Standing in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church as the scent of a chemical irritant hung in the air, President Trump had no words to share Monday from the book in his right hand.
Instead, he posed silently for photos, holding a closed Bible slightly above his head as reporters shouted questions at him. The spectacle, which took place after authorities forcibly removed seemingly peaceful protesters from an area near the White House, highlighted Trump’s complex and at times openly transactional relationship with religion.
Trump, who rarely goes to church and has attended services at St. John’s only a handful of times since he became president in 2017, used the church as a backdrop for a photo op that critics say defies the faith he claims. The White House quickly released a video of the visit in the style of a campaign ad, and Trump’s allies praised him for standing up for faith a day after part of the 200-year-old church was set ablaze during protests.
But several religious leaders, including the Episcopal bishop of Washington, as well as Democrats and some Republicans voiced their dismay about the nakedly political optics of the president brandishing a Bible after threatening to deploy the military to crack down on protesters. Several have accused Trump of exploiting religion for political benefit while holding little if any personal allegiance to religious tenets.