By Harriet P. Gross
Have you noticed that Mayor Tom Hayden of Flower Mound unilaterally declared 2014 “The Year of the Bible?” Not surprisingly, this semi-official proclamation has raised voices and eyebrows throughout the Dallas Metroplex.
I say “semi-official” because Hayden was quick to point out, as criticism began to roll in along with some kudos that his directive was not enacted by the town; it was just his own way of “encouraging the community to discuss the Bible.” To make this happen, he’s created a program that takes readers through both the Old and New Testaments (very Christian concepts, these!) in one year, using the popular Protestant King James version of Holy Scripture as his guidebook (You may inspect this, if you like, at thebible2014.com).
However, Hayden chose to make his pitch at a meeting of the Flower Mound City Council, which at the very least gave the impression that his words were endorsed by his town’s governing body. The Anti-Defamation league was quick to jump right in on behalf of us Jews and the many others who don’t use that particular Bible as life’s guidebook, calling Hayden’s action “religiously divisive…highly inappropriate [and] likely unconstitutional.” According to ADL, “As a public official, he has both a moral and legal duty to equally serve his constituents of all faiths or no faith.”
Some concerned common folk followed suit with letters to local newspaper editors that deserve to be quoted here, at least in part.
Rich Latta of Fort Worth: “It’s truly unfortunate that there are so many Christians in this country who just can’t seem to comprehend the value of keeping church and state separate…Surely [Tom Hayden] isn’t so ignorant as to not know how un-American his actions were. He clearly serves his god over his country…”
Louis DeGiulio of Flower Mound: “As an elected leader, the mayor may not point to a religious document and publicly declare its supremacy…A mayor cannot promote one religion over any other, even if he believes that the United States was founded on the principles contained in the Bible.”
But even with hearts in the right place, some people will get things wrong! Alix Jules, who coordinates the DFW Coalition of Reason, said the proclamation “ignores our Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and secular families who are also working on living and instilling moral values in our daily lives — without the Bible.” But Hindus have their sacred Vidas, Islam has its Quran, and we Jews have our Torah (plus much else!). I wish this person had emphasized that “a rose by any other name…”
Mayor Hayden certainly does not have exclusive knowledge of how to read a sacred text in a specific period of time; we Jews have been doing this for centuries, reading Torah in prescribed portions from beginning to end throughout the world on certain days of every year. Then there is Daf Yomi — studying one page of Talmud per day in the actual or spiritual company of many others. And now, Reform Judaism provides by email its daily “Ten Minutes of Torah,” with thought-provoking commentary by rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators. We should also remember that Catholics honor a version of the Bible differing in many ways from that of King James, reading specific portions of it at very specific seasons of the year.
I recall that when Tom Hayden first made his announcement, he said he hoped his “Year of the Bible” would encourage people to read it, and then added a few words on Jesus — learning more about and getting closer to him. To me, this seems to be stepping dangerously near outright proselytizing. But in the days following that specific reference disappeared, replaced by a wish that Flower Mound residents would consider the Bible’s teachings and principles. What he most desires, the Mayor has said, is for God to bless his town.
I guess we all know which God’s blessings he is hoping for.