- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2021

A proposed Bible that would bind the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance and the lyrics to a decades-old patriotic song along with the Old and New Testaments in a single volume is revving up rancor from those calling it a “Trump Bible.”

Critics are pushing an online petition asking Christian publishing giant Zondervan to cancel its licensing of the “God Bless the USA Bible,” bashing the proposed edition for accentuating American nationalism and exceptionalism.

What’s more, the planned release of the volume for the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is likely to inflame anti-Muslim sentiments, critics warn.

The new edition — available for preorder online at $49.99 — is the brainchild of Elite Source Pro, a marketing firm in Nashville that secured country singer and songwriter Lee Greenwood’s endorsement.

Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” topped country charts in 1984 and has become a patriotic staple since. As the Religion Unplugged website first reported, the song was also prominent at Trump campaign rallies.

According to an online petition started by Utah-based evangelical John Morehead, combining the Bible with secular documents creates a “toxic mix” that won’t promote interfaith understanding. At press time, the petition was on track to garnering 100 of the 800 signatures projected as a goal.

Speaking with The Washington Times from Salt Lake City, Mr. Morehead said, “Christians who embrace Christian nationalism was the leading predictor of negative feelings towards Muslims. When I see things that fuel the embrace of Christian nationalism, and its related anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, this ‘God Bless the USA Bible’ could be a negative thing and reinforce the challenges of evangelicalism.”

Hugh Kirkpatrick, Elite Source Pro’s president, said the project’s goal was to “create unity” around American values, and said he was a bit surprised about complaints linking the volume to the former president, who is not mentioned in the book. Combining the Scriptures with the historical texts was intended to make those documents accessible to readers, he added.

“We didn’t write the [founding] documents, we didn’t write the Bible,” Mr. Kirkpatrick asserted. The project was simply “based on Lee Greenwood’s song.”

Speaking to The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Mr. Greenwood supported Mr. Kirkpatrick’s view: “I couldn’t believe there’d be a better match than faith and patriotism,” he told the publication.

At least some of the controversy surrounds Zondervan’s licensing of the New International Version of the Bible for this project.

First released in 1978, the NIV, as it’s known, is said to be “the most widely read contemporary English translation” of the Scriptures, according to MinistryWatch.com, which recently reported “more than 1 billion copies” of the NIV are in print today.

Although Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, the News Corp. unit that’s printing the Bible for Mr. Kirkpatrick’s firm, handles commercial licensing of the NIV text, the copyright is owned by Colorado Springs-based Biblica, which was originally known as the New York Bible Society, an evangelical group.

Mr. Morehead, who leads a group called Multifaith Matters, acknowledged that in a free market, Zondervan could license the NIV text and HarperCollins could print the Bibles for Elite Source Pro to sell, more than moneymaking should be considered.

“I also think that I have an ethical and theological responsibility within a free market to speak out publicly,” Mr. Morehead explained. “To say that some products produced in a free market, that reinforce, especially in a post-Trump era [that] our brand in that market that isn’t very good right now,” he added, referring to the public perception of “evangelical” in some quarters as being synonymous with right-leaning politics.

That perception hit home with Baylor University history professor Elesha Coffman, who decried the proposed project: “I would love for Americans to become more knowledgeable about history, but ripping historical documents out of their context and packaging them with sacred texts rooted in very different contexts does violence to both. The Constitution was not God-breathed. It is not Scripture,” she said.

And Catherine Brekus, who teaches the history of religion in America at Harvard Divinity School, said that by putting the American documents in the same volume as the Bible, a unique American predisposition is continued.

“I think it’s part of a larger American tendency, since the Revolution, to portray the Bible as being an essentially republican text, or a democratic text,” Ms. Brekus said.

The planned book apparently “builds on a long historical tradition as the Bible being consonant with American values. … This is a kind of imperialistic claim, and it certainly does suggest that the United States does have some special relationship to God.”

Mr. Kirkpatrick is unfazed by the petition drive and the criticism.

“I totally understand it. I’m kind of glad they’re saying that,” he said. “I believe in freedom, and they have the freedom to say it. What they’re doing is the whole reason we are what we are. I may not agree with them, but they have the freedom to have their opinions. We knew at some point, somebody, somewhere would say they aren’t going to like this.”

Despite the controversy, there’s likely a place in the market for the new volume, said Wayne Hastings, a Christian publishing expert who piloted an earlier, controversial work, 2009’s “American Patriot’s Bible” into print at Nashville‘s Thomas Nelson firm.

“I remember where I was when I saw the initial reports and the Towers fall, and twenty years is a significant milestone,” Mr. Hastings recalled in an email. “Bibles give comfort and if people are comforted by God’s Word, that’s wonderful.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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