“Mr. President, would you sign this?,” a 10-year-old Alabama girl asked as she held out her pink camouflage Bible to President Donald Trump. The president and first lady signed the cover of her Bible and signed another for her friend, said the girl’s mother, Emily Pike. Others quickly joined in.
The Trumps signed the Bibles — along with other items, like hats and $100 bills — as they met with survivors of the deadly Alabama tornados at a local church on Friday. The Bible signings were criticized by some, but other religious leaders say it’s not a big deal, noting that Trump was simply doing as asked.
Quick to judge from afar
Unsurprisingly, journalists, activists, and Trump critics were quick to mock the move on Twitter. Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a self-described “Expert on the Religious Left” and founder of The Resistance Prays, tweeted: “‘Signing bibles’ is not a Christian tradition in any church I’ve ever encountered.”
But others replied that having Bibles signed, usually by famous preachers and evangelists, is an old practice in some circles.
In the independent Baptist Church of my youth it was a big deal to get bigger name preachers to sign your Bible.
— mdsimants (@mdsimants) March 9, 2019
Not so fast
Rusty Sowell, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, AL, where the Trumps visited, said the president’s visit was “very uplifting” and would “help bring attention” to the hard-hit community.
Noted Dallas pastor and Trump supporter Robert Jeffress said signing Bibles is “very appropriate.” He added that people ask him to do it “all the time,” the New York Times reported.
Plus, Trump wasn’t handing out pre-signed Bibles, said James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. “Too much is being made out of something that doesn’t deserve that kind of attention,” he said.
“It would’ve been worse if he had said no because it would’ve seemed unkind, and this was at least one way he could show his concern along with his visit,” said Bill Leonard, the founding dean and professor of divinity emeritus at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “In this setting, where tragedy has occurred and where he comes for this brief visit, we need to have some grace about that for these folks.”
It’s been done before
Leonard also noted that “it’s important to remember that signing Bibles is an old tradition, particularly in Southern churches,” the AP reported.
Other presidents and celebrities have also signed Bibles on occasion. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and even SCOTUS Justice John Roberts have all signed Bibles, Peter Manseau, the Smithsonian’s curator of religion, told the Washington Post.
Football star Tim Tebow, who is popular in Christian circles, has signed Bibles, as have Duck Dynasty stars. Evangelist Billy Graham even signed a Bible and gave it to Trump himself in 2005.
In the end, this is much ado about nothing. Bibles have been signed before, even by Obama. Trump wasn’t handing out pre-signed Bibles like campaign merch — he was doing what he could to offer support and empathy to a community ravaged by disaster.
And imagine the headlines if Trump had refused that little girl?