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In the March issue of Salvationist, I wrote about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that occurred last December. The article made a case that the massacre was not retribution from a deity who felt neglected and ignored. But the feedback I received on the article raised another issue. Should the Bible be taught in the public school system? Is this something that Christians should push for?

Most Canadians realize that Christians have already lost this battle. When the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms received royal assent in 1982, it paved the way for provincial courts to rule against mandated Christian prayer or Scripture reading in public institutions. A tolerant and inclusive Canada would provide children with a place of learning that was free from discrimination or coercion. As a citizen of this country and a Christian who is called to love his neighbour, I support that principle. Besides, do we really want a superficial Christianity that is just legislated on people? I'm pretty sure that's not what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned his disciples. Yet this desire to bring the Bible back into our schools isn't going away.

The latest people to bring this issue to the forefront are Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. They are the celebrity husband-and-wife team who produced a five-week, 10-episode miniseries featuring some of the most well-known stories of the Bible. Not only did they feel “called” to produce this miniseries and bring the Word of God to the masses, but they also feel that the Bible should be taught in schools. “It's time to encourage, perhaps even mandate, the teaching of the Bible in public schools as a primary document of Western civilization,” they wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, adding that it should be done “for the sake of the nation's children.”

Burnett and Downey are Christians, but this appeal for Christian education for all is couched in the argument that the Bible is a great piece of literature. While I don't disagree, I must ask: Is this a bandwagon the church should jump on? From a purely evangelical perspective, do we want the Bible taught or read in our schools? For that matter, do we want the Bible communicated through Burnett's miniseries? A large number of Christians see the advancement of the Bible in secular forums (e.g. education, entertainment, media, etc.) as a positive thing. I am not so sure.

First, the Bible is not exclusively a great piece of literature. It is a collection of writings that includes poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, stories that are meant to be taken literally and others to be taken allegorically. For those reasons alone, it makes for interesting literature. But more importantly, the Bible is a compendium of writings intended to transmit the faith of an ancient people. Beneath all of the words is a Living Word that cannot be appreciated simply by viewing it as literature.

Second, the Bible is not exclusively a piece of history. One of the dangers of Burnett's attempt to turn the biblical narratives to a five-part television series on the History Channel is that it reduces the Bible to entertainment. What do skeptics think when they watch these episodes? Are they able to reconcile the apparent contradictions of a God who orders all of the Egyptian first-born children to be slaughtered with the incarnate God who bids all the little children come to him? Will a non-Christian reject faith because of a literalist approach that insists on 950-year-old people, talking animals and a sun that stands still? If it wasn't in the Bible, wouldn't you just laugh it off?

Perhaps it is time that we stop abdicating our Christian responsibility and relying on Hollywood and our education system for our biblical knowledge. We need to take the message of the Bible seriously and grapple with the texts in our churches and our homes. Only as God's people come to terms with the words of the Bible will the living Word of God be heard in our society.

Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.


On Sunday, June 2, 2013, Heather Allington said:

I agree wholeheartedly with Major Burry's views on the use of the Bible in public schools. When I retired from teaching in Toronto 8 years ago, we still had a "thought for the day" - an inspiring, non-religion-specific, short reading on our P.A. system each morning. The school board had a set of approved readings for this purpose. I think the use of these depended on the views of each principal. Our school population, as in much of Toronto, was highly multi-ethnic: a huge contrast to my first teaching days in "The Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal", where we actually taught Bible stories and sang "Sunday-School" songs with children whose home backgrounds were primarily Protestant Christian ones. As a supply teacher more recently in some Catholic elementary schools, I was surprised to learn that very little Bible teaching is done there - the "Religion" classes consist, at least at the elementary level, mainly of their church's doctrinal teachings, morals and traditions. A teacher in one school told me she had really only learned many Bible stories when she went with a friend to her Protestant Sunday School!

All this seems to bring us to the need for Christian parents to fill the gap, but also for all our churches, Catholic, as well as Protestant ones of any denomination, to teach basic Bible truths for all our children to grasp.

On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, allan staffen said:

Should we be taking the bible literally [ primarily the old testament ] or as a guide to history and use our modern day knowledge to temper the events of the past. I do believe the bible [old testament] should be taught in schools but as a history book and not as a Christian book which it is not. The events of the old testament are primarily related to the Jewish people and their opponents and I believe that the descriptions were affected by humans in an attempt to create an outcome that would explain the actions and events in a way that would benefit them. Our Creator had/has the power to create the universe why would God need the help of humans to do the dirty work? I believe that humans used God as an excuse to do evil things for the same reasons they do it to-day MONEY and POWER. Let the past be just that, THE PAST, use the old testament as a history book and not a book about Christianity! History for sure but not a book on how to live our lives to-day. In order for Christianity to flourish we need to live our live according to Jesus teachings, remember Christianity started with Christ, and distance ourselves from the evil and brutality of the old testament.

On Friday, May 17, 2013, Concerned said:

I am not sure why the good Major took the time to write the article he did. Unless I am mistaken and he is responding to some local intitative where he lives, I cannot think that this in an issue any longer in the modern Canadian educational system. The Bible is not taught in our public schools, and, for the most part , and for the reasons he articulates, it shouldn't be. As he himself indicates, most Christians realize that this battle has been lost.

But the last paragraph of his article is sadly reflective of current reality. The Christian church and (dare it be suggested) perhaps particularly the Army has largely abdicated our responsbility to search the scriptures and "grapple with the texts in our churches and in our homes".

Many corps now no longer have Sunday School for our younger Salvationists (there are fewer and fewer of them.....) , and the more modern incarnation of the Corps Cadet programme has also largely disappeared. The pure study of Scripture as a significant portion of any corps agenda struggles for a place with other worthy items. While a curious homage is often paid to the Bible in our homes, how much time, given the reality of modern life, is actually spent studying it or attempting to learn from it? Its reverence and study is slowly but surely being forced out more and more by the day to day activity of any given corps and Salvationist home, in a society where choices with which to occupy time are increasingly manifold. Many Salvationists are only exposed to any form of Biblical message for about twenty mintues or so in the Sunday morning meeting .

All of this leads one to wonder that if the Bible is not being taught in our schools, just WHEN and WHERE do even Christian young people get any consistent exposure to it? Would it not be better to have some exposure to it rather than none? Even if it were taught as literature or a record of a Semitic people's religious development would that not be better than the thin layer of dust that exist on many a Bbile in our homes and corps today?

These questions, of course, are largely, if not totally, moot. The Bible as "God's word to man" and as a blueprint for life will not likely be taught again in our Public Schools anytime soon. But I would rather some exposure being given to the Bible than none, however that might be framed.

On Tuesday, May 14, 2013, Wayne said:

Thanks Major Burry.

I largely agree with your persepctive here. We have to be careful about imposing our sacred scriptures on an unwilling public under the banner of educational curriculum. I see no better outcome to this than resentment and potentially a misrepresentation of its writings by educators who may even be opposed to its teachings and skeptical of its reliability. Such movement may have geniune intentions, however, I think its unnecessary to the cause and intuitively counter productive to its purposes.

The Bible is more than literature, poetry and a people's history. It's not a science book. It's sacred scripture of ancient man which has been preserved and carefully passed down to us as an guide, insight and inspiration as we strive to know God in all of His fullness and glory and live out our faith in a world that, on every primal level, craves its message of love, hope, meaning and forgiveness.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and persepctive.


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