Web Osi Speaks!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Betty Winston Bayé's "A Christian Perspective On Teaching The Bible In Schools" That I Disagree With.

A Christian perspective on teaching the Bible in schools
By Betty Winston Bayé

All my life men and women of faith have awed me with their wisdom, their compassion and their heroism, and I've been blessed when they've prayed for me. Before journalism, I spent more than two decades working for national denominations and faith-based civil rights and community organizations. I've been fortunate to have worked with, worked for and to have been befriended by theologians, seminarians, preachers and denominational and lay leaders in churches. When I was child, I had the faith of a child. But I've lived long enough now to have experienced God's grace and mercy in my life and to have witnessed the same in the lives of others.

I am, simply put, unabashedly and unashamedly Christian.

But for all this, I still don't believe that the Bible should be taught in taxpayer-funded schools.

The United States is not a theocracy, and though some keeping saying that schools are problematic because God has been taken out, a very basic premise of Christian faith is that God is never absent and, in fact, God does some of his best work in places where angels and many pious Christians, with their judgmental selves, fear to tread.

Christians who support Bible-teaching in America's public high schools should be worried that some are so eager to build momentum for such classes that they suggest all the faith can be sucked out of the Bible so that it can be taught merely as literature, social studies, geography or history, not really much different than any other textbook. Though the Bible certainly has all those elements, it is first, last and always a sacred book of faith — though some have said it would be OK to teach it in the public schools on the condition that it be treated only as mythology.

I'm writing this because there's a bill making its way through the Kentucky Senate that would mandate the state Board of Education to establish guidelines for an elective course in Bible literacy. According to the proposal, the course “shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspectives of students in the school. A course under this section shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”

But the Bible is not religiously neutral. Moreover, here in Kentucky, religious neutrality and tolerance for diverse religious views are often viewed as controversial, weak-minded, “liberal,” even un-American. Think about this. If grown folks argue, fuss and have started wars over scriptural interpretations, it's unrealistic to expect some state-divined guidelines for Bible-teaching to keep conflict and tensions from arising in public schools. Young people are not only highly susceptible to being proselytized, but may lack the tools to react to a teacher who teaches the Bible from a perspective that hardly can be considered neutral.

The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro, said that he filed it “at the request of a group of people”' in his district. And so you wonder what that group's agenda is.

There were good reasons why America's founders, after fleeing religious persecution, pointedly sought a separation between church and state. Mixing the two, history shows, is a potion for disaster and conflict.

Brian Wells, the vice president for academic affairs at Simmons College of Kentucky, has a master's degree in systematic theology and focused his doctorial studies on church and society. If the purpose of the bill, he said, “is to educate students from a social science perspective on biblical texts, then the five major world religions' sacred writings (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) should be incorporated into the curriculum.” Wells' broader view, however, is that “religious communities and private faith-based institutions are better equipped to teach courses like these without violating religious freedom rights. … The interpretation of sacred writings should be left to those communities that treasure those writings as sacred.”

I agree. Meanwhile, on a practical level, when so many Kentucky public schools are performing poorly in the basics and are being beaten down by the state's budget crisis, it doesn't make sense to spend time and money developing guidelines for “elective” Bible literacy courses. These are readily available in private institutions — churches, mosques, temples and schools of theology — that have the history, the experts, the expertise and the desire to teach a knowledge-thirsty public.

I'll end this by saying I do not impugn the good intent of the legislators who have signed on to this bill for Bible literacy classes, but if you're like me, you're a Christian who doesn't want just any old body praying for you. Neither should you risk any old body teaching children the Bible in public schools.

Betty Winston Bayé is a Courier-Journal editorial writer and columnist. Her columns appear Thursdays on the editorial page.



Post a Comment

<< Home