Many faith lead­ers say Trump sign­ing Bi­bles isn’t heresy

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY JEN­NIFER MCDERMOTT

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was just do­ing what he could to raise spir­its when he signed Bi­bles at an Alabama church for sur­vivors of a deadly tor­nado out­break, many re­li­gious lead­ers say, though some are of­fended and oth­ers say he could have han­dled it dif­fer­ently.

Her­shael York, dean of the South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary School of The­ol­ogy in Louisville, Ken­tucky, said he didn’t have a prob­lem with Trump sign­ing Bi­bles, like for­mer pres­i­dents have, be­cause he was asked and be­cause it was im­por­tant to the peo­ple who were ask­ing.

“Though we don’t have a na­tional faith, there is faith in our na­tion, and so it’s not at all sur­pris­ing that peo­ple would have politi­cians sign their Bi­bles,” he said. “Those Bi­bles are mean­ing­ful to them and ap­par­ently these politi­cians are, too.”

But the Rev. Don­nie An­der­son, ex­ec­u­tive min­is­ter of the Rhode Is­land State Coun­cil of Churches, said she was of­fended by the way Trump scrawled his sig­na­ture Fri­day as he au­to­graphed Bi­bles and other things, in­clud­ing hats, and posed for pho­tos. She viewed it, she said, as a “cal­cu­lated po­lit­i­cal move” by the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent to court his evan­gel­i­cal vot­ing base.

Pres­i­dents have a long his­tory of sign­ing Bi­bles, though ear­lier pres­i­dents typ­i­cally signed them as gifts to send with a spir­i­tual mes­sage. Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan signed a Bible that was sent se­cretly to Iranian of­fi­cials in 1986. Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt signed the fam­ily Bible his at­tor­ney gen­eral used to take the oath of of­fice in 1939.

It would have been dif­fer­ent, An­der­son said, if Trump had signed a Bible out of the lime­light for some­one with whom he had a close con­nec­tion.

“For me, the Bible is a very im­por­tant part of my faith, and I don’t think it should be used as a po­lit­i­cal ploy,” she said. “I saw it be­ing used just as some­thing out there to sym­bol­ize his sup­port for the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity, and it shouldn’t be used in that way. Peo­ple should have more re­spect for Scrip­ture.”

York said that he, per­son­ally, would not ask a politi­cian to sign a Bible, but that he has been asked to sign Bi­bles af­ter he preaches. It feels awk­ward, he said, but he doesn’t refuse.

“If it’s mean­ing­ful to them to have sig­na­tures in their Bible, I’m will­ing to do that,” he said.

A re­quest for com­ment was left the White House on Sat­ur­day, a day af­ter Trump vis­ited Alabama to sur­vey the dev­as­ta­tion and pay re­spects to tor­nado vic­tims. The tor­nado carved a path of de­struc­tion nearly a mile wide, killing 23 peo­ple, in­clud­ing four chil­dren and a cou­ple in their 80s, with 10 vic­tims be­long­ing to a sin­gle ex­tended fam­ily.

At the Prov­i­dence Bap­tist Church in Smiths Sta­tion, Alabama, the Rev. Rusty Sow­ell said, the pres­i­dent’s visit was up­lift­ing and will help bring at­ten­tion to a com­mu­nity that will need a long time to re­cover.

Be­fore leav­ing the church, Trump posed for a pho­to­graph with a fifth­grade vol­un­teer and signed the child’s Bible, said Ada In­gram, a lo­cal vol­un­teer. The pres­i­dent also signed her sis­ter’s Bible, In­gram said. In pho­tos from the visit, Trump is shown sign­ing the cover of a Bible.

Trump should have at least signed in­side in a less os­ten­ta­tious way, said the Rev. Dr. Kevin Cas­si­day-Maloney.

“It just felt like hubris,” said Cas­si­day-Maloney, pas­tor at the First Con­gre­ga­tional United Church of Christ in Fargo, North Dakota. “It al­most felt like a des­e­cra­tion of the holy book to put his sig­na­ture on the front writ large, lit­er­ally.”

He doesn’t think politi­cians should sign Bi­bles, he said, be­cause it could be seen as a blur­ring of church and state and an en­dorse­ment of Chris­tian­ity over other re­li­gions.

It would have been out of line if Trump had brought Bi­bles and given them out, but that wasn’t the case, said James Cof­fin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­faith Coun­cil of Cen­tral Florida.

“Too much is be­ing made out of some­thing that doesn’t de­serve that kind of at­ten­tion,” he said.

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