David and Tim Barton: The Boston Tea Party was not a “riot.” Don’t you know they called it a “party?”

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Thousands of white evangelicals get their history from David Barton (founder) and Tim Barton (president) of an organization called Wallbuilders.

In light of the recent peaceful protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Bartons want to make sure that white evangelicals think that the birth of the United States was not violent. We addressed this false claim here.

If the Boston Tea Party was a happy little “tea party,” and not an act of vandalism, the Bartons can make the case that the Floyd protests and riots were somehow outside the mainstream of American history, especially the American founding. This attempt to manipulate the American past to fit a pro-Trump, pro-Christian Right agenda is evident in a recent article, published at the Wallbuilders website, titled “Was the Tea Party a Riot?

Here is the opening argument:

Peaceful protestors [sic] have marched around the country to demand justice. However, in the midst of justified outrage some people have themselves begun committing unjustifiable acts, assaulting and murdering police officers, burning down buildings, mercilessly beating people, and destroying their fellow citizens’ property. Out of town activists and professional agitators have poured into metropolitan centers and led rioters to destroy businesses, housing units, and even churches.

In defense of these heinous acts, some people have begun pointing to the Boston Tea Party as an example of how violent riots are part of American tradition. This historical perspective, however, is only possible if you don’t know the first thing about the Boston Tea Party, who was involved, and why it happened.

The piece is riddled with historical problems. For example, the Bartons do not seem to know that the Tea Act did not raise the price of tea in the colonies, nor was it a tax. They make several appeals to 19th century American history textbooks and pull random quotes from these textbooks that fail to advance their arguments. It almost seems like they are pulling these quotes just so they can add another footnote to the article in order to give the impression that the piece is well-researched. They fail to engage any of the best scholarship on the tea party and their primary sources are taken out of context.

Finally, their historical analogy doesn’t make sense. Those who carried out the Boston Tea Party were vandals. They destroyed someone else’s property. Isn’t this what some of the rioters did in the wake of the Floyd murders? It was wrong in 1776 and it’s wrong in 2020.

The Barton’s conclude:

The situation in American today is entirely different. Respect and decency are not being shown to innocent people or business owners. The current riots are like a destructive tornado set on destroying everything in its path.

Peaceful protests are protected by the Bill of Rights, but violent riots which destroy, loot, and victimize are antithetical to the American idea. The comparison of the violent riots to the Boston Tea Party is wildly unfounded and demonstrates that Americans should study their history before they try to weaponize it.

Perhaps the Bartons should read Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff‘s recent New York Times piece “The Boston Tea Party Was More Than That. It Was a Riot.”  Here is a taste:

Several years later, after long December days of town meetings, after endless speeches and equally protracted negotiations, over a thousand colonists headed, early on a damp evening, to Griffin’s Wharf. Three hundred and forty-two troublesome chests of East India tea sat aboard the ships on which they had sailed from England. Hatches were opened, holds entered, chests hoisted on deck. In a few hours, every leaf of tea steeped in Boston Harbor. By 9 p.m. the town was still. Boston had not known a quieter night for some time.

No one was hurt. No gun was fired. No property other than the tea was damaged. The perpetrators cleaned up after themselves. In the aftermath, the surgical strike was referred to plainly as “the destruction of the tea.” To the indignant Massachusetts governor, it constituted nothing less than a “high handed riot.”

He had a point: There is a difference between burning a draft card or toppling a statue and tossing someone else’s goods overboard. This was an assault on property rather than on a symbol. Expertly choreographed, it qualified as a blatant act of vandalism. It was difficult to dress up, though John Adams would privately declare the dumping of the tea the grandest event since the dispute with Britain had begun. He thought it sublime.

To the occupiers it proved to be a particular mortification. The king demanded an immediate prosecution. It did not seem too much to ask: After all, thousands had watched the tea rain into the water, even if only several dozen men had actually boarded the ships. No one, however, seemed to have seen a thing. In all of Boston only one witness could be found — and he refused to testify unless transported out of the colony.

The patriots swabbed the decks afterward and history reciprocated, turning a riot into a tea party. The tidying is necessary to the exercise. The acts of defiance are meant to shine as sterling symbols of patriotism. Over time they take refuge under their principles: We prefer to remember not that we were making a mess but that we were making a point. In a protest movement, we like to be able to distinguish the villains. Or as Samuel Adams put it after what he was never to know as the Boston Tea Party: “Our enemies must acknowledge that these people have acted upon pure and upright principle.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Why Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, and David Barton are “dangerous”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Eric Metaxas hanging-out with  Texas senator Ted Cruz

Needless to say, I was glad to see Abram Van Engen of Washington University in St. Louis critique the way Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, and David Barton are manipulating the American past. I also appreciate his shoutout to the Conference on Faith and History, an organization in which I currently serve as Vice-President and President-elect.

Here is a taste of Van Engen’s post at The Anxious Bench:

There are plenty of good historians at work today, including many Christians historians, and what they have in common is a desire to know God and God’s world better by trying to understand what has actually occurred and why. The Conference on Faith and History does not have a popular following (like Metaxas), but it nonetheless gathers faithful Christians, many of whom study the nation. None of these scholars feel their faith threatened by facts. All of them feel compelled to follow historical records where they lead.

The dangers of Christian nationalism for both Christianity and the nation mount with each rewriting of the American past. If Christians are to be committed to both truth and love, then we must commit to as true and full a history of the nation as we can tell, loving our fellow citizens, refusing to worship a false image of the nation, and trusting, finally, in a sovereign God.

Read the entire post here.

What is the National Association of Christian Lawmakers?

Christian nation

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers looks like another group of Christian Right politicians who want to create laws in the United States based upon a “biblical world view.” Here is the mission:

Our nation is on the brink because of leaders who have capitulated on our convictions for far too long.

Meeting regularly to discuss and debate major issues, proposing model statutes, ordinances and resolutions for introduction in jurisdictions to address major policy concerns from a Biblical worldview. NACL offers a unique national forum for local, state and federal elected officials to address the major issues of our day.

America was built on a foundation of faith, and our founding fathers understood our rights are given to us by God, not by government. When faith dies, freedom follows.

I am not opposed to the idea of a “biblical worldview,” but when these people use the phrase it essential means the promotion of a narrow Christian Right understanding of the Bible and American history. It has everything to do with

  • Overturning Roe v. Wade as the primary way of ending abortion in America.
  • The defense of religious liberty as understood by white evangelicals. We rarely hear these lawmakers articulate how laws based on a “biblical world view” apply to people who do not share their evangelical faith.
  • Having access to political power.
  • The passing of laws to prevent gay marriage.
  • Opposing anyone who says that racism is a structural or institutional problem.
  • The defense of free-market capitalism.
  • Building walls to prevent non-white immigrants from entering the country even thought these migrants share their Christian faith.
  • The belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be restored as such.

This group appears to be holding a face-to-face conference next month in Florida.

Several members of the Christian Right are part of the Board of Advisers:

Huckabee:

One of the great values of being part of an organization that brings Christian legislators together is the power of the fellowship and relationships formed across the nation to serve not just as an intellectual resource, but a spiritual encouragement in knowing, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert:

I know what it is to fight for what is right and I want to ensure that other conservative Christian leaders are properly equipped to withstand the extreme Left’s harassment tactics designed to wear Christian leaders down in the public arena. The time is now to take a stand before our Judeo-Christian foundation is forever lost in the nation.

Former Congressman Bob McEwen slips socialism into Exodus 18:21:

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people, leaders such as fear God, lovers of truth, hating covetousness (socialism). NACL is a gathering of Exodus 18:21 leaders.

Court evangelical Tony Perkins:

This is an organization whose time has absolutely come. We need an unwavering entity in the political arena where lawmakers encourage one another as they are guided by their biblically centered faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible was key in the successful founding of our Republic, and it remains key to successfully maintaining it today. The National Association of Christian Lawmakers is a tremendous initiative, and as a former elected official, I am honored to be a part of it.

David Barton‘s son, Tim:

America was built on the foundation of Biblical principles. Throughout our rich history we have wavered and missed the mark on many occasions but, by God’s grace, there were always principled leaders who fought to correct the mistakes and promote Godliness. Our nation needs, now more than ever, people of principle who will stand up for Biblical truth and righteousness.

David Barton’s appears with an African-American conservative who once “thanked God” for slavery

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Jesse Lee Peterson is an African-American evangelical who hosts a radio program.

Peterson:

As part of his self-proclaimed “White History Month,” Peterson recently had David Barton on his radio show. Barton is the pro-Trump GOP activist who uses the past to make political points in the present.

