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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tennessee's Official Book

Yesterday was a most peculiar day for me. I had been invited to Nashville in order to speak to a sub-committee of the state senate. A senator had proposed making the Holy Bible the official book of the state. I was asked by another senator to explain why it was not a good idea.

I teach many Bible studies: two on Wednesday, one Thursday and another at Sunday School. During Lent I add one on Friday. I am a very Bible focused person. I believe God reveals Himself in Scripture. I believe the Bible is sacred and central to Christian faith.  It seemed odd that I was recommending that they not bring this up for a vote.

Having been on the 'losing end' of many conflicts in my denomination (where my traditional faith is viewed negatively) it is easy to get competitive.[Truth is always a victim of that competition, winning can crush out Love and compassion.] The day I learned of the proposed resolution I had literally just spent fifteen minutes reading scathing attacks on the Christian faith at the New York Times website (someone had asked me to read an article related to my sermon). I was dismayed by the hostility of the posts, and it felt good to think that in Tennessee the Bible is still the Book. It felt real good...

Understand, I would be glad if everyone, and I mean everyone, acknowledged Jesus as Lord, read the Bible and lived in faithful love. So what better way than to have our senators declare the Bible is the official book of Tennessee?

Well, my initial enthusiasm waned as I thought through the ramifications. It may be another volley in the culture wars, but I grow weary of division for the sake of  'one-up-mans-ship'. I am afraid some group will rise up to sue the state, or demand some atheist work be included, etc. etc. I wonder why are we discussing this at such a  late date? If the state founders had declared the Bible was the state book I would think that would have been more appropriate. Thirdly, it feels like a crossing of the church-state divide. We are not a Christian nation, even if our nation is heavily Christian. Many of the Founders were Deists, a particular form of belief which denies core Christian doctrine. The goal was to create a nation where free exercise of religion would take place. I have no doubt the primary religion was Christian, but there was not to be a state sponsored church.  This leads to a connected concern I have; which Bible is the Holy Bible? I am Catholic, my Bible includes books which Protestants do not count. Jews do not have the same canon. Nor do the Eastern Orthodox. Other middle Eastern Christians have ancient canons which include or exclude other books. The state of Tennessee should not be determining the canon of Scripture (to their credit the proposal was vague enough to avoid that).

Perhaps the bigger concern is the civil religion issue. Sometimes Christians are willing to negotiate Truth to get the 'feeling' of official approval of their beliefs. We want prayer in school, but public state prayer is "generic prayer to a generic god" (even if we know Who we are praying to) which really ends up denying the faith we uphold. The Christian prays as a Christian or it is not prayer at all. We should pray as Christians in Jesus name. However, in our non-theocratic society we should also respect the conscience of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other faiths. Majorities should be concerned not to tread on others. My fear is that to pass the constitutional muster, the Bible will be reduced, officially, to a history book. It is the Law of Unintended Consequences writ large. We deny it as Revelation of God and lower its status to an important literary work so as to get the state to say publicly it is a great book. Mind you, it is both. I agree that no other book has been more influential in the formation of our nation and the molding of its thought and people. Just wonder what political purpose this serves and what is the benefit--and cost.

There were four of us who spoke, but the committee passed it 7-0 with 2 abstaining. I told them I knew it was a difficult position. My guess is they come from a different Christian perspective from me. In the end I do not know if they want the Bible to be the state book or if they did not want to look like they were voting against the Bible. I do know there were lots of Bible loving Christians there who were very happy. I saw them hugging. I cannot fault them, after all, part of me agrees with them. I 'want' the Bible to be the official book. It is just that what I want is not necessarily fair or just or right. 

I also want to remind them that today's solution becomes tomorrow's problem (unintended consequences). Our victory today can become the basis of our defeat tomorrow. In a world where satanism and paganism grows and grows, I wonder what legislation will appear in the future. If today we can make the Bible the official book, what will they be able to do in future votes? We have much experience over the years watching the majority party have its way with the Minority (as it swings back and forth from one to the other). It is human (fallen) nature to desire to win and to punish those who oppose us. I get that, I experience it myself. I prefer to live in a place where I am free to believe, make decisions based on that faith, and publicly declare that the Bible is The Word of God, that it contains Divine Revelation. I much prefer that to a public acknowledgment that it is a history book and very influential in shaping our nation. 

Of course, it is also true that I would not have even known it was gong on if someone hadn't asked me to address the issue.... Sometimes it is hard to know what to focus on.  

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