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Reverend says she was among peaceful protesters tear-gassed so Trump could "hold a Bible and look Christian"

DC bishop on the president's church visit
Washington's Episcopal bishop on being "outraged" at President Trump's church appearance 04:51

A local reverend in Washington D.C. joined other religious leaders in speaking out against President Trump on Tuesday, a day after police deployed tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters near the White House ahead of the president's walk to a historic Episcopal church. After Lafayette Park was cleared, the president walked to St. John's Church and took a photo outside holding a Bible. 

"We cannot have been driven off of that patio with tear gas and horses and concussion grenades, so that that man can have a photo op, in front of a church, holding a Bible," Reverend Gini Gerbasi told CBS affiliate WUSA. "I am so [expletive] offended that he would have the nerve to do that, no one knew about this stunt."

Gerbasi, who served as assistant rector of St. John's Lafayette Square during the Obama administration and has since transferred to a sister church in Georgetown, said she and several other Episcopal clergy members spent the day keeping watch over the historic parish, which had been damaged during previous protests. She said she was handing out medical supplies with Black Lives Matter when troops in full riot gear descended upon the park. 

Donald Trump outside St. John's Church
President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. AP

Gerbasi wrote on Facebook that the church quickly turned from a holy ground to a battleground and a "cheap political stunt." 

"I was coughing with tear gas in my clergy collar, and my gray hair, and my old lady reading glasses, so that that man could stand there and hold a Bible in his hand and look Christian," Gerbasi told WUSA. "And it would be far more Christian if he would behave according to the words in that book instead of just carrying it around with him as a prop."

Clergy members said they were not asked permission or told ahead of time that the president wanted to use the church, which is known as "the Church of the Presidents," for the photo. Many said they are outraged over the use of the Bible as a "prop."

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators next to St. John's Episcopal Church, outside of the White House, June 1, 2020 in Washington D.C., during a protest over the death of George Floyd.  Jose Luis Magana / AFP / Getty Images

Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the church and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday that the decision was antithetical to everything the church stands for. 

"The President did not come to pray; he did not lament the death of George Floyd or acknowledge the collective agony of people of color in our nation. He did not attempt to heal or bring calm to our troubled land," she tweeted.

The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also criticized Trump's visit.

"He used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes," Curry said in a statement Monday night. "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." 

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