Hobby Lobby Owners Aren’t Just Fighting Obamacare, They’re On a Mission to Turn America Back to the Bible

The Hobby Lobby founders' mission is far bigger than a single court case. | AP Photo
The Hobby Lobby founders’ mission is far bigger than a single court case. | AP Photo

The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public-school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the founding fathers.

The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance.

The pending Hobby Lobby ruling has thrust the Greens into the national spotlight, but the family’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. They’re spending hundreds of millions on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, cherish — and heed — the Bible.

They’re building a huge museum dedicated to the Bible a few blocks from the Mall in Washington, D.C., with as much public space as the National Museum of American History. They’ve financed a lavish traveling exhibit as well, complete with a recreated Holy Land cave, a “Noah’s Ark experience” for kids and animatronic characters such as William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to translate the New Testament into English.

The Greens are sponsoring scholarly study of the Bible and hosting forums such a recent panel on faith’s role in shaping early America, which they hope to package for national broadcast.

Most provocatively, they’ve funded a multimillion-dollar effort to write a Bible curriculum they hope to place in public schools nationwide. It will debut next fall as an elective in Mustang High School, a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters.

A draft of the textbook for the first of four planned yearlong courses presents Adam and Eve as historical figures and introduces God as “faithful and good,” “gracious and compassionate” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” A list of “curses for disobeying the Lord” warns of defeat, fever and “disaster and panic in everything you do.”

Hobby Lobby founders David and Barbara Green and their three adult children — sons Steve and Mart and daughter Darcee Lett — have donated generously to Christian institutions over the years, but these projects are on another scale entirely. A source close to the family estimates the museum alone will end up costing as much as $800 million, including the acquisition of thousands of ancient artifacts.

The family, with a net worth that Forbes estimates at $5 billion, has not flinched from the price or scaled back its vision.

“Our goal … [is to] reintroduce this book to the nation,” Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, said last spring before the National Bible Association. “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. We need to know it. And if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

The family’s vision is beginning to stir concern, not just among the ACLU and atheist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but even from some Bible scholars.

The plans that have been made public so far — including the high school curriculum — seem aimed at portraying Scripture as historically accurate and an unequivocal force for good, said John Kutsko, executive director of the international Society of Biblical Literature, the oldest and largest organization dedicated to Biblical scholarship.

That approach fails to incorporate the latest scholarship, acknowledge that the Bible has also played a role as a tool of oppression or recognize different religious viewpoints, Kutsko said.

“It’s a simple, superficial, literal reading of the Bible,” Kutsko said.

In his view, that’s inappropriate both in a public high school and in a private museum that “by virtue of being adjacent to the Mall gives the impression that it’s almost a national museum,” he said.

Supporters, however, say they are confident the Greens will focus on scholarship rather than salvation in their public outreach.

The family does proselytize quite publicly three times a year, taking out full-page ads in newspapers across the country every Christmas, Easter and Independence Day. The ads celebrate the power of faith and direct readers to a toll-free number for Need Him Ministry, a global initiative to bring non-believers to Jesus.

But if the goal of the museum were evangelizing, “I can assure you, I would not be involved,” said Harry Stout, a professor at Yale Divinity School who has consulted on the museum. “They’re really interested in getting it right.”

Stout sees one motive above all in the family’s work. The Greens, he said, “are really smitten with the Bible.”

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