S5, Ep. 23: The Bible doesn’t need Trump’s endorsement

A Bible merging holy Scripture and secular founding documents raises new questions beyond the obvious punchlines.

Apr 4, 2024

When former President Donald Trump announced during Holy Week that he was endorsing the “God Bless the USA” Bible, the reaction was swift. But, beyond the punchlines and the obvious concerns, Amanda Tyler and Holly Hollman discuss why the video is concerning to our current political moment and the continued rise of Christian nationalism. Not all examples are this obvious – what does this mean to those important conversations?

Segment 1 (starting at 00:38): Why is this a problem?

The New York Times has more about the video and the marketing in this article by By Michael Gold and Maggie Haberman: Trump’s Newest Venture? A $60 Bible.

Segment 2 (starting at 08:11): Reacting to the video pitch 

You can watch the video endorsing the Bible at this link on YouTube.

Amanda and Holly talked about using the Bible as a prop and the idea of “divinely inspired” founding documents in episode 21 of this season, titled “But … is it Christian nationalism?” 

Dr. Jemar Tisby shared about how he and other authors worked to stop an earlier version of this Bible in an article on his Substack: Three Years Ago We Stopped Harper Collins/Zondervan from Publishing the “God Bless the USA” Bible


Segment 3 (starting at 26:44): Understanding how this is part of a larger political strategy

Holly read from this piece by Michael C. Bender in The New York Times: The Church of Trump: How He’s Infusing Christianity Into His Movement

Amanda discussed her experience attending the ReAwaken America tour in episode 22 of season 4.

Amanda read from this piece by David French in The New York Times: Trump is no Savior 

Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.

Transcript: Season 5, Episode 23: The Bible doesn’t need Trump’s endorsement  (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)


Segment 1: Why is this a problem? (starting at 00:23)

AMANDA: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.

HOLLY: And I’m general counsel Holly Hollman. Today we’re reacting to former President Donald Trump’s latest marketing ploy — which is much worse than that — and that is, of course, the newly unveiled promotion of a, quote, “God Bless the USA,” close quote, Bible that he is selling in partnership with Lee Greenwood who is famous for writing the song of the same title.

AMANDA: That’s right, Holly. Just a few days before Easter, we learned that for the low, low price of 59.99, you, too, can get this King James Version of the Holy Bible with an American flag on the cover, packaged with the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Pledge of Allegiance.

HOLLY: Well, let me just say it isn’t the price that concerns me, Amanda. My concern is the crass combination of his fundraising from Bible sales, particularly ones that he’s branded “God Bless the USA,” while perpetuating Christian nationalism. And, you know, this comes soon after the $399 gold sneakers release.

But we’re not going to focus today on the former president’s sales and marketing exploits or the financial problems that might be, you know, inspiring more creative ones lately. We can link to an article summary in the show notes for that.

AMANDA: Yeah, Holly. So this is going to be the topic of our conversation today, but before we get into that, I’d love just to hear, other than groaning over this latest video release from former President Trump, how did you spend your Holy Week and Easter holiday.

HOLLY: Well, thank you for asking, Amanda. As our listeners know, we talked about religious holidays recently. Actually right before that, we talked about, What is Christian nationalism. And given those two topics, I feel almost like the former president’s trolling us —

AMANDA: Is he a listener? Is he a friend of the pod, Holly, and we don’t know it?

HOLLY: [Laughing.] Who knows? Who knows? But he’s served this one up for us. But I would say that I was quite clear on Easter morning, and I had a nice time with my husband going to a sunrise service and then actually taking a little break back at the house — a little naptime — before coming back to worship on Easter Sunday with my church family, which is always a very special service, always a time of hopefulness in the church that I attend, so it was really nice. What about you?

AMANDA: Well, I had a very full Easter weekend. And, of course, in the Christian tradition, as we noted last week in our religious holidays episode, it is really — Easter is the culmination of what’s called Holy Week. And so I started on Good Friday.

