Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Day 86 Nat'l Emergency: Religion and Politics Don't Mix

I wonder, exactly what type of Bible did Ivanka Trump pull out of her $1,540 MaxMara handbag for her father to use in his photo-op appearance Monday before St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House?

Was it an Old Testament edition? Ivanka is, after all, Jewish. Presumably if she were bringing a Bible from her home or White House office it would be of the Old Testament variety, a volume where God is mostly demanding and judicious though often quick to exact punishment on transgressors. A real “law and order” deity full of fire and brimstone (God had not yet formulated tear gas, though there were plenty of times Israelites were awash in tears). 

An Old Testament god would kinda fit Donald Trump’s makeup. Well, maybe not so judicious. But surely demanding and quick to seek retribution for real or perceived offenses.

The cover and spine of the Bible he held offered no clues. The cover said “Holy Bible.” The spine read, “Revised Standard Version.”

If I had to guess, I’d say it contained the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. The New Testament is the one in which God is said to be merciful and compassionate. Calls for brotherly love (which also is in the Old Testament but doesn’t get as much play as when it is attributed to Jesus). 

For Trump to walk unmolested to St. John’s across Lafayette Park, protesters exercising their constitutional right of peaceful assembly were teargassed and driven away by law enforcement. Perhaps Trump’s brandishing of the Bible in front of the church partially damaged in rioting the night before was intended to convey reconciliation with those demonstrating against repeated police brutality, even murder, of unarmed Black Americans. 

If so, the message from on high was not well received by those beyond Trump’s evangelical base. He brandished the Bible like a trophy to be hawked to his audience. He neither carried the Bible like a holy book nor did he read a comforting passage from it. The Bible was simply a prop for a photo op. 

Not all evangelicals found his actions appropriate. Televangelist Pat Robertson repudiated Trump’s actions. Leaders of other Christian denominations did, as well, including the bishop of the church where Trump made his stand. 

Jewish clergy criticized him, too. The editor of The Jewish Week/Times of Israel, Andrew Silow-Carroll, wrote, “And then that photo-op, a futile gesture that said nothing so much as: ‘Here I stand, in front of a building I seldom enter, holding a book I rarely read, playing a role I’ll never fully understand.’”  

Trump has placed the military in an uncomfortable, rarely assigned, mission—policing American citizens. Past and present leaders of the military said it was uncalled for and that Trump was a threat to the Constitution.

The Internet has exploded in mocking Trump. My nephew Ari reposted the following from Military Veterans Against Fascism: 

“Why did the chicken cross the road?
“To pose for a blasphemous photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church.”

Father Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic priest, asked on Twitter, “Has the Bible ever been used in a more disingenuous and exploitative way?”

Make America Great Again has been Trump’s rallying cry for more than five years. At home and abroad, sadly, we have stepped back further from that ideal. 

For those who do not watch CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell, take two minutes to view the attached clip, a reading of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again.” Written more than eight decades ago, its message is still current and relevant: