The “God Bless the USA Bible”: White Christian Nationalism and the Hermeneutic of Fear

[1] The “God Bless the USA Bible,” featuring the King James Version, includes within its covers a copy of a handwritten chorus to “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood, the U.S Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Pledge of Allegiance.[i]  Licensed in 2021, this Bible was met with some resistance immediately prior to and after its release.[ii]  But Donald’s Trump’s recent endorsement of the “God Bless the USA Bible” in March 2024 has re-angered some Christians across the theological spectrum. Many find Trump’s hawking of the Christian Scriptures, presumably to generate revenue to support his 2024 campaign and legal defense fund, as yet another instance of his brazen co-option of Christian symbols for the purpose of his own self-promotion and self-preservation.

[2] However, Trump’s endorsement of the “God Bless the USA Bible” is also an instance of Trump professing the ideology of White Christian Nationalism (WCN) as a defining marker of his campaign. This ideology, though it claims to represent true Christianity, is diametrically opposed to what Jesus says in the Bible about the character of Christian community and the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

White Christian Nationalism

[3] White Christian Nationalism is far from homogeneous, and is manifested in varying ways and in varying degrees. But the term is often used by social commentators to refer to a particular type of Christian identity and culture based on founding narrative characterized by the following storylines.

The WCN Founding Narrative

  • America is a promised land.

[4] A “Promised Land Story” that legitimates political control and even violence

Drawing from the conquest traditions of the Old Testament, some early settlers and eventually many within the colonies considered America the new promised land that God had called the faithful to conquer, Christianize, and protect. This justification of the conquest of America continues to shape many Christians’ understanding of our national history, identity, and purpose. It also justifies for many White Christian Nationalists the use of political power and even violence to defend America from those they see as threatening America’s sanctity and security as a Christian nation.

  • America is favored by God

[5] Similarly, this founding narrative also identifies America as uniquely favored by God, the subtext of the mantra “God Bless America.” As citizens of the new Promised Land, when faithful to God’s commands, Americans enjoy God’s blessing in the form of peace and prosperity and regard themselves as the chosen people of God. Philip Gorsky, Professor of Sociology and Religion at Yale University, helpfully draws together these features of WCN in an article discussing the ideology motivating the capitol insurrection.

White Christian nationalism (WCN) is, first of all, a story about America. It says: America was founded as a Christian nation, by (white) Christians; and its laws and institutions are based on “Biblical” (that is, Protestant) Christianity. This much is certain, though: America is divinely favored. Whence its enormous wealth and power. In exchange for these blessings, America has been given a mission: to spread religion, freedom, and civilization—by force, if necessary. But that mission is endangered by the growing presence of non-whites, non-Christians, and non-Americans on American soil. White Christians must therefore “take back the country,” their country.[iii]

  • White Christians Have a Divine Mandate to Rule

[6] Also central to the WCN worldview is the belief that certain individuals are granted a divine mandate to rule. America is a Christian nation, founded by Christians. Its status as the new promised land favored by God depends on its governance by God-fearing Christian voters and leaders (or at least those that will support the WCN political agenda). Proper belief and racial identity legitimate the possession of political power. And the use of political power by legitimate persons to safeguard the Godliness and the God-blessedness of America is mandated by God.

[7] Andrew Whitehead, a professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University and Samuel Perry, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, co-authored Taking America Back for God (2020). In a 2021 Time magazine article, they detail the thinly cloaked criteria by which White Christian Nationalists authorize those they deem acceptable to rule.

The threat of Christian nationalism is buried within the seemingly harmless language of “heritage,” “culture,” and “values.” But within this language is an implicit understanding of civic belonging and relative worth. Study after study shows Christian nationalism is strongly associated with attitudes concerning proper social hierarchies by religion, race, and nativity.  These views naturally extend to whom Americans think should have the right to participate in the political process and whether everyone should have equal access to voting…As a political theology that co-opts Christian narratives and symbolism, Christian nationalism has its own version of the “elect,” those chosen by God. They are “people like us,” meaning conservative Christian, but also white, natural-born citizens. Moreover, in a prosperous nation, only “the elect” should control the political process while others must be closely scrutinized, discouraged, or even denied access. This ideology is fundamentally a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society.[iv]

The White Christian Nationalist Narrative of the Present: the Erosion of America[v]

[8] The use of founding narratives and religious identity to legitimize and energize conquest, and to preserve power within a dominant group, is a common phenomenon within human societies. Also common is an energized re-engagement and re-enforcement of those narratives and privileged identities during times of shifting political realities by those that find such changes threatening. Cultural anthropologists refer to this phenomenon as the dynamic interplay between social movement and counter movement.[vi] In short, the current surge in White Christian Nationalist rhetoric and political engagement is a counter movement responding to a deeply threatening social movement: the erosion of white Christian political and cultural dominance within America.

