Archive for the ‘Bible’ Tag

The Bible in Public Schools: Q&A   Leave a comment

This article was first published on June 5th, 2017 at progressivechristianity.org

Becky via Facebook, writes:

Question:

Why is it that our children can’t read a Bible in school, but they can in prison?

Answer: By Rev. David Felten

Not to put too fine a point on it, but where did you get the idea that children can’t read a Bible in school?! Of course kids are allowed to read the Bible in school – ANY tax-supported public school. I’d hope the school would expect the students to complete their other class work prior to reading their Bible, though. Kids are in our public schools for a general education, not religious training.

As I see it, this is one of those trigger questions that usually exists for the sole purpose of provoking a self-righteous tsk-tsk-tsk and a head-shaking “Isn’t it a shame what our country has come to?” response. Most of those who “like” or “share” these intentionally incendiary questions don’t actually follow up on whether the questions are based in reality or not. They’re simply happy to point to another supposed example “proving” their bias that liberals are disrespecting the Bible and ruining the country.

But regardless of whether this is a provocative rhetorical question designed to stir righteous indignation or a legitimate question, it deserves a legitimate answer.

At present, the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment has been interpreted as guaranteeing both the respect of and freedom from religion, so the issue is not primarily about the individual student’s rights as it is about school sponsorship. In practice, Supreme Court rulings basically steer schools toward establishing a non-religious or neutral atmosphere – which is why teachers are discouraged from overt displays of religious paraphernalia at their desks and church groups are not allowed to hand out Bibles and other evangelistic propaganda at public schools.

Why would distributing Bibles at schools be a bad thing? Well, for one thing, not all Bibles are created equal. I wouldn’t want para-church groups distributing The Living Bible, for instance. The Living Bible is a loose paraphrase that, wherever possible, opts for anti-Semitic and homophobic language in its paraphrase – all the better to shore up their pre-existing prejudices.

When I was attending public High School, I took a course that had been intentionally designed as a non-devotional and impartial look at “The Bible as Literature.” This class familiarized us with the text, its origins, and from an objective perspective, analyzed the literary forms and stories in a variety of versions. Extra care was exercised by the teacher to make sure there was no proselytizing and that politically biased translation choices were acknowledged for what they were: theological propaganda. This academic approach to the Bible did not go over well with the more pious students who were not only unable to make the leap to reading the Bible critically, but saw the exercise as an attack on their faith.

And that’s the rub. Many fervently religious Americans just don’t get the fact that the beauty of our civic life together is its intentionally secular nature. This is not an attack on religion but the creation of one of the greatest gifts of democracy to the Western world: an open and tolerant society free from the disruptive influence of religious extremism. Schools and other public institutions must constantly defend against the encroachment of religious bias – or risk the proverbial slippery slope that, unguarded, leads to various worst-case-scenario “Handmaid’s Tale”-style theocracies.

So while Bibles and Bible reading are allowed in our schools, it is with the express understanding that the school is not sponsoring devotional Bible reading. The establishment clause was included in the First Amendment as a safeguard against the tyranny of the religious majority crushing the minority. To that end, it is the obligation of our schools that classrooms remain free of actions or displays by a dominant religious voice that intimidates or discriminates against those of a minority – or no – religious tradition.

Likewise, schools are not allowed to sanction prayer at official events. As a pastor and father, I agree. I am opposed to school prayer on two grounds: compulsion and content. As with Bible reading, I don’t want my kids forced into compulsory prayer and I don’t want to open the door to Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians shaping the content of those prayers.

There are plenty of opportunities to cover the content of various religions and the influence of religious figures in history class, literature, and social studies. But if the Bible reading you do at home and at church is not enough, then you may want to investigate enrolling your child at a private religious school where devotional Bible reading is part of the curriculum. However, be forewarned. Many schools that include devotional Bible reading will often promote doctrinal compliance over critical thought – and may even expect your child to believe that dinosaurs and humans co-existed together on a 6,000-year-old flat earth created in six literal days.

So, be not afraid of the zealous but ill-informed Christians who continue to warn of certain apocalypse because Bibles are not allowed in schools. Bibles most certainly are allowed – and are sometimes even studied. They just aren’t allowed as a means of evangelism, discrimination, or intimidation.

~ Rev. David Felten

About the Author

David Felten is a full-time pastor at The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. David and fellow United Methodist Pastor, Jeff Procter-Murphy, are the creators of the DVD-based discussion series for Progressive Christians, “Living the Questions”.

 

You Can Get the Bible to Say Whatever You Want   2 comments

For people determined to get Divine approval for their beliefs and actions, it’s not hard to get the Bible to say whatever you want it to say. You can find justification for just about anything you’d like to do and rationale for hating just about anyone you want to hate. And it’s just those kinds of manipulative shenanigans that have turned a lot of people off to any kind of serious practice of the Christian faith — and much of it is the fault of those who have ceded the serious reading of the Bible to people who have a reactionary agenda. Professor Mark George makes an earnest appeal to those who have neglected their responsibility to engage with a text that is too important to ignore:

 

I’m almost to the point of begging everyone I see who wants to listen to me talk about Bible, “Read the Bible. READ the Bible.” I did some teaching on the ten commandments and ten commandments monuments recently with some folks who were working in their churches and they’re active and they have long history of this. One or two people said, “Y’know I’ve never actually read the ten commandments.” I see the plaques on the walls and I know about them and hear about them all the time, but I’ve never actually sat down and read them.” And I said, “Yeah, and you probably didn’t know there’s one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. And they’re MOSTLY the same. But even to say they’re mostly the same raises some questions. Did you know that Jews have a different ordering than Christians have?

