to the photo opportunity,  the president tweeted  that he planned to mobilize “all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting.”

The president’s choice to use the Episcopal church as a backdrop and as a response to the protests has the Washington, D.C. Episcopal bishop outraged, and Tennessee Episcopal church leaders have echoed this response.

Rev. Amber Carswell (Photo: Calvary Episcopal Church)
Rev. Amber Carswell (Photo: Calvary Episcopal Church)

In terms of the Christian faith, and particularly that of the Episcopal church, the president’s act was one of desecration: Trump used St. John’s Church and our Holy Scriptures as a backdrop for his brutal and militaristic agenda, and in these actions, undermined Jesus’ sacred teachings of non-violence and justice,” said the Rev. Amber Carswell from Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis. 

“But for all Americans, regardless of creed, this was an affront to our very way of life: the federal government used violent force to clear out a peaceful group from church grounds, all to fulfill Trump’s authoritarian demand for a photo-op.”

Other religious leaders have similarly reacted to the tweet, especially the president’s use of the Bible.

“He committed blasphemy,” said Pastor Jerry Maynard II from Southside Community Church in Nashville. 

Maynard disagreed with the use of the Bible as a political tool.

“He used the Bible, the most sacred, holy scripture of our lord and savior as a political prop. Donald Trump’s actions yesterday in using violence against American citizens for a photo-op should have every American concerned for the future of our democracy,” he said.

The Washington church sustained damage through fire and vandalism the previous day and the Rev. Carswell believes the photo op was done in an attempt to juxtapose the protestors with the president’s attempts to paint himself as “law and order,” said Maynard.  

“Look, he is saying: these are the sort of people who want to burn churches down. We know this isn’t true. The Episcopalians of St. John’s have been there in prayer and witness for days, protesting and providing aid and comfort to other protestors, and certainly are not the sort of people who want to burn churches down. When a destructive element damaged their building, they continued their witness and asked everyone to keep in mind that buildings are reparable, while our dead black brothers and sisters are not.”

  Donald Trump's actions yesterday in using violence against American citizens for a photo-op should have every American concerned for the future of our democracy.   – Rev. Jerry Maynard, II

The agenda Trump espouses is not one shared by the people of St. John’s, Carswell said. 

“He chose the wrong church.”

Nashville’s Catholic leaders declined to comment on the tweet but issued a statement from the office of Bishop Mark Spalding decrying the killing of George Floyd as “senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice.”

Bishop Spalding remarks that the protests are of “justified frustration and anger” and believes attempts should be made to make sure the protest isn’t exploited for people’s different values and agendas.