This week I had the opportunity to visit the newest addition to Washington D.C.’s extensive list of must-see spots: the Museum of the Bible (MOTB). Primarily funded by the now-famous Green family, known by many for their chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, and the recent Supreme Court battle over Obama’s contraception mandate, this seven story, 430,000 square foot museum highlights the historic and global impact of the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament.
For those committed to lifelong learning, museums offer a unique opportunity to look through the lens of linear history and cut loose from the restrictive conversation of the immediate. A museum is a place where we look for the true, good, and beautiful, and actually expect to find it. My visit to D.C.’s newest museum did not disappoint.
As a student of government, with a concentration in American history, the museum’s second floor, referred to as the “Impact Floor,” was of special interest to me.
As I walked down the long corridor that highlighted the Bible’s impact on American history and public policy, what struck me most was the influence this book has had on social movements. Anyone that studies the intellectual arguments behind the cry for abolition and the Civil Rights Movement will see that they were rooted and perpetually steeped in Scripture’s mandate to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and the principle of equality—irrespective of race or gender—before God. It is no coincidence that many of the leaders of the movement were clergy or heavily involved in Christian churches.
Another aspect of American life the museum highlighted was the role of Scripture in public education. After the American Revolution the Bible was employed as the cardinal means of character education. Reading and writing instruction typically used the Good Book as its primary source. In the late 19th-century, Sunday Schools provided child laborers in New England with the only formal education many of them would ever receive. Again, the Bible was utilized as the primary textbook.
Even suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was by no means a bearer of good will toward Scripture, acknowledged the influence of the Bible. So much so that she commissioned the “Woman’s Bible” as an alternative for those that were dissatisfied with the perceived role of women in both the Old and New Testaments.
Going back even further, we see the impact the Bible had on the writings of John Locke, considered by many to be America’s intellectual father. In Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, he cited the Bible as his source for belief in the pre-political right to liberty and property. For both the religious and irreligious, that belief has had immeasurable implications on how we have approached private property and individual rights to this very day.
Even in our present political climate, the Bible is regularly cited in order to bolster one’s position and strengthen the moral authority of a cause. From references to Jesus’ command to not worry about the speck in someone else’s eye when you have a log in your own (quoted by both Obama and Bush 43, among others) to the calls for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the influence of Scripture on American history is undeniable, unavoidable, and unparalleled.