[9] Seismic demographic and cultural shifts emerging over the last two decades will transition more and more levers of power and privilege within America to people of other colors and cultures. Sociologist Robert P. Jones explains this reality, the fear it has caused many white Americans, and the effectiveness with which the MAGA movement has been able to leverage those fears for political gain.

We are living in one of these interregnum moments between an old and new order. In the last few decades, the country has undergone tremendous demographic and cultural change, and the peaks of this emerging new landscape are gradually breaking through the surface of public consciousness…By activating the white supremacy sequence within white Christian DNA, which was primed for receptivity by the perceived external threat of racial and cultural change in the country, Trump was able to convert white evangelicals on the course of a single political campaign from so-called value voters to “nostalgia voters”…He evoked powerful fears about the loss of white Christian dominance amid a rapidly changing environment.[vii]

[10] Included in that rapidly changing environment have been recent shifts in public perspectives on the legalization of gay marriage, patriarchy, gender, the growing awareness among many of the racist dimensions of our nation’s beginning, and the increasing recognition of systemic racism today. These shifts in perspective—some of which directly challenge the WCN founding narrative—are seen by many white Christian nationalists as clear indicators of the deterioration and degradation of American society, and have become additional rallying cries energizing the WCN counter-movement.

The “God Bless the USA Bible” and the White Christian Nationalist Narrative

[11] To summarize, WCN ideology

  1. Celebrates America’s founding as divinely sanctioned act
  2. Professes that America is favored by God
  3. Claims that God has ordained leaders authorized to ensure that America continues to be a godly nation
  4. Warns that American values and ways of life, and even Christians themselves, are under siege
  5. In varying degrees—and in ways ranging from overt to subtle—privileges whiteness as normative and often targets non-white identities as inferior and to be feared

[12] Trump’s three-minute video promoting the Bible on the “God Bless the USA Bible” website features these WCN tropes. Consider these statements made by the former president and presumptive Republican nominee.

  • “We must make America pray again”
  • “[This Bible] includes our founding father documents, yes, the Constitution which I am fighting for every single day, very hard, to keep Americans protected. Also, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance.”
  • “Many of you have never read them and don’t know the liberties and rights you have as Americans, and how you are being threatened to lose those rights. It’s happening all the time. It’s a very sad that going on in our country, but we are going to get that turned around.”
  • “Religion and Christianity are the biggest things missing from this country, and I truly believe that we need to bring them back and we have to bring them back fast.”
  • “It’s why things are going haywire in our country—we have lost religion in our country.”
  • “The thing we need most to make America great again is our religion.”
  • “Christians are under siege.”
  • “We must protect anything that is pro-God.”
  • “We must defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the left-wing groups to silence, censor or discriminate against us”
  • “We have to bring Christianity back into our lives and back into what will be again a great nation.”
  • “Our founding fathers did a tremendous thing when they built America on Judeo-Christian values. Now that foundation is under attack perhaps as never before.”
  • “Pray that God will bless America again.”
  • “Stand with me and the legions of Americans asking God to bless our great nation, to bring our nation back, to make our nation great again.”
  • “Get this Bible and help spread our Christian values to others.”

[13] The promotional video is a clear enactment of MAGA doctrine and rehearses most of the primary story-lines of the WCN narrative: the privileged status of America as nation founded on Christian values and blessed by God; the role of Christian leaders to ensure that Christianity is the foundation of American society; the clear and present threat posed by anti-Christian forces, which are also anti-American forces, the urgent need—in this election cycle—to return America to its Christian roots and character, and the use of political power to enact this change and even force compliance.  As is common with most expressions of MAGA ideology, its racist dimensions are subtextual rather than overt, more evident in what it doesn’t say rather that what it does. This tendency is reflected in such statements as “our founding fathers did a tremendous thing when they built America on Judeo-Christian values,” without also noting fundamental role genocide, discrimination, and slavery played in the founding of our nation. It also manifests in the statement, “We must defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the left-wing groups to silence, censor or discriminate against us,” a thinly veiled reference to groups who unmask white privilege, advocate for LGBTQIA+ acceptance, work to ensure voter access, point to the realities of patriarchy and systemic racism, and challenge the WCN narrative of our nation’s founding.

