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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Current and former clergy of the historic St. John's Episcopal Church expressed furor and confusion over President Trump's visit on Monday, which he claimed was to honor the establishment after George Floyd protestors sparked a small fire on the property Sunday night.

The big picture: Park rangers and military police deployed tear gas and physical force to disperse peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square, which sits north of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue, so Trump could walk to "pay respects" to the church. A former St. John's rector on the scene revealed in a Facebook post that she was left "coughing" from the tear gas.

Details: Rector Gini Gerbasi, who previously worked at St. John's on Lafayette Square and now works at the St. John's in nearby Georgetown, said she was helping the Black Lives Matter organizers, fellow clergy and others hand out water during the peaceful protest when the tear gas and rubber bullets were fired. "That man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second," she said of Trump.

  • "We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John's, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear," Gerbasi said. "We were pushed back 20 feet." She said she was OK but "shaken" by the ordeal.

What else they're saying: Mariann Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., told the Washington Post on Monday she was "not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop."

  • Trump held a Bible in his hand while standing outside the church for only a few minutes. Budde tweeted later that the president "used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for."
  • "To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard," she continued. "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."
"The Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbor; that all people are beloved children of God; that we are to do justice and love kindness. The President used our sacred text as a symbol of division."
— Budde's tweet

The pastor of St. John's also told Fox News on Monday that he was unaware Trump was coming to the establishment, saying: "I feel like I'm in some alternative universe in a way."

  • National Episcopal clergy have joined in the outrage. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida Greg Brewer tweeted: "I am shaken watching protestors in Lafayette Park gassed and cleared so that the President of the United States can do a photo ... This is blasphemy in real time."

Of note: St. John’s, which is over 200 years old, is just steps away from the White House and is often referred to as the "church of the presidents."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further comment from Budde and Gerbasi. It also corrects the location of Lafayette Square, which lies north of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Go deeper

Bush: "We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis"

Speaking at the funeral of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis on Thursday, President George W. Bush urged Americans to "keep ourselves open to hearing the call of love, the call of service and the call to sacrifice for others," stressing that "the story that began in Troy isn't ending here today, nor is the work."

Why it matters: Bipartisan former presidents Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are honoring Lewis at the service. President Trump, who had a contentious relationship with Lewis, is notably absent.

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Top scientists at the World Health Organization on Friday called for more detailed information on a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca have said the vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses. AstraZeneca has since acknowledged that the smaller dose received by some participants was the result of an error by a contractor, per the New York Times.

Court rejects Trump campaign's appeal in Pennsylvania case

Photo: Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday unanimously rejected the Trump campaign's emergency appeal seeking to file a new lawsuit against Pennsylvania's election results, writing in a blistering ruling that the campaign's "claims have no merit."

Why it matters: It's another devastating blow to President Trump's sinking efforts to overturn the results of the election. Pennsylvania, which President-elect Joe Biden won by more than 80,000 votes, certified its results last week and is expected to award 20 electoral votes to Biden on Dec. 12.