Friday 29 March 2024

Trump’s Bible peddling: welcome message or ‘misunderstanding’ about the faith? (Opinion)

Catholic News Agency on X: "Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's  message touting a patriotically-themed Bible is either seen as a welcome  exhortation or a “potentially dangerous misunderstanding” about the  Christian faith, according

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s message touting a patriotically-themed King James Bible is seen as either a welcome, “heartfelt” religious exhortation or a “potentially dangerous misunderstanding” about the Christian faith, according to several Catholic observers.

Trump announced his Bible project on social media during Holy Week, saying he partnered with country singer Lee Greenwood on the initiative. Greenwood’s 1984 song “God Bless the USA” is traditionally played before Trump’s campaign rally and event speeches.

In addition to the sacred Scriptures, the “God Bless the USA Bible” includes the Constitution of the United States and the country’s Declaration of Independence as well as the lyrics to Greenwood’s hit song.

“Our Founding Fathers did a tremendous thing when they built America on Judeo-Christian values. Now that foundation is under attack, perhaps as never before,” Trump declared. He went on to exhort Americans to “pray that God will bless America again.”

“Religion and Christianity are the biggest things missing from this country,” Trump stated. “It’s one of the biggest problems we have. That’s why our country is going haywire.”

“This Bible is a reminder that the biggest thing we have to bring back to America and to make America great again is our religion,” he repeated.

Needed and ‘heartfelt’ message

“We need more politicians promoting the Bible and our founding principles,” commented Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center and author of “Stops Along the Way: A Catholic Soul, a Conservative Heart, an Irish Temper, and a Love of Life.”

“Good for Donald Trump actually promoting religion,” he added.

CatholicVote President Brian Burch seconded Bozell, saying: “It’s refreshing to hear a presidential candidate talk this way.”

In contrast, Burch said, the administration of incumbent President Joe Biden “has put our churches under surveillance, refused to prosecute violence against our churches, and decimated religious freedom protections.”

For his part, Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told CNA he also welcomed the message. 

“His belief in God, his belief in the importance of Christianity, going to the core of his message [of] the intertwining of religion and the fate of this country — are all heartfelt,” Roberts said. 

“I think it’s important we not overthink this, or over-scrutinize it, but to see it for what it is, which is a great witness by a political leader who has not always spoken about his faith,” he said.

Roberts argued that critics of Trump could learn from the parable of the prodigal son. “When any man or woman maybe has not been the greatest witness of God’s truth decides that he or she wants to speak up, let’s welcome him or her with open arms,” he said.

‘Potentially dangerous misunderstanding’

Bradley Gregory, an associate professor of biblical studies at Catholic University of America (CUA), on the other hand, argued that Trump’s Bible marketing “reflects a basic, potentially dangerous misunderstanding of how our Christian faith should relate to our politics.” 

Gregory, who also serves as associate dean for graduate studies at CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, said that it’s “often underappreciated just how much our understanding of Scripture is affected by what we ‘pair’ with it, either mentally or in this case physically within the same book.” 

“Whenever Scripture and something political are implied to be on the same level, even subconsciously, it makes it that much harder for the Church to see and challenge things that might be in conflict with the Gospel,” Gregory said. 

“And worse, one of the sad patterns of Church history is that when Christians do this and invest political causes with a kind of religious devotion, compromises that betray the heart of the Gospel are usually not far behind,” he said.

Roberts noted that for Catholics, Trump’s promotion of the King James Bible left something to be desired. That version has traditionally been used by Anglicans and other Protestant denominations; it is distinct from the version of the Bible approved by the Catholic Church, which in the U.S. includes the New American Bible among other approved translations.

“It’d be nice if [the God Bless the USA] Bible had all the books in it,” Roberts said. “As a serious Catholic, I’m going to read one version of the Bible,” he said. “The entire Bible. It’s not going to have anything additional in it."

Matthew Bunson, vice president of EWTN News, made similar observations in an interview on the subject with “EWTN News Nightly” anchor Tracy Sabol on Wednesday.

Trump is tapping, Bunson said, "into what is a wider concern in the United States for decline in religiosity, a decline, as he puts it, in prayer,” he continued. “It’s captured all, I think, by the phrase that he uses in his social media blasts [Wednesday], that he wants to ‘make America pray again.’”