I did not, but if someone has a review of the show I would be happy to post it here.
Check out Tara Isabella Burton‘s excellent piece on David Barton: “Understanding the fake historian behind America’s religious right.” I am glad Burton found The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog useful in her research.
Here is a taste:
Barton is still cited as an expert by a number of GOP lawmakers. Another is Rick Saccone, the Pennsylvania Republican congressional candidate running in a special election to replace Tim Murphy, who resigned following allegations of an extramarital affair and asking a woman he was involved with to have an abortion.
Saccone’s tacit endorsement of Barton — he chose Barton to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling Saccone’s wider political and religious views — should come as no surprise to those who have been following his career in politics. Saccone’s rhetoric as both a state lawmaker and on the campaign trail centers around Bartonian ideas of America as a foundationally Christian nation.
His own book, God in Our Government, seems straight out of the Barton playbook, arguing, as Barton does, that secularists have conspired to obfuscate the Christian history of the United States. Historian John Fea, a longtime critic of Christian nationalism, refers to Saccone on his blog as “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters….”
The founders double as hero-saints to Barton. Central to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is the idea that America was founded unproblematically; that only a return to this mythologized past will somehow solve perceived problems of structural inequality. “Real” America, in other words, is above criticism.
Of course, it’s worth saying that all accounts of history — left-wing or right-wing, secular or Christian — can also be, in a sense, a form of propaganda. Any narrative of America’s foundation will, of course, be mediated by the specific biases and concerns of the teller. (Historian Fea does a great job pointing out that the secular counterpart to the Barton narrative, that all founding fathers were non-Christian, deist secularists, is also wrong).
Read the entire piece here.
In the last few days, several folks have asked me why I get so “bent out of shape” about the likes of David Barton and the “court evangelicals.” One noted American religious historian regularly implies on Twitter and in blog comments that I am “obsessed” with Trump.
I get so “bent out of shape” because I believe that part of my vocation as a historian is to bring good United States history to the church–both to the local church and the larger American church. (And especially to evangelicalism, since that is my tribe). I wrote about this extensively in the Epilogue of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. When I speak at churches–and I do this often–I see it as a form of public history.
My critique of the court evangelicals is a natural extension of my ongoing criticism of conservative activist Barton and other Christian nationalist purveyors of the past. It is not a coincidence that First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress often preaches a sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation.” In this sermon he says. among other things:
We don’t restrict people’s right to worship [they can] worship however they choose to worship. But that doesn’t mean we treat all religions equally. This is a Christian nation. Every other religion is an impostor, it is an infidelity. That is what the United States Supreme Court said.
Someone can correct me, but I think First Baptist–Dallas is the largest Southern Baptist church in the world. Jeffress is an influential figure. He goes on Fox News and claims to represent American evangelicals. His profile has risen immensely since he announced his support of Trump.
It’s important to remember that Jeffress’s political theology (if you can call it that) is based on a false view of American history. And it is not very difficult to trace it to the teachings of Barton.
In the aforementioned sermon, Jeffress comments on a recent Barton visit to First Baptist–Dallas. He then says, referencing the prince of Aledo, Texas, that “52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution” were “evangelical believers.” This is problematic on so many levels. First, only 39 people signed the Constitution. Actually, I think Jeffress might be referring here to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. Second, to suggest that most of them were “evangelical believers” is a blatant misrepresentation of history. In fact, Jeffress doesn’t even get Barton right here. Barton says (wrongly) that nearly all of the signers of the Declaration had Bible school and seminary degrees. Jeffress is confused about his fake history. 🙂 But that doesn’t matter. People in his massive congregation applaud and cheer when he preaches this stuff.
Jeffress and the court evangelicals support Trump because they want to “make America great again.” Jeffress’s congregation even sings a song about it. Let’s remember that “Make America Great Again” is a historical claim. The nation is “great,” Christian nationalists like Jeffress argue, when it upholds the Christian beliefs on which it was founded. Christian Right politics, the same politics that carry a great deal of weight in today’s GOP, thus starts with this dubious claim about the American founding. From there it can go in all sorts of directions related to immigration, race, church and state, marriage, abortion, religious liberty, etc….
