Amazing Amish Grace

Amishbuggy

You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’Maya Angelou

 Recently, I was driving through Amish country in Pennsylvania, geographically,  the area around the cities of Allentown, Hershey, Lancaster, Reading, and York. This is the area with such delightfully-named towns as Blue Ball, Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse, and, of course, Paradise. As I drove, I was reminded of that 1985 movie involving the Amish entitled Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis (I loved that film). But I was also reminded of a dark and horrific incident that occurred in this area in 2006.

What follows is that story. . .

Charles Carl Roberts IV backed his pickup truck up to the front of the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse along White Oak Road in Bart Township of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and entered the school at approximately 10:25 a.m. shortly after the children had returned from recess. He allegedly asked the teacher, Emma Mae Zook and the students if they had seen a clevis pin along the road.(A clevis pin is a fastener with a head at one end and a hole at the other used to join a yoke with a hole formed or attached at one end of a rod.) After the occupants of the classroom denied seeing any such object, Roberts walked out to his truck and reappeared in the classroom holding a 9mm handgun. He ordered the male students to help him carry items into the classroom from the back of his pickup. Emma Mae Zook and her mother, who was visiting the schoolhouse that day, took this opportunity to escape the school and ran towards a nearby farm to get help. Roberts saw the women leave and ordered one of the boys to stop them, threatening to shoot everyone if the women did not return. Still, Zook and her mother managed to reach the farm, where they asked Amos Smoker to call 911.

Roberts and the young boys carried lumber, a shotgun, a stun-gun, wires, chains, nails, tools, and a small bag. Also brought into the classroom was a length of wooden board with multiple sets of metal eyehooks, presumably to be used for securing the victims. The contents of the small bag included a change of clothes, toilet paper, candles, sexual lubricant, and flexible plastic ties. Using wooden boards, Roberts barricaded the front door of the schoolhouse.

He ordered the female children to line up against the chalkboard and allowed a pregnant woman, three parents with infants, and all remaining male students to leave the building. One female student also escaped: nine-year-old Emma Fisher (whose two older sisters remained inside).

The 911 call from the Smoker farm where Zook and her mother sought help was recorded at 10:36 a.m. The first trooper arrived at approximately 10:42 a.m. Additional troopers continued to arrive within minutes afterwards.

Roberts bound the arms and legs of his hostages with plastic ties. A group of troopers approached the schoolhouse. Aware of this, Roberts warned the troopers to leave immediately, threatening to shoot the girls. The troopers backed away and formed a nearby perimeter, but did not leave the premises as ordered.

The troopers, while waiting for reinforcements, attempted to speak with Roberts via the PA system in their cruisers. They ordered Roberts to throw out his weapons and to leave the schoolhouse. Roberts refused, and again ordered the officers to leave.

By 11:00 a.m. a large crowd, including police officers, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and residents of the neighboring village had assembled both outside the schoolhouse and at a nearby ambulance staging area. County and state police dispatchers briefly established telephone contact  with Roberts as he continued to threaten violence against the children.

A child’s loud screaming was heard from within the school. A team of officers was positioned just behind a shed attached to the rear corner of the schoolhouse and they requested permission over the radio to approach the windows. However, permission was denied.

At approximately 11:07 a.m. Roberts began shooting his victims. The troopers immediately approached. As the first trooper reached the window, the shooting suddenly stopped. Roberts had committed suicide.

It took the troopers about two and a half minutes to break through the barricaded door to assist those children who were not killed instantly. At 11: 10 a.m. a message was broadcast on the police radio – “A mass casualty on White Oak Road, Bart Township, with multiple children shot” and at 11:11 a.m. police radioed dispatchers again, estimating ten to twelve children with head injuries. The first medical helicopter was dispatched.

Troopers assisted the surviving children, administering first aid as they carried them outside. The troopers continued to tend to the girls, helping the EMTs provide first aid on the school playground. Ambulances arrived just as the wounded girls were being carried out of the schoolhouse. Helicopters landed shortly thereafter and those children still living were taken away for medical treatment.

