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Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde leads the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. That includes St. John's Church, across from the White House, which was partially burned during Sunday's unrest and the site of President Trump's Monday night photo op. Budde joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump's "extremely inflammatory" remarks and federal law enforcement's violent confrontation with protesters.
And now we turn to another perspective from Bishop Mariann Budde, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.
St. John's Church, across from the White House, has been known as the Church of the Presidents for over 200 years. It was partially burned on Sunday night during the unrest, and then, yesterday evening, was the site of the photo opportunity by the president and some of his advisers.
Bishop Budde and church leadership have derided the use of the religious site for that purpose and for the way federal officers violently confronted protesters as the president headed to the church.
And Bishop Budde joins us now.
Thank you so much for talking with us.
Why did you decide to speak out?
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde:
It was a — it was a confluence of events in the very short period of time when the images of the president following the dispersal of the crowds that you mentioned, following his extremely inflammatory, to my ears, remarks in the Rose Garden, and then bringing himself and his entourage into our sacred space, using it as a backdrop, and holding the Bible, as if to put on the mantle of religious authority or blessing of what he had just said and done.
And I felt it was urgent to remove that association as quickly as possible and to state our position in faithfulness to the Gospel as we understand it.
The White House view on this, Bishop Budde, has been that what happened at the church the night before, the fire being set there, was unacceptable, and the president wanted to make a statement about that.
Well, he made no statement, Judy. And he didn't come to pray. He didn't come to offer his condolences to the grieving families that are struggling with the weight of loss in this country.
He didn't offer hope or consolation to the nation in search of it. And he said nothing to the officials there about the fire. It was a — there was no conversation whatsoever. It was just simply a symbolic gesture on his part.
And I have to say that even — we are upset about the fire as well, but that is not our primary focus. Our primary focus is the reason behind — the fundamental reasons behind the protests in our country right now.
I see today that the president's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, is saying for people to question what the president did, to call it a photo-op or a photo opportunity is to question his faith.
Is that what you're doing? Are you questioning the president's faith?
No, I'm challenging his actions.
And I am saying to him and to all who will listen that the Gospel of Jesus and the teachings of the Scripture are antithetical to the messages that he is communicating and the way he is responding to people in this moment, and that there is no spiritual mantle of authority for the actions that he had just moments before said that he would take.
You told The Washington Post yesterday — and I'm quoting — "Everything this president has said and done is to inflame violence. We need moral leadership, and he's done everything to divide us."
Is there any way to begin to heal this breach that you're describing?
Well, we see examples of people attempting that across the country, the police officials and officers who are moving into the crowds to speak to them, the people who are acknowledging pain and seeking to make fundamental change for the good of the nation, and in particular for the for the safety and dignity of black and brown people in this country.
So, yes, there are any number of steps that any one of us can make, including the president, to heal the breach. But it isn't — it isn't by inflaming emotions. It's trying to bring them down and trying to offer a word of unity, rather than division.
And what would that look like? I mean, what tangibly needs to be said and needs to be done right now, do you believe?
Well, I — listening to the people that I speak to who are making their way to protests across this country, including my own children, there is a deep desire for the fundamental issues at stake brought to light by the murderous death of George Floyd and the countless others that we have witnessed in this long string of violence against black and brown people, that that needs to be addressed in a systemic, fundamental way in the — from every police department in the country and the vigilante civilian actions that are taken.
So, that's one thing. The second thing is to address the enormous disparities that have been laid bare by this pandemic, and to say that we will work for meaningful change and, finally, Judy, to speak a word of hope to rising generations, that they do indeed have a future, when so much has been taken from them so quickly.
How big a divide, though, Bishop Budde, is there inside faith, the faith — the community of faith in this country?
I was reading just a few minutes ago a comment from an evangelical pastor in South Carolina. His name is Mark Burns. He said, "Jesus welcomes all," referring back to the president going to the church, that he shouldn't have needed permission to go there, in other words, saying, this is a moment to welcome everyone.
Well, if the president had come to pray, if the president had come to greet us in the name of the country and to offer an encouraging word, that would have been one thing.
But that's not what he did. That's not what he did. And he is always welcome to come and pray. He is always welcome to be part of the worshiping body, but not to use the mantle of the church to his political — to communicate a political message.
And I think that, to me, in addition to, in addition to seeming to stoke the flames of anger and of a punitive response to what's happening in the country, I think, is shortsighted and not the moral leadership we need.
And one last thing.
Have you been in direct contact with the White House about what happened yesterday?
I have not.
And, in fact, my message, and that of the church, was not directed to the president, but to the American people, and especially to those who were watching with horror of what was happening, both leading up to his remarks and afterwards, that we wanted to separate ourselves from his message and to reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence, to justice, and to the addressing of systemic racism and white supremacy in this country.
And that was where our focus would be, not in speaking directly with the president himself.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., thank you very much for talking with us.
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