My approach to critiquing Jeffress, the Christian Right, and the court evangelicals is structural in nature. It is fitting with my vocation as a historian. Theologians and pastors are probably better equipped to make a direct biblical case for why Jeffress’s Christian nationalism is idolatry and harmful to the witness of the Gospel. Greg Boyd, Richard, Hughes, John Wilsey, and others have already made such a case. I encourage you to read their books. But early American historians are best equipped at taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of Christian nationalist politics.
So yes, I do get “bent out of shape.” Maybe I am obsessed. Somebody has to be. We need good American history more than ever. Christian historians have a public role to play in such a time as this.
Yesterday we did a lengthy post showing how Christian Right activist David Barton manipulated a John Adams quote to make it sound like Adams supported the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.
Barton is up to his old tricks here. He is being deliberately deceptive. He seems to have no problem manipulating the past in this way to promote his agenda.
After I published my post, Southern Methodist University historian Kate Carte Engel took to twitter to give her take on Adams, Christianity, and the American founding.
Here it is:
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
— Kate Carte Engel (@KEngel4) July 19, 2017
This appeared on Barton’s Facebook page today:
Sounds pretty good if your a Christian nationalist. But let’s take a deeper look at this quote.
I have excerpted the pertinent parts of the letter below. Warren Throckmorton, who wrote about this letter yesterday on his blog, has highlighted those passages that Barton quotes in the above meme.
Who composed that army of fine young fellows that was then before my eyes? There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.”* Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.
Could my answer be understood by any candid reader or hearer, to recommend to all the others the general principles, institutions, or systems of education of the Roman Catholics, or those of the Quakers, or those of the Presbyterians, or those of the Methodists, or those of the Moravians, or those of the Universalists, or those of the Philosophers? No.
The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence.
Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore, safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles. In favor of these general principles, in philosophy, religion, and government, I could fill sheets of quotations from Frederic of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, as well as Newton and Locke; not to mention thousands of divines and philosophers of inferior fame.
A few comments:
- This is a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson dated 28 June 1813. I do not own this document. I read it at Founders Online, a National Archives database of the writings of the Founding Fathers. Don’t be fooled by David Barton when he tells you that he has some special insight into the nation’s founding because he owns original documents. Most of what he owns is accessible to anyone via this database. I found the document in less than a minute. You can too. I encourage you to match Barton’s selective use of quotes with the actual documents in the database.
- Barton is always complaining that so-called “liberal” historians use ellipses to leave out parts of documents that mention God or religion. Notice the quote in the above meme. Then read the actual letter. It seems to me that the material left out by Barton’s ellipses goes a long way toward helping us understand what John Adams really meant here. It looks like “liberal” historians are not the only ones who have this problem.
- In the first paragraph, Adams is describing the religious affiliations of the men present at the Continental Congress. Notice that the list includes “deists” and “atheists” along with more traditional Christian denominations.
- In the second and third paragraphs, Adams notes that the group who met in Philadelphia was so religiously diverse that the only ideas holding them together were the “general principles of Christianity.” What does he mean by this phrase? It is hard to tell at first glance. But if there were indeed “deists” and “atheists” in the room, these “general principles” must have been understood by Adams as a system of belief that was far less orthodox than the Christianity of the ancient creeds. An “atheist” might be able to find common ground around a Christian moral code (say, for example, the Sermon on the Mount), but could not affirm the existence of God. A “deist” would have rejected the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and, in some cases, God’s providence in human affairs, but he could certainly unite behind a moral code based on the teachings of Jesus. (I titled my chapter on the highly unorthodox Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson: Follower of Jesus”). So let’s return to our original question. What did Adams mean when he said the Continental Congress was held together by “the general principles of Christianity?” If we take the beliefs of the “atheists” and the “deists” (and, I might add, the “universalists, “Socinians,” and “Preistleyans”) seriously, the “general principles of Christianity” was a phrase Adams used to describe a very vague moral code that all of these men–the orthodox and the unorthodox–could affirm.