Three girls died at the scene and two more died early the next morning, with five more left in critical condition.

Reports state that most of the girls were shot “execution-style” in the back of the head. The ages of the victims ranged from six to thirteen.

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer. Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”

A Roberts’ family spokesperson said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms for an hour to comfort him. The Amish also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About thirty members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace and mercy. She wrote: “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

Amish scholars note that “letting go of grudges” is a deeply-rooted value in Amish culture, an ethos that remembers forgiving martyrs, including the Anabaptist Dirk Willems, who after his escape from prison turned around to rescue his pursuer who had fallen through thin ice while chasing him. The scholars explain that the Amish willingness to forego vengeance neither negates the tragedy nor pardons the wrong, but rather constitutes the first step toward a future that is more hopeful.

After this terrible tragedy, the West Nickel Mines School was demolished. The site was left as a quiet pasture. A new schoolhouse was erected in another location near the original site. The new schoolhouse was intentionally built to be as different as possible from the original, including the style of the flooring.

A few old trees remain standing in the pasture that once was the schoolyard. In addition, five young evergreens now grow along a nearby fence row. They stand unnoticed to visitors driving along White Oak Road. They rise heavenward, quietly pointing to a Grace that somehow enabled the community to forgive within hours of the violence. They remain green even in winter – fitting memorials that recall not the violence but the grace of that awful day.

The terror and the heartbreak will take a long time to heal. Most of us cannot even imagine acting as that Amish community in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania did. Yet, it is strikingly obvious that the Amish community’s response powerfully launched the process of healing.

How did the people of West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania do what they did in the face of such a horrific tragedy?

Like many people, I too was moved by the Amish ability to extend words of grace to the killer’s family. Yet if I am honest with myself, I must admit that the forgiveness the Amish offered was hardly representative of the larger society in which I live. In fact, the graciousness extended by the Amish was more radical than what most people would be willing to tolerate and more selfless than many of us could ever be.

There is a reason for what we call “grace.” Most of us have not spent our lives in communities that demand obedience to Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek.” Because they take such words seriously and because they participate in many other practices that stress selflessness and personal sacrifice, the Amish are inclined toward forgiveness. To think that the West Nickel Mines Amish conjured up their forgiveness out of thin air or from a reservoir of generic Christian piety, simply underestimates the power of culture to shape one’s responses to tragedy and injustice.

If we truly think that forgiveness is a good thing (I do, and, hopefully, most of us do), then we need to create cultures that value and nurture forgiveness. We need to work more imaginatively to build communities in which enemies are treated as members of the human family. We need to see offenders, as well as victims, as persons with authentic needs. Forgiveness requires at least that. As theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote: “Forgiveness is the final form of love.”

There are no simple answers to this issue, but perhaps the beginning of the answer is found in an incident that involved Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Barton was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. “Don’t you remember it?” her friend asked. “No,” was Barton’s reply, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.”  As someone much wiser than I once said: “Go, and do likewise.”

Funeral procession for the slain children at  West Nickel Mines School

The funeral procession for the slain children at West Nickel Mines School

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No Hope At New Hope

exclusion

Julion Evans was only forty-two years old when he died. He died after grappling for four years with the rare disease called amyloidosis, an illness  that occurs when a substance called amyloid builds up in one’s organs. Amyloid is an abnormal protein that is usually produced in bone marrow and can be deposited in any tissue or organ. Amyloidosis frequently affects the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system and digestive tract. Severe amyloidosis can lead to life-threatening organ failure. There is no cure for amyloidosis. There was no cure for Julion Evans.

When he died, his family wanted him to be remembered at the family church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida. The family had chosen to have the funeral at New Hope because it was large enough to accommodate the hundreds of mourners expected. Evans’ mother, Julie Atwood, was baptized in the church as a child and several of her family members, including her sister, still attend the church.

