WASHINGTON - The massive new Museum of the Bible opens just blocks from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. later this week.
Measuring 430,000 square feet, the privately-funded, $500 million project houses over 2,800 artifacts going back to biblical times. And then there's the building's size and scope, which rivals some of the neighboring Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, and the top-floor view of the Capitol Dome.
"Some people think we're coming here to have an influence on Congress. Who doesn't come here to have an influence on Congress," said Steve Green, the chairman of the museum's board.
As President of Hobby Lobby, Green has already made an impact in Washington and around the country when the Supreme Court in 2014 sided by a 5-4 vote with his company over the Obama Administration, ruling the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate to be a violation of the family-owned, for-profit business' religious freedom.
But Green says any influence the Museum of the Bible may have on members of Congress who come to view the exhibits is only a happy byproduct of the real reason why the museum found its way to its Washington location. According to Green, the museum's leadership selected the city for the capital's foot traffic, not politics, and executive director Tony Zeiss says their settling on a building so close to the Capitol "was simply coincidence."
The museum, which opens Friday after seven years of planning, focuses on the history, stories, and impact of the Bible, and includes interactive features like a space re-creating Jesus's first-century village.
But the museum doesn't shy away from American politics, either, with exhibits detailing the Bible's importance from 17th century Puritan settlers to the 20th century civil rights movement, and how the Bible was used to justify both pro- and anti-slavery stances that drove America into Civil War.
"We want people to see how it was used for the good, the bad, and the ugly," says Norm Conrad, the museum's curator for Americana and Biblical Imprints.
If there's any lesson on today's politics and culture visitors should take away, the museum's leaders aren't telling. Their goal in Washington, they say, is to inspire people to read the Bible.