Barton thinks “white history month” is “fun.” At the same time, he seems very uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Watch:

It’s the usual stuff:

  • Columbus was a Christian hero.
  • Juneteenth is bad and it should not be a federal holiday.
  • Public schools should not open in the Fall because they indoctrinate students to hate history. This is a great moment to strengthen the home-school lobby.
  • Barton says public schools don’t teach students how to “think.” I am sure there are thousands and thousands of teachers who might disagree with him here. And many of these public school teachers are Christians. For Peterson and Barton, any students who learn to “think” they become members of the Christian Right.
  • Barton defends Confederate monuments, including a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest. He confuses statues with history education. For Barton, history is just a big morality play.
  • Barton wants to talk about free blacks who owned slaves and Native Americans who owned black slaves. He says that Native Americans were the “highest black-owning group in America.” Read this please.
  • Barton has obviously never set foot in a public school history classroom. He seems to think that history teachers are just cherry-picking facts to serve a political agenda. There are probably some Howard Zinn disciples who do this, but most teachers know that effective history teachers are in the business of teaching their kids how to detect bias through close readings of primary sources. This whole discussion is ironic coming from a guy who has been debunked by virtually every professional American historian for his manipulation of the past to serve his own present-day political agenda. There is a reason why Barton edged out Zinn for the “least credible history book in print.”
  • I know I’ve pointed this out a  few times, but I wonder what Barton would think about the tearing-down of this statue?
  • Barton condemns white evangelical pastors for supporting racial reconciliation.
  • In a convoluted argument, Barton seems to suggest that white people are “licking the boots” (Peterson’s phrase) of Black people because white people don’t know how to rise-up and defend their race like African Americans and Hispanics. It sounds like Barton is saying that white people are “taking a knee” to Black people because they never learned how to defend their whiteness. I wonder if Barton knows that he just made an argument in favor of white identity politics. This is Trump, Steven Miller, Breitbart News, and alt-Right stuff.

I’ll end with this:

Folks need to stop tearing down monuments. It just gives fodder to people like Barton and Peterson. It allows them to spread fear to their evangelical followers and claim that America is under spiritual attack. This is one of the two or three things left that still might get Trump re-elected in 2020. Let’s have a conversation about monuments and race in America, but tearing-down U.S. Grant or George Washington doesn’t help.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

COurt evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

They are still coming for Jesus:

Graham is responding to this tweet by Mike Huckabee:

I was listening to CNN when Lemon said that Jesus “wasn’t perfect.” I think this was more of a simple theological misunderstanding by Lemon, or perhaps he really doesn’t believe Jesus was perfect. We live in a religious diverse country after all. Don Lemon is free to believe that Jesus was not perfect. (By the way, do Jewish conservatives on Fox News believe Jesus was perfect?) In other words, I did not see this as an attempt to attack Christianity. Lemon was trying to show that our founding fathers were not perfect. He was even calling out liberals. Watch for yourself:

Apparently Robert Jeffress is not happy about this either. But this should not surprise us. He has long believed that we live in a Christian nation, not a pluralistic democracy.

According to Jeffress, anyone who does not believe Jesus was perfect is peddling “fake news.”

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network agrees:

Again, the point here is not to argue whether or not Jesus was perfect. That is a theological discussion. 3 points:

  1. The court evangelicals do not care about the larger context of Lemon’s statement because the context does not suit their political agenda.
  2. It is fine to tweet that Lemon does not understand the beliefs of Christianity. I am criticizing how his views (or his mistake) were turned into culture war tweets.
  3. The court evangelicals do not believe in a pluralistic society. The idea that Jesus was imperfect may be a “lie” to all serious Christians, but this is not an exclusively Christian nation. Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people of all kinds of religions watch CNN. Non-Christians work at Fox News (I think). The belief that “Jesus was perfect” is an article of faith and it is perfectly fine in a democracy for people to disagree with this claim. As a Christian, I believe in the incarnation, but I am not offended that Don Lemon may not. These kinds of tweets just make Christians look foolish.

Gary Bauer is using his Facebook page to share an article on the American Revolution that appeared yesterday at The Federalist. Jane Hampton Cook’s essay is a historical and theological mess. It blurs African slavery, political slavery, and the biblical idea of liberty from sin. But at least she was able to take a shot at the 1619 Project! That’s all that really matters. Bauer writes:”>Rather than teaching our children a lie — that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery as the 1619 Project falsely claims — this is what our children should be learning in school.”

Hey Ralph, all you need to do is say “Happy Anniversary.” That’s it:

Eric Metaxas is trying to get his book If You Can Keep It in the hands of “every high school history teacher in the country. Before your school adopts Eric Metaxas’s book, please read this article and this series of posts.

Tonight David Barton will be making a case for why Washington D.C. should not be a state. I don’t have time to watch it, but I am guessing it has something to do with Christian nationalism.

Seven Mountain Dominion advocate Lance Wallnau is at it again. He also wants to destroy public education.

Is it really true that Democrats don’t care about law and order or the Constitution? Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks so:

Monday night court evangelical roundup

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What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Greg Laurie is still suggesting that the United States was “born out of a revival.” I addressed the many problems with this view here. In fact, religious attendance and membership was at an all-time low during the Revolution.

Johnnie Moore, who calls himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” loves Trump’s idea for a “National Garden of American Heroes.”

I wrote about this proposed garden here.

Moore also believes that “primary sources” exist in a vacuum. Most first-year history majors can debunk this approach to reading:

Ralph Reed, as always, is sticking to the playbook:

David Barton and his son Tim are on the Jim Bakker Show talking about monuments. For years, Barton ignored the parts of American history that did not fit with his Christian nationalism. Now he is talking about how we need to see the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of American history. At one point, David Barton compares himself and his son to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. He praises Tim for training young people to go to their campuses and convince their professors to reject “cultural Marxism” and “cancel culture.” I have now said this several times–the small number of people who are tearing down non-Confederate monuments are providing fodder for this kind of stuff.

Any history teacher who watches this video, and hears the Bartons attack the “dumb” and “stupid” ideas being taught in schools, should be offended. I wonder how many times either David or Tim Barton have set foot in a public school history classroom.

This video is a clear example of the Barton’s Christian nationalist mission. And they are well-funded.

The Bartons came back for a second day on the Jim Bakker Show and basically told viewers that if they don’t vote for Trump the United States will become socialist. The fear-mongering continues. In this interview, they double-down on the idea that anyone who does not vote for Trump is not “thinking biblically.” According to Tim Barton, only about 10% of self-professed Christians are actually “thinking biblically.” The rest “love Jesus” but are ignorant.

Eric Metaxas is still playing to the extremes in order to scare his listeners. Most people in the United States are not engaged in the tearing down of monuments. Most local governments are not trying to remove non-Confederate monuments or erase history.  He plays to these extremes because he wants Trump re-elected and he needs to keep his show on the air. This is what cultural warriors do.

Metaxas keeps pushing his seriously-flawed book If You Can Keep It. He says that the American history kids are getting in schools today is making them ignorant. As I said above in relation to David and Tim Barton, this is a sad attack on hard-working history teachers who are teaching students how to read primary sources, weigh evidence, detect bias, think contextually, appreciate complexity, and grasp how things change over time. When was the last time Metaxas talked with a K-12 history teacher or visited a history classroom?

The fear-mongering continues with Metaxas’s guest John Zmirak. Their discussion of the history of the French Revolution takes so many liberties with the facts that I am not sure where to begin with my critique. Perhaps a European historian can listen to this and comment. Zmirak then refers to political scientist Mark David Hall’s book defending a Christian founding. I haven’t read this book, but you can see a discussion of it here.

The Metaxas-Zmirak conversation moves to a full-blown rejection of systemic racism and a defense of Robert E. Lee monuments. The kind of hate that is now propagated on the Eric Metaxas Show–a show on “Christian” radio–looks nothing like the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how Metaxas could have read so much Bonhoeffer and still engage in this garbage. I’ll stick with Charles Marsh on Bonhoeffer: here and here. I would also encourage you to read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and compare his words with what you hear on the Eric Metaxas Show.

In one of the more ironic lines of this episode, court evangelical Metaxas criticizes the Democratic Party for refusing to “stand against the madness.”

That’s all for today. Until next time.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

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What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Rudy Giuliani shares a tweet from a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Notice how Giuliani uses Jenna Ellis’s tweet of Psalm 27 to make a political statement. When he says “we all matter” I think we all know the message he is sending in the midst of our post-George Floyd moment. In a follow-up tweet, Ellis gives Giuliani an “Amen.”

As the coronavirus cases spike, Ellis retweets an anti-masker attacking California senator Kamala Harris:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center does not understand history. It’s tweet today seems like a defense of Confederate monuments. I am guessing Russell Kirk is taken out of context here. As I argued in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, history is always created from a dialogue the between past and the present. Sometimes the past is useful in the present. Sometimes the past is a “foreign country.” Ironically, the Falkirk Center and the rest of the Christian Right activists who talk about the past, have mastered the kind of cherry-picking Kirk may be warning against here.