It made me remember that we’ve GOT to read these texts. There’s lots in the texts that I don’t like. They challenge my modern sensibilities. But if I don’t read them, if I don’t study them, if I don’t talk about them, if I don’t OWN the texts in my tradition, someone else will. And they’re going to talk about them in ways that I disagree with. But since I don’t know them, I won’t know what to do with them.

If you do actually start reading it, you might see the Bible for what it really is. You might start thinking critically, entertaining dangerous ideas, and the next thing you know you might find yourself having to rethink your faith in light of science, the modern world, and the needs of people in the 21st century.

 

mark georgeMark K. George teaches Hebrew Bible at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. His publications include Israel’s Tabernacle as Social Space (SBL, 2009) along with entries and chapters in edited books and articles in academic journals. He is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Dr. George is a featured contributor in Living the Questions‘ upcoming series on the origins of the Bible.

Living the Questions: How the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity is energizing a 21st Century Approach to Following Jesus.   Leave a comment

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In Southern California at the end of July? Then join author, pastor, and co-creator of Living the Questions, Rev. David Felten on Monday, July 29th and Tuesday, July 30th at Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad for practical insights on a Progressive approach to 21st century Christianity.

Ever struggled with questions about how Christianity is going to survive in an increasingly secular world – or whether it should survive? How do we justify the expense of maintaining brick and mortar churches when Jesus’ call to peace and justice are struggling to get any traction in our communities? For some surprising insights and practical tools to help tease out some possibilities, we’ll be spring-boarding off of four Biblical stories you thought you knew, but probably don’t!

PBJ 6The Rev. David Felten is a United Methodist pastor in Fountain Hills, Arizona and co-creator of the “Living the Questions” DVD curriculum for progressive Christians.  His book, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity was co-authored by Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy and published by HarperOne in 2012. David is one of the founders of the pro-LGBT clergy group, No Longer Silent/Clergy for Justice and a director of the Arizona Foundation for Contemporary Theology. You can find his blog posts at www.livingthequestionsonline.com and www.huffingtonpost.com

A Christianity That’s Not Stuck   1 comment

 

Stephen Patterson thinks that Progressive Christianity is about “being willing to think critically about one’s faith and about the traditions of one’s faith and the resources like the Bible — to think critically about these things and not simply assume that it all has to make sense. Progressive Christianity means you’re free to explore and to question and to develop new expressions of faith that are more appropriate or true to what you think you’re discovering about Christianity. So, Progressive Christianity, I guess you could say, is Christianity that’s not stuck in some present stasis — let alone stuck in the past. We have to move forward.”

Progressive Christianity:

  • thinks critically about faith, traditions, and resources

  • doesn’t assume it all has to make sense

  • frees one to explore and question

  • develops new expressions of faith more appropriate to contemporary understandings

  • isn’t stuck in the past

 

PattersonStephen J. Patterson specializes in the study of the historical Jesus, Christian origins, and the Gospel of Thomas (an early Christian gospel not found in the New Testament). He is currently the George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. He is the author of numerous books including Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus and The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for God. He is featured in the DVD series Living the Questions 2.0 and  Saving Jesus Redux. 

“Thinking Critically with Stephen Patterson” is an excerpt from a DVD series on the origin of the Bible currently in development by Living the Questions.

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Does Your Bible Come With Extra Values Added?   2 comments

ImageThere are plenty of different Bibles to choose from.  Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants all use different versions of Scripture.  But did you know that some Bibles come with more than just differences in translation?  As Timothy Beal points out, some Bibles come with “values added” that weren’t in the original text that change the meaning of the Bible.  Check out the work of the Conservative Bible Project for an example of this.

Timothy Beal is the author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.” He is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University.” 

“LtQ Clips” offer thought-provoking observations and comments on spirituality and religion from prominent authors, scholars, and thinkers. These excerpts from“Living the Questions” curriculum are designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of American Christianity.

Robin Meyers on Taking the Bible Off the Altar   Leave a comment

Taking the Bible Off the Altar

Robin Meyers says, “We’ve projected upon the Bible something it was never intended to do: which is to give us answers to every conceivable human problem.” We keep going to scripture for answers to the Abortion dilemma, and it’s simply not there. “We don’t let the Bible speak on its own terms.” Instead, we engage in tortured exegesis to make it prove what we already believe to be the case.

As long as we place our ultimate authority in the Bible, we’ve got “the object of our worship in the wrong place.”
 
Robin Meyers is a United Church of Christ pastor, Professor of Rhetoric, and author of “Why the Christian Right is Wrong” & “Saving Jesus from the Church.” You’ll find Robin in LtQ’s “Saving Jesus Redux,” “LtQ2,” and Living the Questions’ upcoming series on the origin and use of the Bible.
 
“LtQ Clips” offer thought-provoking observations and comments on spirituality and religion from prominent authors, scholars, and thinkers. These excerpts from “Living the Questions” curriculum are designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of Christian orthodoxy.

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