Can Donald Trump swear on the Bible to tell the truth?

(RNS) — The swearing-in of witnesses in court with an oath to tell the truth is usually a perfunctory ritual. No one really pays attention. But if Donald Trump testifies in the case accusing him of hiding a hush payment to a porn star to protect his political campaign, all eyes should focus on Trump’s hand on that Bible.

As Maggie Haberman and Jonah E. Bromwich asked in a recent New York Times story, will the former president and presumptive GOP presidential candidate finally face consequences for his steady stream of lies over a whole life? Will the truth be protected in relation to Trump?

On the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem, Jesus had a debate about truth with Pontius Pilate. The ruler and the prisoner were discussing the meaning of the truth, and Pilate was losing the debate. That’s when he said to Jesus, “What is truth?”

Sound familiar? When strong men succeed, people give up on ever finding the truth. They are told to believe whatever the strong man says the truth is.

In John 8:32, Jesus tells us, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

I now see this iconic text as telling us that the opposite of truth is not just more lies, but captivity. Freedom and truth are indivisible. Fact-checkers tell us Trump committed a record number of lies during his four years in the White House. But at a much deeper level Trump has spent his life undermining even the idea of the truth. Trump’s life has offered a continuous stream of lies, and now he’s trying to dilute our nation’s understanding and comprehension of the truth, threatening us all with captivity to his falsehoods.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, on June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Trump has never been comfortable with the Bible. After using the military to violently clear peaceful protesters, the then-president walked from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square where he brandished a Bible upside down (ironically and revealingly). He had nothing to say about the Good Book; he was using it as a prop for his contrived photo-op.

Now Trump is actually selling his own American nationalist Bibles — keeping a portion of proceeds for himself, of course.

Since Trump keeps lifting the Bible up, we should ask if any part of his political agenda can be found in the Bible. For example, the way Trump talks about immigrants as “animals” and “vermin” who will “poison the bloodstream of America.” That’s not found in the Bible. Instead, it calls for welcoming the stranger, rather than creating huge internment and deportation camps for immigrants. Where in the Bible does it say to favor the rich and ignore the poor, as apparent from the huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Trump pledges to push for should he return to the White House? The God of the Bible is a God of justice, not the revenge and “retribution” that Trump is promising. Pardoning his most violent supporters and punishing his adversaries is, again, exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

In the letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul says that all of us — Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female — are now one in Christ Jesus. This was a text read at baptisms in the early church, showing the commitment of this new community to bring down and transform the barriers of religion, race and gender. But Trump appeals to the racial grievances of his white followers.

The power of one man to rule over a country with few checks or balances disregards the Bible’s warnings about the power of sin and selfishness. The glorification of riches, with attacks on the most vulnerable, is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. The prophet Micah tells us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” That instruction is completely counter to the life and agenda of Donald Trump, a life of lies that is only about one thing — himself.

One of Trump’s posts on his social media platform — ironically called “Truth Social” — was stunning. It’s a picture of Trump at a defense table in a courtroom, with Jesus sitting next to him. Trump has told his Christian nationalist followers: “I am being indicted for you.” No presidential candidate has ever compared himself to Jesus like this one does. So if Trump wants to bring up Jesus, we should, too, and directly compare his agenda with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Jim Wallis. (Courtesy photo)

The Rev. Jim Wallis. (Courtesy photo)

Let’s have a debate about the Bible over these next critical months and a conversation that might bring us back to Jesus. In the meantime, I will be waiting to see if Trump ever puts his hand on a Bible and swears to tell the truth. Much more than a judge’s verdict will be at stake.

(The Rev. Jim Wallis is director of Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice and the author, most recently, of “The False White Gospel: Rejecting Christian Nationalism, Reclaiming True Faith, and Refounding Democracy.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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