Not a Prop

“Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo opt. Religion is not a political tool. God is not your plaything,”  wrote James Martin, SJ, last night on Twitter.  He is a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, and his is a succinct statement of why church leaders and theologians from centrist and progressive Christian traditions are appalled and outraged at President Trump’s photo opt  in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House.  

In a CNN interview, the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, said, “Let me be clear: The President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”  She continued. “I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love … we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued a statement that said, in part, that Trump’s actions “did nothing to help us or to heal us.”   

“The Bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.”

Curry continued, “We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

I know that this outrage must be confusing for people outside the church who associate Christianity with right-wing politics, closed-mindedness, rigidity, authoritarianism, fundamentalism, racism, and hate.  The fact is that anyone can wave a Bible, anyone can call themselves Christian, and anyone who can attract followers–even if it’s done by manipulation– can build an edifice with a bell tower and call it a church.  Externals do not make it so.   With apologies to Paul, a first century B.C.E. letter writer and follower of Jesus:  If I can amass power, be elected to the highest office in the land, have my photo taken in front of the church of Presidents while I hold up  the sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and have not love, I am but dissonant bells ringing in my own delusional tower.

Photo by Sarah Wardlaw vis Unsplash