[14] Moreover, while the website includes a black family as one of the groups it shows huddled around its bible, none of the nine celebrity endorsement shots promoting the bible features a person of color.  Interestingly, the frequently asked questions section of the site includes the prompt, “What Translations are Available?” The response: The God Bless the America Bible is produced in the trusted King James (KJV) translation. We do not offer additional translations at this time.” Nothing but the King’s English for “America’s Bible.”

Resisting a Fear-filled Hermeneutic of Christian Mission and Identity

[15] “Get this Bible and help spread our Christian values to others,” Trump admonishes his would-be customers. But the values emerging from the Trump’s WCN branding of the Bible and the MAGA movement are hardly biblical. That America would be experiencing a strident xenophobic and racist countermovement at this point in its history in response to dramatic demographic and cultural shifts is not at all surprising.  But this countermovement is most certainly not Christian.

[16] Fear and anxiety, and the prejudice they stimulate, are the engines driving the counter-movement. Those Christians who line up behind Donald Trump and the countermovement he leads, are overlooking critical parts of their own tradition and undermining their witness to Jesus. They are neglecting what should be basic to their collective character and ministry and are instead professing a gospel of intolerance and exclusion.

Cold, Hard, Fearful Hearts

[17] To engage a notable example, consider the rhetoric swirling around the vexing issue of immigration. On this front, Trump has led the way.

We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.[viii]

John Fea, an Evangelical and a scholar of early American history and American religious history, helps us understand why such a strategy was likely to be effective among many white evangelicals today. This strategy ties into fears and prejudices that have long characterized many—though certainly not all—of those embracing an evangelical identity.

Evangelicals have worried about the decline of Christian civilization from the moment they arrived on American shores in the seventeenth century. The have celebrated American values such as “freedom” and “liberty” while simultaneously building exclusive communities that do not tolerate dissent. They have revealed their fear in the ways that they have responded to the plight of the people who do not share their skin color. White evangelical fear of newcomers—those who might challenge the power and privilege that evangelicals have enjoyed in a nation of Protestants—has been present in every era of American history.[ix]

[18] To be sure, the realities of immigration and illegal immigration are complex, with a host of variables that are extremely challenging to untangle and manage. Thoughtful, faithful people disagree on this issue and advocate for different solutions to address the challenging economic and political consequences immigration poses for our nation. But the vilification of immigrants, the validation of the inhuman treatment of children at the US-Mexican border, the lack of compassion manifested for asylum seekers, the prejudicial regard for the “other,” and an anxiety of scarcity, all dash against two bedrocks of Jesus’ teaching: to not be afraid and to serve all in love.

Jesus: “Do not worry”

[19] Within the first century Roman world, most lived on the precarious edge of subsistence and were struggling to survive. And yet a common theme of Jesus’ teaching was for his followers not to be anxious about the very things that they had every reason to worry about. Consider, for example, Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 6.

25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (Matt 6:25-32).

[20] Why would Jesus say this to his fellow Israelites, to those who were often desperate for food, drink, clothing and shelter? Most of them would not live into their mid-thirties. Half of their children who managed to live past age one would be dead by age sixteen. “Jesus!” they must have asked, “Don’t worry?”

Jesus: “Strive for the Kingdom, the way of abundant life.”

[21] The relief to the listeners’ anxiety over their own well-being comes in the next verse. But Matthew 6:33 is one of the most commonly, and tragically, misunderstood verses of the New Testament.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

[22] Throughout history many Christians have taken Jesus’ words here to mean that if we live faithfully, God will reward us with the material resources we need to survive and thrive. The “Prosperity Gospel” movement is one of the more extreme manifestations of this misreading of Scripture. This misreading also mirrors the ideology of WCN: if America again becomes a good Christian nation, it will be blessed with material prosperity by God.

[23] Yet this misreading completely misses the point of what Jesus was getting at. It is an example of reading individual passages of Scripture against the grain of its dominant impulses and the central contours of Jesus’ ministry. It is an example of reading Scripture through lenses shaped by our individualistic and commodity-driven cultural mindset. And the case of Matthew 6:33, it is another example of taking a verse completely out of its context, here Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount extending from Matthew 5:1-7:29.

[24[ Jesus was not telling his disciples to live rightly so that God would provide them with abundant the material resources, as if God operates according to some divinely-mandated quid pro quo. Jesus was telling them that if they truly embrace the Kingdom of God, if they truly seek the right kind of treasure (Matt 6:19-21), if they truly see the world with sound eyes (6:22-23), if they set aside the misguided quest for wealth and control (6:24) and do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matt 6:9-13)—they would begin to create the kind of community in which all of God’s children would share in God’s abundance. This is to be the work of the followers of Jesus in every age. This is basic to what it means to be disciples of Jesus.