But the day before the service, Julie Atwood was standing at her son’s casket during his wake when she received a phone call from the pastor of the church, the Reverend T. W. Jenkins. Ms. Atwood says the pastor told her that it would be “blasphemous” to proceed with the funeral and that he was canceling it. Why? Because Julion Evans was gay.

What kind of pastor is the Reverend T. W. Jenkins that he would use the telephone to tell a grieving family of his decision? At the very minimum, this decision required of him to speak to the family face-to-face. Pastor Jenkins may have his D.Min. degree, but I find him guilty of pastoral malfeasance.

Julion’s husband, Kendall Capers, talked with the funeral home’s managers and requested space for a funeral the next day, which they gladly granted. But the ugliness of this church’s actions compounded the grief for Capers who is still reeling from the shock. “I haven’t had a chance to grieve since I got the phone call,” Capers said.

Here are the facts about Evans’ life that were too “blasphemous” for Jenkins to relay to his congregation. When Evans died, he had been with his husband, Kendall Capers, for seventeen years. During the last four of those years, Evans was dying of amyloidosis, a rare, incurable, painful disease that slowly destroys the organs, nervous system, and digestive tract. Capers took care of Evans through his illness. The two finally wed in Maryland when it was clear that Evans did not have much longer to live. The decision by Pastor Jenkins devastated Evans’ husband, Kendall Capers.

In defense of his decision, Jenkins said: “Based on our preaching of the Scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church. I’m not trying to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles.”

As a pastor, of course, Jenkins has his civic and constitutional right to deny religious services to anyone he wants. But that legal prerogative does not exempt Jenkins from moral judgment – and morally, his actions are surely breathtakingly despicable. Here was Julion Evans, a man in a deeply committed relationship of seventeen years, who suffered bravely through a horrible disease – and yet this church denied him peace, even in death. Pastor Jenkins, this up-standing “man of God” can “stand up for [his] principles” all he wants, but the rest of us have every right to be utterly sickened by his actions. 

According to its website, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church is a “Christ-centered” and “biblically-based” place of worship. It offers ministries “open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home.”

Well, not if you are Julion Evans.

Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas may feel that gays deserve to die and to go to Hell, but this church outdoes does them by a long shot: this church does not even think they deserve a Christian burial.

If there is any ray of hope that comes out of this shameful event, it is this. Another Baptist pastor, the Reverend Otis Cooper, ended up performing the funeral service for the family. Cooper, a young pastor at New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, has only been a pastor of this church for ten months. Julion Evans’ mother attends his church. The family ended up having the funeral at the same funeral home that handled the wake, with Cooper officiating. Cooper says he does not regret his decision. I can only hope that his congregation feels the same way.

Now, it does not surprise me that a conservative Christian venue such as New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would find itself in a moral quandary over hosting a funeral for an openly gay man, one in which his grieving husband would be in attendance. If you are a church that preaches against gay unions and is opposed to performing same-sex weddings, it would indeed potentially present a conflict to preside over a gay man’s funeral.

But frankly, that is all still completely crappy and unenlightened and pretty much the exact opposite of what I believe Jesus would do. Such an attitude completely ignores Jesus’ message of love, particularly towards those in mourning for Julion Evans, in favor of those in the congregation who hold the purse strings. Jesus would not have done to this grieving mother and this bereaving husband what this pastor and his church did to Julie Atwood and Kendall Capers. Jesus would not have turned them away. He would have embraced them – embraced Julion and embraced his friends. Jesus would not have turned them away because for him, compassion was more important than any earthly judgment.

So let us think for a moment. What could this spiritual leader of a congregation have done when the outraged members of his flock began calling and complaining about the prospect of a gay man’s final blessing being bestowed there? What was the moral imperative that Pastor Jenkins ought to have followed?

