The newly installed Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said US President Donald Trump "crossed the line" by using a Bible for a photo opportunity outside a church in Washington, DC.
Rev Dr David Bruce's words came after peaceful protesters were cleared off the streets to allow the President to walk from the White House to St John's Church to pose for photographs with a Bible in his hand as trouble flared following the killing of George Floyd.
Mr Floyd (46), an African-American, died while being restrained by police on May 25.
His death has led to widespread civil unrest across America.
Mr Bruce said: "Normally I would not comment on events happening outside of my own country but I felt provoked to speak by the President's use of religious symbols for a photo opportunity at a time when his country is facing multiple challenges through both coronavirus and race riots.
"The Bible is often described as a double-edged sword, and everyone must always be careful when handling it.
"We cannot appropriate it for our own cause, either ideological or party political.
"When we think we own it, we find out it owns us. It reflects hard truths.
"While this is not intended as a direct criticism of the President, all statesmen need to know that the Bible is not their own.
"The optics, in my opinion, were poor. You had a street full of tear gas, people who were being moved from one place to another, all to allow this photo to be taken.
"I imagine that the President's advisers will probably think they got this wrong.
"We all understand the need for maintaining law and order at a time of civil unrest, but I would much rather the President had sat down with the people who live in that neighbourhood, of all colours and backgrounds, and opened the Bible rather than holding it aloft.
"He would discover a life-giving message of God's desire to be a blessing to all nations, one of those powerful phrases, repeated 108 times in the Bible."
Mr Bruce, who was installed as Moderator on Monday night, said the situation in the US was "tragic".
He added: "I see echoes of our own history here in Northern Ireland.
"I'm of a generation that lived through the worst of the Troubles and if any culture ought to have an understanding, it's ours.
"I don't want to see symbols of faith being used in this way, and on this occasion we had two - the church and the Bible. Appropriating those for a cause is crossing the line."
The Church of Ireland said it would not be commenting on events which have occurred outside the country, and the Catholic Church did not respond to a request for comment.
A rally at Belfast City Hall yesterday was attended by hundreds to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Later, speaking at the Executive's daily coronavirus conference, Diane Dodds said that while everyone had "watched in horror" at the video of what happened to Mr Floyd, there was still a need for people to act responsibly.
The Economy Minister said that while she believed there was a social responsibility to show solidarity and demand justice against racial discrimination, social distancing to combat the threat of Covid-19 remained vital here.
"It is incumbent upon us all to act responsibly, to practise social distancing, to have good hand hygiene, and while we may want to stand and show solidarity with those in the United States and with the Floyd family, who have been grievously hurt by all that has happened, I think we have to have a responsibility to ourselves and to others in our vicinity here in Northern Ireland," she said.