[25] Fear is the enemy of the kind of trust, or faith, needed to live out this vision. Fear is that which believers must confront and overcome if they are to be followers of Jesus. Jesus teaches this over and over again, as does much of the rest of the New Testament. This is why the word “faith,” perhaps better translated as “trust,” is so central to biblical thought. It is also why the words “trust,” “faith,” and “believe” are so commonly paired with the words “repent,” “humility,” and “love.”

[26] Those who read Jesus’ words here in Matthew 6 through a lens shaped by a self-centered individualism or tribalism stimulated by anxiety are very likely to hear Jesus say to them “Make sure that you are righteous so that God gives you and our own what you need to survive.” But that is a perversion. It is, as Jesus warns, the wide and easy road that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14). Those who read Jesus’ words here shaped by an other-centered kinship stimulated by compassion are very likely to hear Jesus say to them “Earnestly strive for the kind of Kingdom I have come to establish, for that is the way God’s gift of abundant life for you and all God’s children will be achieved.”

[27] And once we come to terms with that, once we shift from the anxious, self-serving, broken-hearted hermeneutic peddled by the false prophets, the ravenous wolves, among us (Matt 7:15), to a trust-filled vision molded by a savior that came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, nearly everything we see and hear and in Scripture is cast in its proper light. We begin to see and hear the ongoing, nearly overwhelming cascade of images and instruction bearing witness to the central truth of our sacred tradition that “in everything, do unto others as you have them do to you” (Matt 6:12). We begin to see and hear that those “others” of whom Jesus speaks really does mean ALL others, even our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). We begin to see and hear that in living out this essential calling we are truly living by “the law and the prophets” (Matt 6:12) and embracing our true identity as righteousness-seeking, mercy-wielding, peace-making, (Matt 5:1-11) children of God (Matt 5:45).

[28] With this clearer vision, we can also see anxious, self-serving tribalism and broken-heartedness as the sandy, shifty, untenable foundation that it surely is. We can faithfully seek and proclaim the true bedrock of our shared faith. And then, even now, we can withstand and repel the forces that beat against American churches from within and without, causing them to list and lean alarmingly, threatening their great fall. (Matt 7:24-27)




[ii] See, e.g., Jemar Tisby. Three Years Ago We Stopped Harper Collins/Zondervan from Publishing the “God Bless the USA” Bible. May 27, 2004.

[iii] “White Christian Nationalism: The Deep Story Behind the Capitol Insurrection.” The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Georgetown University. January 22, 2021.

[iv] “The Growing Anti-Democratic Threat of Christian Nationalism in the U.S.” Time. January 22, 2021.

[v] Portions of the following borrow from a relevant section of my book, Karl A. Kuhn, Reading the Bible Badly: How American Christians Misunderstand and Misuse Their Scriptures (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020) pp. 78-106.

[vi] See, e.g., Mayer N. Zald and John D. McCarthy, Social Movements in an Organizational Society (New York: Routledge, 1987) 20.

[vii] Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 11, 15.

[viii] Gregory Korte and Alan Gomez, “Trump Ramps Up Rhetoric on Undocumented Immigrants: ‘These Aren’t People. These are Animals,’” USA Today, May 16, 2018,

[ix] John Fea, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018) 75-76.

Karl Allen Kuhn

Rev. Dr. Karl Kuhn is Professor of Religion, Grace Chair of Religious Studies, and Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts at Lakeland University where he has served since the Fall of 1999. An ordained United Church of Christ clergy, he has served several congregations as an associate and interim minister. His special interests are in the fields of biblical interpretation and biblical theology, and he has widely published and lectured in both fields. He has authored numerous articles and six books, Having Words with God: The Bible as Conversation (Fortress Press, 2008), The Heart of Biblical Narrative: Rediscovering Biblical Appeal to the Emotions (Fortress Press, 2009), Luke: The Elite Evangelist (Paul’s Social Network Series; Collegeville, Liturgical, 2010), and The Kingdom According to Luke and Acts (Baker Academic, 2015), Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Fortress Press, 2018), and co-authored New Proclamation: The Essential Pastoral Companion for Preaching, Year C 2010 (Fortress Press, 2009). His latest work is entitled Reading the Bible Badly: How American Christians Misunderstand and Misread their Scriptures (Cascade Press, 2020).