- The third paragraph also affirms that these men were united by the “general principles of English and American liberty.” This tells us that in addition to some very basic moral principles compatible with the ethical teachings of Christianity, the founders shared a common belief in liberty. This should not surprise anyone. A belief in liberty was part of their English heritage. No English heritage of liberty, no American Revolution. As I tell my classes, the English taught the colonists how to rebel.
- The fourth paragraph tells us that Adams believes that these “general principles” of Christianity and liberty could be easily affirmed by a host of secular writers, including Hume and Voltaire, two of the Enlightenment’s staunchest critics of organized Christianity. These “general principles of Christianity” must have been pretty watered-down if Hume and Voltaire could affirm them. Again, the reference here is to a vague morality, not the particular teachings of orthodox Christianity.
In the end, if we look at the parts of the letter Barton does not mention in his meme we would get a very different view of the role of Christianity in the American founding than the Christian nationalist message he wants to convey to his Facebook followers. This is cherry-picking at its finest.
(Thanks to Warren Throckmorton for the inspiration to write this post).
In just under 6 minutes:
- Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.” Is this correct? I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend. Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. This Christian nation stuff never goes away. Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history. We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
- Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism. He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation. Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
- Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair. He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history. Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause). I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
- Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK. Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
- Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really? More than Jefferson? More than Madison?
- Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.” Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.
Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same. They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.
Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas. I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal. For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.
A few final points:
Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention. Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.
And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing. The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code. It can only be changed by Congress.
I remain part of the #19percent!
In 17th-century New England, the Puritans set out to forge a “City on a Hill,” a society based upon the teachings of the Bible as they understood them. They believed that they were a new Israel and thus lived in a covenant relationship with God. When God was displeased with the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony he punished them with earthquakes, Indian attacks, bad weather, and a host of other calamities. Whenever one of these calamities took place, Puritan ministers mounted their pulpits to deliver jeremiads, sermons designed to call the Puritans back to their covenant relationship with God.
David Barton, the GOP activist and culture warrior who uses the past to promote his political agenda, apparently still lives in 17th-century New England. He believes that the United States exists in a covenant relationship with God not unlike that of the Puritans. On his recent show Wallbuilders Live he went so far as to connect bad weather with abortion. (This is not unlike his earlier attempt to connect low SAT scores to the removal of Bible reading and prayer in public schools).
Here is what he said:
So we understood and that’s why if you look back on WallBuilders website we have a section in the library of historical documents. We have now 850 actual proclamations that we own that were issued by governors. And they could be Founding Fathers governors like John Hancock, or Sam Adams, or signers of the Declaration like all for Oliver Wolcott, or Samuel Huntington, signers of the Constitution like John- We’ve got their proclamations.
And so often their proclamation says, “Man, we’ve got to have God’s help with the weather. We have to pray, and repent, and fast because something is going on wrong with the weather and our crops need rain.” We understood that.
Well, today 52 percent of Christians think that God does a really lousy job with the weather. Maybe it’s not his choice that is doing it. Maybe it’s our own sin or our own unrighteous policies. Maybe it’s because we love killing unborn kids, 60 million of them. Maybe God says, “I’m not going to bless your land when you’re doing it.”
I believe in God. I also believe he may have something to do with the weather. I also believe that abortion is a moral problem. This probably separates me from many of my secular readers.
But I do not claim, like Barton, to have a hotline to the will of God on these matters. In fact, as I argued in Why Study History?, this kind of providentialism is arrogant, idolatrous, and fails to acknowledge the mystery and otherness of God. To suggest that bad weather is connected to abortion is simply bad theology. And yes, if the founding fathers made this connection it would still be bad theology. And yes, it would still be bad theology if David Barton had a primary document that revealed the founders making such a connection.
What also strikes me about this episode of Wallbuilders Live is Barton’s rant on human sinfulness. He says:
And there’s really three areas that I can quickly point to and pretty much tell whether someone has a basic general understanding, a very broad Biblical teachings. If they have any Biblical literacy at all, even if they themselves are not Christians, it used to be as Tim pointed out, just the culture itself had a pretty good degree of Biblical knowledge and literacy. We understood a lot of Biblical idioms, and phrases, and whatnot, knew where they came from. We knew heroes of the Bible even if people weren’t Christian.
