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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Just a few blocks west of the nation’s Capitol, D.C. visitors can check out the United States Botanical Garden and then make their way to the National Museum of the American Indian and then the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
But coming soon, the next stop on the tour could be the Museum of the Bible.
Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, is behind an effort to open the new museum in an acquired building on D Street in Washington, D.C., only four blocks from where Congress meets.
Green revealed new details of the plan at The Constitutional Coalition’s 25th annual Education Policy Conference, or EPC, in St. Louis, Mo., on Feb. 1.
Green showed a map of the planned location, which is expected to begin renovations within the next few months and be completed sometime in 2017:
The Green family’s collection of 40,000 biblical documents and artifacts is said to be the largest private compilation of its kind in the world and includes ancient papyri, portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a letter from Martin Luther and thousands of historically significant Bibles and writings.
But Green told EPC this collection is no wealthy man’s horde: “We didn’t collect Bibles and biblical artifacts because we’re collectors, but because we want to share the message the Bible has to tell.”
So in addition to working with international scholars to verify, study and translate the artifacts, the Green family has taken the collection – along with a working, full-size replica of the original Gutenberg printing press – on a tour around the world called “Passages,” including stops at the Vatican, Jerusalem, Nigeria, Colorado Springs, Colo., and even Cuba, where in 22 days, Green told EPC, over 20,000 people viewed the exhibit.
“To see all these items brought together in one place,” Green said of Passages, “I don’t think you could go anywhere and see the equivalent of what you can see here.”
The next step, however, is to also create a year-round, permanent home for the collection, where people can plan ahead to visit.
At EPC, Green explained the new museum will house three floors of exhibits, each floor focusing on a separate aspect of unlocking the Word of God.
The first floor, Green said, will focus on the history of the Bible, the extensive manuscript and archeological evidence that it's no fictional book of fairy tales, but a book written describing actual historical events.
"I can't prove the Bible to be true," Green said, "but over and over again, archeology has shown the Bible has gotten it right, that it's accurate."
The second floor will then focus on the impact the Bible has had on culture.
"The Bible speaks into every area of life, and it has impacted every area of life," Green told EPC. "It has been said you can read because of this book, you have freedom because of this book, you have hospitals because of this book. Education, science, government, art, literature – you name it, the Bible has had an impact on it.
"History tells us the Bible is true," Green said, "the impact tells us it's good."
The third floor, then, will seek to summarize the story the Bible has to tell, of a loving Creator, a fallen humanity and the redemption and victory of Jesus Christ.
"Our goal," Green said, "is to have someone walk through and say, 'Oh, so that's what the Bible means.'"
Yet Green explained the museum will not be merely a church or a Christians-only experience, but rather an earnest and scholarly attempt to unpack the world's most culturally significant book for a culture that is increasingly biblically illiterate.
"The museum will be non-sectarian. We're just trying to present the facts," Green told EPC. "I'm not interested in teaching a religion; I'm interested in teaching a book."
In truth, the museum is only one of four different ways in which the Green family is seeking to use their collection for good.
The first is through the Green Scholars Initiative, which is designed to bring established and young scholars together in pioneer, groundbreaking research on the Green collection and to mentor future generations of scholars.
The second is the traveling Passages exhibits, and the third is the museum, the name of which has yet to be carved in stone.
The fourth, Green told EPC, is the development of a curriculum – such as even public schools could use for electives classes on the Bible – that mirrors the museum's three floors: the historical evidence for the Bible, its impact and its enduring story.
"We're not interested in proselytizing; we're interested in education," Green said of the curriculum now being developed. "We want people to get engaged with the Bible and let God take it from there."
Steve's father, David Green, founded Hobby Lobby on Aug. 3, 1972, with the guiding mission to run the business in a way that brings glory to God. Over the years, Green has donated an estimated $500 million to Christian charities and built a business with more than 560 locations and 20,000 employees.
The arts and craft stores are known for playing Christian music, being closed on Sundays and paying their starting employees about $14 an hour, 90 percent more than the federal minimum wage, which many other retailers use to set their wages.
The company's Christian practices came into conflict recently with insurance mandates of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Rather than paying for insurance plans that cover abortion-causing drugs, Hobby Lobby in September 2012 sued the federal government, opposing a requirement that it provide the "morning-after pill" and "week-after pill" for free under its insurance plan. Compliance, the family said, would violate its religious beliefs.
Hobby Lobby won on an appeal but joined the government in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The court agreed in November and is expected to issue a ruling by June.
Officials at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Washington law firm representing Hobby Lobby, said a court victory would prevent the Greens from having to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.
"They hold their religious convictions closely. They are very sincere in that," Becket Fund spokeswoman Emily Hardman said. "They just want to operate their business the way they have been."