As a youngster, I participated in a Bible drill competition. I’m not sure about other churches, but in Southern Baptist circles, “Bible drills” are a big thing. Students in grades 4, 5 and 6 memorize a score of verses, some short passages, and references for general topics like “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “The Armor of God.” They learn all the books of the Bible in order, and practice finding not only books but individual verses at lightning speed. Ten seconds, to be exact. To this day, I can rattle off the names of the minor prophets in correct order without a second thought.
I worked hard at Bible drills; everyone who came to the Sunday evening pre-service practice did. I suppose we were the crème-de-la-crème of the church kids; our parents were all in Bible studies or Sunday School planning meetings or something at the time. I quickly learned that anyone who showed up for Bible drill was expected to practice, to get good at it, and to perform well at state level. We practiced for an hour or two every week, and at home.
I wanted to do well in state-wide competitions. All the winners received blue drill Bibles with a special gold stamp on the front indicating they’d competed perfectly at state. Several of my friends at church already toted those blue “state winner” Bibles around in Sunday School and to girls’ missions classes. I planned to work hard to get one.
After competing in church and regional drills, the long-anticipated day of the state competition arrived. I stood in line with my group, each of us clutching our hard-back Bibles in sweaty palms. The verses came first, and as directed, I stepped forward. Several verses went by. I relaxed. Got into a routine. And by now, many readers will have guessed what happened. I stepped up to the line after a verse was called and the command “Go!” given. I had the wrong verse in mind. When the boy who was picked to recite started quoting a verse different from the one I was thinking, I felt bad for him, until I realized that I had been wrong, not he. I had a spilt-second decision to make at this point — raise my hand to indicate I’d made a mistake, or continue as if nothing had happened. I continued to drill, and finished with a “perfect” score. I got the coveted blue Bible. And my conscience began nagging.
A year or so later, I called the Bible drill instructor to confess. I had been to the Basic Seminar by that time. I believed having an unclean conscience would hold me back from attaining God’s best in my life. I kept the Bible as a bittersweet reminder of the importance of truthfulness. And when Bright Arrows, an IBLP publication for children, put out a call for stories and articles to illustrate character qualities, I sent mine in.
This is where the story gets interesting. When I submitted my article for publication, I wrote about the events as they happened. I wrote about wanting that Bible so bad I’d cheat to get it. I wrote about my guilty conscience and how I justified my actions. I wrote about calling my coach to clear my conscience, and I wrote about her response, which was singularly ungracious. She told me not to send the Bible back, and sounded annoyed I’d even called. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t expect her to praise my incredible character — after all, I was confessing to having cheated in a competition she reverenced. It just felt great to have that weight of conscience lifted. I’d done what I’d been told was right in instances of wrongdoing. Her response was completely out of my control, and really not my concern.
The editors at Bright Arrows took a different view. They contacted me for permission to cut that portion of the story. The girl who got in touch with me explained that the magazine didn’t want to publish anything that might indicate a negative result from following the principles of truthfulness and a clear conscience. At the time, this reasoning made sense. I didn’t want to mislead kids; I wanted to encourage good character, and figured that the old saying “the end justifies the means” might be true in this case.
Looking back on this situation, I wish I had responded differently. I was old enough at that point to stand up for what I knew had happened. But I backed down under the carefully-worded reasoning of the young editor who contacted me. The story was published as a true story under my byline. But the ending published was entirely different from what really happened. I accept responsibility for this; in my effort not to mislead kids, I misled everyone who read that magazine.
As I’ve thought about that strange request, “Let’s just change the ending of your story a little so we don’t discourage people from following the principles,” I realize that this is characteristic, in many ways, of the testimonial nature of IBLP publications and the Basic Seminar. The Seminar teaching is bolstered by numerous anecdotes. That’s probably an understatement. Aside from verses of Scripture, and definitions of principles, the Basic Seminar is entirely made of up anecdotes in support of the points being made. Of course, the seminar is more interesting this way; after all, it’s hard to get people to sit still for 36 hours, without some entertaining accounts. But who’s to say whether these stories are true? Who’s to say whether the newsletters complete with glowing reports of conferences and ministry trips were accurate, or were embellished, in the name of “encouragement?” I have one such story. I am sorry for my part in it.
After many years of reflecting on what happened to that nervous 12-year-old who was me, calling my coach to confess, and getting an entirely unexpected response, I’m glad it happened. I learned that my responsibility is to do the right thing. I can’t control others’ responses to it. I learned that following the principles will not always lead to being praised for good character, and that that’s okay.
I had quite a few of those blue Bibles. We got a new one every year, the crisp pages all the better to find verses quickly. I kept the gold-stamped state winner Bible the longest. Kept it until the lessons learned were cemented, not the least of which is God’s grace to those who do their best to follow him.