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A Controversial Museum of Bible Opens in Washington

Many think that the location of the museum clearly signals that it has an agenda.

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Museum of Bible, Washington DC
One of the many state-of-the-art interactive displays for education and entertainment that are throughout the Museum of the Bible. The museum opens November 17,2017 in Washington. VOA

A larger than life entrance greets visitors at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington — dramatic 12-meter-tall doors containing text from Genesis 1, the biblical creation of the world.

The gateway allows entry to all things about the Bible, spanning several floors in the large building, which is located near the National Mall, Smithsonian museums and the U.S. Capitol. Not surprisingly there is a section filled with Bibles, many of them replicas of Bibles the museum was unable to obtain, and various versions from over the centuries that have been adopted by varying religious groups.

Executive Director Tony Zeiss said the Bible is significant because “it helps people navigate through life,” and he would like people “to commit to being more engaged in this amazing book.”

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book, and the $500 million, privately funded museum has displays ranging from pro- and anti-slavery themes found in the holy book, to Hebrew texts, and even biblically themed contemporary women’s fashions.

What’s missing, some people say, is that there is not enough of the star of the New Testament, Jesus.

Zeiss said the museum is nonsectarian, and more than 100 scholars, who represent a variety of views, designed the exhibits, which also include $42 million in state-of-the-art interactive displays for education and entertainment — even in the elevators.

You can also stroll through a serene recreation of Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up, amid hand-painted trees and the sound of chirping birds.

“It’s meant to create a setting where when you walk in, you feel like you’re in a different place that you would find 2,000 years ago,” said Seth Pollinger, the museum’s director of content.

Family behind museum

The museum was founded by Steve Green, a member of the conservative evangelical family that owns Hobby Lobby, the world’s largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer. In 2014, Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case, concerning religious objections, to deny workers at family-owned corporations contraception coverage.

“It would be hard for us as a family to try to hide what we believe,” Green said. “We believe this book is what it claims to be, but our role here is to present the facts of the Bible more in a journalistic look.”

“As much as they want to stay neutral and objective on the Bible, it’s going to be very, very hard to present the Bible in that way,” said John Fea, a liberal evangelical who chairs the history department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The Bible is “connected to a particular religious tradition and their way of interpreting it,” he added.

Jacques Berlinerbrau, who is Jewish and a professor at Georgetown University, agrees.

“It is really problematic to ever say that one has a nonsectarian view of the Holy Scriptures,” he said.

Berlinerbrau also thinks the museum has an agenda.

“The idea that the museum doesn’t have any intent to convert people to a particular reading of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Scripture is absurd,” he said.

And even though museum officials say the location had nothing to do with being near the seat of the U.S. government, Fea is not buying it.

“It’s hard to see this as anything than other an attempt to try to bring Christian values in the Bible’s teachings as understood by evangelical protestants, like the Greens, into the center of American political life and American cultural life,” Fea said.

Texts and artifacts

The museum contains impressive rare biblical texts and ancient artifacts, some on loan from outside the U.S.; others from the Greens’ massive collection of antiquities. Some antiquities were smuggled out of Iraq, and purchased, inadvertently, by the family, they said. The Greens forfeited the items and paid a $3 million fine.

Green told VOA the museum is willing to return artifacts to their home countries “if there’s any artifact that we have that they would have a claim.”

When Green was asked if he would like to see people who come to the museum become more Christian, he smiled and said, “We want them to know the Bible better.” (VOA)

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Diplomats Take Part in Bicycle Ride in DC to Raise Sustainable Development Awareness

As far as military security is concerned, Kauppi said, Finland and the EU are focused on addressing "so-called hybrid threats" and on improving defense cooperation within the EU

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sustainable development
EU members' diplomatic representatives gather at the Finnish Embassy before biking toward the EU ambassador’s residence in Washington, July 25, 2019. (Delegation of the European Union to the United States) VOA

Finnish Ambassador to Washington Kirsti Kauppi and dozens of her European Union colleagues put some diplomatic muscle into their nations’ policies this week by taking part in a bicycle ride in Washington to show the EU’s commitment sustainable development.

Kauppi organized and co-led the group of about 40 diplomats and supporters clad in everything from T-shirts to business suits.

EU Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis joined Kauppi in leading the 10-minute “pedal for the planet” through what Washingtonians know as Embassy Row — a broad avenue lined with once-stately homes that have been converted to diplomatic missions. Representatives from all 28 European Union member states took part in the event, with some participants following the ride on foot.

sustainable development
Kirsti Kauppi, Finland’s ambassador to the U.S., is pictured in Washington, July 2019. (N. Liu/VOA)

Still breathing comfortably at the end of her jaunt, the Finnish envoy, along with the EU ambassador, led a panel discussion and then explained to VOA that the outing was designed to highlight one of her nation’s key goals for its six-month term as presiding power in the EU’s rotating presidential system — a sustainable Europe and a sustainable future.

Combating climate change is a big part of sustainability, Kauppi said. She sees the defense of the environment as interconnected with what’s socially and economically sustainable.

Lambrinidis, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., told VOA that Finland, with its six-month presidency of the EU, “can set certain priorities for all,” adding “they have chosen sustainability, where Finland leads and which is also where the EU has set a collective high bar for itself — carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Lambrinidis also highlighted the EU’s power in numbers. Thanks to the 28 member states’ collective effort, “we can lead the way, while working closely with our partners around the world,” he said.

In addition to climate change, Kauppi said the priorities for Finland’s presidency, which began July 1, are to strengthen common values and the rule of law, to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, and to protect the security of citizens comprehensively.

sustainable development
EU Ambassador to the U.S. Stavros Lambrinidis, center, and other EU diplomats carrying their countries’ flags as they ride along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, July 25, 2019. (Delegation of the EU to the US) Wikimedia Commons

Kauppi also pointed out that the EU “at its core” is a bloc that emphasizes economic integration. As such, Finland, she said, will use its presidency to focus on economic growth and competitiveness, on “making the single market function better,” as it looks at trade with other entities.

Finland and the EU are also concerned with “security in the broad sense,” Kauppi said, explaining that “security” is not limited to the military domain, but also “how people live, whether they’re safe in their own environment.

ALSO READ: Tanzania to Construct Hydroelectric Power Plant Despite Criticism from Environmentalists

As far as military security is concerned, Kauppi said, Finland and the EU are focused on addressing “so-called hybrid threats” and on improving defense cooperation within the EU.

The EU defines hybrid threats as those that combine conventional and unconventional, military and non-military activities that can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors and are “designed to be difficult to detect or attribute.” These include cyberattacks on critical information systems, attempts to undermine public trust in government institutions and efforts to deepen social divisions. (VOA)