What Should We Make of Trump’s Tweet About Bible Classes in Schools

Here some context from

I have written about these Bible classes before.  So has Southern Methodist University professor Mark Chancey, who is an expert on such classes.

I would refer you to these posts:

post on Kentucky’s attempt to start Bible classes in public schools.  It draws from my own work on the Bible in America, including The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, 2015).

post on Mark Chancey’s work.

Finally, I have written extensively about this idea of “turning back” in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

25 thoughts on “What Should We Make of Trump’s Tweet About Bible Classes in Schools

  1. We had English class in high school which included prose and poetry. We were taught various literary devices, especially when examining poetry. I took at least one course of poetry as an elective in college. I remember it well because a few times I engaged in debate with the professor about the meaning of some of the poems.
    Which brings me to my point that I don’t see how there can rightfully be a study of any piece of literature that doesn’t include getting at the meaning of what the author has written.
    When I am in my adult Sunday School class and the two weekly Bible Studies I participate in that is a given. We sometimes have robust discussions on the meaning of a passage. It’s all good because we are all Christians usually and united in that purpose.
    I don’t believe it will work in a public school system to claim to just look at the Bible as literature. It’s not possible to learn about it as just literature. Not in any way that is consistent with its obvious purpose in being written, and what the words mean.
    I don’t see how the public school systems could possibly do justice to the intent of the Bible. Anything less than pursuing its intent and meaning by restricting the study to some function of literary devices and form is ultimately a means of denying its powerful message.

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  2. Alex,
    The school system teaches U.S., British, and world literature, the last of which contains the Bible. The churches, on the other hand, teach the Bible focusing primarily on its spiritual, moral, historical, and theological aspects. The literary value of the Book is given peripheral emphasis.

    James

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  3. Surely you are familiar with the the general movement to keep the government out of the Church’s responsibilities. Isn’t that your position on creation care?

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  4. Jeff,
    I would prefer more than a week on Job, but if you’re dealing with high school kids, you have to target the material to their level and their attention span. This audience could more readily handle the action books of Genesis, Exodus, and the later histories.
    James

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  5. Jeff,
    Well, I am not sure I agree with you that the result would be that dire, but I will concur that negative ends can come out of the most well-intentioned projects——not just where the Bible is involved.
    James

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  6. So the Bible and some Hebrew and other ancient religious traditions would be taught and at the end a relatively quick comparative religions course. No reason to expect Muslims, etc demand that their scriptures receive equal treatment, not mixed in as a comparative class.

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  7. It would be taught as literature and students will be taught to interpret it as a strictly human creation by people attempting to explain the unknown. Then in some cases believers in these students lives may try to undo that approach, and in more cases unbelieving people in their lives wii say as much about it as they do when kids are learning Greek and Roman mythology.

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  8. I think Bible as literature (or art) is taught in many public school classes across the country, but, it is generally integrated into a more general literature (or art) course (though not always, the California list of A-G approved courses includes quite a few about the Bible specifically). One can’t discuss in depth western art or literature without covering Biblical stories (as well as Greek myths and Christian legends). The problem comes if the Bible is presented as something other than literature (e.g.., Word of God).

    There is also the problem of requiring schools to offer a course in it. In the case of West Virginia the course is suppose to substitute for one on Economics or US History.

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  9. Unicorn,

    You may well be fight about the purpose of the president’s Twitter message on Bible education. But can we be consistent and acknowledge that all politicians do this sort of thing with various constituencies? President Obama had a faith outreach office as did the Hillary Clinton Campaign, and I don’t think either of them were in the running for Sunday School superintendent at a serious Bible-based local church.
    James

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  10. Jim in STL,
    Your four point program would make a great religion class which would benefit all of the students, but did you leave a place for the Bible as literature? I can see where it might be touched peripherally in unit four of your program, but would it receive adequate treatment? Just the Book of Job would need a week or so.
    James

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  11. Jeff,
    I believe all Christians would agree with you that the Bible is more than mere literature. That does not necessarily mean that it also cannot be treated as a literary work and presented to a classroom full of atheists. A year or two before he died, the late militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a very powerful piece in Vanity Fair Magazine. It dealt with the enduring and positive stamp of the King James Bible upon the English language. Personally, I don’t know how anyone can understand works like Paradise Lost or Moby Dick, for example, without a knowledge of the Bible.
    James

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  12. If Christians want their Bible taught in public schools, how about having scientists teach Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” and the theory of evolution in churches? 🙂

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  13. Alex: I’m not aware of any Christian movement “to keep the government from helping the poor.” Can you identify one?