But if I start with the question, “Is man inherently good? Does man generally tend to be good?” If you answer that “yes” that means you don’t understand Bible. Because the Bible says, “No, man does not tend to be good. Man will always be wrong.
He’ll do the wrong thing. History proves that time and time again. When you leave man to his own ways, he doesn’t get better, he gets worse. unless God intervenes and changes his heart and he moves in the right direction.
And that’s a scriptural teaching, Jeremiah 17:9, the heart of man is desperately wicked. Who can know it? Who can predict it? What you can predict is that it will do the wrong thing.
And so you see secular governments across the world end up being oppressive. They end up killing in the 20th Century, killing hundreds of millions of people in secular governments.
So, the heart of man is not good. If you think man inherently tends to be good…
I actually agree with Barton’s understanding of human nature. But unlike Barton, I would also apply this belief to the founding fathers. Last time I checked they were also human beings. And perhaps their sinfulness explains something about the character of the American founding.
David Barton recently appeared on the Glenn Beck radio program to talk about history education. He argues that “the progressives” are to blame for lack of student knowledge in American history today.
When I heard Barton imply that history students prior to 1920 had a solid grasp of American history, I thought about the opening pages of Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.
Identify the source of the following statement:
“Surely a grade of 33 in 100 on the simplest and most obvious facts of American history is not a record in which any high school can take pride.”
The above characterization of high schools students historical knowledge comes from:
(a). Ravitch and Finn’s report on the 1987 National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which they argued that students’ test scores place them “at risk of being gravely handicapped by…ignorance upon entry into adulthood, citizenship, and parenthood.”
(b). The 1976 New York Times test of American youth, published under the banner “Times Test Shows Knowledge of American History Limited.”
(c). Reports on the 1942 New York Times history exam that prompted Allan Nevins to write that high school students are “all too ignorant of American history.”
(d). None of the above
The correct answer is (d), none of the above. This quotation comes from neither the 1987 National Assessment nor from any of the earlier reports. To find its source we have to go back to 1917, long before television, the social studies lobby, the teaching of “thinking skills,” the breakup of the family, the growth of the Internet, or any of the other factors we use to explain low test scores. Yet the conclusions of J. Carleton Bell and David McCollum, who in 1917 tested 668 Texas high school students and published their findings in the fledgling Journal of Educational Psychology, differ little from those of subsequent commentators. Considering the vast differences between those who attended high school in 1917 and the near-universal enrollments of today, the stability of students’ ignorance is amazing. The whole world has turned on its head, but one thing has stayed the same: Kids don’t know history.
Here is the latest logic from David Barton‘s “Wallbuilders Live” radio program:
- The Constitution does not mention God
- The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times
- The Constitution is “part two” of the Declaration of Independence
- Thus the writers of the Constitution did not have to mention God again because they already mentioned God in the Declaration.
There is absolutely no evidence for anything Barton says here. He is making this up. The idea that the founders believed the Constitution was a natural extension of the Declaration of the Independence in the way Barton describes it ignores everything that happened between 1776 and 1787.
I challenge Barton to show me any member of the Constitutional Convention who made the connection between the God-language of the Declaration of Independence and the lack of God language in the Constitution in the way Barton suggests.
I suggest Barton read the following books:
Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
Michael Klarman, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution.
These books all do a nice job of explaining the complicated relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
So I guess I am one of these “brainless” professors Barton talks about. Actually, he has called me worse .
I am also still waiting for Barton to apologize for this.
For a different approach to the religious dimensions of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution check out Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.
This is the kind of politics that you get when you believe that America was founded as a Christian nation.
It is the kind of politics that you get when you do not care about promoting any meaningful approach to pluralism.
It is the kind of politics that you get when you live in fear and have no interest in trying to live together with people who see the world differently.
It is a culture-warrior approach to Christianity that alienates others and hurts the witness of the Gospel in the world.
