Crime and Justice

Vermont’s Episcopal bishop decries Trump photo op

Shannon MacVean-Brown 2
Vermont Episcopal Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown is the first African American woman to lead the statewide diocese. Provided photo

Vermont’s first black Episcopal bishop has denounced the use of force against peaceful protesters so President Donald Trump could pose for photos with a Bible outside the denomination’s church in Washington, D.C.

“Using precious objects of our faith as props in a display to uphold white dominance and violence is a blatant display of evil,” Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown said Tuesday in an open letter.

Authorities fired tear gas, flash-bang shells and rubber bullets Monday night to disperse demonstrators between the White House and St. John’s Episcopal Church, where leaders weren’t alerted of the Trump photo op.

“The president used military force to violently disperse peacefully gathered people, including our siblings of the Diocese of Washington,” MacVean-Brown said in her letter. “Just moments before, the president said he supports peaceful demonstrators. Clearly, this was a lie.”

The Vermont bishop also took issue with Trump’s use of a Bible.

“The words of our Bible are the lifeblood of our prayers,” she said. “They teach us about peace, love and justice, and sustain us when we need hope. The words of the Bible connect us to the life and teachings of Jesus. Through him we have learned to love our neighbor and build beloved community.”

The Episcopal Church in Vermont, the state’s fourth largest religious denomination with 5,700 members in 47 congregations, has offered daily online prayer this week to mourn the deaths of more than 100,000 Americans from Covid-19 and of George Floyd and other blacks killed by police.

“The circumstances of the pandemic and the current unrest have brought this nation to a place where we can no longer deny the brokenness of a society that is built on the subjugation and oppression of many while a few control most of the economic wealth,” MacVean-Brown said in her letter.

“The church must call out this systemic callousness and disregard for the dignity of human beings,” the Vermont bishop continued. “We must realize that striving for justice and peace will make us uncomfortable and challenge many to give up their privilege.”

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MacVean-Brown asked Episcopalians to pray for the people of St. John’s and the nation “that we would be healed from the viruses of racism and Covid-19.”

The full letter, titled “Reaffirming Our Renunciation of Evil,” is posted on the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont website.

MacVean-Brown is just one of many religious leaders to speak out about the incident.

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country,” the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement, “and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.”

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Kevin O'Connor

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