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Donald Trump, who has been courting religious voters ahead of the 2020 election, said on Thursday that Catholic rival Joe Biden is “against the Bible”.
During a wide-ranging radio interview with Geraldo Rivera, Mr Trump honed in on Mr Biden’s religion even as the president himself has faced criticism for using the Bible as a prop in the St John’s Church photo opp.
“He’s against the Bible,” Mr Trump said during the exchange, which was first brought to wider attention by CNN reporter Daniel Dale.
The comments came when Mr Rivera asked if Mr Trump would admit that he’s trailing in the polls.
“I mean when you think of it, how about Texas? One of the polls said Trump is leading by one point in Texas. OK, I’m in favour of oil and gas. I’m in favour of the Bible. I’m in favor of Second Amendment. Biden is against all of those things. He’s against oil, he’s against the Bible – essentially against religion – but against the Bible, and he’s against the Second Amendment,” Mr Trump said.
When Mr Rivera said it may be a little harsh to say Mr Biden was against the Bible, the president pivoted to the people around the candidate.
“Well, the people who control him totally are. It may be a little harsh for him, but he’s going to have no control,” Mr Trump said.
The Biden campaign responded on Thursday afternoon, saying Donald Trump is the only president to have tear-gassed Americans, thrown out a priest, and profane a Bible, for his own “cynical optics”.
“Joe Biden’s faith is at the core of who he is; he’s lived it with dignity his entire life, and it’s been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship,” the statement said.
“And this comes just one day after Trump’s campaign abused a photo of Joe Biden praying in church to demean him, in one of the starkest expressions of weakness throughout this whole campaign,” it continued.
Mr Trump, however, doubled down soon after, saying that Mr Biden was also “against God”.
“No religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God, he’s against God, he’s against guns, he’s against energy, our kind of energy,” he said.
Mr Biden is only the fourth Catholic to run for president following John F Kennedy, John Kerry, and Al Smith, but the religion is not an issue for most Americans, according to a Gallup poll that found only 4 per cent would not vote for a Catholic compared to 18 per cent that would not vote for an evangelical Christian.
The Trump campaign has courted religious voters with initiatives like Catholics for Trump and the White House made the reopening of Church services a key focus in its lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, has a polarising relationship with his faith. Prior to the incident at St John’s Church, he famously dodged questions on his favourite verse in the Bible, while claiming that it beats only The Art of the Deal as his favourite book.
When asked to name one or two of his most favourite Bible verses during an interview with Bloomberg’s “With All Due Respect” program during his presidential campaign in 2015, he said he “wouldn’t want to get into it”.
“Because to me, that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal, so I don’t want to get into verses,” he said, adding, “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.” When asked if he was an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy, Trump said “Probably equal”.
Asked again about his favourite verse during a radio interview the following year with WHAM-1180 in Rochester, New York, Mr Trump mentioned an “eye for an eye”.
“That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us … we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you,” he said.
While it is referenced in several books, an “eye for an eye” is most well known as the Mosaic Law that Jesus singled out during his Sermon on the Mount as something to overcome by turning the other cheek.
“You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other,” Jesus says in Matthew 5.