I should add that I watched the entire speech. This clip is not taken out of context.
Do you want your kids to have a two-week internship in the “historic library of [Glenn Beck’s ) Mercury One?” You can participate in this internship program with Beck’s studio historian David Barton for $375.
If you want to be part of this Beck-Barton attempt to promote Christian America you can expect to learn things like this:
Mercury One is opening up our library for a hands-on experience to research original historical documents from our incredible collection, providing specialized teaching and instruction, and the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge from our speakers and guest lecturers.
This unique, once in a lifetime experience is two weeks of nonstop projects, research, lectures, and outings for people who want to know more about America’s incredible history, learn about the people directly involved with the founding of our nation, and identify the philosophies and ideologies that shaped our laws and original documents.
We spend our mornings in a classroom-like setting and each afternoon we dig through online resources as well as our unique, original library. We will delve into topics such as:
- A Biblical Worldview
- The Truth in History
- America’s Godly Heritage
- Early Education in America
- How the Bible Influenced America
- American Exceptionalism
- God and the Constitution
- Reclaiming the Land
We will research our Founding Fathers, discovering their accomplishments, families, and faith, giving individual presentations at the end of each week.This is a specialized training for 18-25 year old. Apply now for this limited space opportunity. The cost is $375.
All interns are required to provide their own transportation, food and lodging in the Dallas area.
Let me take a guess about how the topics listed above will be taught:
A Biblical World View: This means that Barton will teach you that the founding fathers upheld a view of the world just happens to be identical to the “world view” of the Christian Right wing of the Republican Party.
The Truth in History: I am guessing that this means you will be learning some form of providential history.
America’s Godly Heritage: You will learn that all or most of the founding fathers were Christians and that they were trying to build a Christian nation.
Early Education in America: You will learn that all of the founding fathers were graduates of theological seminaries and Bible colleges.
How the Bible Influenced America: You will learn that the separation of powers actually comes from the Old Testament and that preachers used the Bible to serve their own political ends. You may even learn that the use of the Bible to serve political ends is a good thing.
American Exceptionalism: You will learn that America is a “city on a hill.” It is exceptional because it is the new Israel–God’s chosen people.
God and the Constitution: Not sure how this one will be taught since God is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Reclaiming the Land: You will learn about Seven Mountain Dominionism and the need to restore America to its supposedly Christian roots. In other words, you will learn the same lessons that Ted Cruz learned from David Barton.
Want to learn more about David Barton? Click here.
For a more nuanced view of all of these issues click here.
In an essay in the Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs, Baylor humanities professor Alan Jacobs wonders why so many evangelicals no longer value character in their presidential candidates. He writes:
One of the most surprising developments of the 2016 presidential campaign was the wholesale abandonment by many conservative Christians, including many Catholics and most evangelicals, of a position that they had once held almost unanimously: In politics, character counts. It is not difficult to understand how this happened, though people who share many fundamental religious convictions will be debating for a long time the wisdom of replacing the familiar standards for evaluating political candidates.
All this has received a good deal of attention in the press. But one very important element of this change of emphasis has been neglected: If character no longer counts, or at least is no longer definitive, then what does count? What criteria should determine a Christian’s attitude toward a political candidate? There is no uniform answer to this question, but the most common answer given by Christian leaders supporting Donald Trump is a troubling one. It replaces the public assessment of virtue with the private judgments of pastors. And it has consequences not only for Christianity in America, but also, thanks to the sheer number of Christians in America, for the whole social order and political culture of our country.
The piece critiques the pro-Trump arguments of William Bennett, R.R. Reno, Mark Bauerlein, Jerry Falwell Jr., David Barton, and others.
Read it here.
This should be interesting.
This is interesting for readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home because Saccone is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters. (If you don’t know David Barton, click on this link and read some of our posts about him).
In fact, Saccone will kick off his campaign at a rally in the state capitol rotunda on February 27th. Guess who will be introducing him:
We will have our big kickoff rally in the capitol rotunda 27 feb 11am. David Barton will intro me. So blessed. Come join us in hburg.
