Gonzaga University holds an annual conference that focuses on Hate Studies, the study of hate in its various societal incarnations. The theme of this year’s conference is: “engaging with communities for justice.” Several months ago I submitted a paper proposal, and it was just accepted yesterday. My original title and abstract are provided below.
Title: When Words of Life Inspire Hate: Trump’s Nationalistic Interpretation of the Bible
Nearly everyone has heard of Donald Trump’s embarrassing gaffe at Liberty University when he tried to quote the Bible during his speech, failing to say 2 Corinthians correctly. Many listeners took this to be an obvious sign of his unfamiliarity with the Bible, but his followers were completely unfazed by it. The 2017 Presidential Election cycle was one of the most significant elections in the history of the United States, and Trump succeeded in polarizing voters. Unfortunately, one of the tools he weaponized in his bid to woo the American people was the Bible. Trump has cited passages like 1 John 4:12 which says: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Likewise, he cited Psalm 133:1 in his Inauguration speech, saying: “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” There are several other passages from the Bible that Trump has used to describe his political philosophy (e.g., Exodus 21:22-25), but the element that unites them is the extremely nationalistic bent of his biblical interpretation. It is the contention of this paper that the appeal of Trump’s use of the Bible is in his co-opting of religious language, filling it with a nationalism (i.e. Christians/Israel = America) that helps him justify decisions that are deeply problematic. Trump interprets the Bible in a way that empowers him to “preach” a message that inspires hate in the hearts of America.