When President Trump had protesters cleared from Lafayette Square near the White House in June, so that he could stand on the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church and display a Bible for the cameras, he did not give the church’s clergy the opportunity to speak. Given what happened next, however, he may as well have handed them a megaphone. The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, who as Episcopal bishop of Washington is the denomination’s leading cleric of the region, suddenly had a national platform to talk about racial justice.
“He did not come to pray,” Budde told CNN, in a message shared widely across social media. She called Trump’s photo opportunity “a charade” that did nothing to calm the soul.
For those who know the history of the Episcopal Church, the moment was especially powerful. Just months before the Lafayette Square incident, Budde had lost a role model and her denomination had lost a pioneering advocate for racial justice. The Right Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris, a Black woman who was the first female bishop in the global Anglican Communion, died at a hospice in March at age 89, following a hospitalization. A groundbreaking figure, she forged a path for Budde and a generation of female bishops and inspired countless other Episcopal leaders, including Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, who described her as a friend. Harris also withstood fierce political pressure, much of it coming from within her own church. “The impact of her election [as bishop] on all of us was mind-boggling, really,” Budde said in an interview. “She was iconic for me.”