It was 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. High school science teacher Thomas Scopes had been charged with violating Tennessee’s ban on teaching evolution in the classroom. He was defended by renowned defense attorney Clarence Darrow and prosecuted by William Jennings Bryan. The trial became a media circus from the outset with Darrow trying to frame the issue as a debate between Evolution and Creationism. The case became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial with many thinking the Bible was on trial, not Thomas Scopes.
I have read the trial transcript. A professed Christian, William Jennings Bryan made an effort to defend the cause of Creation, but frankly, he was no match for Darrow. Not that Darrow’s position was tenable, but Bryan was ill-prepared for Darrow’s withering cross-examination and wilted on the stand. When I read about this historic trial I get the impression it was an embarrassment to the people of Tennessee. Since then, it seems that Tennessee has wanted to set the record straight.
Tennessee State Representative Jerry Sexton has introduced a bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee. Many states have a state motto, bird, tree or flower. I don’t know how many have a state book. But Sexton is a republican and has met opposition to his bill within his own party. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam opposes it. The controversy is centered around whether this would constitute an establishment of religion contrary to the Constitution of the United States and defensible from any legal challenges sure to follow.
Sexton, a pastor himself, in defense of his bill says, “This does not establish any form of religion, and any move to denounce it, I think, is to silence those of us who would like to see reverence given to a book that has played a role in all our lives” to “memorialize the role the Bible has played in Tennessee’s history.”
I believe Sexton’s intentions are good, though myopic, and I agree with his sentiments. For me the Bible is the Book of books. But I am not convinced legislating its enshrinement is the path to take. Not because of the controversy. I am not one to shy away from controversy if needed, but the issue to me is not whether we pass a law to show our respect for the Scriptures, the issue for me is do we show our respect for the Scriptures by studying its truths, and with the help of God living them out each day.
In a nation that is increasingly becoming biblically illiterate day-by-day and alienated to God, there is a desperate need for those of us who say we believe the Bible to be the Word of God to read it and live it. Let us like the psalmist enshrine God’s Word in our hearts, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against You,” Psalm 119:11. If you love it, learn it and live it.