What is the relationship between the following tweet and Jenna Ellis’s anti-mask retweet above? It seems that “rights” are a form of self-fulfillment, while concern for others is a form of self-denial. John MacArthur’s lesson might be useful for evangelicals as they think about masks and the spread of COVID-19.

Florida is seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases. Paula White is opening her church:

Wow: This is an amazing tweet from Trump’s #1 court evangelical:

Tony Perkins is hosting a video conference called “Arise and Stand.” You can watch it here.

Here is Gary Bauer’s Facebook post:

Kudos to my good friend Vice President Mike Pence!

Vice President Pence stood firm in the face of the media mob this Sunday, as well as the mob in the streets, by refusing to repeat the divisive slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” He was pressed to do so during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

Of course Black Lives Matter, as do Asian lives, Hispanic lives and Caucasian lives. That’s the truth. And it’s also a central Christian principle that the color of our skin is the least unique thing about us. What makes us special is that we are made in the image of God, and the vice president strongly believes that. 

Read the rest here.

I’ve said this before, this pivot toward “all lives matter” is simply a way for those on the Christian Right to avoid tough conversations on race in America following the killing of George Floyd. When Pence refused to say “Black Lives Matter” on television he was sending a message to the Trump base.

all lives matter cartoon

It’s all about the Supreme Court justices for Ralph Reed.

Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran have a nice response to Reed’s way of political thinking:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resources families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Read the entire piece here.

Ralph Reed, perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Right, is responsible for what Hauerwas and Tran call a “failure of political imagination” among evangelicals.

According to Robert Jeffress, the “eventual collapse of our country” is now certain:

And last but not least, David Barton is on the Eric Metaxas Show today. When activists indiscriminately topple and deface monuments, it just provides ammunition and fodder for Barton’s Christian Right view of the past.

Barton defends a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a white supremacist who helped found the KKK. He seems to think that such a statue is essential to his ability to teach history. This comment even makes Metaxas squirm: “I think we all would agree that lines can be drawn, we don’t have a statue to Adolph Hitler.” In this sense, Metaxas’s obsession with Godwin’s Law serves a useful purpose.

When Metaxas says that debate over monuments is “complicated,” he reminds me of something I wrote at the end of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:

In 2010 the political commentator Glenn Beck devoted an entire television program to a discussion of George Whitefield, the eighteenth-century evangelical revivalist and the precipitator of the event known as the First Great Awakening. Near the end of the show, Beck’s conversation with his guests–two early American religious historians–turned to the topic of slavery. Beck wondered how Whitefield could inspire anti-slavery advocates in England such as John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” while at the same time owning slaves. Befuddled by this paradox, and clearly at a loss for words, Beck turned to the camera and said, “Sometimes history is a little complex.”

Barton peddles an unbelievably dumb theory about the origins of slavery and race in America. He says “out of Jamestown” came “slavery and intolerance and classism and racism.” But out of Plymouth came “liberty and freedom and constitutional government, bills of rights, etc.” His source is an uncritical use of an 1888 wall map showing these “two strands of history, one bad and one good.”

Apparently, Barton has never studied New England’s Native American history or the intolerance the Puritans showed to the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. But wait, it gets better. Barton says that “both of those groups were Christian, but Jamestown was not biblical. They [just] professed Christianity. That’s much of what we see in America today. 72% of the nation professes Christianity, only six percent have a biblical world view.” Slavery started in Jamestown, Barton argues, because the settlers didn’t “know the Bible.” This is interesting, since during the early 19th-century Virginians used the Bible to justify slavery. I guess they were more biblically literate by that time. 🙂

Barton seems to suggest that New England did not have slaves. Wrong again. Even Jonathan Edwards, one of Barton’s heroes, a man who Barton would probably say had a “Christian world view,” owned slaves. Granted, New England did not have a slave-based economy, but slavery was not illegal prior to the American Revolution. If you want to learn more, see Richard Bailey’s Race and Redemption in Puritan New England. and Joanne Pope Melishs’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860

Barton goes on to say that today “we look at past generations through today’s filter and today’s lens and you really can’t do that.” This is rich coming from a guy who has built his entire career around cherry-picking from the founding fathers and then applying such cherry-picked passages to contemporary Christian Right politics. (See my comments about the Falkirk Center’s tweet about Russell Kirk).

He then uses this argument to reject systemic and institutional racism. Here is Barton:

So all the notion that America is institutionally racist–you gotta see what the atmosphere was like in that day–we were leading the world in the right direction that day. Now we can look back where we are today and say we weren’t perfect…but we’re not the racist nation everyone is trying to make us out to be. When you know history, you see that all clearly.

Barton speaks as if the Civil War–a war over slavery in which 700,000 people died–never happened. Is this “leading the world in the right direction?” Heck, he sounds as if slavery never existed in the United States. He dismisses four hundred years of slavery and racism by saying, “yeah, we weren’t perfect.” Barton is not a historian. He only cares about the parts of the past that advance his political agenda. Read this recent post to see the depths of racism in the evangelical church or grab a copy of Believe Me.

And finally, Metaxas praises Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as a great moment of national unity. He says that Lincoln showed “graciousness” toward his enemy. He said that because of this graciousness, Lincoln and Grant allowed the Confederate monuments to stand. Barton says that Lincoln’s “zealous” Christian faith is why he tried to reconcile with the South after the war. He says that Lincoln took seriously Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 about “reconciliation.”

There are so many problems with this part of the interview that it is hard to know where to start.

  1. Lincoln did want to the bring the Union back together and he tried to use his Second Inaugural Address to do it. But let’s remember that this address was delivered after victory in the war was all but secured. The Union won. Whatever reunion needed to take place, Lincoln believed, must happen on his terms. The idea that he would allow Confederates to continue to celebrate their slave-holding “heritage” with the erection of monuments does not make sense.
  2. Metaxas seems to think that these Confederate monuments were erected during the days of Lincoln. Most of them were built in the early 20th-century as a way of defending the Confederate’s “Lost Cause”–a commitment to white supremacy. Lincoln had nothing to do with them.
  3. Lincoln was not a Christian. Nearly all Lincoln scholarship is clear about this.
  4. 2 Corinthians 5 has nothing to do with the Civil War or nationalism.
  5. But most disturbing is the fact that Barton and Metaxas seem to be endorsing a white romanticized idea of reunion and reconciliation that left out African Americans. The best book on this subject continues to be David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Until next time.

Politically Motivated Violence Was Wrong During the Stamp Act and It Is Wrong Today. The Christian Right “Historians” Must Reckon With This

boston-stamp-act-riot-1765-granger

Everyone knows that the American Revolution was born through violent protest. Yes, the colonies fought a war that secured their liberty, but they also engaged in civilian violence in major British-American cities well before the outbreak of war.

Here is Peter Oliver, a Boston judge, describing the situation in Boston during the August 1765 Stamp Act riots. It comes from his 1781 book Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion:

The Mob, also, on the same Evening, broke into the Office of the Register of the Admiralty & did considerable Damage there; but were prevented from an utter Destruction of it. They also sought after the Custom House Officers; but they secreted themselves– these are some of the blessed Effects of smuggling. And so abandoned from all Virtue were the Minds of the People of Boston, that when the Kings Attorney examined many of them, on Oath, who were Spectators of the Scene & knew the Actors [participants], yet they exculpated them before a Grand Jury; & others, who were Men of Reputation, avoided giving any Evidence thro’ Fear of the like Fate. Such was the Reign of Anarchy in Boston, & such the very awkward Situation in which every Friend to Government stood. Mr. Otis & his mirmy-dons, the Smugglers & the black Regiment, had instilled into the Canaille that Mr. Hutchinson had promoted the Stamp Act; whereas, on the Contrary, he not only had drawn up the decent Memorial of the Massachusetts Assembly, but, previous to it, he had repeatedly wrote to his Friends in England to ward it off, by showing the Inexpedience of it & the Disadvantages that would accrue from it to the English Nation, but it was in vain to struggle against the Law of Otis, & the Gospel of his black Regiment. That worthy Man must be a Victim; Mr. Otis said so, & it was done.

Notice the destruction of property. Notice the corrupt politicians who protected the lawbreakers. Also notice that members of the Boston clergy–the “black Regiment”–fueled the mobs. (I am assuming that the “black regiment” mentioned in Oliver’s account was indeed a reference to the ministers). Today, the Christian Right activists who use the past to justify their present-day political policies have used the phrase “black-robed regiment” to describe Oliver’s “black regiment.” Pseudo-historian David Barton believes we need a revival of this so-called “black-robed regiment” in order to restore America to its Christian foundation. So if you want to support a group of evangelical ministers who endorsed the destruction of property, violence, and looting in the name of God and liberty, you can join here. (Also check-out J.L. Bell’s take on the “black-robed regiment.” He thinks Barton made it all up).

