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At the request of Council, a survey regarding the resolution on "values" was sent on January 12, 2005, to all members of the Society for whom we had email addresses. The survey was not available to nonmembers. Whenever a resolution is submitted, Council's practice is to review the proposal in order to determine the most appropriate course of action. In some cases Council makes a decision that the resolution is not something to which the organization can respond and returns it to the parties who have made the resolution. In this case, Council reviewed the resolution and determined that it might be of interest to the membership and might serve to begin a longer conversation of the role of the Bible and public policy. So the primary intent of the survey was to assess the opinions of members.

The SBL Membership Data System contained email addresses for 5,585 of the approximately 6,200 members in the system at the time of the survey, or 90% of the total membership.

The survey stimulated a vigorous response from the membership in terms of both the number responding and the comments given. Responders on both sides of the agree-disagree responses often expressed their views with equal conviction. In the preparation of the survey, strategies having to do with anonymity and a "no opinion" option were discussed.

Of the 5,585 members receiving the survey, 1,954 members (35%) responded. Online survey experts consider a response rate of greater than 3% to be excellent. A response at the level achieved in the resolution survey is phenomenal.

The survey asked members to agree or disagree with the resolution and enter their name or "anonymous"; it also offered space for comments.

The results:

56% Agree

44% Disagree

562 (28%) respondents chose to enter "anonymous" rather than a name.

909 (46%) respondents entered comments.

If the results are filtered to show only those entering "anonymous":

26% Agree

74% Disagree

The comments on the resolution fall into essentially four positions:

  • "Thank you for doing this —I wish it had been done sooner."
  • "How dare you do this —I hold completely opposite views."
  • "I partially agree and partially disagree and I'd vote differently if the wording were different."
  • "The SBL shouldn't play politics or pass such resolutions and should stick to biblical studies."

Some respondents assumed that the resolution had been passed and made public, although that was not said in the email. Keeping the language of "resolution" was intentional because in fact it was a resolution presented to Council.

Overall the resolution survey accomplished its primary goal — giving members an opportunity to respond to an issue widely discussed in the public arena. Council will have a discussion about the results and continue the conversation at the 2005 Annual Meeting. Long before this resolution, the Program Committee had already established as one of its four new lecture and discussion series one that "explores the nature of public discourse related to Bible and biblical studies."

Thank you for your support of this work of the SBL as we carry out our mission of fostering biblical scholarship.

Full Text of the Resolution:

The United States election of 2004 witnessed the emergence of "values," often referred to as "Christian values" or "biblical values," as key political issues. The "values" most commonly identified in public debates were the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research.

The Society of Biblical Literature, which is the largest international, professional association of teachers and scholars of the Bible, calls attention to the fact that the "values" so prominently and divisively raised in this 2004 U.S. election are not major concerns in the Bible, and in fact are not even directly addressed in the Bible. Rather, they tend to reflect the underlying problems of homophobia, misogyny, control of reproductive rights, and restraint of expression (including scientific research) in U.S. society today.

With over 7,000 members representing a broad range of political and religious leanings, the Society of Biblical Literature has fostered discussions of such fundamental problems against the background of biblical ethics and respect for all human beings. As many of our members have indicated in publications and lectures, the moral issues dominating the biblical texts focus instead on concerns such as the well-being of individuals, the integrity of community, care for the powerless and the vulnerable, economic justice, the establishment of peace, and the stewardship of the environment.

The Society of Biblical Literature urges citizens and political agencies to direct their energies toward securing these goals and values of well-being and responsibility.

Matthew S. Collins,, Director of Congresses, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia.

Citation: Matthew S. Collins, " Report on the Resolution Survey," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2005]. Online:


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