American Bible Society leader: Don’t use the Bible as a political ‘prop’

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both posed with Bibles this week, moves that seem political. It’s a bad idea, said an American Bible Society leader.

(RNS) — The American Bible Society has added its voice to those urging caution about proper use of the Bible in political settings after President Donald Trump held a Bible aloft outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington earlier this week.

“In this time of pandemic fear and social isolation, in this time of racial injustice and senseless violence, in this time of economic uncertainty and generational pain, we should be careful not to use the Bible as a political symbol, one more prop in a noisy news cycle,” said Whitney T. Kuniholm, a senior vice president of the Philadelphia-based society, in a blog post.

Asked if the statement was a response to a specific government leader, Kuniholm noted the conversations that started after Trump’s appearance.

“The President’s visit on Monday to St. John’s Episcopal Church with a Bible in-hand sparked a lot of dialogue across the nation about the Bible,” Whitney T. Kuniholm, a senior vice president of the Philadelphia-based society, told Religion News Service in a statement.

“Since Monday, other politicians have referenced the Bible as well. At American Bible Society, we believe this is an opportunity to encourage conversation and be a resource to share the life-affirming message of God’s Holy Word.”

Trump is not the only politician to use the Bible as a prop recently. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, read from a Bible this week when asked about Trump’s photo opportunity.

Kuniholm noted in the blog post that “leaders of all political stripes have solemnly held up the Bible and used it as inspiration in our most difficult moments.” But he said “the Bible is more than a symbol. It’s a message of unity, justice, hope, love, faith, and liberty. It’s a message of Good News for all people. That’s what gives it power.”

The society, founded in 1816, offers free access to a Bible app that can be downloaded on digital devices. Through June 15, it plans to ship a free Bible to U.S. residents who request one through its website.

“At American Bible Society we call Americans of all faiths or no faith at all to look beyond the symbol and read the Bible for yourself,” Kuniholm said.

The post came two days after Trump walked over to St. John’s Episcopal Church from the White House and held a Bible aloft for cameras after law enforcement cleared clergy and demonstrators from the site.

The president’s use of the Bible in particular has drawn national attention and widespread condemnation: Numerous faith leaders have condemned his photo opportunity and treatment of demonstrators, including heads of entire Christian denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.