Politics / March 30, 2024

The Rev. William Barber on Trump’s Holy Week Gambit: “The Bible Exposes Grifters”

Trump is trying to hawk Bibles to his followers. Barber and others are not convinced.

John Nichols
Reverend William Barber II speaks during an early voting rally near a polling location in Columbus, Georgia, US, on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

The Rev. William J. Barber II speaks during an early voting rally near a polling location in Columbus, Ga., on Sunday, November 27, 2022.

(Cheney Orr / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The reviews are in for Donald Trump’s marketing of $59.99 Bibles in the run-up to Easter, and they are not good.

“Happy Holy Week! Let’s Make America Pray Again. As we lead into Good Friday and Easter, I encourage you to get a copy of the God Bless The USA Bible,” the former president announced on Holy Tuesday. He was hawking an edition of the King James Version that’s “inspired by” country singer Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA.”

Promoted in partnership with Greenwood, this Bible features the Old and New Testaments, along with the lyrics of the song that is regularly played at Trump campaign rallies, the text of the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance—a mash-up that’s calculated to appeal to Christian nationalists. In case all of that wasn’t enough to sway Trump acolytes to part with their hard-earned cash, the marketing campaign promises that this is “the only Bible endorsed by President Trump.”

The endorsement is part of what Forbes describes as “a name, image and likeness deal [that comes] as the former president expands his endorsements and product launches—including sneakers and NFT cards—even as he owes hundreds of millions in a trio of civil cases.” CNN notes that, while the God Bless the USA Bible website says no proceeds from the sales of the Bible will go towards Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, “there is no mention of whether any proceeds could be put toward his personal legal troubles.”

Wherever the money ends up, Trump clearly wants to boost Bible sales. He’s doing a hard sell this week for the MAGA-fied Good Book. In a video posted on Truth Social, the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee says, “All Americans need a Bible in their home, and I have many. It’s my favorite book; it’s a lot of people’s favorite book.”

Indeed, it is.

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But the sales pitch from a 91-times-indicted alleged billionaire, who is set to face trial this spring on charges that he falsified business documents as part of an alleged scheme to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, has inspired considerable skepticism. “He’s never prayed in his life,” says Mary Trump, who, after observing her uncle’s latest marketing maneuver, observes, “If that were a real Bible, it would burst into a ball of flame.”

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That’s a harsh assessment, to be sure. But it reflects a concern regarding Trump’s latest gambit that has inspired rebukes from religious thinkers and activists. “When I hear ‘Make America Pray Again,’ I hear Christian nationalist promises that we are going to somehow ‘restore’ Christianity in this country,” explains Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, who holds a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary and serves as the communications director for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “And if authoritarianism does come to the United States, it’s all but guaranteed it will be done in the name of Christianity, which is a very scary thought.”

Perhaps the most compelling commentary has come from the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a frequent Nation contributor, the longtime pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, N.C., a professor in the Practice of Public Theology and Public Policy, and the founding director of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.

“The prophet Ezekiel named it in his day: Greedy politicians make an unholy alliance with false religion that says God is on their side when God has said no such thing!” declared Barber, who argues, “We need to read the Bible Trump is using as a prop.”

That Bible calls out pharisees and hypocrites who pervert religion for personal and political gain. “In Acts 13, the Bible tells the story of Elymas, a con man who used the name of Jesus for his own profit. ‘Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord,’ the apostle Paul asks him publicly,” recalls Barber. “The Bible exposes grifters who try to exploit it.”

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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