Many faith leaders, including the Episcopal bishop and Catholic archbishop of Washington, forcefully denounced President Trump's iconoclastic usage of the Bible and Christian shrines for photo ops as he sent the U.S. military into the streets of the capital and ordered peaceful protests violently dispersed. The response from evangelical leaders was mixed, but the ones most closely aligned with Trump were delighted.
"Every believer I talked to certainly appreciates what the president did and the message he was sending," Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a avid Trump supporter, told The New York Times. He gleefully told The Atlantic's McKay Coppins "it was completely appropriate for the president to stand in front of that church" and "by holding up the Bible, he was showing us that it teaches that, yes, God hates racism, it's despicable — but God also hates lawlessness."
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told Coppins that Trump's "presence sent the twin message that our streets and cities do not belong to rioters and domestic terrorists, and that the ultimate answer to what ails our country can be found in the repentance, redemption, and forgiveness of the Christian faith." Rev. Franklin Graham told The Washington Post he "was glad to see him stand in front of that church and hold up the word of God."
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Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical leader who has been advising Trump, said he, too, was glad to see the president hold up the closed Bible "like a boss," but added, "I hope peaceful protesters were not moved away with tear-gassing." And Pat Robertson, on the 700 Club, said now's the time for showing empathy and love, not military law and order or calling governors "jerks." "You just don't do that, Mr. President," he said. "It isn't cool."
"Trump doesn't quote anything from the Bible, he really just uses it as a pure symbol of partisan identity," Katherine Stewart, an expert on the religious right at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Times. "Authoritarianism frequently comes veiled in religion." Clemson University sociologists told The Atlantic the kind of Christian nationalism that drives Trump's evangelical base isn't about theology, "it's about identity, enforcing hierarchy, and order."
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