Here’s more from Oliver:

Such was the Frenzy of Anarchy that every Man was jealous [suspicious] of his Neighbor & seemed to wait for his Turn of Destruction; & such was the political Enthusiasm that the Minds of the most pious Men seemed to be wholly absorbed in the Temper of Riot. One Clergyman of Boston, in particular, who seemed to be devoted to an Abstraction from the World, and had gone through an Existence of near 70 Years, reputedly free from both original Sin & actual Transgression, yet by the perpetual buzzing of Incendiaries at his Ear, being inquired of, as an Oracle, what ought to be done by the People? He uttered his Decision with this laconic Answer: “Fight up to your Knees in Blood.” Never could the exclamation of Tantaene animis celestibus irae (“do the heavenly minds have such great anger”) be more just than on this Occasion. 

Once again, we see the Boston clergy endorsing the violence. More from Oliver:

The Secretary of the Province also, who was appointed a Stamp Master, was attacked, and his House much damaged. He was carried to the Tree of Liberty by the Mob & a Justice of the Peace provided to swear him; & there he was obliged, on pain of Death, to take an Oath to resign his Office. This Tree stood in the Town & was consecrated as an Idol for the Mob to worship; it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy. It flourished until the British Troops possessed Boston, when it was desecrated by being cut down & carried to the Fire ordeal to warm the natural Body. It would have been lucky for the Soldiery had it continued to give a natural Warmth as long as it had communicated its political Heat; they then would not have suffered so much by the Severity of a cold Season.

Here is the Boston Gazette from 19 August, 1765:

Early on Wednesday Morning last, the Effigy of a Genltemen sustaining a very unpopular office, viz. that of St___p Master, was found hanging on a Tree in the most public Part of the Town, together with a Boot, wherein was concealed a young Imp of the D___l [Devil] represented as peeping out of the Top.–On the Breast of the Effigy was a Label, in Praise of Liberty, and denouncing Vengeance on the Subvertors of it–and underneath was the following Words, HE THAT TAKES THIS DOWN IS AN ENEMY TO HIS COUNTRY–The Owner of the Tree finding a Crowd of People to assemble, tho’ at 5 o’clock in the Morning, endeavoured to take it down; but being advis’d to the contrary by the Populace, lest it should occasion the demolition of his Windows, if nothing worse, desisted from the Attempt.

The Diversion it occasioned among a Multitude of Spectators, who continually assembled the whole Day, is surprising; not a Peasant was suffered to pass down to the Market, let him have what he would for Sale, ’till he had stop’d and got his Articles stamp’d by the Effigy. Toward’s dark some Thousands repaired to the said Place of Rendezvous, and having been taken down the Pageantry [the effigy], the proceeded with it along the Main Street to the Town-House, thro’ which they carried it ,and continued their Rout thro’ Kilby-Street to Oliver’s Dock, where there was a new Brick Building just finished; and they, imagining it to be designed for a Stamp-Office, instantly set about demolishing it, which they thoroughly effected in about half an Hour.

This passage shows a peaceful protest that quickly becomes violent and destructive.

Here’s more from the same Boston Gazette article:

In the mean Time the High-Sheriff, &c. &c., being apprehensive that the Person of the then Stamp-Master, and his Family, might be in Danger from the Tumult, went and advised them to evacuate the House, which they had scarcely done, making their Retreat across the Gardens, &c. before the Multitude approach’d Fort-Hill, continuous thereto, in order to burn the Effigy, together with the Timber and other Woodwork of the House they had demolish’d. After setting Fire to the Combustibles, they proceeded to break open the Stables, Coach-Houses, &c. and were actually increasing the Bonfire with a Coach, Booby Hutch, Chaise, &c. but were dissuaded going so far by a Number of Spectators present, tho’ they burnt the Coach Doors, Cushions, &c. But it seems, not having yet completed their Purpose, they set about pulling down a Range of Fence upwards of 15 Feet high which enclos’d the bottom of the Garden, into which having enter’d, they stripped the Trees of the Fruit, despoiled some of them by breaking off the Limbs, demolished the Summer House, broke the Windows in the Rear Part of the House, enter’d the same, went down the Cellars, and help’d themselves to the Liquor which they found there in the Silver Plate that the House afforded, none of which however was missing the next Day, altho’ scatter’d over various Parts of the House.  They then destroyed Part of the Furniture, among which was a Looking Glass said to be the largest in North-America, with two others, &c.

Here is a taste of an August 30, 1765 letter from Thomas Hutchinson to Richard Jackson. Hutchinson was the Lieutenant Governor of the colony of Massachusetts:

In the evening whilst I was at supper & my children round me somebody ran in & said the mob were coming. I directed my children to fly to a secure place & shut up my house as I had done before intending not to quit it but my eldest daughter repented her leaving me & hastened back & protested she would not quit the house unless I did. I could not stand against this and withdrew with her to a neighboring house where I had been but a few minutes before the hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of devils & in a moment with axes split down the door & entered. My son being in the great entry heard them cry damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him. Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house to be employed there. Messages soon came from one after another to the house where I was to inform me the mob were coming in pursuit of me and I was obliged to retire through yards & gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the province had nothing remaining but the bare walls & floors. Not contented with tearing off the wainscot & hangings & splitting the doors to pieces they beat down the cupola or lanthern and they began to take the slate & boards from the roof & were prevented only by the approaching daylight from a total demolition of the building. The garden fence was laid flat & all my trees  & c. broke down to the ground. Such ruins were never seen in America. Besides my plate & family pictures, household furniture of every kind, my own childrens’ and servants’ apparel they carried off about L900 sterling in money & emptied the house of everything whatsoever except a part of the kitchen furniture not leaving a single book or paper in it & have scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts & other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of public papers in my custody.

Final thoughts:

  1. When many Americans today remember white colonials engaging in acts of looting and destruction, they call such behavior “patriotic.” When African-Americans do the same thing today, white people say it is a violation of law and order. (Of course any such historical analogy must also be examined in the context of the rest of American history and the ongoing debates over “liberty” and “order” beginning with the debates about American identity that played-out in the 1790s).
  2. As I wrote in the title of this post, the violence was wrong then and it was wrong now. (There was a time when one might get charged with treason for making such a statement).
  3. If Peter Oliver is correct, evangelical ministers encouraged the violence. (If Oliver is not correct, then today’s entire “Black-Robed Regiment” movement falls apart, or at the very least needs to come-up with another name, due to a lack of historical evidence). Today, when evangelical ministers condemn the violence in American cities and extol Trump’s law and order approach, they are also condemning an important part of their own religious history and the history of the American Revolution.
  4. Learn more in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

Os Guinness’s Appeal to the Past is Deeply Problematic

os guinness

Watch Christian speaker and author Os Guinness deliver a speech titled 1776 vs. 1789: the Roots of the Present Crisis. It is part of an event hosted by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  Someone sent it to me recently.

I have benefited from Guinness’s books, but this particular talk is deeply problematic.

Guinness makes the case that both the English “revolution” of 1642 and the American Revolution were somehow “biblical” in nature. I am not sure how he relates this claim to verses such as Romans 13 or  1 Peter 2:13-17, but I am sure if he had more time he would find a way.  Let’s remember that Romans 13 not only says that Christians must submit to governmental authority, but they must also pay their taxes. I wrote extensively about this in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction. I point you to my discussion there.

Guinness also makes the incredibly simplistic and ahistorical claim that the ideas of the American Revolution flowed from the Bible to John Calvin to John Winthrop and to New England Puritanism. No early American historian would make this claim. The America as “New England-writ large” interpretation has been thoroughly debunked. What is important to Guinness is the “city upon a hill”–the vision of American exceptionalism as extolled by cold warriors (JFK , for example) and popularized by Ronald Reagan and virtually every GOP presidential candidate since.

Guinness also seems to suggest that because America was founded as a Christian nation, and Christianity is a religion of forgiveness, then America should look forward and forget the sins of its past. He even takes a quick shot at the reparations for slavery movement. This reminds me of John Witherspoon, one of Guinness heroes.  In his 1776 sermon, The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Menthe Scottish born patriot and president of the College of New Jersey made the case that America was morally superior to all other nations, including England. “I cannot help observing,” he wrote, “that though it would be a miracle if there were not many selfish persons among us, and discoveries now and then made of mean and interested transactions, yet they have been comparatively inconsiderable in both number and effect.” The colonies, Witherspoon believed, offered relatively few examples of “dishonesty and disaffection.” This myth of American innocence has been around for a long time. It has blinded people like Guinness from taking a deep, hard look into the dark side of the American past and developing a Christian view of cultural engagement that takes seriously the nation’s sins.