I went to my church for an incredibly meaningful Good Friday service — one that, honestly, is one of the most impactful I can remember — where the officiant, my pastor, delivered Jesus’s eulogy. She noted that, you know, Jesus never got to have a funeral service, never got to have a memorial service. And so we gathered and really remembered the life of Jesus in a really memorable way, so that was a really interesting reflection for me.

And then I did something this year that I’ve done before. I celebrated the Easter Vigil, so something actually on Saturday night, a very long service that has a lot of different readings and reflections that covers the entire Christian story, starting with creation. And it was over a number of hours actually, and we did it in a small group that included a meal and ended with a renewal of our baptismal vows.

So it was really a very meaningful time for me and my family that was gathered there, and a great time to have some time away from work and to have some renewal and just really appreciated the spring sense of rebirth that is present every year on Easter.

HOLLY: I’m so glad that you had that time and were able to be involved in those services. I would say, you know, as you were talking about how meaningful it is, I think the fact that this video was released on Holy Week, a few days before Easter, is part of why there was such a quick reaction to it. It just seemed like such a crass act at a time of great spiritual importance to the Christian community.

AMANDA: You’re right, Holly, that this video really touched a nerve. I mean, it was released just after we finished recording last week’s episode, and immediately I was getting texts, Have you seen this?; are you going to talk about this on Respecting Religion?; what do you think about this? So in many ways, I think this particular video — and I think you’re right. The timing of its release has something to do with it.

It brought people’s attention to the topic of Christian nationalism in a way that we really haven’t seen for many months, and it’s reflected not just anecdotally in people who are raising it with me, but in the number of people who have written pieces about it, some of which we’ll link in show notes to today’s conversation, in the treatment on news programs and on late night comedy shows, and of course, on Saturday Night Live this weekend, that used its cold open to spoof this video.

In fact, I’m not surprised that it did, because several people commented to me, Is this real or is this a Saturday Night Live sketch, when they saw the first video, so it was made for TV in that way.

HOLLY: It was. I mean, that was definitely my first reaction when I heard it. It’s like — it almost sounded like former President Trump was imitating the guy on Saturday Night Live, James Austin Johnson, who is the Trump impersonator on the show. It’s like, is Trump imitating the guy who imitates him? It’s that bad.

So that was just a reaction to the kind of style of the video, but we’ll talk now more seriously about what’s going on in this three-minute YouTube video that we all have seen now or heard now, and seen a lot of comments about.

AMANDA: And if you haven’t seen it, we’re going to put a link to the video so you can watch it. But just — let’s set the stage, Holly, for kind of what it looks like. I mean, you’ve got former President Trump standing there in, you know, his navy suit and a red and white striped tie in front of American flags, you know, clearly looking, quote/unquote, presidential, looking very official.

And he’s holding this brown seemingly leather-like book that is embossed on the front, Holy Bible, and beneath it, embossed with a waving American flag, and it’s called the God Bless the USA Bible. And it is this picture that starts this three minutes and change infomercial, selling the God Bless the USA Bible.


Segment 2: Reacting to the video pitch (starting at 08:11)

AMANDA: So, Holly, we are going to play some of the segments of this three-minute video and then offer some of our reactions to this ad.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: (audio clip) I’m proud to be partnering with my very good friend Lee Greenwood — Who doesn’t love his song, “God Bless the USA”? — in connection with promoting the God Bless the USA Bible. This Bible is the King James Version and also includes our Founding Father documents.


Yes, the Constitution, which I’m fighting for every single day very hard to keep Americans protected; also the Bill of Rights; the Declaration of Independence; and the Pledge of Allegiance are all part of this God Bless the USA Bible, and it’s very important and very important to me. I want to have a lot of people have it. You have to have it for your heart, for your soul.

HOLLY: Well, if you are an SNL-watcher and you didn’t know what I was talking about, I think you probably do now. That, You’ve got to have it, somebody needs to have it — it sounded very much like the SNL impersonator of Donald Trump.

But, you know, what struck me about this beginning part, Amanda, in addition to that — the theatrics of it and the style of it — is sort of this almost kind of desperate sales pitch. You know, you’ve got to drop the name of Lee Greenwood first. You’ve got to mention the song, and, that is a very popular song. It’s been around so long. It’s played at all kinds of different events, you know. It’s easy to sing along with.

