Russ Allen did his undergraduate degree in history at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and just completed his M.A. in history from Liberty University where he wrote an excellent thesis on Jonathan Edwards and children. Yesterday Russ found his way into a David Barton conversation with Liberty University government students and agreed to write something about the experience for The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Enjoy. –JF
On Thursday afternoon David Barton came to speak at an event at Liberty University. Barton is an acclaimed (and criticized) evangelical author and political activist. He is also the director of Ted Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” super-PAC.
This is not the first time that Barton has spoken at Liberty University. Barton spoke during two convocations in years past and has been a regular guest at the Helms School of Government. The event held on Thursday was sponsored by “Christians 4 Freedom,” a student organization that seeks to “inform and educate Christians on the Bill of Rights.”
The first time that I heard Barton’s name was in a graduate-level history classroom at Liberty University. In that setting Barton was almost unanimously viewed as a model of someone engaging in historical fallacy. His works are discussed only in light of their faults and supplemented with strong scholarly criticism.
Barton’s appearance on Thursday went largely under the radar, at least from my perspective as a student in the Liberty History Department. The History Department did not promote or advertise his talk. Frankly, I am not sure if they even knew about it. I was invited by a friend via Facebook on the day of the event. I was under the impression that Barton would be speaking to a large group about government and religion, but when I arrived at the event I found myself sitting right next to Mr. Barton at a conference table with about 25 people in attendance.
Barton was in friendly territory. Most students, a majority from the Helms School, support his ideas. Barton is a very likable guy. I had a personal conversation with him and he offered me well-wishes for my future. As for the discussion, it focused mainly on two key areas:
First, Barton traced the beginning of his work in history and politics to a research inquiry that he was asked to investigate many years ago. In a quest to discover the cause of the steep decline in SAT scores among American high school students, Barton concluded that this decline began the same year that prayer was removed from public schools. Convinced that this was not a coincidence, Barton began to publicly argue that moral and social decay in America was caused by the removal of “Christian values” from the public sphere.
While I have numerous concerns about Barton’s argument on this front, several are worthy of mention. Anyone who takes an entry-level statistics class knows that “correlation ≠ causation.” While it remains uncertain how Barton concluded that the removal of school prayer directly affected SAT scores, one can only assume that it stems from his preconceived view of America as a Christian nation. He believes that when God is not honored by the country, “bad things happen.” Along these lines, Barton also suggested that the legalization of abortion is causing global warming.
Second, Barton spoke strongly in support of Ted Cruz’s decision to appoint Carly Fiorina as his running mate and suggested that her role in a Cruz presidency will be much more significant than the Vice President’s role in years past. If elected, the Cruz campaign plans to reinstate the VP’s reign over the Senate in the hopes of nullifying the influence of the president pro tempore, who commonly acts in the VP’s absence. This is another interesting development given the history of Cruz’s clashes with the GOP establishment.
Barton also expressed frustration over liberal media outlets that are refusing to report “dirt” on Donald Trump until after the GOP convention in Cleveland. Barton claims that members in the media already possess damning information regarding Trump but want to withhold the material until the general election in order to “sink him” in favor of Hillary. Barton believes that if this information were rightly exposed now, Cruz would easily win the GOP nomination.
After the formal discussion, I had the opportunity to ask Barton if he or Ted Cruz was a Dominionist. Barton seemed annoyed at the question, insisting that in no way could he (Barton) be linked to Dominionism because he holds a pre-millennial eschatology that affirms that Jesus will come back to gather true believers before a one-thousand year reign of peace. He claims that Dominionism stems from a post-millennial view in which Christians need to reclaim the earth in order to usher in Christ’s second coming.
Barton did, however, confirm his belief in the “Seven Mountains” approach to culture. He believes that Christians need to influence every aspect of society. His denial of Dominionism, but his embrace of the “Seven Mountains” approach, is a bit confusing, as it seems the word “mountains” implies “dominion.” Barton also insists that Cruz’s silence on the the Seven Mountains approach is a political tactic.
Barton thinks that the use of the word Dominionism to describe Cruz is just a way for liberals to attach an unfavorable label to the Texas Senator. Calling Cruz a Dominionist is the same as skeptics calling Jesus a “glutton and a drunkard (Matt.11:19).” Rather than address the claim that he is a Dominionist, Barton advises Cruz instead to talk openly about liberty and freedom in order to squelch accusations that he is a theocrat.
David Barton’s support at Liberty University should not be surprising. Many of the students and faculty share his concern for the growing immorality that surrounds them. I certainly sympathize with this view. This mutual concern makes Barton’s historical claims understandably enticing for those who are only “casually” involved in the study of history.
However, it seems that there is also a growing number of Barton opponents on campus. They disagree with him not as much for his faulty views of history, but for his theology. Barton’s belief that the United States is “Christian nation” or that God will judge the country for its sins, is a regurgitated version of the Puritan belief that America is a “City on a Hill.” Barton’s conviction that God can bestow blessing and wrath on a nation is a deterrent for many young evangelicals who see a problem with comparing the United States to the biblical nation of Israel.
It is unclear how much impact Barton and Cruz have among young conservative evangelicals. Liberty University’s voting precinct voted 44% in favor of Marco Rubio. Cruz garnered 33% of the vote. Russell Moore’s placement of Cruz in the “Jerry Falwell wing” of the GOP evidently did not apply to the students at Falwell’s school. With politics, history, and theology woven together so tightly in the Barton/Cruz campaign, it remains to be seen which thread will be strongest among young Christian voters.