Sitting across my apartment, right before the door into my guest bedroom, sits an old family Bible. It’s a special edition, commemorating the American bicentennial, and just two pages in, is the signature of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.
Years ago, when Falwell autographed the Bible, it was pretty normal for pastors and evangelical leaders to do so — in parts of the south, it still is pretty commonplace.
President Donald Trump garnered quite a bit of attention over the weekend, when during a visit to Alabama, where he was assessing storm damage, the Republican leader scrawled his signature across the front covers of numerous Bibles.
You guys… He…he signed *the covers* pic.twitter.com/bLQzVN9vcB
— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) March 8, 2019
While plenty have criticized the president for autographing the Bibles (on the front covers, no less), the real concern might be what it says about those who wanted Trump to sign them in the first place.
We so often hear criticisms of cultural Christianity — a cherry-picked understanding of Scripture often espoused by a secular culture — that accepts God’s love and commands for decency, but casts aside his unflinching rebuke of sin. But we don’t often hear about a cultural Christianity that mixes and mingles secular and sacred morality so long as the two share common interests.
Seeking a president’s signature on a Bible is a hint of that cultural religion.
At the risk of reading too much into what could have been a fairly benign gesture, I couldn’t help but notice the theological tension between Trump’s name on the Bible covers and what the pages inside suggest about Christians’ allegiances.
This is not our home
If I’m being completely honest, I really just think it’s kind of odd and a little tacky for anyone, much less a non-pastor, to autograph a Bible. But it’s not really that uncommon for presidents to sign them.
While he didn’t give many details, Peter Manseau, the Smithsonian’s curator of religion, told The Washington Post that several past presidents — including Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — have signed copies of the Good Book.
Both Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, for example, autographed a Bible owned by the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the family’s request.
Regardless of who signs the Bibles, the truth of the matter is this: it’s a bizarre practice rooted more in tradition and culture than in faith and theology. In fact, it’s somewhat out of sync with the latter two.
In Philippians 3:20-21, the apostle Paul wrote:
Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
The printed versions of the Bible that Trump signed are not innately holy; that’s not the problem. The concern is that a president’s signature on one of those Bibles could step on what is holy. It could directly or indirectly come up against the biblical dissonance between earth and eternity.
We live in what many refer to as “the now and the not yet,” because Jesus has come and established his church — through the cross — but his unattested kingdom — the second coming — is still awaited.
Paul wrote in Colossians 1:13 that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our citizenship is in heaven alone. While we can take pride in our heritage, there is no space for what the Moody Bible Commentary describes as “nationalistic arrogance” in the Christian heart.
While the true battle is against evil spiritual forces at work around us, there’s no doubt earthly kingdoms are imperfect and are, by nature, in opposition to God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s best to just keep the two separate.