He knows his base. He knows what they want, and he knows how to give it. This picture of President Trump holding up a Bible in front of a church is currently circling the world. It is the book of justice, the book of reconciliation, the book of righteousness, truth and peace. It is the word of God and the way of love. The death (/possible murder) of George Floyd was a tragedy and a scandal, but you don’t resolve institutional racism with riots and looting. If you support Donald Trump, he is the necessary strongman who will restore law and order in a new era of justice and peace. If you oppose Donald Trump, he is the devil and this is blasphemy.
He stands in front of St John’s Episcopal Church across Lafeyette Square from the White House. Former Assistant Rector there is the Rev’d Gini Gerbasi, who was visiting and has given an account of what preceded the photo op:
Friends, I am ok, but I am, frankly shaken. I was at St. John’s, Lafayette Square most of the afternoon, with fellow clergy and laypeople – and clergy from some other denominations too. We were passing out water and snacks, and helping the patio area at St. John’s, Lafayette square to be a place of respite and peace. All was well – with a few little tense moments – until about 6:15 or so. By then, I had connected with the Black Lives Matter medic team, which was headed by an EMT. Those people were AMAZING. They had been on the patio all day, and thankfully had not had to use much of the eyewash they had made. Around 6:15 or 6:30, the police started really pushing protestors off of H Street (the street between the church and Lafayette Park, and ultimately, the White House. They started using tear gas and folks were running at us for eyewashes or water or wet paper towels. At this point, Julia, one of our seminarians for next year (who is a trauma nurse) and I looked at each other in disbelief. I was coughing, her eyes were watering, and we were trying to help people as the police – in full riot gear – drove people toward us. Julia and her classmates left and I stayed with the BLM folks trying to help people. Suddenly, around 6:30, there was more tear gas, more concussion grenades, and I think I saw someone hit by a rubber bullet – he was grasping his stomach and there was a mark on his shirt. The police in their riot gear were literally walking onto the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with these metal shields, pushing people off the patio and driving them back. People were running at us as the police advanced toward us from the other side of the patio. We had to try to pick up what we could. The BLM medic folks were obviously well practiced. They picked up boxes and ran. I was so stunned I only got a few water bottles and my spray bottle of eyewash. We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually – with SO MANY concussion grenades – back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. 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!!!!
I am deeply shaken. I did not see any protestors throw anything until the tear gas and concussion grenades started, and then it was mostly water bottles. I am shaken, not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of a cough I still have, but by the fact that that show of force was for a PHOTO OPPORTUNITY. The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today. A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second. I am DEEPLY OFFENDED on behalf of every protestor, every Christian, the people of St. John’s, Lafayette square, every decent person there, and the BLM medics who stayed with just a single box of supplies and a backpack, even when I got too scared and had to leave. I am ok. But I am now a force to be reckoned with.
I’m horrified. Just moments before we were handing out snacks and water. There was some men singing on the steps. People were chanting and peacefully assembling. I left as the National Guard arrived. They sprayed tear gas. I was gone before the rubber bullets. And then the President spoke. That was ……. an appropriate adjective for public space is lacking.
So the police drove out priests from their church with teargas and riot shields so that President Trump could stand in front of it and hold up a Bible for a White House video. Twitter is awash with approbation (“Jesus cleared a temple – so yeah”) and condemnation (“Trump just might be the prophesied antichrist”). There are too many to link: Twitter does what Twitter does.
But amidst the riots and looting which has followed the racism, there is reconciliation: “Father, we ask for forgiveness from our black brothers and sisters for years and years of racism…”
You won’t hear so much about this in the mainstream media: they have too much stoking to do; too much division to sow; too much cursing and counter-cursing and copy to sell. You can be an indignant priest and imprecate your President for his blasphemy, profanity and sectarianism; or you can be the Church and live the gospel and bow the knee in forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Lk 9:54f).
The sacralisation of politics is indeed a blasphemy, but ‘In God We Trust’ is the State’s expression of faith and confers an aura of holiness on the star-spangled republic, its origin, its history and its destiny. God is a great king with power over his enemies. President Trump is “the President of law and order“. He knows his base. He knows what they want, and he knows how to give it.