The French Revolution, Guinness argues, was anti-Biblical because it was hostile to religion and informed by the atheism of the French Enlightenment. This is also a very contested claim. As historian Dale Van Kley argued in The Religious Origins of the French Revolutionthe French Revolution had “long-term religious–even Christian–origins.” Guinness’s view also seems to imply that the Enlightenment had nothing to do with the American Revolution. Such a monolithic and reductionist approach to 1776 ignores half a century of historical scholarship. Guinness sounds just like David Barton and the rest of the Christian nationalist historians. He also sounds a lot like his mentor, the late Francis Schaeffer, a Christian thinker who was roundly criticized by an entire generation of evangelical historians, including Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch. (I cover this story in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, but I also recommend Barry Hankins’s biography of Schaeffer).

Guinness then argues that the political and cultural divisions in our culture today are explained as a battle between those who follow the spirit of the “biblical” American Revolution and those who follow the spirit of the anti-biblical French Revolution. In order to make such a claim, Guinness needs to simplify and stereotype the character of both revolutions. He fails to acknowledge that there has never been an official or uncontested interpretation of the meaning of the American Revolution. We have been fighting over this for a long time and it is arrogant for Guinness to suggest that he has it all figured out. Just listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. Elementary school kids understand that Jefferson and Hamilton understood the American Revolution differently and had some pretty nasty verbal exchanges as they debated its meaning.

In order for Guinness to offer the cultural critique he tries to make in this video, he must take the Hamiltonian/anti-French side of the 1790s debate and reject the American vision of Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, James Monroe, and many others. Perhaps he needs to read some books by Gary Nash, Woody Holton, and Edward Countryman. I doubt these social and neo-progressive historians will change his mind, but they might at least convince him that one can study the American Revolution and draw different conclusions about what it set out to accomplish. Heck, even the neo-Whigs like Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn, and defenders of Lockean liberalism like Joyce Appleby, did not go so far as to suggest that the American Revolution was “biblical” in nature.

In one of the stranger moments of his presentation, Guinness tries to connect the three ideals of the French Revolution–liberty, fraternity, and equality–with the rise of Marxism, postmodernism, the secularism of the academy, and the American Left. Guinness is not wrong here. But he also seems completely unaware that ideals such as liberty, fraternity, and equality also motivated American reformers who believed that these ideals were part of the legacy of the American Revolution. Anti-federalism, abolitionism, workers’ rights movements, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movements, American utopian movements, and many others preached liberty, fraternity, and equality.  But for Guinness, these ideals have “nothing to do” with the legacy of American Revolution “and its biblical roots.”

We should be very, very wary of Guinness’s use of the past. In fact, he is not doing history at all. Guinness takes two highly contested claims–that the American Revolution was Christian and the French Revolution was not–and uses them to build his critique of the American hour. He is using the past to advance a cultural and political agenda and doing it badly. He comes across as just another partisan.

David Barton: Governors Won’t Open-Up the Economy Because They Fear Death and Know They Won’t Go to Heaven When They Die

ba98f-david-barton

Here is Peter Montgomery of Right Wing Watch:

Religious-right “historian” and Republican political activist David Barton said last week that governors have shut down the country out of fear and panic because America has become so secularized that people fear death because they don’t have confidence that death will bring them an eternity in Heaven. Barton is an influential conservative activist who has helped write recent Republican Party platforms.

Barton made his comments during an appearance last week on “Stand in the Gap,” a radio program produced by the American Pastors Network. During the show Barton, true to form, mangled historical facts and used actual facts to promote dubious narratives.

Barton began by listing a series of epidemics and pandemics that have taken place on American soil, beginning with a smallpox epidemic during the colonial period. Barton said that COVID-19 has killed about 1 out of every 100,000 Americans (he referred to “over 30,000” U.S, deaths caused by the coronavirus, though as of this writing the number is approaching 60,000.) Barton contrasted that death rate with the smallpox epidemic of 1633, when, he said, “the mortality rate was over 70 percent.” So, he said, “the fear factor was much, much, much greater back then.”

But people suffering in 1633 didn’t panic, Barton said, because of their belief in God:

But the difference was they were much more grounded with God. As you look across Massachusetts, as you look across the New England areas, so many of those guys had come here on the Bible, on religious liberty. And for them death was, that was a step into eternal life. Today, this is the most secular America has ever been. And so, we’re watching governors and mayors respond out of fear and panic, and shutting down stuff that’s never been shut down before because they’re just scared to death somebody’s going to die. And so, the confidence of courage is really what we don’t see right now nationally.

“Stand in the Gap” host Sam Rohrer emphasized Barton’s point:

But a point you made there, I think is worth touching on. And that is the worldview of people at that time caused them not to panic or to fear because of the fear of death. Because they knew, as we know as believers, that if we are to pass away, we’re only going to step from here into eternity with the Lord. And that’s what we want to do. But for those who do not know the Lord, or have rejected a biblical worldview understanding of God and redemption, they frankly have a reason to fear at these days.

Wow. They had reason to fear back there, but they did not because of belief in God.

Read the rest here.

One of the Christian Right’s great fear-mongers, David Barton, is now saying we shouldn’t be afraid because God is in control. Let’s not turn to government for support, Barton says, because God will protect us from the coronavirus.

This is ironic coming from a man who has built an entire career around trying to convince people that America is losing its Judeo-Christian roots and evangelical Christianity is under attack in the country. Barton’s solution to these problems is to warn everyone about this decline and then turn to government, in the form of Donald Trump and the GOP, to restore America. In other words, stoke fear and then turn to Trump to calm those fears.

And how does Barton know that people were not afraid during other pandemics? I don’t have the time to do the research right now, but perhaps a historian of American pandemics and epidemics might want to weigh-in. I imagine these historians have plenty of examples of people living in fear and terror about the spread of deadly diseases, even in religious places like colonial New England. Barton appeals to an idealized golden age when, people were not afraid and Christians trusted God in times of anxiety.  He believes we need to get back to this era. We need to make America great again.

Montgomery offers something else for Barton to think about on this front:

Unlike Barton, I do not claim to be a historian. But just a bit of online research from trusted sources reveals that the smallpox epidemic of 1633 that Barton refers to did not in fact take a huge toll among the English colonists, but it did kill vast numbers of Native Americans, wiping out entire tribes and more than 70 percent of the indigenous population in New England. That’s devastating, to be sure, but it’s not at all clear how that fits Barton’s construction of a narrative comparing God-fearing colonists to death-fearing modern secularists. Indeed, some European settlers actually believed that it was a sign of divine favor that God inflicted on the indigenous people with whom the settlers were involved in land disputes. Prominent clergyman Increase Mather later wrote about the toll diseases took on American Indians as “the sword of the Lord.”

How Politics Shapes American History Textbooks

McGraw Hill

In a nice piece of investigating reporting and research (which she writes about in this companion piece), New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein compared middle school and high school textbooks read by students in California and Texas.  These books, published in 2016 or later, had the same publishers and credit the same authors.  Yet they sometimes tell the story of United States history in different ways.

Here is a taste:

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

Read the entire piece here.  The graphics are amazing. You need to read it for yourself to really appreciate the work that went into it.

A few comments:

  • In the passage of the article I excerpted above, the Texas request to include the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence and the reference to the First Great Awakening influence on the Revolution has David Barton and Wallbuilders written all over it.  Barton, and other conservatives who embrace his view of Christian nationalist history, have sat on the Texas Board of Education-appointed committee that approves textbooks and social studies standards.  I have been following this off and on since 2009. I even wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle addressing Barton’s involvement.  For the record, there was only one member of the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence.  It was John Witherspoon, the Presbyterian minister who also served as president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.  And the influence of the Great Awakening on the nation’s founders is a problematic claim.  Yet we see evangelicals like radio host Eric Metaxas and pastor Greg Laurie--evangelicals who probably get their history from Barton– making such statements all the time.   But I digress.
  • This article reminds us that educational publishing is a business.  If Texas or California politicians and government officials want their history framed in a certain way, the textbook companies are happy to do it.
  • It is good to see Goldstein note that U.S. history textbooks, of both the California and Texas variety, have come a long way.  Many of them do a nice job of covering slavery, women’s rights, and immigration.  For example, students no longer read about slaves who prefer slavery to freedom because of kind masters.
  • Of course a textbook is only one tool at the disposal of a middle school or high school history teacher.  A good teacher might even try to show bias in their textbooks, perhaps through an exercise such as Opening Up the Textbook.  Goldstein’s article might be a nice starting point to get students to see that their textbook (or any piece of published material, whether it be hard copy or on the Internet) has a bias.
  • A bit of snark to the end this post.  Goldstein’s article assumes students actually read the textbook.

 

David Barton’s Latest: The Reference to “Free White Persons” in the Naturalization Act of 1790 Was Meant to Curb Slavery

Immigration Act

Yes–I have primary sources too!

Earlier today on his Wallbuilders Live radio show, Christian Right activist David Barton made the following case about the Naturalization Act of 1790 and its assertion that citizenship in the new United States be afforded to only “free white persons”:

The Naturalization Act 1790, is the first immigration act passed by Congress. And, it set forth what it takes to be an immigrant to America. If you come here you have to be able to provide your own income for five years.