    If you mean that many people — both Christian and non-Christian — have concerns about the unchecked expansion of entitlements, that is accurate. There is also wide disagreement over how best to provide high quality, cost-effective healthcare, with people of good will falling on both sides of that longstanding and important public policy tussle. But opposing universal healthcare or welfare programs lacking job-seeking requirements, to cite just two possible examples, does not amount to being against help for the poor.

    Further, many people question whether all such well-intended programs (and their year over year indefinite expansion) truly help the poor as their proponents claim; or, conversely, if they do more harm than good by producing generational dependencies and perverse incentives while not making a dent in the underlying problems. These are primarily disputes over means, not desired ends.

    I don’t know any Christians who are opposed to a social safety net. (Maybe you hang with a different, more dogmatically Scroogian crowd.) I also fully agree with you that individual Christians, along with the global Church, have a responsibility — entirely separate and apart from extolling various forms of government aid — to serve, help, support and minister to the less fortunate. I also suspect we would agree that this obligation is something which the Church has not always fulfilled. It’s very easy to look away from suffering, to pretend it doesn’t exist or that it’s not our problem, or to presume to sit in judgment over those enduring hardship.

    However, your reductionist contention — this is how I read your comment — that Christians who oppose certain government policies (or aspects of those policies) which you presumably support, are thereby in favor of withholding help for the poor, is in my view unwarranted.

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  14. I think people can and have used the Bible to support beliefs and actions that others said were unbiblical. As Lincoln said, both sides read the same bible.
    When we had prayer and the use of the Bible in public schools we also had segregated schools, and very often substandard schools for African Americans. Society had serious problems then, as it does now.
    I for one would not begin to trust the secular school system to handle the scriptures responsibly.
    As a Christian I regard the Bible as much more than mere literature and think the starting point of teaching it as mere literature is already asking for trouble.

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  15. It’s not that hard. There are guidelines that, as recently as 1999, were approved by the National Association of Evangelicals as well as other stakeholders. Unfortunately for the Biblically zealous that want the Bible in the schools to be taught devotionally rather than as secular content (history, comparative literature, philosophy, etc.), those rascally rascals – the Founders or as some may call them, militant secular activists and their allies – gave us a Constitution to help govern a fractious and religiously diverse pluralistic population. So, technically, there are no barriers to teaching about the Bible in public schools.

    Personally, I think that a four part Bible course (perhaps two high school years or four college semesters…or both) would be great, including 1) early Sumerian/Babylonian religious traditions, 2) the Tanakh and Hebrew history & traditions, and 3) Ancient Greek philosophical ideas incorporated into Biblical teaching, and 4) The Roman/European development of the Christian Bible and changing traditions through to the Modern (Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible). Maybe follow that up with a comparative class on all major world religions and philosophies.

    Now that would be a well rounded and informed citizen.

    http://www.bridge-builders.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/bible-publicschools.pdf

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  16. Alex,
    I think the point is that the Bible has literary value and should be taught alongside other volumes in the Western literary canon. The schools’ treatment of the Bible will necessarily emphasize certain things while the Bible’s treatment in churches will focus on others.
    James

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  17. How does the christian movement to get the government to teach kids the Bible jive with the christian movement to keep the government from helping the poor? Aren’t they both ‘the Churches responsibility’?

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  18. To me, a Trump Twitter Tweet like this is a dog whistle to his Christianese-speaking base until proven otherwise.

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  19. Paradoxically, President Trump probably has scant personal knowledge of the Bible, but that doesn’t imply he can’t be a force for good on this matter.

    The problem is that militant secular activists and their allies on the bench have created an educational environment where public school teachers feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to teaching the Bible as literature. Christians have probably compounded their own difficulties by opting to teach from contemporary Bible translations which emphasize content at the expense of literary merit. These flaccid new versions lack the poetic quality of the Authorized Version and older translations. It’s much easier for a serious English teacher to defend the wording of scripture by William Tyndale than by Eugene Peterson or the committee behind The New International Version. Do you want to learn the Bible in the language of Shakespeare or in the language of People Magazine?

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  20. Followers of a religion should take classes on their faith after school. My classmates attended Hebrew day school classes or catechism. Learning the role each religion played in the growth or country important. I tried to understand the beliefs of thenPuritans through reading Perry Miller. In the mentioned court statement learning the role and understanding the nuances needs be taught.

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