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Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images

The leader of the Episcopal Church tells "Axios on HBO" that "the soul of America is at stake" and "it's time to speak up" against racial injustice and needed reforms to policing.

  • "I believe in this country and what it stands for: freedom, justice, equality," the Most Rev. Michael Curry said in the interview. "Those are ideals worth standing for. And when they are challenged, we must speak up."
  • Curry is the first African American to serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Why it matters: The Episcopal Church was drawn into the protests over the killing of George Floyd last week after protesters near the White House were forcibly cleared and President Trump used the backdrop of St. John's Church as the staging to wave a Bible.

  • "To use the church, a church and the Bible, as a prop for a photo op — I have problems with that," Curry said of President Trump's actions.
  • He said no one in the church leadership was given a heads-up about the president's plans and they learned about it along with the rest of the country. "We all were literally watching television and saw it on television."
  • "Had the president gone over to the church, even if we hadn't known about it, knelt down and said a prayer, and then turned around and opened up the Bible and read from the Bible, that would've been a spiritual act."
  • "I can't read his mind, and I don't know his heart. All I can do is assess his actions."

The big picture: "There have been dramatic changes in American society," Curry says. "I can assure you that in the late 1960s, Michael Curry wouldn't have been presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church." Since then, he said, Barack Obama has served as president.

  • "But this law enforcement and excessive brutality on the part of police and the structures that have and continue that, that has not changed dramatically and significantly."
  • "Most cops are good cops. They're good people who get up and go to work and most of them want to do good. But there are a few who are a problem. But the systemic issue is, the few are often protected and allowed to continue. And there needs to be real accountability built in."

Between the lines: Both sides of Curry's family are descended from slaves in the American South.

  • His mother converted his father, who had been Baptist, to the Episcopal Church in the 1940s because the church allowed her to drink from the same chalice as whites.
  • "He said any church where black folk and white folk drink from the same cup, knows something about the gospel of Jesus that I want to be a part of," Curry recalls.
  • "If we can learn to drink from the same cup together, so to speak, if we can learn to gather around the table of brotherhood and sisterhood together, then we can hammer out our problems."

"The reality is, racism was baked into the very fabric, if you will, of the cake of our country," Curry says. "I really do believe that we've got to face the pain of our past and then work together to create new ways to create a new future."

  • "Young people, for the most part — their protest is a cry for a better way. It's an acknowledgment that something is grievously wrong, not just in this one instance of Mr. Floyd."
  • "Their protest is actually hope for this democracy. All of these protests, there is a positive ferment ... that is bubbling up. Now, it must bubble into something, into tangible, practical ways of reform."

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.