Originally published Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 03:36p.m.

As the Camp Verde School Board mulls over whether or not to implement a Bible course, we’ve seen quite a few letters and comments come in through our inbox voicing why this is a bad idea.

A recent Camp Verde Bugle/Verde Independent poll asking readers if Bible studies should be offered as an elective course in Verde Valley public high schools received a 55.21 percent no vote.

How about a compromise? Offer a comparative religions course instead.

Clarkdale resident David Leibforth wrote in a letter to the editor that “no religious books or writings have any place in the public, tax supported, schools.”

While I see where Mr. Leibforth is coming from, I don’t believe in absolutes. I think there is educational value in presenting these religious texts through an objective and scholarly lens, without dogmatic principles.

A major concern when it comes to mixing religion with education, is the risk of indoctrination and fanaticism.

“The Bible, by its very nature, is not subject to being taught as a completely secular document, with the possible exception of a few university courses in comparative religions. It is evident by the countless sects, denominations, religions, synods etc., that there are profound differences as to what the Bible is and what it means,” Leibforth wrote.

Clarkdale resident Matthew Holmes wrote that the instructor of a Bible studies course should have knowledge of Hebrew and Greek as well as Aramaic and Latin.

“…if you want to study Jesus and his times, the same applies: languages, cultures, histories of the area including Judaism, the Roman Empire and Mystery religions, Maccabees, and what not,” he wrote.

I agree. A comparative religions course would also be a great opportunity for schools to partner with various religious leaders and scholars in the area, and have them come in as guest speakers. The Verde Valley and surrounding areas are actually quite diverse if you know where to look.

Students should be exposed to a varied set of ideas and backgrounds to cultivate empathy and critical thinking skills. A nurturing educational environment should also encourage constructive discourse when students are exposed to different ideas.

Yavapai College offers a comparative religions course. According to the course description, the class explores the monotheistic religions – i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Japanese religions and Baha’i. Yavapai College already offers dual enrollment programs so maybe there’s an opportunity for an expanded partnership. At the very least, Verde Valley teachers can consult educators at Yavapai College on how best to frame their lesson plans if they choose to adopt a religions course.

Teaching the Bible isn’t a bad idea. I think the Bible – as with other religious texts -- is a beautiful piece of literature with good lessons and dynamic lore. There is value however in understanding Christianity’s relation to the world’s other faiths.

Instead of scrapping this idea, let’s broaden our scope and make it better.

--Commentary by Associate editor, Kelcie Grega

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