Well, here is a radical thought. He could have led. Pastor Jenkins had a chance to be the spirit of Jesus the Christ to this family. Instead, he kicked each of them while they were down. And he kicked them hard.

We should expect of our clergy not only that they are they compassionate, but also that they are knowledgeable about issues that present themselves.  As we do not go to a doctor who never learned a thing after graduation from med school, so too, we should not want our clergy to cease studying after they are ordained. But from the remarks that Pastor Jenkins has made in this matter, I can only speculate that his education ended when he finished seminary.  

The Biblical texts that are most often cited in the same-sex debate deserve some explanation in order to reduce their citation for hurtful purposes. So let me be presumptuous and try to enlighten Pastor Jenkins a bit, so that if this situation ever arises again he can and will handle it differently. (Hope, it is said, springs eternal and I am a very hopeful person!)

Does Pastor Jenkins know, for instance, that the text of Genesis 19 – usually cited as evidence of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality – centers upon the story of Lot’s visitation in the city of Sodom by two angels? The men of Sodom tell Lot to hand over the male visitors so that they may “know” them, that is, sexually know them (giving rise to the term “sodomy”). It is horrifying to our contemporary minds when Lot bargains with the visitors by offering the men his virgin daughters instead. However, any reader of ancient literature (of which the Hebrew Bible is a component) would realize the familiar motif concerning hospitality. The story is not one denigrating same-sex practice; instead it upholds the incredible (and ludicrous) hospitality of Lot as a virtue.

Does Pastor Jenkins know that the holiness codes of Leviticus thread down from an all-encompassing mandate to the Israelites to behave distinctly from their foreign (and depraved) neighbors? Leviticus 20:13 that proscribes the death penalty for same-sex relations is quite related to the codes that condemn bestiality, invoke dietary restrictions, and order the wearing of certain fibers. The codes make the Israelites unique from their neighbors, and they reflect a particular time and place in Israelite history. These strict behavioral rules were established and they were applied only to the followers of Yahweh, namely, the Israelites! If this is a valid analysis, (as I believe it is) it probably means that the vast majority of orthodox Christians apply to Christians the same rules that were intended to apply only to the Israelites. Any contemporary critique must note this reality before invoking the codes as ammunition against same-sex practice.

Further, does Pastor Jenkins know that there is no Hebrew or Greek equivalent word in the Biblical text to reflect the modern term “same-sex orientation” or “homosexuality?” Moreover, there were no discussions or arguments concerning sexual orientation in the ancient and late ancient world, conversations that would only arrive in the modern era of psychology. Instead, ancient writers believed any wanton sexual behavior of any variety was a mismanagement of one’s appetites. The apostle Paul, in the New Testament, follows this pattern.

Speaking of the apostle Paul, does Pastor Jenkins know that the Pauline letters that are raised in the same-sex debate are part of Paul’s understanding of sexual immorality in the first century C.E? In his letter to the Corinthians, for instance, Paul includes in a laundry list of vices “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” These terms are injected along with many other vices: “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers,” and Paul is addressing the issue of a church member sleeping with his stepmother. In other words, Paul is addressing ALL deviant sexual and immoral behavior, not just that of a same-sex variety. In his address to the Romans, Paul describes the root sin of the Gentiles as idolatry, and the consequences of idolatry are vices beginning with women and men “exchanging” natural intercourse for unnatural. While Paul is describing this behavior as the result of wayward passions, the chief sin is idolatry and separation from the one true God. While the Romans text offers the longest discussion of same-sex behavior in the New Testament, it is unclear whether it truly is a condemnation of a specific practice.

