Trinity Presbyterian Church folks have been encouraging the reading of banned books recently. My first reaction was to ask myself what this has to do with my Christian faith? Isn’t this just chasing after some political concern? So, I have been thinking.
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson gave a recent speech on the topic of banned books and said it was about stopping “the telling of the truth.” That has resonated with me. I often think about the Bible as the basis of truth for all time. This Book of "Basic Instructions before Leaving Earth (BIBLE)” is God’s love letter to me that provides guidance about how to live a good life and teaches how to understand the many complexities of human life experiences all around me. The powerful stories in the Bible cover a broad range of challenges and opportunities. This is not limited to information and facts but extends to increasing my understanding and knowledge. The words are alive and speak to my current life situations. The stories are complex and sometimes difficult to understand. Certainly, pursuing the truths told in the pages of my Bible is worthy of a lifetime of study.
The Bible has a lot to say about truth. There are dozens of Bible verses about truth, not limited to:
...and many more. Jesus calls himself "the truth”. One of the ten commandments is to not lie, but tell the truth. John 1 begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Some interpret “Word” to be defined as “wisdom and knowledge”, in other words – truth. So, for me, my Bible and my Christian faith are based on a cornerstone of truth.
I have come to the opinion that book banning is about trying to cancel the truth. Some criteria for book banning include: sexually explicit content, offensive language, graphic violence, disrespect for parents or family; exaltation of evil; or lack of literary merit. (However, many of the top 100 banned books have won literary awards.) At first these seem reasonable. But then, not allowing children to learn about these things is to deny them gaining more understanding about the truths of this world. Certainly, parents have an important role to play. When my son was young I welcomed the advice and encouragement provided by teachers, relatives, and church friends while believing that my role was primary. What folly to believe that children growing up in our world are not learning about sex and violence and racism from many sources during their daily life. Children’s bodies are developing sexually at much younger ages now than in previous generations and they are trying to understand the related emotions and implications. They live in a culture awash in easy access to pornography, child sex trafficking, and alarming rates of suicide. Of course, suitability of reading material must be related to the ages and experience of the reader, as well as the context used by an educator or parent to explain the usefulness of the stories told. We should want our precious children to be learning about responsibility, health, consequences, and danger at school and at home. What an incredibly bad idea to prohibit teachers from even mentioning anything regarding this topic. Even if it is not part of the curriculum, children will be asking related questions and they will be getting information about them from places you would not think advisable.
Some claim children should not read things that make them feel guilty or sad. However, my Bible says we should all be humbly trying to learn more about the magical processes of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation while seeking justice for all. We all need this. Knowing the truth is the first step.
The banned books are often those telling the truthful stories about racism or about LGBTQ+ or about poverty. Yep, sex can be part of these human stories, just like in the Bible. (By the way, the Bible has been banned by some.) The stories help us to more fully understand and love our neighbors. They help us to understand the many differing voices and perspectives that increasingly are part of our world. They help us to be more knowledgeable about the evils of violence which is part of the truthful lived stories of our world.
My Bible tells me that loving my neighbor is one of the two most important Christian requirements. Trinity Presbyterian Church, through the “More Light” and “Matthew 25” commitments, has affirmed our support for persons of any LGBTQ+ sexual orientation or of any race. When I love my neighbor, then I not only want to encourage them to tell their truth, but I need to listen to (or read) what they have to say.
Could some fear the truth-telling about racism and homophobia and more because once we learn the truth about social injustices in this world, we cannot look away. We are compelled to respond to Matthew 25’s mandate to serve those in need. So, let these stories be told! Scatter those banned books everywhere children may find them.
Finally, I am comforted by the knowledge that the very act of banning books actually encourages many people to seek them out. To read them. To talk about them. To give them as gifts to children. Amid our all-encompassing electronic screens, I think this will encourage children to read more books and to value those books. I think about this as “God’s good grace.” Hallelujah!
So, what to do?
Attend the “Banned Book Read-In” at Trinity Presbyterian Church 10:00-2:00 Saturday, November 18 and bring friends. Make a brief appearance or participate in the entire event. There will be snacks!
Read a banned book. Appreciate it. Talk about it. Librarians and publishers need to know your interest.
Share the list of 100 most banned books at https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top100