— Rick Saccone (@Ricksaccone1) February 10, 2017
I have never heard Barton speak live. I live ten minutes from the capitol. I could take off my history hat and put on my journalism hat and go “cover” this event for The Way of Improvement Leads Home. But, alas, I will be teaching American history on that day and at that time. 🙂
Here is Saccone speaking from the Barton playbook:
And here are some of his tweets:
All who deny our Godly Heritage watch as the first act that brings in our chief executive, the Oath of office, is performed on the Bible.
— Rick Saccone (@Ricksaccone1) January 20, 2017
President Trump is preserving our country’s Godly heritage by swearing his oath on not just one Bible but two. Thank you President Trump.
— Rick Saccone (@Ricksaccone1) January 20, 2017
A lot of Christian nation stuff has been coming across my screen in the last few days. I have some time today to address it, so stay tuned.
First, we have the Virginia General Assembly’s House Resolution 297. Here it is:
WHEREAS, on April 26, 1607, a chartered expedition, subsidized by the Virginia Company to establish colonies on the coast of North America, disembarked upon the banks of Cape Henry, now Virginia Beach; and
WHEREAS, the Reverend Robert Hunt, the expedition’s official cleric, and the members of the expedition erected a wooden cross in symbolic reference to the Christian faith, invoked a public prayer of dedication, and pledged that the Gospel message would be spread throughout the region and, from that region, abroad; and
WHEREAS, the ensuing Jamestown settlement was the site of the first public communion ceremony in Virginia, in the tradition of the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament; and
WHEREAS, the Jamestown settlement was the first permanent English colony in North America and included a recognized church wherein Christian worship, teachings, and baptisms were conducted in accordance with the Gospel message, as exemplified by the baptism of Pocahontas, a member of the Powhatan tribe of Native Americans in the region; and
WHEREAS, the Judeo-Christian principles, as established in the Law of Moses and set forth from the earliest days of recorded history, of equality, human dignity, and equal protection under the law have provided an incalculable influence on law and thought throughout history, and in particular to our shared English common law tradition and Western civilization; and
WHEREAS, these same principles of equality, human dignity, and equal protection rooted in Mosaic law influenced America’s foremost Civil Rights leaders, including the esteemed Virginia Civil Rights attorney and leader Oliver White Hill, Sr., whose own paternal grandfather founded Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Richmond, which the Hill family attended and where Oliver Hill attended Sunday School; he worked diligently, influenced by his Christian faith, to end racial discrimination and helped end the doctrine of separate but equal; and
WHEREAS, according to the Pew Research Center, millions of Virginians, representing various denominations, identify as Christians, carrying on the faith traditions brought to North America by its first settlers; and
WHEREAS, thousands of churches in the Commonwealth continue to provide spiritual leadership and education; care for the poor, indigent, and homeless as commanded by the Gospel message; and conduct generous outreach in their communities; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, That the enormous influence of Christian heritage and faith throughout the Commonwealth’s 400-year history be recognized; and, be it
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates transmit copies of this resolution to Rodney Walker and First-Landing Festivals, requesting that they further disseminate copies of this resolution to their respective constituents so that they may be apprised of the sense of the Virginia House of Delegates in this matter.
As Brooke Newman points out in a recent Washington Post op-ed, the real problem with this Resolution is not that its sponsors got their facts wrong. (Although some do appear to be wrong). It is how the facts are interpreted and explained. This is an important point. Christian nationalists like David Barton and others often have their facts straight. Most of us can read from historical documents and quote them. But this is not history. History requires that we put those facts in context and avoid manipulating them for the purpose of making political points in the present. As I have said a hundred times, both the left and the right are guilty here. I have written a short primer on how think historically titled Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. It is a quick read. Some of you may find it helpful.
The authors of this resolution are not interested in providing a full picture of the Jamestown experience. They are politicians. And although the resolution does not make any direct demands in terms of public policy, the very fact that these Virginia politicians feel the need to pass such a resolution implies that they are trying to lay a foundation for their view that America was somehow founded as a Christian nation and should somehow return to being one.
