It is not surprising that two women and two African American men have been the most effective religious leaders speaking truth to power to Donald Trump over the past few days.
My “Observations from” series usually includes a location. But this one doesn’t because, well, I don’t know where we are at this moment in this country. One of our most amoral presidents in history is walking and driving around the nation’s capitol looking for religious props for photo ops while he orders peaceful protesters tear-gassed and forcibly removed from his sight. Protesters who are, by the way, angry over yet another senseless and grotesque murder of a black man by a white police officer. Oh, and at the same time, his Secretary of State is tweeting about Chinese authoritarianism and meeting with Tiananmen Square survivors. Rightwing religious extremists are saying of the president’s use of the sacred symbols of Christendom, “Well, at least he’s pro-life.” Irony is apparently something that the modern-day Republican party doesn’t understand or at least doesn’t do anymore.
So just a few observations…from wherever.
A force to be reckoned with. The Rev. Gini Gerbasi is a long-time friend who was an associate rector at St. John’s Lafayette Square before moving a couple of years ago to become rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown.* Last evening she wrote a harrowing and moving post on her Facebook page about how she was helping to comfort the peaceful protesters at St. John’s Lafayette Square when she — along with all the other people standing in front of the church — were attacked with tear gas half an hour before the curfew set in and were forced to move a block away so that Trump could walk over from the White House and hold up a Bible in front of the church. Her post ended with her anger clear and her resolve strengthened, when she says she will be “a force to be reckoned with.” I just saw her interview with Jake Tapper on CNN. Gini is a funny, loving, and caring person. She is also a powerful witness. I’m honored to know her and call her my friend.
And our bishops are pretty wonderful as well. Today’s Washington Post story led with the observation that, “The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, was seething.” As she had every right to be. Federal officers had just used force to clear away peaceful protesters in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church located at Lafayette Square for Trump’s use of her church as a prop.** And her anger, in statements and interviews, is palpable. Likewise, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, spoke out powerfully about how the president used religious props for his partisan and hateful actions. Then today, Washington Roman Catholic Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory issued his own powerful statement about the president’s planned visit to Saint John Paul II National Shrine:
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
She’s had it. Speaking of women speaking truth to power, longtime Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has been fighting a years-long war against Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. Trump’s actions of the past few days led her to throw down the gauntlet and call out the entire set of enablers and urge that they be treated as pariahs after the administration leaves office (hopefully next January.) Rubin makes the righteous case that, “we should not treat former officials as respected reservoirs of historical or political wisdom. No cushy university perches….Private employers should be wary of hiring people of such low character. Yes, serving in an administration so corrupt, racist, dishonest and anti-democratic should deprive one of the benefits ex-officials of other administrations enjoy.”
Who is this person and what have they done with George Will? Long ago I used to read George Will on a regular basis, until his sanctimonious tone finally drove me away. However, I happened upon his column yesterday, and he had — at the end of this paragraph — one of the best lines about today’s Republican party I’ve read in some time.
“In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for . . . what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world’s most risible deliberative body.” (my emphasis)
That’s enough for now.
More to come…
*She was not “transferred” Newsweek. Episcopalians don’t transfer their priest. She was “called” to be the rector at St. John’s Georgetown. Get your facts straight.
**In the Episcopal Church, the diocese, headed by a bishop, controls the property of the church and is ultimately responsible for those buildings. St. John’s Lafayette Square — known as the church of presidents — is one of the most historic churches in the city.
UPDATE: In the second note above, I state (correctly) that the diocese is the owner of the church property and the bishop — as the CEO of the corporation — represents the diocese as the owner. Given our First Amendment rights as Americans (i.e., “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) — the bishop should have access to her church. But, in our new world order, Donald Trump and Bill Barr extended the barriers up to one-quarter of a mile out from the People’s House (otherwise known as the White House) and did not allow Bishop Mariann to have access to her own church building on Wednesday, June 3rd. While that blocked access was removed by Thursday, James Madison is rolling over in his grave as we speak. Also, when protesters pushed back on the bishop and the church as taking the focus away from the demonstrations around racial inequality and policy brutality, she sat down in the street to have an extended conversation with the protesters. Writing on the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s website, Bishop Mariann said,
“One of our churches has been a focus of attention this week, but you have been clear that our focus is on the issues that have caused so many to engage in peaceful protest. As the Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher Stuart said so well, ‘I hope the outrage over the continuing abuse and destruction of black lives is as great as the outrage over the president holding a bible in front of a church.”’To that I say, amen. Let’s keep our focus where it belongs.”