He’s got to first say, Let me establish that I’m working with Lee Greenwood, because we know that there’s licensing and money involved here. And, you know, he’s got to first like establish this with his audience, in a way that is just totally commercial. And that theme comes back in later and in the end.

But the most important part for our discussion, of course, is that after doing that, what makes this Bible special, he says, is not only the affiliation with that song that so many people enjoy but that it has these other documents in it, these secular documents that are part of our founding story or part of our — what some people would call our civic religion, the Pledge of Allegiance, and they’re all mixed in together.

And, Amanda, that reminds me of the very definition of Christian nationalism, at least the one that we use, that we find is most helpful to engage people in conversation as we lead the campaign Christians Against Christian Nationalism.

AMANDA: That’s right. And that definition is: Christian nationalism is a political ideology and a cultural framework that tries to merge the identities of Americans and Christians. And here we have both the political ideology part, where you have former President Trump as the leader of the Republican Party on one hand, and you have the cultural framework piece. You’ve got — using music. You have selling Bibles, you know — that part of like being an American means owning a Bible, and not just any Bible, but this particular Trump-endorsed, God Bless the USA Bible.

And part of that merging of political and religious identity is also expressed, as you note, with the inclusion of the founding documents. And, again, this follows directly from our recent episode on, “But… is it Christian nationalism?”, when we talked not only about the using the Bible as a prop — which this Bible is absolutely a prop in this video — but also in this idea that somehow the founding documents were divinely inspired.

And so to put the founding documents in with holy Scripture, which many if not most Christians believe was divinely inspired, is a physical representation of this merging of Christianity and American civil religion into one book and selling it as if it’s a religious book.

HOLLY: Let’s listen to a little bit more.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: (audio clip) Many of you have never read them and don’t know the liberties and rights you have as Americans and how you are being threatened to lose those rights. It’s happening all the time. It’s a very sad thing that’s going on in our country, but we’re going to get it turned around.


Religion and Christianity are the biggest things missing from this country, and I truly believe that we need to bring them back, and we have to bring them back fast. I think it’s one of the biggest problems we have. That’s why our country’s going haywire. We’ve lost religion in our country.

HOLLY: This really picks up an important theme, and that is this idea that we see as part of Christian nationalism, and that is creating a fear that something is being lost in America that could be found if one embraced this Christian nation myth. And he’s mixing a lot of things up here, but he’s clearly playing to some kind of fear and doing that by saying that, you know, Christianity is under attack somehow. It’s definitely bizarre, though, that he says it’s missing.

AMANDA: Right. I mean, I think — well, first, he’s equating religion with Christianity, whereas we know Christianity is one form of religion, and of course, there’s incredible diversity even within the Christian faith.

But saying — suggesting that Christianity unites us as Americans, which as we’ve said before, is just simply not the case. And it is not Christianity that brings us together but rather our national identity. And he is, again, merging religious and national identities in making that suggestion.

The idea that there’s a lack of religiosity in the United States is simply not reflected by the experiences of millions and millions of Americans who express their religion every day, many of them being Christian but many of them adhering to other faiths and worshipping according to their own faith traditions.

Let’s play another clip from the video.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: (audio clip) 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. This Bible is a reminder that the biggest thing we have to bring back America and to make America great again is our religion. Religion is so important. It’s so missing, but it’s going to come back and it’s going to come back strong, just like our country is going to come back strong.


In the end, we do not answer to bureaucrats in Washington. We answer to God in heaven. Christians are under siege. We must protect content that is pro-God. We love God, and we have to protect anything that is pro-God. We must defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the left-wing groups to silence, censor, or discriminate against us. We have to bring Christianity back into our lives and back into what will be again a great nation.

HOLLY: I’m sure many non-Christians will question this part of the infomercial where he asserts that every home needs a Bible. We could have a long debate about that. As a Baptist, I grew up in a house that had a lot of Bibles, a lot of different Bibles. You got a children’s Bible. I got the ones that are illustrated. I remember conversations about different translations and kind of what we learn from that.

