Tag Archives: Wisconsin Bible Ban

Transfiguration Sunday and the Wisconsin Bible Ban

Its human nature to try and extend exceedingly cool / awesome times, and Peter doesn’t disappoint in last Sunday’s Gospel reading. “Hey, lets build some places to stay at, this is awesome…” Alas God had other plans. Perhaps even more so, Peter James and John were instructed not to talk about i, at least for a while. While we don’t have a ton of insight into the personalities of James and John, no doubt this must have been an especially trying deal for Peter.

Get your world rocked, and be on top of it in a huge way…

You want this to never end!

The top of world experience ends in a flash, and no, you can’t talk about it, at least not for a while.

Many Lutherans in Wisconsin back in the late 1800’s were on top of the mountain in a lot of ways. Tobacco while labor intensive was a huge money maker and the wheat market was nothing to sneeze at either. Many folks did quite well for themselves, and not only that, they had have a fair bit left over and many chose to invest in their community.  Many churches were built as were many schools…  Rather than 1 pastor who would circulate among a boatload of congregations, many congregations found they could now afford half a pastor, and some even a full one. Granted, not everything was perfect… folks would have a bird over this or that and because giving was abundant, congregations could split, and build a new church a mile away or less… and bring on their own pastor from the myriad of synods that had come into being. Pastor density was pretty high as were the numbers of growing congregations. As a result, it was not unreasonable that many felt the Bible should be read in schools. The belief was so commonly held that even the State Superintendent of Public Instruction added the KJV Bible to the recommended book listings for the entire state. Ascribing to sola scriptura, even many legal minds who might have had fits over the constitutionality of schools picking one faith over another, felt that as long as interpretation and doctrine were left out (reading only) in the school room, there would not be any problems as concerns church and state separation.

When your faith practices are a majority and/or share much commonality with others, its easy to gloss over the headaches and problems that others outside a majority faith practice endure. You are on the mountain top, you want to stay there… you likely don’t even notice the impact on others who are not right there with you.

Not every Christian practice ascribes to sola scripture. Not every Christian practice ascribes to even the same translation of the scriptures. Even within the Lutheran traditions, there are often significant variances as to what is believed to be an obvious interpretation. As a result of the readings of the scriptures in schools, minus doctrine and interpretation, some students actually changed from one faith practice to another. In other cases, commonly held interpretations ended up not being anywhere so obvious. For the most part, these issues not even on the radar screen of the majority and complaints to school boards were often dismissed off hand. Over time, the conflict eventually made it into the legal system going all the way to the Wisconsin supreme court, where upon Bible reading was banned from the classroom… Folks came off that mountain pretty fast… but unlike the restrictions on Peter and crew, there was no small amount of vocal teeth knashing over it. Consider the following from the WI supreme court transcript.

The drift of some remarks in the argument of counsel for the respondent, and perhaps, also in the opinion of Judge BENNETT, is, that the exclusion of Bible reading from the dis-trict schools is derogatory to the value of the Holy Scriptures, a blow to their influence upon the conduct and consciences of men, and disastrous to the cause of religion.

The dialog over the  loss of Christian privilege rippling through a fair bit of the blogophere doesnt seem to be a whole lot different than those words penned over a century ago. The bottom line is actually pretty simple though… Christianities vibrancy or lack there of is not a function of legislation. The followup to the above from the transcript hits this head on.

The priceless truths of the Bible are best taught to our youth in the church, the Sabbath and parochial schools, the social religious meetings, and, above all, by parents in the home circle. There, these truths may be explained and enforced, the spiritual welfare of the child guarded and protected, and his spiritual nature directed and cultivated, in accordance with the dictates of the parental conscience. The Constitution does not interfere with such teaching and culture. It only banishes theological polemics from the district schools. It does this, not because of any hostility to religion, but because the people who adopted it believed that the public good would thereby be promoted, and they so declared in the preamble.

Coming down off the mountain of privilege back in 1880 looked to have had a mighty fine landing… may we do likewise.