Anyone who has studied colonial Virginia and Jamestown cannot deny that religion played a role in its founding. But to suggest, as this resolution does, that religious motivations were more important than economic self-interest is not fair to the historical record. (I just spent the last week with my U.S. History Survey students discussing these very points).
In addition to Newman’s op-ed, I would encourage you to read my fuller take on these matters in chapter 5 of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. The chapter titled “Were the British-American Colonies Christian Societies.”
Earlier tonight I wrote a post about a David Barton and Glenn Beck plan to bring their pseudohistory to American schools. You can read it here.
Since I published the post I received two excellent comments. I am re-posting them below.
The first comment comes from Yale history graduate student Michael Hattem:
Without money, we have to fight on platforms that don’t require large amounts of money. When you search for Barton on YouTube, it comes up with dozens (if not hundreds) of videos of him talking his nonsense. Why is there no series of videos by actual historians entitled, “Why David Barton is Wrong about the Founding?” That’s something that could be done relatively cheaply, if the inclination and will existed. In addition, we should petition the organizations in our field that have resources to put a small amount of them toward directly counteracting this initiative. Why can’t the AHA or OAH or similar organizations help provide the organizational impetus for actual historians willing to volunteer time to visit local public schools in their own areas. No distinguished speaker fees, no travel, just historians getting into schools FOR FREE through the imprimatur of our professional organizations. We don’t have the money that they have but it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can’t collectively counteract the willful miseducation of our nation’s youth about the fundamentals of American history.
After reading Michael’s post I began to rethink my Spring 2017 season of the Virtual Office Hours. I was going to do something about history in the #ageoftrump, but now I am might do something on Barton. We start filming this week.
The second comment comes from a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home who goes by the name “SpaceHistorian.”
I recently read Rick Perlstein’s excellent book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. He documented how a few wealthy Libertarian families, the Coors, the DeVos, the Mellon Scaifes, the Olins, the Bradleys, etc., poured money into right-wing think tanks (Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum, American Enterprise Institute, CATO Institute, Hoover Institute, etc.) in order to take over the Republican Party with the goal of promoting the unholy mixture of Ayn Randian economic policies with alleged Judeo-Christian moral principles. The Koch Brothers came on the scene later but with many of the same Libertarian goals. All of this money funded AstroTurf groups that infiltrated the GOP at the local level, the state level and through Ronald Reagan, the federal government. These conservative think tanks have provided the so-called “experts” that regularly appear in newspapers, magazines, online and on TV network news shows and cable news shows all parroting the same bought and paid for Libertarian narrative. So this is a “revolution” that has been decades in the making and largely pulled off outside public view disguised as a average American citizen’s movement.
So how do we overcome decades of indoctrination, subversion, the takeover of all levels of government, the takeover of corporate media, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build and defend this Libertarian/bastardized Christian worldview? Money equals power and influence in America. The more money, the more power, the more influence people and groups have in America. The people dedicated to the Libertarian/Christian alliance do not play by any rules or respect for the facts. All they care about are results which justifies their actions. So how do those of us with a sense of human decency, ethics and conscience battle the forces arrayed against us? We now live in a world where “alternative facts” are the new “truth” and evidence to the contrary is dismissed as fake news by those who traffic in producing and promoting fake news.
So solve these challenges and our Constitutional Republic just may survive to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. Fail and the United States ends the great experiment in democracy started in 1787. So no pressure Dr. Fea, no pressure at all sir.
“Though conservative think tanks get a lot of money, their money does not come from the wealthiest foundations by any means. There are plenty of liberals with enough money to match the conservatives. Wealthy liberals, however, want their money to go as directly as possible to the downtrodden and oppressed, with nothing significant designated for infrastructure, career development, or their intellectuals. From a position external to the liberal moral system this seems irrational and self-defeating. But from inside the moral system it seems natural.” (George Lakoff, “Moral Politics,” pp. 417-418).
The Lakoff quote resonates with me a great deal. Part of it reminds me of some of the things I wrote about in this post.
