A newly-licensed “God Bless the USA Bible”—billed as “the ultimate American Bible”—includes between its covers, in addition to holy Scripture: the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the handwritten chorus to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Elite Source Pro, along with other producers of custom Bibles, is allowed to license the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible from Zondervan for private use. (Zondervan owns the rights to the NIV, a popular English translation first released in 1978.)
But really, what is an “American” Bible?
In the fall of 2020 Hugh Kirkpatrick, president of Elite Source Pro, and some friends were troubled by a ‘divide’ in the public. “[S]ome people started seeing pro-American images like the flag, the bald eagle, the statue of liberty as weaponized tools of the Republican party,” Kirkpatrick said… “and we didn’t understand that.”
Concerned that public schools were allegedly no longer teaching American history, their answer was to create the “God Bless the USA Bible.”
Keenly aware that critics will connect this Bible to White Christian nationalism, Kirkpatrick claims that the publication is meant to get more people reading the Bible and the country’s founding documents. And while Kirkpatrick claims that this publication has nothing to do with current politics, simply saying this does not make it so.
One problem, among many, with the unholy wedding of politics and religion—ironically identified in one of those very founding documents—is how White Christian nationalism has been knit into the founding documents of this country. So this forthcoming publication begs the question, “In the places where the word of God conflicts with these political documents, when will Scripture be authoritative?”
Not when a sitting President signs Bibles on their covers for survivors of deadly tornadoes in Alabama. Not when a President addresses the nation following a violent march by white superlists in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying, “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and adding, “there’s blame on both sides.” Not when rioters storming the nation’s capital are waving flags and carrying crosses in the name of Jesus and Donald Trump. Increasingly, white nationalists are using Christian symbols to support their dangerous and ungodly ideology. To say that a Bible joining religion and politics has nothing to do with current politics is naïve, at best, and dishonest, at worst.
In our extensive work among survivors of disaster, we can’t help but be deeply distressed by the mixing of nationalism and faith.
Songwriter and performer Lee Greenwood is the key endorser of the “God Bless the USA” Bible. Greenwood’s 1984 song “God Bless the USA” was popular after the Gulf War and flourished again in 2001 after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Most recently it was used as a popular chorus at Trump rallies. But putting music to the idea that God has blessed this nation is now over a century old. Irving Berlin, the Jewish composer of “God Bless America” that was released in 1918, originally included an introduction to the song that is now rarely used:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
The introduction sets up the familiar lyrics to “God Bless America” as a prayer seeking God’s blessing on the United States of America:
“God bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her, through the night with the light from above.”
While there’s nothing particularly incendiary about the sung prayer (we should pray for our country), it begs the same question children ask when they discover that countless professional sports teams bow in the locker room before a game to ask God for help: “Does God help one team win over others?”
The answer is likely “no.”
And therein lies the most alarming concern we share about this “American Bible.” It promotes the myth of an American exceptionalism that is founded on God blessing this nation in a way that God has not or does not blessed other nations. Within our nation, there is wide belief that this country “belongs” to those who look like its earliest European settlers/invaders. And a Bible that assigns God’s blessing to include their violent efforts puts other citizens, especially Black and Brown ones, at risk today. And the myth of American exceptionalism that is trumpeted by this new “Bible” also puts at risk other vulnerable peoples around the globe who are not included among the chosen Americans in this disconcerting “American Bible.”
We agree with Kirkpatrick that it’s essential to know the content of this nation’s founding documents. We do not believe, however, that they should be published as though they are an extension of God’s word.