President Donald Trump traveled to Alabama on Friday to comfort those who had been devastated by the tornado outbreak last weekend that killed 23 people. During the trip, the president raised eyebrows for what appeared to be an unusual gesture, as he signed some Bibles. He didn’t do this out of the blue though. It seems a 12-year-old boy got the ball rolling when he handed Trump his Bible and asked him to sign it at a Southern Baptist church in Opelika. A 10-year-old also asked him to sign her Bible. He doesn’t appear to have been the only one. Video posted online seems to show first lady Melania Trump also signing Bibles.
The critics immediately pounced, with some pointing out that the only person who usually signs a book is the author. Others called it offensive for someone to sign their own name on a Bible. “Growing up in a religious home, it would’ve been seen as blasphemous as having someone signing your own name,” Jamie Aten, an evangelical and psychologist at Wheaton College, told the Washington Post. “Maybe you penned your own name so people knew it was yours,” he added. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Atten may have been shocked by the move, but it isn’t as odd as you might think. The Post talked to Peter Manseau, the Smithsonian’s curator of religion, who said many past presidents have signed Bibles, including President Barack Obama. And it’s not like Trump was handing out stacks of signed bibles, but rather, he was doing what some people asked of him. “Presidents seem to sign a lot of random things put in front of them,” Manseau added.
The move was also very on-brand, notes the New York Times, considering Trump’s appeal with evangelicals. A pastor who is a prominent Trump supporter said the signings were “very appropriate,” and that people ask him to sign their Bibles “all the time.” It isn’t just presidents; other stars in the evangelical world are also often asked to signed Bibles, such as Tim Tebow. Beyond the act itself though, many pointed out that what seemed particularly strange wasn’t just that Trump signed the bibles but that he chose to add his massive signature to the covers.