Senate Bill 142 is making its way through the Kentucky legislature. More popularly known as the “Bible bill,” it follows the success of a Texas initiative to allow the teaching of the Bible as literature, with a special focus on tracing its influence in Western civilization through an elective course offered to high school students.

Crafters have sought to avoid First Amendment entanglements by including language meant to remove concerns over using the class as a form of religious instruction or proselytizing for a particular religion.

It’s a political hot potato. Who wants to find themselves on the wrong side of apple pie, motherhood and the Bible? So far, efforts in Texas, Tennessee and now Kentucky have passed without much resistance.

Understandably, it is a concession to the long struggle of assessing the role of religion in the public classroom. The parochial school system was begun because Catholics were disenfranchised when Christians (make that Protestant Christians) offered daily Bible readings and prayers as a regular part of the American classroom prior to the landmark Supreme Court decisions of Engel v. Vitale [1962] and Abington School District v. Schempp [1963].

Home schooling and many private Christian schools are also fueled by a desire to include specific religious instruction as a part of their secondary educational curriculum.

What’s the problem with teaching the Bible in the public classroom? Allow me to raise a significant point of order within my Baptist family of faith as we participate in the current discussion.

As sacred literature, believers have a much higher view of the Bible than restricting its influence to merely shaping society as, say, an interpretative insight for Shakespeare. We believe and have taught how the Bible is adequate to equip the believer in matters of salvation, personal management, spiritual fulfillment and ultimate destiny. For believers, understanding the role of Scripture in human reflection and application cannot be adequately appreciated apart from this confessional accounting.

Yet telling this story requires the very advocacy denied by the current legislation and makes the Bible a document no more incredible than the Constitution or the Magna Carta. Of course, there is the very legitimate possibility, by some advocates of the Bible’s extraordinary influence, that if read, individuals would be compelled to believe. If so, is this really the best we can offer – evangelism by way of a disingenuous Trojan horse?

Bible teaching is best left to homes and in houses of worship. As Baptists, we particularly should remember: When we ask the power of the state to do our job, we discover not only how much it gets wrong, but also how diminished our own faith becomes in the process.

You see, I believe a watered-down Bible, even taught as an elective by a completely unbiased and objective authority to high school students, is really no Bible at all.

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

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