A new privately-owned museum is going up just a few blocks away from the White House and National Mall – the Museum of the Bible – that only wants to celebrate Scripture. The $400 million project two blocks south of the National Air and Space Museum doesn’t have to worry about laws or rulings that keep religion and state separate.
The museum is the brainchild of Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, the privately-owned Oklahoma City crafts chain that follows its owners’ evangelical beliefs, including closing its 600 stores on Sundays.
Hobby Lobby became known nationally in 2014 when it won a Supreme Court decision that it did not have to adhere to Affordable Care Act requirements on birth control coverage that conflicted with the owners’ beliefs.
Green has had a vision of a Bible museum for several years – originally intended for Dallas – as a way of making Scripture more accessible. Construction in Washington began in February on the site of a former refrigeration warehouse and design center. It will be one of the largest museum facilities in the city, with eight floors, 430,000 square feet and a Biblical garden on the roof.
“The Bible has had a huge impact on our world today – from culture and politics, to social and moral justice, to literature, art and music, and more,” Green told a group of civic leaders last year at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. “Our family has a passion for the Bible and we are excited to be part of a museum dedicated to sharing its impact, history and narrative with the world.”
Former President Bush also spoke at the event about his faith and what he said was the need for such a museum.
“The easiest time to be faithful is during a time of crisis,” said Bush, who is not affiliated with the museum, but is supportive of it. “The hardest time for faith is when all is well. Faith informed my principles and decisions, but not my tactics. The museum is a great idea. It’s very important that the Museum of the Bible invites and makes people of all faiths feel comfortable. It will be an important part of our capital.”
There are some cautionary voices amid the enthusiasm for the project. Duke University religious studies scholar Carol Meyers said in an interview, “The Bible is not a perfect source of information. There’s a lot of story-telling. It can’t be evaluated in a way that supports contemporary history.”
Meyers said that she did not want to sound too harsh while the museum is still taking shape. But she was concerned that “there may be a subtle slant” that supports an evangelical view and “whether all the artifacts are ones that are legal.”