Bible in Public Schools?

Bible in Public Schools? March 9, 2013

Jonathan Merritt says No, what say You?

On Sunday night, the long awaited mini-series “The Bible” premiered on the History Channel. Produced by reality TV mogul Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame and former “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey in an effort to dramatize key stories from Scripture, the series is already being embraced by Christians nationwide. After all, when is the last time “Hagar” was trending on twitter?

Two days before the first episode aired, however, the couple penned a controversial opinion column in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible.” They argued that public schools should encourage or perhaps mandate teaching courses on the sacred book. This should apparently top the list of priorities in a time when America’s educational system is faced with depleting resources and failing to keep up with the rest of the world’s students.

Christian pastors and leaders in social media lauded Burnett and Downey’s article as wise and appropriate. And while the timing of publication could not have been more perfect—the article reads like a thinly veiled marketing piece with a commercial for the television show inserted as the seventh paragraph—the  arguments are worth considering.

Should Christians support teaching the Bible in America’s public schools?

The answer as I see it is a resounding “no” and not because I don’t agree with some of Burnett and Downey’s reasoning. Yes, the Bible has been a primary document of Western civilization. Yes, it is bursting with widely applicable wisdom and knowledge. But, no, Christians should still not support it being taught in public schools….

Do the Christians crying for a reintroduction of Bible courses want their children taught, for example, that the creation account in Genesis is little more than pretty poetry? It’s safe to assume they do not. But most haven’t thought this deeply about the issue.

Conservative Christians should know better than to advocate for such courses. After all, they have long decried the well-documented “liberalizing effect” of public college and universities who offer similar courses. Many conservative Christians leave home for college, take an introduction to religion course, and return with an entirely different worldview than their parents hold. Do they want the same experience with their seventh graders?…

But if those conservatives who advocate for such a shift in public education get their way—and it is admittedly an unlikely scenario at best—it will likely be another case of getting what they want and then not wanting what they get. By advocating for teaching the bible in schools, Christians are unwittingly lobbying for something they could never accept. They think they want it, but they really don’t.

As a lifelong evangelical, I’ve experienced firsthand the value of Biblical literacy. But in the end, this sacred text is best encountered where it can be taught according to the beliefs of individual faith communities. In homes and houses of worship, and for the next nine Sundays, on the History Channel.

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