First up from the God Machine this week is a curious twist in a curious Biblical journey for the leading Republican presidential candidate.
Donald Trump’s clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some conservative voters before, and last summer, the New York Republican refused to say which parts of Scripture are important to him, saying it was “private.” (Asked whether he’s drawn more to the New or Old Testaments, Trump said, “Both.”)
In time, however, there’s been an evolution in his approach. When Trump sat down with TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, the candidate said, “There’s so many things that you can learn from it (the Bible). Proverbs, the chapter ‘never bend to envy.’ I’ve had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy.”
BuzzFeed reported this week that Trump is now going a little further, moving past his concerns about “privacy” and telling a radio host that his favorite Scriptural lesson is, of all things, an “eye for an eye.”
“Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?” asked host Bob Lonsberry on WHAM 1180 AM.Trump responded, “Well, I think many. I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people, look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”
I’m not sure Trump fully appreciates what the Book of Matthew was getting at – “eye for an eye” is about proportionality and restraint, not lashing out at enemies – but he’s clearly changed his posture on religious familiarity over the course of the campaign.
Trump is clearly not yet close to anything resembling fluency in matters of faith, but his campaign team probably told him months ago that Republican audiences didn’t want to hear him say that the Bible is his favorite book – for reasons he didn’t want to talk about.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Following up on a story we discussed last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) this week vetoed a bill to make the Christian Bible the official book of his state. The Republican governor, relying on guidance from the state attorney general, considered the proposal unconstitutional.
* At Liberty University’s December convocation, Jerry Falwell Jr. said his evangelical students should arm themselves to “end those Muslims.” People noticed: “Several Northern Virginia high school debate teams said they will boycott the state championships at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., made a speech in December that many saw as threatening to Muslims.”
* The U.S. military continues to change and become more diverse: “The Army has ruled that three Sikh enlistees will be allowed to serve while keeping their distinctive beards and turbans. The three Sikhs filed a lawsuit seeking to end a military policy that generally bans beards. The Sikh religion requires men to grow beards as an article of their faith.”
* I wish he wouldn’t do things like this: “John Kasich’s travels in New York brought him yesterday to a Jewish bookstore, where he met students of the Talmud. Having thus met people who spend their entire day scrutinizing religious texts, Kasich’s reaction was to ask them if they were aware of facts about those texts that they probably knew as very small children. ‘They sold [Joseph] into slavery, and that’s how the Jews got to Egypt. Right? Did you know that?’” (The answer, obviously, is of course they knew that.)