Tari and I celebrated our anniversary by spending a few days in Washington D.C. It had been twenty years since I had spent time in the city and had forgotten how impressive a national capital it truly is. We spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian—you could easily spend a month there and not come close to seeing it all. The museums of American History, Natural History, and the Air and Space Museums were all amazing. I won’t bore you with all the details.
On our last day, I read the editorial pages of the Washington Post. On the cover was a story about a new museum that is being built just off the National Mall: The Museum of the Bible. It appears that Steve Green, the President of Hobby Lobby and a well-known Christian activist (you may recall it was Green who fought and won the battle over contraceptives being a mandatory option for his employees under the Affordable Care Act) has decided this museum should be built. I also assume that he, and perhaps others, are personally funding this new museum.
The Post article raised some interesting thoughts. It reminded us that there was a deliberate plan on the part of the early government leaders NOT to include a national church along the mall. In fact, it would be another 100 years before we actually DID build a National Cathedral in Washington and it is NOT particularly close to the mall. That decision was a deliberate effort to remind everyone that the government would be a secular government of laws by the people, with the people, and for the people.
The article also reminded that Washington is now a city of such diversity that there are any number of religions that practice faith in the city.
I understand those concerns. I have no way of knowing whether or not Mr. Green has sinister, ulterior motives for building his museum or not. I have no reason to believe he does. And as a lover of the Bible--its history and literature and story—I support efforts to make it available and expose it to those who may not know what’s in it. (Just a couple of years ago I was in the J.P. Morgan Library in New York where there are not one, but two Gutenberg Bibles. That was pretty thrilling for me. I also saw a copy of the earliest biblical papyrus fragment. Those kinds of artifacts and items have their value).
But allow me to share the thought that hit me immediately when I read this story—a thought I should think would be sobering for all Christians: Erecting a museum for the Bible makes me wonder if it has—or is fast becoming—obsolete. Most of the time, museums serve to remind us of something that happened a long, long time ago—something valuable to remember, but long-since faded to memory. In some of those other museums we saw the first flying machines and homages to those who fought in long ago wars, we saw furniture built 200 years ago, we saw machines and contraptions built in the 50s that now only make us smile at how simplistic they were—and no longer of any practical use.
I would hate to think a Museum of the Bible would serve a similar purpose—nice to look at, interesting to remember, but having no real practical value any longer. I hope this new museum can serve as a catalyst for a new generation to fall in love with this story. For now, I can only remind each of us, who are believers, to fall in the love with the book all over again. Read it regularly, study it, make notes, talk about it with others. Raise questions and doubts about certain parts of it. But please take it seriously. The Bible is a record of how the faith has found us and changed us over the course of thousands of years. It serves as one of the foundations of our faith even still.
There are new studies launching at the church in the next weeks. And every Sunday our Sunday School classes allow us a chance to fall in love with the Book, yet again. Come and learn. “Seek and Ye shall find—knock and the door shall be opened”—That’s a great quote I once heard from somewhere.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.