Bible Diversity on Display at Presidential Ceremony

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, prayed during the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Photos: CSPAN screen captures)

The Bible was on display at President Trump's inauguration - different versions, different texts, different symbolisms.

Three Bibles had the symbolic value of tying the president and vice president to the honored past.

Vice President Pence had his hand on President Reagan's King James Version.

It was opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

President Trump had his hand placed on two Bibles. One was a gift from his mother. The other was President Abraham Lincoln's Bible.

Six clergy prayed at Trump's inauguration - five Christians and one Jew - the most clergy to pray at any presidential inauguration.

Perhaps the multitude of faith leaders was meant to signal that Trump is a man of faith. Or perhaps it symbolically suggests that the new administration knows it badly needs a divine blessing.

New York Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan quoted from a book from the Apocrypha, which Protestants do not include as part of their Bible, but which Catholics do. He read from Wisdom of Solomon 9.

"God of our ancestors and Lord of mercy, you have made all things. And in your providence have charged us to rule the creatures produced by you, to govern the world in holiness and righteousness, and to render judgment with integrity of heart. Give us wisdom, for we are your servants, weak and short-lived, lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws. Indeed, though one might be perfect among mortals, if wisdom which comes from you be lacking, we count for nothing," read Dolan from Wisdom of Solomon 9.

He concluded, "Now with you is wisdom, who knows your will and was there when you made the world, who understands what is pleasing in your eyes, what is conformable with your commands, send her forth from your holy heavens. From your glorious throne, dispatch her that she may be with us and work with us, that we may grasp what is pleasing to you. For she knows and understands all things and will guide us prudently in our affairs and self-guard us by her glory."

Samuel Rodriguez, a Hispanic and Assemblies of God pastor, read from Matthew 5:3-11 and Matthew 5:14-16.

Using the New Living Translation, Rodriguez said, "God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."

He continued with the passage about being the light of the world.

Another minister, Paula White-Cain, referred to Proverbs 21:1.

While not in the Bible, she prayed, "Let your favor be upon us this one nation under God," apparently using a fragment from Psalm 90:17 from the New American Standard Bible.

Bishop Wayne T. Jackson prayed that God would bless Trump with the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph and the meekness of Christ.

He closed by quoting gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, "Oh deep in my heart, I do believe. The Lord will see us through, I do believe. We are on our way to victory, I do believe. We will walk hand in hand, I do believe. We shall live in peace, I do believe."

Following Jackson was Rabbi Marvin Heir, who wove together several passages from Psalms.

He said, "When you eat the labor of our hand you are praise worthy" (Psalm 128:2) and "He who sows with tears shall reap in joy" (Psalm 126:5).

From Psalm 137:1 and 137:5, he read, "By the rivers of Babylon we wept as we remembered Zion" and "If I forget thee of Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skills."

Evangelical Franklin Graham stepped to the podium and said, "Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God's blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform (for his inaugural speech)."

Reading from The New International Version, Graham cited 1 Timothy 2:1-6, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people."

During his inaugural address, Trump quoted Psalms 133:1, using the New International Version.

"The Bible tells us, 'How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity,'" said Trump. "We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity."

In the ceremony, three individuals cited or quoted texts from Psalms. One read from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Another quoted from 1 Timothy. More than four different versions of the Bible were used.

Altogether, the prioritized texts and distinct Bible versions represent some of the religious diversity in America.

One would hope that these biblical texts shape President Trump's moral perspective, rather than being expressions of the inauthentic faith of civil religion.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. Order his new book, "The Disturbances." It is available as either a paperback or an e-book.

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