A new Bible that includes the U.S. Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance is generating controversy before it has even hit the market.
It has already prompted cries of blasphemy and concerns that the book will promote Christian nationalism, the idea that America is and should remain a Christian nation.
The Bible will also include lyrics from singer Lee Greenwood’s hit song “God Bless the USA,” which topped pop charts after Sept. 11, 2001. Using the historic King James Version, the “God Bless the USA Bible” has about 600 preorders for $49.99 and will ship in September, said Hugh Kirkpatrick, who said he wanted to inspire unity in the country.
People in 30 of the 50 states have preordered the Bible, with higher concentration of preorders coming from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida and Texas, said Kirkpatrick, who leads a Nashville company called Elite Source Pro and is in the process of choosing a printer. Kirkpatrick said the Bible is not a response to any movement in particular, including nationwide debates over how the country should talk about its historical founding, such as former president Donald Trump’s panning of the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and an academic movement known as critical race theory.
“What we’re trying to do is show children who aren’t being taught about these things, how these things came together,” Kirkpatrick said. “At the bottom line, it was just to let future generations know how this thing called America started. Why did they lean on it? What influence did they have at that time?”
The Bible and government documents have often been weaponized in important debates over America’s history, said Anthea Butler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania with a new book called “White Evangelical Racism.”
“Even if he didn’t mean it to be, this is one more flash point for trying to deal with the contentious points in America’s history,” Butler said.
Putting the Bible and the Constitution together in a book can present the texts as if they are both inspired by God, Butler said.
“You put a document made for a nation up against what many people believe are the words of God and say those things are equal,” Butler said. “Are you telling us these documents are equal? They’re not even meant to be compared. For many Christians, it would be offensive.”
The Bible received backlash among some evangelicals recently after it was reported that Zondervan, a major Christian publisher, might be involved because Kirkpatrick was attempting to seek for the project licensing for translation of the New International Version. In response, the publisher said that it wasn’t intending to be involved.
“Zondervan is not publishing, manufacturing or selling the ‘God Bless the USA Bible,’ according to a spokesperson at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “While we were asked for a manufacturing quote, ultimately the project was not a fit for either party, and the website and marketing of the NIV project were premature.”
Several prominent Zondervan authors, including Lisa Sharon Harper, Jemar Tisby and Soong-Chan Rah, wrote that they were glad their publisher won’t be involved in the project.
“We don’t need to add anything to the Bible,” the authors stated. “We just need to live out what it already says.”
The new Bible is a clear symbol of Christian nationalism, said Paul Miller, a professor at Georgetown University who is working on a forthcoming book on nationalism, Christianity and American identity.
“Will there be a market for people who enjoy that symbolism? I think there will be,” Miller said.
The Bible includes a passage in the Book of Revelation that says anyone who adds to the words of the Bible will be cursed, which leads many Christians to believe that adding anything to scripture would be blasphemous, Miller said.
Miller, who has served in the U.S. Army, said that expressions of Christian nationalism tend to emerge in churches on such holidays as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July because they often conflate Christianity with American patriotism. Churches will sometimes sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which includes the lyrics: “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” in which some American Christians equate the role of the American soldier with the role of Jesus on the cross.
It’s unclear if Christian nationalism is on the rise, Miller said, but he believes it’s become more explicit.
“It’s more vocal and more self-aware of what it is and unapologetic,” he said.
The Bible, already used in important political moments like swearing-in ceremonies, became even more politicized when Trump used it for photo opportunities during his presidency. He signed Bibles for survivors of a tornado in Alabama in 2019 and held the Bible up in front of a church after protesters were forcibly removed from the area near the White House.
Andrew Cheung, pastor of Washington Community Fellowship, said he fears the new Bible is another example of the book being co-opted by a nationalist view.
“We talk about things in the world and our nation but not to make them more holy than scripture. I think we can be grateful for our nation and the freedoms and the empowerment that’s enshrined in our laws,” said Cheung, whose church is affiliated with the Mennonite tradition. “Reading scripture as God’s telling redemptive work in the world allows us to critique parts of our nation and history that don’t necessarily reflect that honoring of human life.”
The new Bible is part of a long tradition of specialty Bibles, including “The American Patriot’s Bible” published by Thomas Nelson and “The Green Bible” published by Zondervan. As many Americans recognize the symbolic power of the Bible, publishers are constantly finding new ways to sell different versions that tap into people’s identity, such as a Bible for teenagers.
What’s unique about specialty Bibles that connect America’s founding with God’s providential actions in history is that they usually do not call into question how America was founded and what it has been complicit in, said Aaron Griffith, a historian of religion who wrote the book “God’s Law and Order.”
Many Christians hold a particular view of how America was in line with the story of Israel and part of God’s plan in history, Griffith said, and this historical emphasis tends to exclude other alternative accounts of how the Bible has been used for things such as justifying slavery.
“If someone wants to showcase a sense of connection or political connection that complements their identity, purchasing a specialty Bible is a great way to do that,” he said. “It’s not as much a theological calculation as much as it is an economic one.”