Cincinnati's Episcopal Bishop On Trump Photo-Op: 'How Dare He'

Jun 3, 2020

The Episcopal Bishop of Southern Ohio, the Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, has joined a chorus of voices in condemning President Trump for using St. John's Episcopal Church, a historic church near the White House, as the setting for a photo opportunity Monday.

"How dare he?'' Breidenthal told WVXU Tuesday as he was working on a statement to be posted on the Southern Ohio Diocese website.

"I am furious,'' Breidenthal said. "And I am one who is always very careful not to take sides politically. I would normally never make a statement like this. But how could I be silent?"

The anger felt by Breidenthal and many other religious leaders around the nation is the result of a stunt Trump pulled early Tuesday evening, walking from the White House through Lafayette Park to St. John's, known as the "church of presidents," to have his photo taken holding a Bible.

But, in order to do this, police had to disperse a peaceful demonstration between Lafayette Park and the church; and they did it by firing off tear gas into the crowd to clear the way for Trump and his aides.

"This is a Bible,'' Trump told photographers shooting photos of him outside the church. He never opened the Bible, nor did he offer a prayer. He just had his photo taken and quickly left for the short walk back to the White House.

Protestors had set a fire in the basement of the church Sunday night, although the Rev. Robert Fisher of St. John's said Monday that whoever set the fire "does not represent the majority of people that are out there peacefully protesting with an important message."

Neither the president nor the Secret Service told church officials that Trump would be coming to St. John's Monday.

Bishop Thomas E. Breidenthal.
Credit Courtesy of The Diocese of Southern Ohio

"He has now actually exploited and abused my church,'' said Breidenthal, who presides over 72 southern Ohio Episcopal Churches.

"It was exploitation of our church, and more importantly, an exploitation of our sacred text," Breidenthal said. "And it was a sign of disrespect to the brown and black people of our country.

"I don't know that there is anything he could say except to apologize,'' Breidenthal said.

Breidenthal said he agreed entirely with his colleague and friend, the Rev. Mariann Budde, the bishop of Washington, D.C., who said Monday night she was "outraged."

"The president just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as the backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for."

St. John's has been known as the "church of presidents" since the days of President James Madison, the fourth president.

Trump has been to the church infrequently. But Breidenthal said one of the ironies of what happened Monday was that St. John's "has gone out of its way to accommodate President Trump on occasions and would welcome him."