While churches are primarily a place of worship and prayer, they can also be important historical locations. When events occur at a historic church, they have the potential to become all the more notable. Earlier this spring, an African American man named George Floyd was killed, leading to widespread protests and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a historic church became the center of controversy.
Washington, DC, has been the site of many recent protests, and St. John’s Episcopal Church has gotten caught up in the middle of the situation. The actions taken by the president of the United States in response to the protestors surrounding the church have been especially controversial. It’s a great example of how politics and religion don't always mix well.
Protests Near St. John's Episcopal Church
St. John’s Episcopal Church is located across from the White House, making it a building with a lot of historical importance. It is a church that has been visited and prayed in by many US presidents. Unfortunately, the church did sustain some damage when a fire was set there during one of the many protests. Protestors have been gathering in the area regularly to demonstrate their anger over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis law enforcement officer. While one of the protests did turn more violent than the others, they have been generally peaceful.
Controversial Response by the President of the United States
A day or so after the fire, peaceful protestors near the church were aggressively forced to disperse by methods that included the launching of tear gas into the crowds. Without announcement, President Donald Trump visited the church. The president, who had been across the street in the Rose Garden giving a talk about how it was necessary to maintain order, apparently visited the church to give an additional statement and get a photo in front of the historic location.
There are a number of reasons this was controversial, not the least of which was the arguably violent dismissal of the protestors. President Trump posed with the Bible in his photo and continued to speak about his opinion on the recent protests and general uproar in the United States.
The bishop of the church spoke out against this in the wake of the presidential visit. Her outrage was largely based on the fact that Trump had given no warning that the protestors would be forcefully broken up and that he had made statements that went against the church’s religious teachings. The fact that he had held one of the church's Bibles while doing so made the situation all the more offensive to the Episcopal bishop.
The Church’s Standpoint
In addition to stating the offensive nature of the president’s unannounced visit, the bishop also argued that the church’s standpoint on the issue of George Floyd’s death was supportive of the protestors and their desire for justice. She was furious that rather than praying, Trump showed up for the photo and left. She also expressed frustration about the fact that he had not acknowledged the pain and suffering occurring in the country due to current issues.
St. John’s church has been caught in the midst of protestors demanding justice for George Floyd and more fair treatment of all African Americans. While the church did sustain some damage from a fire set by a protest that turned aggressive, the church still aligns itself with the values of the protestors. The president's visit to the church was unexpected and turned out to be unwelcome by the bishop who was present there. She did not appreciate his actions and stated repeatedly that they went against her values and the values of the church.