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RNC's 'new king' Christmas message ignites furor over whether it compared Trump to Jesus

President-elect Donald Trump speaks on December 17, 2016 in Mobile, Alabama.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
President-elect Donald Trump speaks on December 17, 2016 in Mobile, Alabama.

The Republican National Committee's Christmas message sparked a war of words on social media on Sunday, as the organization's Biblical reference to "new king" polarized political watchers.

The RNC issued a public statement celebrating Christmas, a normally anodyne holiday tradition that goes unremarked. Because 2016 has been far from a normal year, a number of journalists and social media users took umbrage with the RNC's use of religious language in a political context.

Some interpreted RNC Chair and incoming White House chief of Staff Reince Priebus' reference to "a new king" as a veiled comparison of President-elect Donald Trump to the birth of the Messiah:

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Win McNamee | Getty Images

"Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.

Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer walks through the lobby at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City.
Getty Images
Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer walks through the lobby at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City.

The use of "new king" is rooted in the Christian faith, and is routinely used to refer to Jesus, particularly around the holidays. That said, some observers took a less charitable interpretation, underscoring how nerves remain frayed after a polarizing and hard fought general election.

Reactions and counter-reactions ricocheted across social media almost immediately, with political veterans and reporters entering the fray. RNC communications director Sean Spicer blasted the criticism on Twitter as "disappointing."