The problem with Trump’s $60 Bible and Biden’s rosary

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are salesmen — historically great ones, in fact. It’s not a knock. Waging a successful run for the White House, an achievement both men can boast, is a sales job of epic proportions. Successful presidential campaigns don’t just sell a laundry list of policy items, nor do they merely pander to individual identity groups, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton learned the hard way in 2016. Instead, they craft and promote a cohesive overarching vision capable of bringing together disparate parts and forming a majority coalition.  

So, it’s no surprise that both men have attempted to incorporate Christian symbols and themes in their campaign efforts despite having a tenuous relationship with the faith. After all, 68% of Americans still identify as Christian, according to the most recent Gallup survey. And as part of a sales tactic for their overarching vision, Biden and Trump strive to appear welcoming to Christians of various stripes. 

Biden, for one, regularly brandishes his rosary in front of cameras and fondly recounts his Irish Catholic upbringing to justify his political philosophy. However, his self-presentation as a working-class “Catholic Democrat” in the mid-20th century mold is suffused with exaggeration and artifice. Biden may have been born in blue-collar Scranton, Pennsylvania, but he was raised in a Boston suburb and attended Archmere Academy, an elite Catholic prep school. 

And while Biden describes himself as a devout Catholic, he has, for decades, flouted church teaching from the highest public perch, particularly on matters of life. In 2019, the formerly pro-life Democrat announced opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding for abortion. Today, Biden supports codifying Roe v. Wade. In both cases, he could not possibly be more at odds with his church. Last week, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., rightly described his most famous parishioner as a “cafeteria Catholic” who picks and chooses which church teachings fit his fancy.

For his own part, Trump’s courting of evangelical Christians has been an indispensable component of his political rise. Among his savviest moves was the decision to release a list of possible judges he’d nominate to the Supreme Court if elected president, all of whom would be pleasing to evangelicals. Many have come to see him as a bulwark for traditionalism against the onslaught of cultural progressivism in recent years.

But Trump has also consistently used the Bible as a photo-op prop, never more famously than during the George Floyd riots outside of St. John’s Church. And in late March, Trump began promoting the sale of a “God Bless the USA Bible” only a month after promoting a new sneaker line in the same fashion. 

Of course, it’s impossible to say what’s in Trump’s heart when it comes to Christianity — the same is true of everyone. But Trump has publicly demonstrated that he neither understands nor practices basic precepts of the faith, which should raise suspicion about the sincerity of such efforts. For instance, Trump has frequently compared his legal problems to the passion and death of Jesus. He has also said that he’s never asked God for forgiveness — ever. 

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said, ironically enough, at the Family Leadership Summit. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture.” 

While Christians should be pleased when politicians court their vote through sincere engagement, they should be wary of any attempt by a politician to wield the faith as a campaign tool. Such behavior reduces the divine to the earthly and exalts earthly leaders to the status of the divine. 

When Jesus flipped tables and drove money changers out of the temple, it wasn’t because he despised commercial activity but rather because commercial activity had no place in the temple. His response when asked whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar further stresses the point: We are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God not because they are coequal, but because their kingdoms are of entirely different orders. They are not on equal footing. God is above all things. When this point is lost or misunderstood, the sin of idolatry takes hold. As history teaches us, that’s when things go sideways fast.

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But the more obvious point is that it is deeply offensive to see sacramentals such as Bibles and rosaries used as tools for consolidating earthly power or, worse, for turning a profit. The true purpose of both items is as high above a presidential campaign as heaven is above Earth. 

Christians shouldn’t allow anyone to tell us otherwise.

Peter Laffin is a contributor at the Washington Examiner. His work has also appeared in RealClearPolitics, the Catholic Thing, and the National Catholic Register.

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