In thousands of homes across Canada, tiny Gideon Bibles gather dust on shelves or are hidden away in boxes and drawers. Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organization dedicated to distributing free copies of the Bible in over 94 languages and 194 countries of the world. Gideon Bibles can be found in hotel rooms, hospitals, nursing homes and prisons around the world. In addition, they are given to members of the military of various countries and in some places they are distributed to college and university students, health care workers, fire fighters, and police officers.
In 1946, Canadian Gideons began presenting New Testaments to all grade 5 students in Canada whose parents consented. The little Bibles that the children receive also include the Old Testament Hebrew books of Psalms and Proverbs. Why have so many people kept these little testaments? What is it about them that has caused people who never read the Bible or attend church to keep theirs and to still have it decades after they’ve grown up? Is it because it was received as a free gift, is it simply because it’s a souvenir of childhood or do they somehow sense that there is power in the Word of God? Like so many others, I still have mine. I received it on April 10, 1963. Even during my most rebellious years when I turned my back on God and the church, I kept my little maroon Bible.
In recent years, the practice of distributing Gideon Bibles in schools has stirred up quite a tempest with critics saying that it isn’t appropriate for public schools in a multicultural society to distribute religious material. At this point, the decision whether or not to allow the practice to continue has been left up to individual school boards. Yesterday, two representatives of the nearest Gideons chapter visited our church to share about their ministry and to update us on what’s happening in our jurisdiction. For the first time since 1946, the Gideons have not been allowed to hand out Bibles in our schools this year and a final decision regarding the future is in the hands of the superintendent of schools. We were urged to pray that they be allowed to resume distribution and to write letters to the superintendent urging him to decide in their favour. Many, including my husband, are praying to that end but I’m not ready to jump on that bandwagon without considering all the implications. I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it is useful for teaching, correcting and equipping us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) but I’ve been wrestling with whether or not it should be distributed in our schools.
When I posed the question on Facebook yesterday, one acquaintance responded that the practice should be allowed to continue because it’s been a long-standing tradition in our schools. For me, that’s not good enough. Just because we’ve always done something isn’t enough reason to continue doing it. As a teacher, I welcomed the Gideons into my classroom and witnessed first hand the excitement of the children as they received their Bibles but I also know that the door that allowed the Gideons in was also open to every other religious organization. Just because they haven’t taken advantage of that opportunity yet doesn’t mean that they won’t. It may not be politically correct to say so, but I don’t want the Koran or the Hindu, Bahai or Wiccan sacred texts being distributed in our schools.
Canada was built on Christian principles but the cultural and religious fabric of our nation has changed. We’ve opened our hearts and our borders to the world but in our haste to embrace tolerance, we’ve allowed changes that we might not have anticipated. We have polygamous marriages and honour killings now. I know they’re not endorsed by law but we ought not to close our eyes and pretend that they aren’t here. Muslim girls can wear the hijab in Canadian schools and the right of a young Sikh student to wear his kirpan, the ceremonial dagger of his faith, at school went to the Supreme Court of Canada. After years of wrangling, in March of 2006 the court ruled 8-0 that a total ban of the kirpan in schools violated the Charter of Rights because it would infringe on the Charter’s guarantee of religious freedom. So, is it really a stretch to think that other religions might want to introduce their writings to our students? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, the latest figures from Statistics Canada show that 77% of the population still claims to be Christian. These numbers are down significantly from 1951 when 96% of Canadians identified themselves as either Catholic or Protestant but 77% is still a clear majority and ours is still a democratic country. Perhaps we shouldn’t be allowing the other 23% to silence us.
What do you think?