Does Pastor Jenkins know that until the middle of the twentieth century, there was little discussion of this issue either in church or in society? The general consensus was that practicing homosexuality was destructive behavior, condemned as “sinful.” But data began to emerge in the 1950s that was destined to change these definitions and their resulting stereotypes. Scientific studies began to suggest that homosexuality was not abnormal behavior; that homosexuality was not a mental illness, as believed for a long time. It was simply a minority aspect of sexuality that has always been present in the human species. Investigations have revealed that the percentage of homosexuals in the population was fairly constant at all times and in all places. We now know that approximately 10% of the population is homosexual and that this percentage applies to the animal kingdom as well. Homosexuality was determined not to be something people choose, but something to which they awaken. It was part of one’s identity – and as such was not open to change.

The test of this latter truth came in the realization that those of us who are heterosexual did not choose our sexual orientation, either. We also simply awakened to it. Yet heterosexuals continued to believe that what they do not choose, the homosexual person does. This has meant that the heterosexual majority could continue to cast blame on parents, on dominating mothers, on weak fathers, or on molesting adults as the causative agents that created homosexuality in innocent children. Remnants of these largely discredited ideas still feed the prejudices of many people. I suspect that such ideas probably feed the members of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

The above discussions will likely never satisfy the Reverend Mr. Jenkins, his congregation, or any other opponents of gay rights or of same-sex marriage to any degree. But I believe that it is valid to question the basing of every aspect of our lives entirely on what the Bible “says” to the exclusion of anything and everything else that has been written. To understand the Bible is to realize that the Biblical material is very diverse, and also very condemnatory. For example, Jesus supposedly reflects on the Adam and Eve story to insist to his listeners that those that divorce and re-marry commit adultery (Mark 10:1-12; Matt 19:4; also Luke 16:18). The Bible “says” a lot of things. The Bible, when read at face value, condones incest (Lot and his daughters) slavery, the denigration of women, and a host of other ills that our world can do without. Perhaps we should treat the Bible less like the inerrant “Word of God” and understand it more as a human-authored document that arouses in us a life of faith and should be taken seriously, but not literally.

If Pastor Jenkins knows any of this, then he should be courageous enough to share it with his obviously uninformed congregation. Maybe then there will be new hope at New Hope, but I must confess, I won’t hold my breath.

Doin’ What Comes UNnaturally

love enemies

For the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun, Irving Berlin wrote a song entitled Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly. The song was introduced in the original Broadway production by Ethel Merman and then later in the film version of the musical by Betty Hutton. In the song, Annie Oakley, her brother, sisters, and the owner of the Wilson Hotel sing jokingly about how the Oakley family and their community live happy lives despite their lack of education and, often, money. They just did what was natural for them.

But sometimes we have to do more than what comes naturally to us. We have to do something that is UNnatural to us. We all love people who love us, but how about those who are not easy to love, or those who do not love us at all – our enemies? Loving such people, it would seem to me, is to do the UNnatural thing.

Thomas Merton, who was not only a Trappist monk, but also a poet, a social activist, a student of comparative religion, and the author of numerous works on spirituality made the observation that “if we could see with the eyes of God, our problem would be that we would fall down and worship one another!” In other words, we will only experience the breadth of God’s all-encompassing and unconditional love if we, too, acquire the habit of loving.

This habit will require a real renewal of our minds and attitudes. We must allow ourselves to be transformed to love with a deep, broad, and high love. While there is certainly a place for righteous anger, we will be far more effective and fruitful if we are motivated by love and mercy rather than by anger and frustration.

Whom do we find it hardest to love? For some people, it is natural to want to love the underdogs of our society, but we need to look deeper into our hearts for those whom we find it difficult to love, such as people with different values than ours, or people whom we cannot imagine changing.

There is an old Irish curse that speaks to that point. It goes like this:

May those who love us, love us. And those that don’t love us,

May God turn their hearts,

And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,

May he turn their ankles, So we may know them by their limping.

