I’m concerned that public schools are debating the inclusion of a book in its curriculum that has disturbing sections. Should our young children be exposed to certain stories? Below is a section of a book that I’m sure will disturb many Christians:
“John’s soul was closely bound to Steve, for John came to love him more than himself…. John entered into a union with Steve, committing to love him….
“But Paul spoke to his son John and all his men to have Steve killed. Because you see, John exceedingly delighted himself in Steve.
“So John told Steve, ‘My father Paul wants to kill you, so please be on your guard, especially this morning. Go stay in some secret hideout…. [They later met there and entered into a covenant relationship]
“But Paul grew angrier with his son. And he said to him, ‘You son of a rebellious perversion. Don’t I know that you have chosen Steve to your shame?… As long as Steve lives, you can never become established.’ …
“Then John rose from the table in the heat of anger…. He grieved for Steve and how his father had disgraced him…. The next morning John went out [to where Steve was hiding] for a meeting…. And there they kissed each other, and they cried with each other with Steve weeping more.
“And then they left [for the last time, swearing to be faithful to the private civil union they made].”
You can see why I’m concerned. Aren’t you? Should our tax dollars go toward promoting such stories?
If you feel, like I do, that this book does not belong in our public school system, I suggest you contact your local school board and lodge a complaint.
When you call, be sure to mention the book’s title. It’s the Bible: specifically 1 Samuel 18:1-3; 19:1-2 and 20:17, 30, 34-35 and 41-42.
I took the liberty of translating the passages into modern English from the original Hebrew, and changing the names from Saul, Jonathan and David to Paul, John and Steve.
Forgiving my peccadillo of changing the names to protect the innocent, let me ask, what did you think the story was about before you knew the source? Did you think it was a gay love story?
Now that you know the source, does it change the meaning? If so, why? Are you sure you’re reading the holy text for what it says, or are you simply imposing upon the text your own biases and homophobia?
Are you reading your theology into the text, shaping God’s holy word to fit into your culturally based worldview, or are you allowing the word to question, if not subvert, that normative gaze?
I’m not saying that David and Jonathan were bi-sexual (they both had wives). Neither am I saying they weren’t. I’m simply reading the text, and trying to understand it, without imposing my cultural or political views.
For those who insist on having the Bible taught in our public schools (specifically as a science book to explain the origins of existence) I have one question: Who gets to interpret the text? You? Me? Or someone else?
In a pluralistic society do Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and yes, even atheists, have a constitutional right to be employed as a school teacher? And if they do, do you really want them teaching Christianity to your children? Or would you want them teaching their faith and beliefs?
How can we ensure that the “right” way of teaching the Bible will occur? Should we hire only Christians as public school teachers, at least as science teachers? Should a teacher’s spirituality be considered in the hiring process? Who determines their spirituality?
There are some who believe that an educational system should not ask critical questions concerning truth, and that truth must be protected from honest inquiry. Those who raise uncomfortable questions or provide diverse perspectives are labeled divisive because they speak contrary to the beliefs of those who rule.
But if we have to protect truth, is it really truth? Shouldn’t truth shine through, no matter how rigorously it is tested?
Throughout history, those who rule have had the power to make their truth normative for everyone else. Their money and power affords them the privilege of determining who gets to teach, which textbooks are used, what subjects can and cannot be discussed. The truth which justifies their power within society becomes the standard and anyone who questions that truth becomes, by their definition, a divisive heretic.
For this reason, in the public school systems of a pluralist democratic society, the truth of just one group, especially those of the elite, can never become the dominant doctrine to be taught. I do not send my children to public schools to have their spirituality shaped by either the Christian Right or the Christian Left.
Thus, how I interpret the biblical story of David and Jonathan–or how you interpret it–should not be part of the secular public school curriculum. That task solely belongs in our individual homes and within our faith communities. Doesn’t it?
Miguel De La Torre is director of the Justice and Peace Institute and associate professor of Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.