David Barton’s Wallbuilders radio show is now referring to Barton as “America’s premiere historian.” On today’s show his co-host Rick Green played a speech Barton gave at his Dallas Pro-Family Legislators Conference. (It is unclear when this conference was held). During the speech Barton attacked me again. Here is what he said (highlights are mine):
When you look at the Declaration, every single right set forth in the Declaration had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. It’s a fun thing to do. Read the Declaration sometime and look at it as a list of sermon topics. See if you could come up with Bible verses for all those rights. Because that’s what they did. We’ve got the old sermons from those days to show you how the Declaration was built out of the pulpit.
So, that’s prior to 1763. Then when you get the Declaration itself it was largely based on the writings and John Locke. Richard Henry Lee said that they copied the Declaration from Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.
I have long said that Two Treatises of Government, John Locke in that work cited or referenced the Bible on 1,500 occasions. Two Treatises is about an inch thick and about 400 pages long.
An article came out last year by an academic named John Fea who just mocked me and said, “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.” And it’s on a Biblical worldview website. So, it’s out there.
So what I’ve been doing the last several months is I’ve gone into John Locke’s Two Treatises and I have documented every time he quotes a Bible verse. The deal with John Locke is he didn’t always tell you he was quoting a Bible verse because everybody knew it back then.
If I said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Most of us would say, “That’s John 3:16.” If I said that to the guy on the street they wouldn’t know what I was talking about. They don’t know John 3:16. Well see, here’s a Biblical worldview guy who didn’t recognize Bible verses throughout John Locke’s piece.
So, I’ve already documented that 1,500- way over. It’s an embarrassment for a Biblical worldview academic to not recognize the Bible. But that’s a difficulty we have now.
OK, where do I begin? Here are a few points:
- My name is pronounced “Fee-ah.” It rhymes with the female names “Mia” or “Tia.”
- David Barton puts the following sentence in quotes and attributes it to me: “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.” I challenge him to connect this quote with my name. He will not be able to do it because I never said these words.
- David Barton claims that I have written an article arguing that there are only 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. I have never written such an article. In fact, I am not on record anywhere–either at The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, in a published book, or elsewhere–claiming that there are 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Frankly, I have never really been interested in this question and I am too busy to read Locke and count the number of Bible verses. (Maybe one day I will have the time). Yet Barton has criticized me at his conference, on his radio show, and on the transcript of the radio show on his Wallbuilders website. The fact that Barton has not only mentioned this falsehood, but has put my words in quotation marks, is especially disturbing. I spend a lot of time with my students teaching them the proper use of quotation marks.
- I am glad that Barton considers me a “Biblical worldview academic.” At least he is not questioning my Christian faith. I don’t really describe myself using the phrase “Biblical worldview academic,” but I will take it. It is good to know that Barton still sees me as part of the fold. 🙂
- I am glad to see that Barton now believes that the “Declaration itself was largely based on the writings of John Locke.” I always assumed he believed that the Declaration of Independence was based directly on the writings of the Bible.
- I don’t know how many Bible verses are in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, but Barton obviously thinks it is important. Why? Because if Locke was indeed the primary influence on Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (a premise, by the way, that could be debated), then it is absolutely essential for Barton to show that Locke’s biblicism was somehow transferred to the words of the Declaration. Barton’s entire ministry at Wallbuilders depends on it. Let’s remember that Barton is not a historian. He is a politician who practices what the historian Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.” He is not studying Locke to advance general knowledge or even to help us better understand Locke in his 17th-century context. He is doing this because he is trying to convince his followers that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document. And if he can prove that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document then he can tell his followers that the United States was founded a Christian nation. And if he can prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation he can convince his followers that we need to “return” to such a place. And if he can do that, he can more easily advance his political agenda as a GOP operative.
I am going to stop there. I have critiqued Barton’s work many times (including the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “built out of the pulpit”). You can read some of those critiques by clicking here. I have also addressed the relationship between Christianity and the founding in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.
I should also add that all of my critiques of Barton’s work are based on actually things that he has said and written. As a fellow “Biblical world view” guy I would ask him to give me the same courtesy.