DC Riots and Bishop Mariann Budde’s Selective Episcopal Outrage

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Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde has worked her way into a froth over a photo opportunity by President Trump.

Lafayette Square across from the White House was cleared Monday evening of Black Lives Matter protesters (with the use of either tear gas or smoke canisters, depending on which report you read) seemingly for the purpose of facilitating Trump’s walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church for the photo op. Reports from the Washington Post describe Trump briefly standing in front of the church with Bible in hand, but neither entering the building nor speaking with anyone nor opening the Bible, which apparently signaled something at merely being raised like a talisman.

Workers install temporary plywood to protect windows from damage at the parish house of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 (Photo: Jeff Walton/IRD)

“I am outraged,” Budde told the Post about Trump’s posturing in an interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled. She had nothing critical to say about the burning of one of her churches, which according to the parish vestry incurred about $20,000 in damages, mostly to the church nursery.

“This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes,” Tweeted Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. “This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.”

The prominent St. John’s Parish House located on Lafayette Square had been briefly set afire the night before, after peaceful protesters headed home for a District of Columbia curfew.

Some who remained in defiance of the curfew threw rocks at windows in the adjacent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building and spray painted a nearby statue of Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Kościuszko with profanity. Most of the damage appeared directed at a small building that houses park bathrooms. A number of storefronts in the downtown, Georgetown and Tenleytown neighborhoods were also vandalized, including a hair salon and a looted sandwich shop owned by Pakistani immigrants directly below IRD’s downtown offices.

A brief walk around the St. John’s building this afternoon showed graffiti had largely been removed and windows were proactively boarded up to prevent any further damage. A pole with an American flag had been yanked off the building and thrown into a fire by protesters, but little else was noticeably amiss.

Would Budde have given a similar pass if right-wing protesters had done the same? the bishop of Washington doesn’t shrink from activism. Budde herself is engaged in advocacy for firearms restrictions and even weighed in on changing the name of the city’s floundering NFL franchise. Within the Diocese of Washington, Budde defended a push for “gender-inclusive” language “to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.”

The Post report noted both Budde and Curry “are among the pantheon of progressive religious leaders who have long been critical of Trump’s political agenda.” I was last present in the now-damaged St. John’s parish house as it hosted a press conference for the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice, a progressive lobby that voices approval from religious officials for unrestricted abortion-on-demand, and which counts the Episcopal Church as a member.

Post religion reporters Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey cite data from the Pew Research Center showing 49 percent of Episcopalians are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 39 percent of church members who are Republican or lean Republican.

Episcopalians have increasingly found themselves in roles difficult to maintain. Church officials simultaneously embrace leftist causes, while also serving as a boutique chaplaincy to the affluent and as presiders over American civil religion in events of national importance including state funerals.

For his part, President Trump is in close proximity to the Episcopal Church: his youngest son was baptized at an Episcopal parish and attends a private Episcopal high school (Trump himself is Presbyterian and his wife Melania is Roman Catholic). The Trump family typically attends services at Bethesda-by-the-sea Episcopal Church when in Palm Beach, Florida, minutes from Mar-a-Lago.

Budde draws a distinction between those engaged in peaceful protest, opportunistic looters and violent organized provocateurs like Antifa. Would she do the same if the partisan affiliations were flipped?

The danger of selective outrage is in exposing one’s self as another partisan instead of acting like a senior shepherd.