That curse is often the sentiment of people other than the Irish, of course. That curse is our natural reaction to those whom we identify as our enemies. Nevertheless, one of the distinguishing virtues that we can develop is the UNnatural virtue of possessing the capacity to love their enemies.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”

So then, how does that thought play out in reality? Ernest Gordon answers that question in his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, a sobering but ultimately uplifting account of life in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. Gordon, a Captain of the Scottish Argyles, along with other soldiers, was captured by the Japanese and forced to build the famous railroad and bridge on the River Kwai. One afternoon, a shovel was missing. The Japanese officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When no one budged, the officer pulled out his pistol and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious to the soldiers that the officer meant what he said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his pistol, picked up a shovel, and brutally beat the man to death. When the beating was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse of their comrade and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing.

Indeed, the officer had miscounted the first time. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! The incident had a profound effect on the men in the camp. The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons every one of them, lined up in front of their captors and instead of attacking their enemy, the survivors insisted: “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.” Sacrificial love had transforming power. It was a case of doing what comes UNnaturally.

Some psychologists tell us that what we hate in our enemies is often actually what we hate in ourselves – which, of course, raises the question, who is the real enemy? Walt Kelly was profoundly correct when he gave his comic strip character Pogo, the possum in the Okefenokee Swamp, the answer to that question in these immortal words: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” More than any other words written by Kelly, those insightful words perfectly sum up the foibles of humankind, the nature of the human condition, and the need to do what comes UNnatur’lly .       

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Holy Hobby Lobby!

creastionism2

It seems as if the ultra-rich and ultra-conservative Hobby Lobby Green family not only wants to save women from the so-called sinful use of Plan B (sometimes called “the morning-after pill”), ella, and two forms of IUD’s, but also wants to reform our public schools. If the Greens have their way, all students will be required to take Bible-based religion courses. (No doubt the students will only study the Holy Hobby Lobby Religion. No liberal Secular Humanist comparative religion stuff for our students!.) The Hobby Lobby family wants to save the souls of all the public school children by forcing their beliefs on anyone who wants to graduate from high school. For the uninformed, Hobby Lobby (formerly called Hobby Lobby Creative Centers) was founded by David Green, the son of an Assemblies of God preacher and comes from a family of preachers. Green, now an entrepreneur worth over five billion dollars, claims to have built his business squarely on biblical principles: “We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles.” It was those principles that caused Hobby Lobby to take a case to the United States Supreme Court against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because of its inclusion of a provision mandating that companies provide access to emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill. Recently, it has been discovered that Hobby Lobby’s own 401k plan invests in companies that produce birth control devices and contraceptive pills. Is this a case of having the beam in their own eye? Or is it just plain old-fashioned hypocrisy? Just asking.

But Steve Green’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. He is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, to cherish and to heed the literal truth of — the Bible.

Yes, Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green, through his Green Scholars Initiative (whatever that is), wants public school children to believe in his version of Christianity through a Bible class. Perhaps propaganda class would be a better designation.

Now, Green and the Green Scholars Initiative label the class harmless; it is a class to teach the history and influence of one of the most influential books in Western history. Plenty of non-Christians study the Bible in much the same way, including many biblical scholars. Additionally, according to Green, in order to develop the teaching material and keep it from being partisan, the Green Scholars Initiative had input from scholars of various religious traditions.

And who are these scholars? According to one source, a member of the Mustang school board: “Green Scholars Initiative has brought in more than 70 renowned scholars of different faiths from Jerusalem and Oxford to Baylor University to create the curriculum.” All of which tells us nothing about who has created this piece. Who are these “renowned scholars”? How about their names, their credentials? What are their religious affiliations? Why the exclusionary “of different faiths”? Were there no atheists available? Do the various faiths include progressive Christians, or Muslims, or Jews? Buddhists? Furthermore, what impact will non-fundamentalist biblical scholars have on the final say-so of the curriculum?

