Mar 28, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's Bibles and the evolution of his messianic message

Trump posing with a Bible in front of St. John's Church

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Few politicians have commanded the loyalty of the religious right like former President Trump, whose decision to begin selling $60 Bibles for Holy Week has outraged his critics — but drawn little reaction from evangelical leaders.

Why it matters: Trump has developed a sense of impunity when it comes to religious messaging, forged through a grand compromise with Christian conservatives who see him as a flawed — but effective — champion of their movement.

  • Hawking Bibles is just the latest example.

Flashback: Trump was neither a regular churchgoer nor prone to displays of faith before running for president. His 2016 campaign produced a series of memorable gaffes as he courted the GOP's evangelical base.

  • At the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in 2015, Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness and called Communion his "little wine" and "little cracker."
  • In an interview with Bloomberg the following month, Trump repeatedly refused to name his favorite Bible verse — calling it "very personal."
  • In a speech at Liberty University in January 2016, Trump cited a verse from what he called "Two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians," drawing laughter from the crowd and mockery from his GOP rivals.

Zoom in: In office, Trump pursued policies that thrilled his white evangelical supporters, including the appointment of three conservative Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

  • Conservative allies, including an influential think tank led by Trump's former budget director Russ Vought, have developed plans to infuse "Christian nationalism" into his second-term agenda, according to Politico.
  • Trump repeatedly has claimed that the "radical left" is persecuting Christians, and vowed at a December rally to "create a new federal task force on fighting anti-Christian bias."

Between the lines: Since 2016, Trump increasingly has treated Christian imagery as a powerful rhetorical tool, including by comparing various investigations and indictments to the persecution of Jesus.

  • Weeks into the COVID pandemic in March 2020, Trump declared his goal was to lift social distancing restrictions by Easter Sunday, telling Fox News: "Wouldn't it be great to have all the churches full?"
  • In June 2020, Trump walked from the White House to the historic St. John's Episcopal Church moments after police forcefully cleared George Floyd protesters from Lafayette Square. Trump held up a Bible and posed for photos in front of the church, which had been damaged during protests the previous night.

What we're watching: On the 2024 campaign trail, the religious undertones employed by Trump and his allies have grown more apocalyptic — even messianic — as his legal troubles have mounted.

  • In one video shared on Truth Social and played at Trump's rallies, a narrator's voice booms: "On June 14, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker.' So God gave us Trump."
  • On the first day of his New York civil fraud trial in October, Trump shared an AI-generated courtroom sketch depicting himself sitting next to Jesus.
  • This week, Trump posted a message he said he received from a follower: "It's ironic that Christ walked through His greatest persecution the very week they are trying to steal your property from you."

The bottom line: 64% of Republicans view Trump as "a man of faith," according to a November poll by Deseret News — more than his former vice president and vocal evangelical Mike Pence.

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