President Donald Trump stopped at a church in Alabama while touring horrifying tornado destruction Friday — and signed Bibles.
It was an unusual move. Typically, people autograph books they’ve written.
The Bibles may have been the closest things on hand for Trump to sign during his visit. Volunteers had their own, and Bibles were also being distributed at the Providence Baptist Church in Opelika along with clothing and other goods, according to The Associated Press.
The community has mobilized in the wake of the EF-4 tornado that struck rural Beauregard last Sunday and killed 23. It was the deadliest tornado in the nation since 2013.
Trump perked up the church crowd, which cheered when he autographed the cover of a 12-year-old boy’s Bible. The president and Melania Trump together signed the cover of 10-year-old girl’s Bible decorated with pink camouflage. One woman at the church called Trump’s visit a “godsend,” according to pool reports.
The Smithsonian’s curator of religion, Peter Manseau, told The Washington Post that past presidents have also signed Bibles, including George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
“If this was an organized effort where the president was giving out stacks of signed Bibles, that would strike me as odd,” Manseau said. “But from what I can tell, the event wasn’t outside the norm. Presidents seem to sign a lot of random things put in front of them.”
However, Southern historian Wayne Flynt, a Baptist deacon and Auburn University professor emeritus, told AL.com that signing a Bible is “right next to sacrilege. That’s a holy book,” he added. Flynt also said he wasn’t surprised Trump would autograph a Bible because “there is nothing that shames the president.”
Several people responding with tweets — including former Hillary Clinton adviser Peter Daou — were furious that a president responsible for placing immigrant children in cages would have the nerve to sign a Bible. Others pulled out the stops to mock it.
Those who would like to help survivors can contribute to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund or the Community Foundation of East Alabama. The American Red Cross at redcross.org or 1-800 RED Cross is also seeking donations.