But there is good reason to believe that this curriculum is no more scholarly than Creationist Science is scientific. Young-earth creationists believe that God made the Earth in six 24-hour days (in 4004 BCE), thus reversing the ground lost since the Scopes Trial in 1925 and returning to the chronology of the world established by Bishop James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland in the seventeenth century, which firmly placed the Earth’s creation on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE. Young-earth creationists have the most remarkable beliefs. For instance, in June of 2012, journalists discovered that publishers of fundamentalist Christian textbooks would begin issuing textbooks claiming that the Loch Ness Monster is a real live plesiosaur (Let’s not be hampered by the fact that Plesiosaurs first appeared about 205 million years ago and became extinct about 66 million years ago). These texts would be used by Christian schools and homeschoolers to promote denialism of the theory of evolution. One critic believed that these textbooks would be used in at least thirteen American states. To add to the problem, Louisiana placed thirteen Christian schools that use such textbooks on its list of approved alternative private schools paid for with tax-funded vouchers.

Our tax dollars are already being used to teach children about the creation “science” of astronomy, climatology, dinosaurs, and Noah’s ark because right now parents are given tax-dollar funded vouchers to send their children to private religious schools that teach Creation “science.”

What are the goals of this curriculum developed by Steve Green? The Green Scholars Initiative says that it wants to present objective, non-sectarian lessons on the Bible. But Green himself says that the very purpose of the history lessons of his curriculum “is to show the reliability of [the Bible].” He further states: “When you present the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming.” Evidence to or of what? That the Bible should be taken literally? Scholarship may raise questions, but propaganda will have none of that. And if Green is anything, he is a propagandist.

Recently, Green gave a speech outlining his purposes for the curriculum. In part, he said: “With the history, we want to show the archaeological evidences of the Bible.” This statement goes along with fundamentalist Christian teachings that the stories in the bible are true, are accurate and happened when, how, and where they say they happened. This deduction is something that archaeology has not been able to prove so much because archaeology is a science, not a tool of propaganda.

Recently, the Mustang, Oklahoma school board voted to adopt Steve Green’s Bible course. The board, whose district is practically in Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City backyard, agreed to test the first year of the Museum of the Bible Curriculum, an ambitious four-year public school elective on the narrative, history and impact of the Bible. What was the school board thinking? Did they really think that Christians wouldn’t use this opportunity to spread the Good News? (My cynical mind tells me that they wanted this to happen. After all, Oklahoma is in the heart of the so-called “Bible Belt” in the southwest United States.)

For at least the first semester of the 2014-2015 year, Mustang alone will employ the program, said Jerry Pattengale, head of the Green Scholars Initiative, which is overseeing its development. In September 2016, he hopes to place it in at least one hundred high schools; by the following year, “thousands.”

If successful, Green would galvanize the movement to teach the Bible academically in public schools, a movement born after the Supreme Court banned school-sanctioned devotion in the 1960s, but whose steady progress in the last decades has been somewhat hampered.

The Green curriculum “is like nothing we’ve seen before,” said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and editor of a booklet sent out to all schools by the United States Department of Education in 2000 on teaching religion in public schools. In an award acceptance speech before the National Bible Association, Steve Green explained that his goals for a high school curriculum were to show that the Bible “is true,” that it is “good” and that its impact, “whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.” If realized, these sentiments, although shared by millions of Americans, could conflict with the court’s requirement that public school treatment of the Bible be taught in a secular, academic fashion.

Green’s zeal for the Bible has also inspired him to build a $70 million museum devoted to the Bible in Washington DC, just a few blocks away from the Supreme Court Building where Hobby Lobby challenged Obamacare’s contraception mandate. Coincidental or something more? You know, I believe that Steve Green could have helped a helluva lot of poor people with that kind of money. But that’s just me.

I believe that this latest development from our good friends, the Greens, should be a wake-up call to all of us. Their project is not about teaching the relevance of the Bible as an important book in history; their scheme is about indoctrinating our children to follow Steve Green and other fundamentalist’s views of the Bible as central to running a theocracy. You heard me right. Theocracy. I’m not joking. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.