So the idea of having a Bible in a home I could say is a positive good for someone who’s very interested in Christianity, someone who wants to study and learn about the faith. I could also say it’s nice to have a Bible in your home when you’re a non-Christian if you’re want to understand or know something about world religions, just like I might have a copy of the Quran in my house just as a matter of understanding the world, just like you would have some history books and hopefully some of the best novels, and, you know, if you’re pro-reading, pro-education, Bible’s a good thing to have.

But I don’t think that’s the point that former President Trump is making. Instead he gets quite explicit about people needing the Bible because he thinks Christianity is missing.

AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, yes, we are pro-reading. We are pro-books. We think that having books in a home is an important part of education for everyone living in that home. But, yeah. I think we’re giving former President Trump a lot of credit to read into that comment, because he’s really saying it, I think, in a more devotional way — that all Americans, he says, need a Bible in their home, because he suggests that all Americans need religion, and he is specifically talking about the Christian religion. And that’s deeply offensive as an idea.

HOLLY: Well, and having the Bible in their home, too — he’s saying that while he’s using the Bible as a prop, so it’s not like putting the Bible in your home makes you a Christian. It’s not like putting the Bible in your home makes you a better person or makes you somehow a follower of Christ or anything. It’s just in your house.

AMANDA: If only it were so easy, Holly.

HOLLY: Exactly.

AMANDA: If only we could just buy a book and that would check the box of Christianity, but that’s not the religion that we follow. It’s not the example, the very high example that Jesus set for us for what it means to love God and love our neighbor. And so I think this gets back to that idea of why was this video so offensive to so many people is that it cheapens our religion in trying to hawk this book in this way.

And then he turns from that part —

HOLLY: Sales pitch. Yeah.

AMANDA: — to again saying, you know, that only I can fix it. Right? Like this idea that we have to make America great again, and we’re going to do that by bringing religion back to the United States. And it’s missing, but it’s going to come back, and it’s going to come back strong, just like our country’s going to come back strong.

So, again, this merging, in himself, of political and religious leadership, that if we are to reelect him as president, we’re not just getting a president; we’re getting some kind of chief religious officer as well. It’s all very confusing, I think, in this part of the video.

I also got confused when he said we don’t answer to bureaucrats; we answer to God. And yet he is the chief bureaucrat here, arguing that we all have to answer to God. And he is the one who says that we have to prop up God in some way, that we have to be pro-God and protect God and defend God, as if God needs that kind of protection and defense by anyone, let alone former President Trump.

HOLLY: Yeah. He puts himself out there as both someone that can save God and someone who can save the founding vision, which he says is under attack and has to be somehow answered to with this vision of Christian nationalism.

AMANDA: Let’s play that part, Holly, and react.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: (audio clip) Our Founding Fathers did a tremendous thing when they built America on Judeo-Christian values. Now that foundation is under attack perhaps as never before. What can we do? Stand up, speak out, and pray that God will bless America again.


I’m proud to endorse and encourage you to get this Bible. We must make America pray again. Pray, get educated, get motivated, and stand with me and the legions of Americans asking God to bless our great nation, to bring our great nation back, and to make America great again.

AMANDA: So in saying this, former President Trump is invoking this core tenet of Christian nationalism, this mythology of the United States as a Christian nation, that is, one that was established by Christians in order to promote Christianity or sometimes Judeo-Christianity or Judeo-Christian values. Those are often code words that signal to someone this Christian nationalism ideology.

And so he’s weaving that piece in, along with, again, this victimhood, this idea that these values are under attack; we have to do something to defend them. And what do we do, Holly? Well, we buy his Bible, but then we also make America pray again. And, you know, this just doesn’t work. Right? Like one — you can’t make people pray, especially if you want any kind of authentic faith at all.

HOLLY: Right.

AMANDA: And so we have this authoritarian tendency creeping out here that the only way to put religion back in is to make people be religious, and I think we have signs of that in this short video.