If you become a public ward of the government within five years, you go back home. You have to have good moral character and a religious recommendation from some organization. So, it was all about character and the type of people you wanted as inhabitants.

So, why is it white? Because this is part of the anti-slavery thing, that we’re not looking for more slaves to come in. It was shortly after this that George Washington passed the law that forbid the exportation of any slaves out of America.

And, Congress had already been notified by the Constitution that Hey we’re going to ban the slave trade as well. We don’t want more slaves coming into America. And, you have to realize that at that point in time, we’re still in the middle of the Atlantic slave trade.

And, sentiment against that is growing. So, there’s lots of slave ships coming out of Africa. We know that over that that four centuries, about 12.7 million slaves were taken out to Africa; and, while most of them did not come to the United States–the United States only got about 2.5 percent of all the slaves sent out of Africa.

Still, there was growing sentiment against the slave trade in America, saying, “Hey, we need to get out of slavery and end the slave trade.” So, that’s kind of the tone at the time this law is passed. Therefore, while this looks racist today, in the context of the times, this is really more about We’re not after more slaves coming in.

Read the entire statement here.

First, notice what the Naturalization Act of 1790 offers citizenship to only free white persons.  Barton argues that by restricting immigration to free white people, Congress was trying to curb the number of slaves coming into the country.

Second, let me say that this interpretation is an example of what happens when you allow politics to shape your understanding of the past.  Barton’s argument here is absurd, but he has to make such an argument to protect his beloved founding fathers.  He knows that this is what his audience needs to hear so he twists and mangles the past to fit his contemporary agenda. He also knows that this is the kind of stuff that keeps him in business.

Third, Barton is making this all up.  He has no evidence for this revisionism.  How do I know?  Because the authors of the Naturalization Act left no specific commentary to explain why they limited citizenship to “free white persons.” In fact, it was not until 1952, with the passing of the Immigration Act and Nationality Act, that Congress prohibited racial discrimination in naturalization.

Fourth, it is likely that Northerners and anti-slavery advocates supported the Naturalization Act of 1790 precisely because it limited citizenship to white people. Duke political scientist and ethicist Noah Pickus has argued that white American men in Congress responsible for the Act–even those who opposed slavery—were trying to imagine what life in the United States would look like after emancipation.  Very few of them wanted African-Americans integrated into white society through citizenship.

As Pickus writes in his book True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civil Nationalism, “many leaders agonized over the tension between blacks’ natural right to freedom and prudential concerns about an integrated nation.  The free white clause terminology was consistent in the minds of those who opposed slavery with ensuring a cohesive community.  The shared concern to establish a nationalist foundation for citizenship made it easier for all to agree on excluding blacks from citizenship.”  In other words, the framers of the Naturalization Act of 1790 wanted a white republic.

Pickus is also aware that the evidence is scant. So he makes an argument partially based on context.  He writes, “Arguments from silence are, of course, slippery things that depend heavily on the context into which the silence is set.” But Pickus also looks to future debates over emancipation (rather than 1790s debates over naturalization) to advance his argument.  His evidence is found there.

Fifth, there is nothing in the Naturalization Act of 1790 about immigrants being sent back to their home country if they became wards of the state.  Maybe I missed it.  Perhaps someone can double-check for me.  I am afraid that this is Barton trying to twist the act to make a subtle jab about today’s undocumented immigrants.

 

Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

Black Robe

400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-))

The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here.

Here is a taste of Brody’s article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website:

“The Pastor and Pews events have been extremely valuable in mobilizing church-going voters and illuminating critical issues for elections,” said former presidential candidate and Fox News Contributor Mike Huckabee. 

Huckabee, a former pastor himself, has spoken at these events many times before and understands their value. 

“I am convinced that the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump and has been instrumental in numerous statewide elections for congressional, US Senate and gubernatorial races.”

President Trump won 81 percent of the white conservative evangelical vote in 2016 and during it all, the American Renewal Project was on the ground and extremely active. In the 60 days before the General Election, ARP spent $9 million in six battleground states, including some big prizes like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  Now they’re back at it looking for a repeat. 

“It is the single, largest, most cohesive voter bloc in the last election,” said Doug Wead, a noted historian, and best-selling author and advisor to two U.S. Presidents. “Now its all about voter ID and turnout.”

With all the extra vitriol, animosity and energy aimed at Trump this time around, the president will need a similar showing or even better to win in 2020.  

Read the rest here.

Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776.

The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

At the heart of all this is the belief that the American Revolution was ordained by God.  If this is true, then any attempt at promoting this significant moment in providential history–whether it be carried out by preachers or patriots–must be good. The Black Robe Brigade mixed religion and politics and so should we.  There is very little deep thinking about how the mixing of religion and nationalism in the church–whether it happened in 1776 or 2019–harms the witness of the Gospel.  Perhaps this explains why church attendance was at an all-time low during the American Revolution.

What is Christian Nationalism?

Barton

In the wake of the recent statement by Christians opposing Christian nationalism, several folks have suggested that Christian nationalism does not exist and the authors and endorsers of this statement are trying to knock down a straw man.

 

Read the entire piece by Tony Perkins linked in the last tweet above.  He, like many Christian nationalists, builds his entire case on the teachings of David Barton, most influential Christian nationalist in America.  More on him below.

I have written extensively on Christian nationalism–the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and should continue to privilege Christianity over all other religions, including atheism.  The most extreme Christian nationalists create political platforms focused on restoring, renewing, and reclaiming America in such a way that privileges evangelical Christianity.  Many of these extreme Christian nationalists may also be described as “dominionists” because they want to take “dominion” over government, culture, economic life, religion, the family, education, and the family.  Christian nationalists of all varieties are marked by their unwillingness or failure to articulate a vision of American life defined by pluralism.

As a political movement, Christian nationalism is defined by a fear that America’s Christian identity is eroding, a belief that the pursuit of political power is the way to “win back” America, and a nostalgia for a Christian nation that probably never existed in the first place.

Christian nationalists also do not have a problem bringing patriotism into their congregations through holiday celebrations, American flags, and nationalist sermons that focus on American exceptionalism or endorse political candidates.  With the exception of Easter and Christmas, their yearly services tend to focus more on the secular/national calendar than the Christian calendar.

Christian nationalism not only exists, but it is a view of church and state that drives a significant part of the Donald Trump presidency.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, some of the fastest-growing evangelical groups in the United States embrace Christian nationalism.

If you want a recent glimpse of Christian nationalism at work, read the following transcript from David Barton’s “Wallbuilders” radio program.  As many of you know, Barton is a self-professed dominionist and GOP politician who uses the past to promote his Christian nationalist agenda.  He knows a lot of facts about American history, but he does not think historically about these facts.  In other words, he is oblivious to context, change over time, contingency, causation, and the complexity of the human experience.  Despite the fact that his work as a historian has been discredited, he still has a large following and his disciples include GOP lawmakers and most of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.  Those who still follow him believe that his critics–many of them evangelical Christian historians–have been overly influenced by secular ideology.

Here is an exchange between David Barton and his son and protege Tim Barton:

Free Exercise of Religion Involves Free Speech

The government is supposed to protect those rights. It’s interesting that there is free speech; but, in addition to free speech, there is also free exercise of religion which often involves free speech. For me to exercise my faith means I will speak about it, live it out,  activate, and do it.

By the way, I have the right to assembly. So, I can get together with other believers and we can act out our faith. When you look, secular speech is protected by the Constitution; but, religious speech has several protections in the First Amendment.

It’s not the same as somebody has the right to say, “I dislike Trump.” Okay, your free speech is protected. But, what I have in the First Amendment is, really, my religious speech-slash-expression protected by three clauses.

So, it really gets more attention, or more protection if you will, than just normal, secular speech. But, what the decision did back in 1980, said, “No, religious speech is equal to secular speech, and you get no more protection than anybody else gets.” Well, that’s not what the First Amendment gave me.

It gave me more protection because I get my speech but if it’s religious, I get it twice. And, if it is religious with others, I get it three times.

TIM:

Now, is it religious with others? Because, let’s unfold this little bit. We have the freedom of speech.

You have the freedom of religion or expression, the free exercise thereof. So, we would say that you have speech and free exercise; those are two clauses from the First Amendment. What’s a third one you’re saying we get if we are religious with others, that we’re also protected there; what’s the third one?

The Right to Peaceably Assemble

DAVID:

You have the right peaceably to assemble. That means you can get with others, and you can get with others who believe what you believe express your beliefs as a group.

TIM:

So, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of assembly. As a Christian, it actually protects you in all three of those aspects.

DAVID:

That’s Right.

