THE BIBLE: OK IN THE CLASSROOM?

by David Sisler

The Bible is making news in Georgia this week. It would be nice if the Bible made news every week, but we will take what we can get, and hope that as the Good Book is discussed, it may actually be read.

The state legislature has before it bills which will "amend ... the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to competencies and core curriculum for elementary and secondary students ... so as to provide for the offering of state funded high school courses in the History of the Old Testament Era and the History of the New Testament Era; and for other purposes."

It is the "other purposes" that is particularly worrisome, but because the authors spell out the proposed Bible-teaching curriculum, we can at least know what they are up to in that regards. Since we elected them to represent us, we can trust them to take our best interests into account, not merely promote their own, right?

HB 1200 and SB 341 will use the Bible as the primary text book ("to familiarize students with the contents of the Old and New Testaments, the history recorded by the Old and New Testaments, the literary style and structure of the Old and New Testaments"). HB 1114 will assign readings outside of the Bible in order to educate students ("Students shall be assigned a broad range of reading materials for the courses, including selections from secular historical works and from various versions of the Old Testament or New Testament, as applicable emphasis mine).

It appears that HB 1114 may be the ultimate exercise in political correctness. In order to change the curriculum so that the Bible can legally be a part of the classroom, the authors of this bill seem to gut the strength of their subject. Let's study the Bible, but instead of actually reading it, let's just read what other people say. Let's study the parables of Jesus, but for fear of being changed by them, we must never actually read them.

To continue that argument into other areas of literature, let's study Dostoevsky, but let's never read War and Peace, just read the Cliff Notes (the original is too long anyway). Let's study the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., but let's never read "I Have a Dream," let's just read what people say about it. How will any literature enrich us if we never actually read it? But at least we will be able to talk about the Bible, right? One definite "No" vote here.

HB 1200 and SB 341 are better offerings, but here, as with HB 1114 the concern is, who will teach the course? Again the legislators are bending over backwards to assure passage, and that the measures, if signed into law, will successfully stand up to the court challenges they know will be coming.

Who is best qualified to teach the Bible, someone who loves it, knows it, studies it, and believes every word is God-breathed and true, or someone who does not know the God of the book from Howard Johnson. Then from what branch of Bible-believing Christianity will the teacher come? I would like to be the "devil's advocate" for a few sentences. The argument I will suggest, should in no way, be taken as any official position of the two confessions mentioned (and, incidentally, where I am worshiping, or have previously worshiped). Logically, however, both arguments could be put forth.

If I am a United Methodist, I may not want a faith-healing, tongues-speaking Pentecostal teaching my child he may know the Bible, but in his exuberance, he will probably run right past it. If I am a Pentecostal, I may not want some liberal, World Council of Churches-supporting United Methodist to teach my child it wasn't so bad when the Bible was tossed out of the classroom, but now it is tossed out of some of their churches.

One definite "No" vote here, as well.

I vote "no" on this measure for the same reason I vote "no" on the measures which attempt to return prayer to school. If you legislate today that I may pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, tomorrow you may legislate that I must pray to the God of XYZ. Because the Bible makes claims for itself which disqualify it for being taught simply as "literature," it cannot be taught, faithfully, as merely, literature.

Ultimately, however, I am more concerned that the Bible is studied and taught in the home, than I am its possible inclusion in the class room. Instead of legislating about the Bible and prayer, it is time and past time we started reading and living the Bible, and praying, and living the answers God gives us.

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Published in The Augusta Chronicle 3/4/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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