The story of America is difficult to tell without referencing the Bible, says Daniel Dreisbach, professor of American history at American University.
“It’s a very important part of the way they talked about politics, government and their aspirations for the future,” he says in a video about the upcoming opening of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, which will be just down the street from the Liberty Bell.
Daniel Walter Howe, the Rhodes professor of American History at Oxford, agrees.
“Abraham Lincoln often quoted the Bible in brilliantly imaginative ways,” he explains. “Interestingly, he knew his audience would be familiar with the Bible and would deeply revere it. Therefore he modeled his own rhetoric and eloquence on biblical literary style.
“And so when we get, for example, his great Gettysburg address, he begins using the phrase ‘four score and seven years ago.’
“Why? Because it’s the language of the King James translation of the Bible, which was the one Americans of his generation were familiar with. If you go through and read the whole of that speech you will see how very biblical that rhetoric is. It’s original with Lincoln, but it’s the style of the King James Bible.”
The comments come along with the announcement from the American Bible Society that the new center is projected to open on Independence Mall in Philadelphia in 2020.
Roy Peterson, the president and CEO of the Bible Society, explains the goal is to ignite curiosity and encourage visitors to explore questions such as, “How did the Bible influence the people who shaped our nation? And what difference can this book make in our lives today?”
“What the Faith & Liberty Discovery Center should be, at its finest, is a place that unites – celebrating a diversity of faiths, backgrounds and points of view,” he says in the announcement.
“This experience will use groundbreaking techhologies to allow visitors to not just witness history, but participate in it,” said Jake Barton of Local Projects, which is coordinating work on the project. “It will be like nothing anyone has seen before.”
At the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, visitors will explore how the Bible’s story has shaped America’s story, from the penning of the Declaration of Independence to the civil rights movement. It will invite visitors of all backgrounds to discover how the nation has turned to the Bible for wisdom in times of conflict, motivation to create change and comfort in moments of crisis.
Peterson said, “The new exhibits will raise plenty of thought-provoking questions, but the answers will ultimately be up to each visitor to discover for themselves.”
There is a profile, for example, of William Penn, the 17th-century Quaker activist and political theorist, whose social vision of “brotherly love” carried him from being a religious dissenter in England to the American countryside, where his colony became a model for civil society “guided by love.”
“Penn came to believe that freedom of conscience, and thus religious freedom, were ideal political conditions for discovering truth and fostering faith. He reasoned that coerced belief was not true belief. Peple should have the freedom to think, believe, and practiced their faith without interference by the official state church,” the museum explains.
Not surprisingly, his views led him to jail multiple times in England and his eventual move to America.
“According to oral tradition,” the site explains, “soon after William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, he exchanged promises of friendship with members of the Lenni Lenape Indians in the riverside town of Shackamaxon on the shore of the Delaware River in what is now the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. No documents remain as evidence of the meeting, but depictions such as these were based on memories and oral histories. As a memorial to this treaty, Penn Treaty Park now stands in the presumed location.”