Tomorrow afternoon Donald J. Trump will place his hand on a Bible and take the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States of America. And he will do so using a bible once owned by the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln arrived in Washington D.C. for his inauguration without his own copy of the scriptures; the so-called “Lincoln Bible” was given to him by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court. The same bible was used by the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, for both of his inaugurations in 2009 and 2013.
And while I understand the historical resonance of America’s first black president swearing his oath on the same copy of the scriptures once held by “the Great Emancipator,” I don’t really care that President Obama used and that President-elect Trump will use “Lincoln’s Bible.”
Neither that particular copy of the bible, nor any copy of the bible-no matter how storied, or noble its provenance is a magical book. It will not make Trump’s promise any more or any less trustworthy. Let him “swear on a stack of bibles” (as the kids say, and as President Obama did in 2013) – let him swear “on his mother’s grave,” let him “cross his heart and hope to die, stick a needle in his eye” if he wants, it doesn’t make his words any more credible or trustworthy.
Trust is earned. Honesty is demonstrated. And liars will lie – even on historically significant copies of the scriptures.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. – Matthew 5: 33 – 37 (NRSV)