The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is deeply concerned about the numerous and widespread efforts to ban books in many localities across the country. This disturbing and alarming trend stands in opposition to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, American values of liberty and freedom, and our faith tradition as Christians, which urges us to tell our stories and testimonies to our children, as is evident in scripture, including Psalm 78:4, “…We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and his might and the wonders that he has done.” (NRSVue)
Disappointingly, these efforts have mostly targeted books written by authors from marginalized communities, in effect silencing their voices, history, and experiences. We stand against these efforts and encourage those in our member congregations to do the same.
According to the American Library Association, book banning increased by 38 percent in 2022, and more than 1600 books were banned in 86 school districts and 26 states. However, this is not the first movement to ban books in our nation. Similar efforts have taken place in America’s past to limit and manipulate access to education and maintain the status quo. Notably, laws prohibited enslaved persons from learning how to read to limit their progress as well as to prevent them from knowing their history and contributions to society. Globally, in 1933, what is thought to be the largest ever book burning took place in Nazi Germany to silence the voices of Jews and to send a message to those who opposed their racist, genocidal regime.
Assuredly, banning books is no means to “protect” our children or control what they may learn. In fact, the opposite is true. Restricting access to reading material is a strategy to control people’s thinking and discourage oppressed people from advocating for their freedoms and standing against injustice.
“Banning books is reminiscent of a past we should do everything in our power to safeguard against repeating,” said Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, NCC’s Governing Board chair. “It is born out of fear, an abuse of power, and a repugnant lack of tolerance that, unchecked, can lead to violence against those not like us and with whom we may disagree.”
While stories, historical context, and information can be empowering, there is grave danger in picking and choosing the stories we allow to be told, effectually suppressing the history and experiences of those that differ from our own. America is not a monolith and trying to ensure that only one perspective is lifted up is appalling. Attempts to silence the voices of marginalized people present the greatest risk and are antithetical to core American values and the tenets of our Christian faith. This is no way for a democracy to survive, much less thrive.
On Wednesday, May 3, NCC joined the Freedom to Learn coalition, which consists of civil rights, faith, and other leaders representing a broad spectrum of American society and culture for a National Day of Action.
Together we will stand against this dangerous and short-sighted move that is divisive at its core and seeks to diminish the image and likeness of God that our faith teaches is within each person. Proscribing the literary works we are allowed to read is a way to deceptively hide the truth of our collective histories when our sacred texts inform us that knowing the truth will make us free (John 8:32)—not fearful of others, not full of hate, not something we are not, but free.
This is our moment to stand up and speak out. We cannot be silent or complicit in the face of such a full-scale affront to our freedoms and our faith.