HOLLY: It’s so strange to me, too — I was thinking about all those dusty Bibles in people’s houses that aren’t getting read. And I’m thinking now, this may add to them. But if you do crack open this and look at those documents, maybe you’ll see in the Constitution some of what we’ve talked about so often, Amanda, and that is how the actual words of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution undercut this idea that we are supposed to be some kind of “Christian nation” legally, that that was somehow the founding vision that is in the Constitution that he would protect.

So it’s undercut in the documents, but that doesn’t matter to this promotion of the myth that Trump is relying on to then basically scare people, say that they are — their country is under threat, because, you know, that’s not the America that we live in now.

AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, I’m pro-book. I’m pro-Constitution. I think every American should have a copy of the Constitution, preferably a separate copy, not incorporated into their holy scriptures, and one — even in a pocket-size Constitution. People can revisit these ideals of the founding document to have a better idea of what it means to be an American.

HOLLY: Sure.

AMANDA: But keeping that completely separate from one’s religion, I think, is vital to protecting religious freedom and to pushing back against Christian nationalism.

HOLLY: Then he ends the video with, again, another shout-out to Lee Greenwood. And I can’t help but think like some of the lawyers negotiated this, to make sure the licensing agreement was met by all the parties involved, all those who might benefit in some financial way. But he ends again with a strong sales pitch, and that’s why you need to do this. So — he even says, There you have it. Right?

AMANDA: Right. And I love that, Holly. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer. I think you’re right. I think you’re reading the contract between the lines here, and that’s exactly what this is. This is a business enterprise. And I think that’s what felt so icky, to use a technical term, to so many people who contacted us about the video and the people who wrote about it in different news outlets and reacted in different ways.

There was a ton of activity on X, formerly known as Twitter, around outrage about this video. And, you know, it’s important to note that this is not the first one of these so-called patriotic Bibles out there. There’s something called the Founders Bible that is associated with David Barton that’s been out for many years.

And we first heard about this God Bless the USA Bible a few years ago over some controversy about a first attempt to publish it, using the New International Version of the Bible. And that’s one translation that is certainly more readable than the King James Version. The King James Version is very antiquated English and, I think, not as in fashion in a lot of modern congregations.

And there was pushback from a number of authors who had connections to the publishing group Zondervan, including Dr. Jemar Tisby. And he wrote recently on his Substack, reminding us of this prior controversy. And that publishing house Zondervan owns the copyright to the New International Version — to the NIV translation itself — and so that’s why that was part of the controversy that ultimately stopped the publication of the God Bless America Bible through Zondervan.

So all that to say, there’s news here, and there’s also not that much new here about this story, about this attempt to have a patriotic Bible. I think what’s new and what caught so many people’s attention is the fact that former President Trump was the one who’s pushing it, and we know that he has a huge following. I would guess that Bible sales are going to go up because of his ad, because this is, as the website says, the only Bible endorsed by former President Trump.

HOLLY: As if the Bible needs Trump’s endorsement.

AMANDA: Exactly. Or if the Bible needs anyone’s endorsement. Right?



Segment 3: Understanding how this is part of a larger political strategy (starting at 26:44)

AMANDA: So, look, Holly, I had some hesitation about making an entire episode being our reactions to this Trump video, and that’s because I feel like there is a temptation to equate Christian nationalism with Donald Trump. And we talked about this in our “But…is it Christian nationalism?” episode, you know, that Christian nationalism came before Trump; it will outlive Trump, but that he has used it so much that it provides some of the most egregious examples.

HOLLY: Exactly.

AMANDA: But I do think — so that was my initial hesitation. But then I thought, you know, there is something about this that is sufficiently alarming as part of a larger political strategy that I thought it was definitely worth our conversation to drill into. And so I want to talk a little bit more about beyond just a laugh line, beyond just really good content for SNL, what about this video is concerning to our current political moment and to American democracy as we head into this pivotal election year?

HOLLY: That’s right. It’s probably the blatantness of it or the crassness of it that got so much attention. But it’s not just that. There are other people that are looking at it more closely now and saying, Wait a minute; we got to take this seriously. This is not just political theater. This is using religion, using Christianity in a way that is very harmful to the understanding of faith and to the understanding of who we are as Americans.

