07:56 GMT +320 May 2019
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    President Donald Trump signs a Bible as he greets people at Providence Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Alabama

    'Sacrilege or Common?': US Religious Leaders Divided By Trump Signing Bibles

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    News of the US president signing the cover of several Holy Books during his visit to tornado ravaged Alabama has raised a storm of negative reactions among social media users, while Trump supporters have attempted to remind them that doing so is nothing extraordinary.

    Donald Trump's unexpected autograph session at an Alabama church where he signed Bibles has raised questions whether it was an okay thing to do. American pastors, interviewed by the AP mostly came to conclusion that there was nothing wrong with the US president signing the Scriptures.

    Hershael York, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary School of Theology, noted that many other presidents prior to Trump have done so, although under different circumstances. He added that as long as the Bibles and Trump's signature were of importance to the victims of the recent tornado in Alabama, then he has nothing against it.

    York added that he would personally never ask a politician to sign a Bible, but he has often been asked to do so and never refuses — despite finding it awkward.

    "If it's meaningful to them to have signatures in their Bible, I'm willing to do that", he said.

    James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, thinks that "too much" is being made out of an insignificant issue. He noted that if Trump gave out Bibles instead of signing them, then it would be a different matter.

    Bill Leonard, the founding dean and professor emeritus of divinity at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said that people must take into consideration the fact that signing Bibles is a long-standing tradition in the southern states. He noted that the issue would be greater if Trump had done so at a political rally, but Leonard doesn't see how the president could refuse to do so in a church.

    "It would've been worse if he had said no because it would've seemed unkind, and this was at least one way he could show his concern along with his visit", he said.

    Not all religious leaders, however, saw the incident so lightly. Reverend Donnie Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said that the Bible signing looked like a "calculated political move "targeting Trump's Christian voter base."

    "For me, the Bible is a very important part of my faith, and I don't think it should be used as a political ploy. People should have more respect for Scripture", she said.

    Reverend Cassiday-Maloney, pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Fargo, said that it wasn't the signing itself that troubled him, but the manner in which Trump did it. He also expressed opposition to politicians signing the Holy Book in general.

    "It just felt like hubris. It almost felt like a desecration of the holy book to put his signature on the front writ large, literally", he said.

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