APPROPRIATE AUTOGRAPH? — President Donald Trump signs a Bible at Providence Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Alabama, Friday during a tour of areas where tornadoes killed 23 people in Lee County.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — 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.

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