taking the words of Jesus seriously

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published on Jemar Tisby’s Substack, Footnotes by Jemar Tisby, on March 27, 2024 and is reprinted here with permission. 

The disturbing origins of this custom Bible and the campaign to stop its proliferation.

During Holy Week, Donald Trump posted a video promoting sales for the “God Bless the USA” Bible.

The name is borrowed from a 1984 song of the same name by country singer, Lee Greenwood.

Trump’s shameless peddling of God’s word for profit garnered intense backlash and commentary online, but the saga of the “God Bless the USA” Bible goes back further than the former president’s ad.

Three years ago, I was part of a group of Christian authors who successfully lobbied our publisher Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins publishing, to refrain from entering into an agreement to print the “God Bless the USA” Bible.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing division, which includes Zondervan Publishing, owns the licensing rights to the New International Version (NIV) translation—the most popular modern English translation of the Bible.

The company, Elite Source Pro, petitioned Zondervan for a quote but never entered into an agreement. Nevertheless, marketing for the “God Bless the USA” Bible advertised it as the NIV translation.

Hugh Kirkpatrick heads up Elite Source Pro and spearheaded the effort to produce the “God Bless the USA” Bible.

In an article at Religion Unplugged, where this story first broke in May 2021, Kirkpatrick explained the origins of this custom edition of the Bible.

The idea began brewing in fall 2020 when Kirkpatrick and friends in the entertainment industry heard homeschool parents complain that public schools were not teaching American history anymore— not having students read and understand the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

“We noticed the divide in the public where some people started seeing pro-American images like the flag, the bald eagle, the statue of liberty as weaponized tools of the Republican party, and we didn’t understand that,” Kirkpatrick said.

Then in the height of Black Lives Matter protests, activists began tearing down or destroying statues and monuments they connected to racial injustice.

“In past civilizations, libraries have been burned. Documents torn down. We started seeing statutes coming down and we started seeing history for good or bad trying to be erased,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s when we started thinking, okay how far does this erasing of history go? Love it or hate it, it’s history. But how far does it go…? Part of having these statues … is so that we don’t repeat those same mistakes.”

A custom Bible inspired by reactionary sentiment opposing Black Lives Matter protests is concerning on its own.

Kirkpatrick apparently failed to understand why Black people and many others would want to remove public homages to slaveholders and the violent rebellion they led against the United States.

Nor did Kirkpatrick manage to spot the irony of printing a Bible that honors the United States while defending statues of Confederate leaders who attacked the Union.

Once the news that Zondervan was in talks to print this Bible came out, several Christian authors who had published with them approached me about publicly opposing the deal.

All of my books, so far, have been published through Zondervan, including my forthcoming book The Spirit of Justice: Stories of Faith, Race, and Resistance.

I was eager to join in the protest.

The effort to stop the deal included an online petition that said,

Zondervan/HarperCollins has a been a great blessing to Christian publishing for many years. But a forthcoming volume damages this fine record. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Zondervan has licensed releasing the “God Bless the USA” Bible that will include the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and pledge of allegiance, in addition to the lyrics for the song of the same name by country singer Lee Greenwood., “God Bless the USA.” This is a toxic mix that will exacerbate the challenges to American evangelicalism, adding fuel to the Christian nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiments found in many segments of the evangelical church.

The campaign to stop Zondervan from printing the “God Bless the USA” Bible also included a letter by Shane Claiborne of Red Letter Christians and several other Christian authors, including me, as co-signers of the statement.

The letter read,

This customized Bible is a reminder that the “Christian industry” must do better to stand against the heretical and deadly “Christian” nationalism that we saw on full display on Jan. 6.  It is like a spiritual virus, infecting our churches, homes and social institutions.  Just as we take intentional actions to stop the spread of COVID, like wearing masks and staying six feet apart, we must take concrete steps to stop the spread of this theological virus.

The letter continued with a theological and pastoral word about the Bible.

We don’t need to add anything to the Bible. We just need to live out what it already says.

And if we are to be good Christians, we may not always be the best Americans.  The beatitudes of Jesus where he blesses the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers – can feel very different from the “beatitudes” of America.  Our money may say in God we trust, but our economy often looks like the seven deadly sins.  For Christians, our loyalty is to Jesus.  That is who we pledge allegiance to.  As the old hymn goes – “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness/ On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”  Our hope is not in the donkey of the Democrats or the elephant of the GOP… or even in America.

Our hope is in the Lamb.  The light of the world is not America… it is Christ.

Our endeavors were successful, and Zondervan did not enter into an agreement to publish an NIV translation of the “God Bless the USA” Bible.

That’s when Kirkpatrick decided to pursue a King James Version (KJV) of the Bible because that translation does not require copyright permission in the US.

The fruit of Kirkpatrick’s effort is an official endorsement by Donald J. Trump and Lee Greenwood and the latest push to sell “God Bless the USA” Bibles at a cost of $59.99.

The purveyors of this custom Bible fail to see, refuse to see, or simply don’t care that the United States is not a church or God’s holy nation.

They continue to spew myths that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the government should favor one religion for special privileges above all others.

Including political documents in a Bible translation is as blatant a blend of religion and politics as it gets. It is a physical flouting of the separation of church and state.

The multi-year crusade to produce the “God Bless the USA” Bible demonstrates that white Christian nationalism is not going away, and its advocates have the will and the means to secure their desired ends.

As we hurtle closer to the 2024 presidential election—likely a rematch between Biden and Trump—Christians must loudly and consistently oppose any movement to make Christianity synonymous with the political power structure.

We must oppose the “God Bless the USA” Bible as white Christian nationalist propaganda because Jesus said, “I will build my church,” not “I will build this nation.”

About The Author


Jemar Tisby (BA, University of Notre Dame; MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the New York Times bestselling author of "The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism" and the award-winning "How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Towards Racial Justice", and, coming in September, "The Spirit of Justice: Stories of Faith, Race and Resistance". He is a historian who studies race, religion, and social movements, and serves as a professor at Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically Black college. He is also the founder of The Witness, Inc. an organization dedicated to Black uplift from a Christian perspective. He has written for national news outlets such as The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Religion News Service. He has offered television commentary on CNN and is frequently called upon to provide expert insight on current events related to race and Christianity. He has spoken nationwide at colleges, universities, and other organizations. He is also a best-selling author, national speaker, and public historian.

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