And I’ll say that as I was thinking about this video and the reactions to it — and like you’re doing now, Amanda, kind of separating what’s kind of the easy critique and what deserves a little bit more thought and continued conversation about it — I read this piece in The New York Times by Michael C. Bender, a political correspondent, that noted that it seems that in recent rallies for candidate Trump, that there’s been a shift, that he always ends the rallies now by changing the tone from this kind of raucous, kind of loud cheering rally, to a more somber tone, and that he sticks to the teleprompter, which, you know, that’s not something that we always see candidate Trump doing.

But The New York Times piece actually showed the video, how in event after event, he would turn to the teleprompter, ending his rally by reading from the teleprompter, calling for prayers, and then asserting, quote, “We are one movement, one people, one family, and one glorious nation under God.” And the writer said this is a stark example of this idea that he’s creating some kind of church of Trump.

So both in the style, that kind of turning it to a somber, sort of religious environment at the end, like Christians in the audience might reflect on or think seems comfortable, based upon their church experience, it sounds like that. But then you have this total fusion of messages.

That article provides a lot of description and also really unpacks the clear political undertaking of this effort and how Christian nationalism used in this way is just a tool, a tool that’s very harmful to the idea of Christianity and all the beauty and love and force that it can unleash in the world, as well as being something that is very harmful to our understanding of what it means to be an American and to be part of this faith freedom nation.

AMANDA: Yeah. And I’m grateful you brought that article to my attention, Holly. And my first reaction when I saw it was, well, this makes sense to me, because I feel like this is the next iteration of the Trump rally that’s learning from the last few years of ReAwaken America tour events, because there’s been a lot of commentary that basically when the campaign went dormant, you know, in those years when there wasn’t an active campaign for the presidency, a lot of those people funneled into the ReAwaken America tour.

And we know from those tour events that there was a thorough weaving in of Scripture, of preaching, of songs, even of baptisms, and so now that the Trump rallies are coming back, they’ve now integrated some of that religiosity into the Trump rallies themselves. And I think it’s very much a political strategy.

David French, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, wrote, I think, very well about what the strategy is, and I’m just going to quote here from his most recent opinion piece.

He writes, “The MAGA method is clear. First, it whips up its people into a religious frenzy. It lies to convince them that the Democrats are an existential threat to the country and the church. It tells worried Christians that the fate of the nation is at stake. Then, just as it builds up the danger from the Democrats, it constructs an idol of Trump, declaring his divine purpose and spreading the prophecies of his coming return. He is to be the instrument of divine vengeance against his foes, and his frenzied foot soldiers are eager to carry out his will. They march eagerly to culture war, flying the flag of the House of Trump.”

I think David French, unfortunately, gets it exactly right here. This has been my observed experience of what’s happening, and we’re seeing it play out, and this is an incredibly alarming trend because of this growing movement to elect Trump at all costs and to do it in the name of Jesus.

HOLLY: Well, I think the outrageousness of the video will not only continue to spark conversation and make some people maybe look more closely at the deeply dangerous nature of this political ideology, not just as a political tool but something that really can harm society, can really, you know, be infectious in dangerous ways. I’m thinking that it will inspire some people to want to speak up in ways that maybe they haven’t, and we certainly welcome those that will join us in our work as Christians against Christian nationalism to speak out against this ideology and to do the important work of protecting our democracy and our faith.

That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us. For more information, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.

AMANDA: Respecting Religion is produced and edited by Cherilyn Guy with editorial assistance from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons.

HOLLY: And you can learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org.

AMANDA: We’d love to hear from you. You can send both of us an email by writing to [email protected]. We’re also on social media @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on X, which used to be called Twitter, @AmandaTylerBJC.

HOLLY: And if you enjoyed this show, please share it with others. Take a moment to leave us a review or a five-star rating to help more people find it.

AMANDA: We also want to thank you for supporting this podcast. You can donate to these conversations by visiting the link in our show notes.

HOLLY: Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.