TIM:

So, it’s not just you have the freedom of speech, we also have the free expression of religion. And, you have the right assemble with other people who believe what you believe, as you mentioned, as long as it’s peaceably. So, there really are multiple protections of religious faith in the First Amendment.

DAVID:

While religious folks have at least three different forms of protection under the First Amendment for their speech, secular folks how their protections as well for speech and assembly. But, they just don’t have the same religious {motivation}.

TIM:

Arguably, they have the exact same protections that a religious person does, it’s just that if they choose not to have a religion or exercise their religion, they don’t have to. But, the same protection is there for everybody. And, this is where, as a Christian, you don’t lose the protection because you’re a Christian.

DAVID:

You actually get added protection because it singles out your religious expression. And, that’s a level of protection the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that religious folks had. So, they singled that out to give, if you will, added protection if you’re a religious folk.

What happened in that decision in 1980 was the court said, “No, no, no. Religious folks, secular folks, everybody gets the same protection. Well, that’s not what the First Amendment says.

What Does the First Amendment Say?

The First Amendment says, “Hey, religion is so vitally important that you get added, special protection.” And, that’s why when you look at George Washington’s Farewell Address, it says, “Hey, of everything that makes politics work well, religion and morality are the two things you can’t separate out.” So, they went to great lengths to make sure that religion and morality through religion, were protected in the public square.

Well, that decision, Smith in 1980, said, “No, no, your religion is just speech. That’s all it is, nothing more; there’s no added protection.” So, since 1980, whenever we have to argue religious expression cases, we don’t argue on the basis of religion, which is what the First Amendment protects.

See what Barton is doing here?  He is twisting the Constitution to make it say that Christians have more protection under the law than non-Christians.  This is an attempt to privilege Christianity over other religions and no religion.  This, my friends, is Christian nationalism.

I still would like to see more evangelicals–leaders or otherwise–sign this statement.   I know that there are a lot of political reasons not to sign a statement like this. I get it.

But what if we inverted the major points of this statement?  It would read something like this:

  • Only Christians have the right to engage constructively in the public square
  • Patriotism requires us to minimize our religious convictions
  • Only Christians should contribute to one’s standing in the civic community
  • Government should prefer Christianity or other religions
  • The government, not the churches, should be instructing people in religious belief
  • You can’t bring your religious convictions to bear on civic life in a pluralist society unless you are a Christian.
  • Conflating religious authority and political authority is not idolatrous.
  • When Christian nationalism leads to acts of violence and intimidation and hate crimes we should be silent.
  • America has many second-class faiths and not all faiths are equal under the U.S. Constitution.

Court Evangelicals David Barton and Robert Jeffress Talk Christian America

Court evangelical James Robison recently had two fellow court evangelicals on his television show.  Here is the interview with Jeffress and Barton:

A few comments:

2:00ff:  Jeffress says: “You hear Nancy Pelosi and others saying that walls are un-Christian and immoral.  Well, if that’s true, God’s immoral because he told Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem.  There’s gonna be a wall in heaven Revelation 21 says.”

If we were to take the Bible literally when it talks about walls, and apply Bible verses to contemporary policy discussions about immigration, then I wonder what Jeffress would say about these passages:

Deuteronomy 28:52: “It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you.”

Lamentations 2:8: The LORD has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he has stretched out a line, he has not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.

Proverbs 18:11: A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination. (Ironically, Jeffress is on Robison’s show promoting a book on Proverbs).

These verses show the absurdity of using the Bible to justify a 21st-century border wall. Like many evangelicals who have gone before him (back to the time of the American Revolution), Jeffress cherry-picks from scripture, allowing political considerations (specifically his court evangelical approach to Trump) influence his interpretation of the Bible.

3:00ff: Barton is talking about the durability of the United States Constitution.  He is certain that the Constitution has endured because the country is founded on Christian principles.  He provides no evidence for this assertion. One could also say that the Constitution has endured because of its grounding in Enlightenment principles.  Barton likes to think he is making a historical argument here, but he is really making a theological argument.

Barton goes on to lament the major decline in the number of people who claim to be “born again” Christians.   He does not reference his source, but he claims that the number of  “born again Christians” dropped from 45% of Americans in 2006 to 31% of Americans in 2018.  He is worried about the rise of atheists, agnostics, and “nones.”  As might be expected, Barton believes that the “trends are going in the wrong direction.”

I recently spent half of a morning with 34 high school teachers from around the country talking about the Puritans and the so-called narrative of declension.  Puritans believed that they had a covenant with God not unlike the covenant that God made with Israel in the Old Testament.  When people in 17th-century Massachusetts Bay failed to commit their lives to Christ through conversion, the clerical leaders worried that the colony was not holding-up its end of the covenant.  God, as a result, was not pleased.  This is why God brought Indian invasions, earthquakes, and witches to New England.  Ministers preached sermons known as “jeremiads” calling the people back to God or urging them to work harder to save more souls.

Barton believes in American exceptionalism–that God has uniquely blessed the United States of America.  His lament over the declining number of born-again Christians sounds quite similar to a 17th-century jeremiad.

9:00ff:  Jeffress is flying high here.  He rails against abortion, “moral sewage” in our culture, and threats to religious liberty as he understands it.  He says that “it is not God’s will” that these things are happening.  But is it “God’s will” that immigrants and refugees fleeing poverty and persecution are stopped at our borders?  Is it God’s will that children and parents are separated at the border?  Is it God’s will that our country is led by a man who is a liar, racist, xenophobe, nativist, and adulterer?  Please get off your high horse pastor Jeffress.

14:40:  Jeffress says that “God doesn’t get goosebumps when he hears the Star Spangled Banner” and he doesn’t “stand-up and wave when the American flag passes by.”  Yet Jeffress hosts events like this in his church.

Jim Bakker and David Barton Get Together

David Barton recently visited The Jim Bakker Show to talk about his new book The Founders Bible.  I’ve been watching Barton for a long time, and I sense several new points of emphasis during his visit.

After his publisher Brad Cummings speaks, Barton comes in around the 2:00 minute mark and starts talking about the relationship between sin and history.  He stresses how Paul, David, and Sampson were all used by God despite their sin. Interesting.  Then he starts talking about the flaws of  founding fathers and how God used them to build America.  Let’s consider the immediate context in which Barton makes these statements–the age of Trump.  God uses flawed men to build America.  This is Court Evangelicalism 101.

The old David Barton comes back around the 4:00 mark when as he claims that 27 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence held seminary or Bible school degrees.

Watch:

By the way, Barton’s view that the founders used biblical principles in their writings without citing chapter and verse may contain a kernel of truth.  Check out Daniel Dreisbach’s Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers.  Barton, of course, takes this view to an extreme. Remember, his goal is to use the past to win the culture war rather than providing his followers with a nuanced view of how the founders engaged the Bible.

Here is another short video from David Barton’s appearance on the Jim Bakker show:

Here Barton is talking about a meeting with Glenn Beck and televangelist Rick Joyner. In this clip Joyner claims that Independent Network Charismatic leader (and King Cyrus coin guy) Lance Wallnau was also present.

I have written a lot about Beck and Wallnau, but some of you may not be familiar with Joyner.  He runs an organization called Morning Star Ministries.  Back in 1998 he tried to get a religious property tax exemption for his private jet, several tracts of land, and his vacation home.  He was also a business partner of Jim Bakker back in the PTL days and, in 2004, bought Bakker’s Heritage USA.  He is part of the Independent Network Charismatic movement, a believer in Seven Mountain Dominionism, and a climate change-denier.  Click here to learn more about him, compliments of Right Wing Watch;

Barton mentions that the meeting with Beck, Joyner, and Wallnau focused on “where the nation is going spiritually.”  I think it fair to read this as a culture-war strategy session.  Barton’s co-author Cummings was also at the meeting and he describes a vision Joyner had about the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. God told Joyner that these events did not accomplish what they should have accomplished, especially as it relates to race relations.  That sounds about right.  But as Joyner’s dream came to end, he got a vision of a “Second American Revolution and Civil War” that will be “inevitable, just, and successful.”

Barton then affirms Joyner’s vision, and in doing so he says some accurate things about the failure of the founders to deliver on matters of racial equality.  This is a huge step for Barton. It led me to wonder where he was going this.  Where was the culture-war hook?

And then it happened.  At about the 4:50 mark Barton adds an additional layer to his interpretation of Joyner’s dream.  Rather than continuing with his mini-lecture on America’s failure in matters of race, he suggests that Joyner’s vision about a “Second American Revolution and Civil War” was actually about Roe v. Wade.  Barton says that we should expect a Civil War “over the abortion issue.”  If Roe v. Wade is overturned, California and other pro-choice states will secede from the Union and it will end in violence.

Watch the entire Bakker-Barton conversation here and here.

