This is a question that has polarized the secular and religious community since the early 1960’s. A casual glance at most Christian websites that offer political commentary will reveal a very popular assumption, that our national moral decline is a direct result of the Bible being removed from schools. Therefore, they say, the Bible should once again be taught in public schools.
Some youth pastors have encouraged their youth groups to take their Bibles to schools and to even do reports on Bible stories. I won’t comment on prayer in school, since there’s serious prayer every time a hard test is scheduled for the day.
According to School Board director Mike Harris, there are currently no Bible classes in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School systems. As we prepare to start another school year, it might be interesting to entertain this question. Should elective Bible classes be considered as an option for our schools?
Whether or not we believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, nearly everyone understands and acknowledges that there was a clear Biblical root to many of our nation’s laws (of course, they didn’t bother passing laws that required stoning adulterers and other more ludicrous notions). Further, the Bible was quoted in early legal books and even the legendary 19th century evangelist Charles Finney was eventually converted to the faith by reading the Scripture notations in the law books he studied. Clearly, holy writ was valued, even revered.
Eventually, the Scripture notations faded from our legal books, but the laws remained. In the early nineteenth century, Scripture was highly regarded throughout American culture. The family Bible was a critical heirloom. But, like today, most people rarely read or studied the Scriptures.
Some school systems have opted to allow an elective course to be placed on their curriculums. One of these curriculums, presented by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, promotes a more literalist interpretation of the Bible. There are two problems with this. The first is that this curriculum will often ignore differing beliefs from mainline denominations and also dismisses Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic or Episcopalian ideology. This leads to the second problem with the curriculum: it seems to elevate evangelical and fundamentalist teaching over others, a clear violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The National Council’s textbook is only the Bible, which some might consider a good idea. Well, it is… if it’s for a church Sunday school setting. However, using the Bible as a textbook is similar to using the Constitution as a textbook for an American history class, where the Constitution is but one document through our nation’s history, so is the Bible but a guidepost for Christian theology. Students should be given a survey of the Scriptures that not only examines the text, but also the setting, message, history, purpose, and recipients of that text.
If there’s any doubt that the National Bible Council promotes Protestant fundamentalist theology, just check out the links page on their website. Notorious ultra conservative groups like the American Family Association and the right-wing political group Wallbuilders have direct links to the Council’s website.
While elective Bible classes are certainly an option, the National Bible Council’s curriculum shouldn’t be the one that’s used. The curriculum skirts the First Amendment with its clear preference to evangelical Christianity. Because of this, their clear preference for a literalist inpterpretation of Scripture has no business being in our schools. Yes, many of our local churches embrace this view of Scriptures. However, the establishment clause, “Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion,” clearly applies here.
We should be careful that programs that encourage proselytizing are not put into our schools. Our children should indeed have an opportunity to learn about one of the most influential elements of our nation’s history, but any issues of doctrine should be left to the church setting.
Thankfully, there are other curriculums available to school districts. The Bible Literacy Project is a non-profit group which has produced an in-depth textbook and teacher guide whcih has received accolades from a wide range of scholars, education officials, and critics. Their course is a complete study of the Bible as well as its history, and does an excellent job in presenting viewpoints from all faiths which revere the Holy Bible, Jewish and Christian alike.
This diversity is certainly reflected in Clarksville, where people of all Christian denominations as well as several religions reside. Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools should indeed consider presenting elective courses on the Bible, but should take care to select a curriculum that respects all faiths, and doesn’t promote the agenda of any one group in its teaching.
Further, anyone teaching the Bible as a class should be certified in history in order to be able to present a full spectrum of information to students. The Bible is one of the primary foundations of the lives of many in our city, and it should never be used as a wedge or a political sparkplug. If it is to be taught, then the religious agenda should be left alone.
Consider the benefits of an elective Bible class. Children would have an opportunity to learn not only the Scriptures themselves, but would also have a solid foundation to understand their history and relevance to our modern lives today. No matter their faith, or even if they have no faith, they’d still have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of Christian and even Jewish history.
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School system should certainly consider adding an elective Bible class in our schools, but they should be very careful about which curriculum is used.