EPISCOPALIANS across the United States joined protests last Saturday against Donald Trump, the day after he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.
As President Trump attended a service in the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral, thousands of protesters descended on Washington, DC, for the Women’s March. Similar marches took place elsewhere in the United States, and around the world.
Opening the ecumenical and interfaith service at the Cathedral, the Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Edgar Budde, said: “As we mark this moment of political transition, let us all draw strength and courage from the sacred texts and songs from the many traditions of our land.”
The Dean, the Very Revd Randy Hollerith, who earlier in the week had issued a statement defending the cathedral choir’s participation in the inauguration ceremony (News, 20 January), read a prayer that included a petition to “break down the walls that separate us”.
In contrast, at a service at St John’s Episcopal church, near the White House on the morning of the inauguration, a Southern Baptist pastor, the Revd Dr Robert Jeffress, had preached before Mr Trump on the story of Nehemiah, who rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls after the return of Judah from exile. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Dr Jeffress said.
He suggested that Nehemiah’s biblical opponents Sanballat and Tobiah were the equivalent of the “mainstream media”, who were criticising and spreading false rumours to stop the building of the wall on the Mexican border.
The presidential inauguration ceremony included readings and prayers by Christian leaders, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Paula White, a televangelist who leads a megachurch in Florida and is close to the President.
The President’s inaugural address quoted from the Psalms: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
The president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Revd Samuel Rodriguez, read from St Matthew’s Gospel: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
In a message from Rome last Friday, Pope Francis told Mr Trump that he was praying for “wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office”.
“I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide. Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need.”
In an interview in the Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday, the Pope said that he would “wait and see” how President Trump governed. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion.”
He did, however, criticise populist leaders around the world who appealed to fear and uncertainty and promoted the building of walls, literally or metaphorically, to keep out those who threatened their identity.
One of President Trump’s first acts was to sign an executive order that began to undo the workings of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s expansion of health-insurance provision.
Despite opposing the Act seven years ago, because of fears concerning contraception and abortion funding, the US Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference has published a letter urging the Trump administration not to repeal it without immediately replacing it, so that millions of Americans who have gained insurance coverage for the first time are not left uninsured.
Another of Mr Trump’s first actions once in the Oval Office was to speed up progress on the contentious Dakota Access pipeline project. The Episcopal Church has long opposed the pipeline, which was halted in December, in solidarity with the local Standing Rock Sioux Nation, in North Dakota (News, 11 November).
The Nation opposes the route of the pipeline, which will cross its ancestral burial grounds, and fear it will pollute their main source of water.