'I think it's very unfortunate that people of faith would call into question what is in anyone's heart.'
Donald Trump's allies are attacking religious leaders who criticized him this week for allowing following federal law enforcement officers to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters outside the White House Monday evening.
The police fired on the protesters, as well as multiple members of the press who were there to document the demonstration, in order to clear a path for Trump, who was walking to a nearby church to take photos.
After the protesters were forcibly moved, Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church, located across the street from the White House, and held a brief three-minute photo-op while holding up a Bible.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the church, was outraged that Trump would condone violent force against protesters, saying, "What we are witnessing now is the shredding of our national fabric."
Budde later said she was "outraged" by Trump's photo-op. "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 added.
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser for the Trump campaign, shot back Monday night, claiming that Budde was a "pawn of the leftist media."
"This bishop is unfortunately a pawn of the leftist media that thrives on destruction of all that is moral and just," Ellis tweeted.
On Tuesday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also attacked Budde and other religious leaders who had criticized Trump.
Several clergy members said this week that they too had been among those tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets at Monday night's protest.
"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!!!" Gini Gerbasi, the rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown, wrote in a Facebook post.
Another Episcopal leader added separately that they were among a group of clergy members "handing out snacks and water" to protesters that night when the National Guard arrived and began attacking them.
"here was some men singing on the steps. People were chanting and peacefully assembling. I left as the National Guard arrived. They sprayed tear gas," Glenna Huber wrote on Facebook.
Conway criticized those leaders during a press gaggle on Tuesday.
"I think it's very unfortunate that people of faith would call into question what is in anyone's heart, including the president's, what compelled him to go over to St. John's and hold up his Bible," she said from the White House driveway. "I mean, the politicization of that by people of faith is very unfortunate."
Trump himself has a long history of attacking religious leaders and entities who disagree with him.
In February 2016, Trump called Pope Francis "disgraceful" after he obliquely criticized Trump's obsession with building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said at the time.
Trump responded at a campaign event not long after, saying, "For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. No leader, especially a religious leader, has the right to question another man's religion or faith."
More recently, Trump attacked the editors of Christianity Today, an evangelical media outlet, after it published an editorial calling for the Senate to remove Trump from office.
"The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents," the editors wrote in December 2019, as the impeachment case against Trump was ramping up. "That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral."
The editorial was referring to Trump's attempts to pressure Ukrainian leaders into digging up dirt on his political opponents by withholding critical military aid. He was ultimately impeached for those actions, though the Senate later voted against removing him from office.
Trump responded to the editorial a day later, saying Christianity Today was a "far left magazine" that wanted a Democrat in the White House.
"A far left magazine, or very 'progressive,' as some would call it, which has been doing poorly ... Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather … have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President," he tweeted at the time.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.