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.