And if you really watch carefully, you will “learn” that:

  • Jim Bakker just opened a “Prayer Mountain” in the Ozarks.
  • David Barton is “honored all over the world” and is “brilliant.”
  • Barton’s new book, The Founders Bible, is very heavy.
  • Barton claims that The Founders Bible is his “greatest book,” a “transformational book that will last generations.”
  • The Founders Bible is a “modern day version of the Geneva Bible.”
  • The Founders Bible takes the “wisdom” of the founders and “mixes it with biblical perspectives” and applies to the “issues we face today.” God and Country! There really is little daylight between the teachings of the founders and God.
  • Cummings took 16-hours of “masters-level church history” and never heard some of the stories Barton writes about in the The Founders Bible.  (Cummings attended seminary at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Fuller is a great evangelical seminary.  I thus think there is a reason he never heard Barton’s stories at Fuller).
  • Barton serves as a consultant for state social standards.
  • If young people just read primary documents they would come around to Barton’s views and come to believe that America is a Christian nation.  For Barton, these documents are frozen in time.  He is opposed to the kind of historical thinking that takes change over time, context, complexity, contingency, and causation seriously.
  • America is a “Christian nation,” which Barton defines as a nation in which the Bible shapes the culture.  His example is the free-market system.
  • Free market capitalism came from five Bible verses:  1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 25, Luke 19, and Matthew 20.
  • The stock market is doing well because we are using “biblical economics.”
  • David Barton is humble and not a self-promoter.  (Unless you challenge him on his “earned doctorate“)
  • Colin Kaepernick does not know that “Black Americans” during the Civil War tried to save the American flag and received honors for it.
  • All the athletes today who refuse to honor the flag are products of “recent education.”
  • If you live in poverty in America today, you live better than the middle class in Europe.
  • Our schools focus too much on pre-Civil War chattel slavery and not enough on present-day slavery.
  • Slavery is not an issue of racism, it is a matter of economics.
  • The colonies really separated from England because we wanted to end slavery.  It wasn’t because of “no taxation without representation.”
  • At the time of the Civil War, the majority of the American population was “not racist.”
  • History is being rewritten to make the United States look bad.  “They” have made us a global bad guy.
  • David Barton helped Ukraine create a constitution.
  • 2 Timothy 2:15, which says “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” applies to both the Bible and the history of the American founding.
  • The reason college students like socialism so much is because of Internet memes.
  • The American Revolution was a success because the patriots were thinking more biblical than the supporters of the crown.
  • David Barton can predict a person’s view on the capital gains tax and climate change based on what they believe about abortion.
  • Trump has done “more things for righteousness” than all the presidents of David Barton’s lifetime combined.
  • It is “pathetic” that only half of evangelical pastors support Donald Trump.
  • The Founders Bible is the “greatest research tool of all time.”
  • Liberals hate the Bible.
  • People should go to church armed with guns because Christianity is under threat in America.  It is the only way to establish “order” in the country.

Some Thoughts on Ben Shapiro’s David Barton Interview

It’s the season of patriotism in the United States. That means it is time for David Barton to emerge and try to convince us all that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.  Here is his recent interview with conservative pundit Ben Shapiro:

Some commentary:

2:15ff:  Barton describes the idea behind “Wallbuilders.” The core assumption is that America, like the temple walls in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, needs to be rebuilt.  Barton believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, but the Judeo-Christian walls of America are crumbling.  It is time for renewal, restoration, and rebuilding.

Barton is not the only one who has used this “wallbuilders” metaphor.  In a 2016 inauguration sermon, court evangelical Robert Jeffress described Trump as a modern-day Nehemiah–a president tasked with rebuilding America in the wake of the Obama administration. Those who think Trump is a new King Cyrus also make an indirect appeal to the Nehemiah and the wall.  Cyrus was the Persian King who set the Israelites free from their captivity so that they could return to the promised land and rebuild.

3:00ff: Barton explains why he collects documents.  As he often does, he assumes that the original documents somehow contain magical power.  He believes that because he reads the original documents he has some special interpretive insight.  Barton seems to have no clue that many of the documents he owns are widely available at libraries, archives, and online.  In other words, you don’t need to own these books and documents in order to accurately interpret what they say.  It still surprises me that Barton has managed to deceive conservative evangelicals into believing that he has the historical authority to interpret the founding era because he owns copies of these works.

6:40ff:  Barton makes it sound as if he travels around the country speaking at colleges and law schools.  This is technically true, but most of these schools are Christian Right colleges, universities, and Bible colleges.  A few years ago, Barton published a list of the the only schools in the country that he deemed to be true to the teachings of the Bible.

8:15ff:  Barton breaks out a copy of the so-called Aitken Bible.  Here is what I wrote about that Bible in my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction: “In 1777 Congress explored the possibility of publishing an American edition of the Bible, but the idea was shelved due to the cost of publishing, the availability of the appropriate paper, and the pressing demands of war.  In Philadelphia, printer Robert Aitken went forward with the publication of his own American Bible.  Congress had turned down Aitken’s initial request for funds to support his Bible project, but it did give his new Bible an official endorsement.”  So Barton is technically correct here.

But something else is worth noting. Barton is a master at knocking down straw men.  After showing the Bible to Shapiro and noting that Congress recommended the Aitken Bible for schools, Barton says sarcastically, “wait a minute, I was told the founding fathers didn’t want religion in their schools at all, and you go, well then what do you do with this?” I say that Barton is attacking a straw man because I don’t know of any legitimate scholar of religion and the American founding who would argue that there were many founders who thought the Bible was a useful textbook in schools.

Barton’s understanding of the past is rooted in his originalism.  In other words, Barton believes that if the founders, men who lived in a very different time than our own, wanted religion in schools, then we should have religion in schools today.  Barton make a lot of factual errors about the past, but the deeper problem with his work is a failure to think historically.  This is why I often remind my readers and students that the past is a “foreign country” where they “do things differently.” Continuity between the past and the present is important, and should not be ignored, but in dealing with people like Barton the “pastness of the past” (to quote Gordon Wood) and the historical thinking concept of “change over time” is more important.

8:25ff:  Barton makes the claim that the ideas in the Declaration of Independence, including the belief that we “all men are created equal” and the notion that we “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” came from Massachusetts pastor John Wise. (He is not alone here). Barton seems unaware of the fact that these ideals have long standing roots in British political philosophy dating back to at least the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Many of them, in fact, date back to the Magna Carta (1215).  This is the first time I have ever heard Barton invoke Wise in this way.

11:05ff:  Barton believes that the disestablishment clause of the First Amendment only applies to specific Protestant denominations.  He has been making this case for a long time.  On the other hand, Barton is correct when he talks about the religious and moral clauses in the Northwest Ordinance.

12:25ff:  Here Barton implies that he learned about the founders’s view on religion and morality after he “got a copy” of George Washington’s farewell address.  Again, this address has been widely published and is easily accessible.  One does not have to “get their hands” on the document in order to know what Washington said.  And yes, Barton is correct about Washington’s call for “religion and morality.”  Again, no scholar is going to argue with him here.  (See my straw man comment above).

15:00ff:  Barton’s take on Jefferson’s Danbury letter, and the way it was used by the Supreme Court in 1947, is pretty accurate.

19:00ff:  I am curious to know the identity of this “scholar at Notre Dame” who Barton is referencing here.  If this unnamed scholar is claiming, as Barton suggests he does, that all the Founding Fathers were deists, then the scholar is just adding fuel to Barton’s fire.  I have argued that the founders were quite diverse in their religious views, but few of them could be called deists.

20:00ff:  Barton continues to repeat the preposterous myth that 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence graduated from schools “that in their day were considered Bible schools or seminaries.”  To his credit, Barton has nuanced this claim a bit with the phrase “in their day.”  But he still makes it sound as if the founding fathers all attended Moody Bible Institute or Liberty University Divinity School.

20:50ff: These proclamations of prayer and fasting were indeed pretty common in early America. Barton is right about this.

24:15ff: Believe it or not, Barton thinks that we don’t pay enough attention to Jews, African Americans, and women in American history.  He says that our study of the American Revolution is “too white” and “too Protestant.”  Wait–when did David Barton get woke?

Actually, Barton makes it sound like he is the first person to call attention to Jews, African Americans and women in the Revolution.  He is completely unaware of the fact that scholars have been studying these topics for a long, long time.  Also notice that Barton interprets these identity groups in terms of their heroic behavior, but he fails to say anything about America’s long history of anti-Semitism, racism, slavery, and discrimination against women.  Barton seems incapable of seeing the moral complexity in American history.  This is what happens when you cherry-pick from the past for the purposes of using it to promote a political agenda in the present.

29:35ff:  Barton claims that Ben Franklin was a deist, but he eventually rejected deism because he came under the influence of George Whitefield’s preaching.  Not really. (See my chapter on Franklin’s religion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and in this collection). Franklin and Whitefield were friends, and they shared similar beliefs about public morality, but there is no evidence to suggest that Whitefield pulled Franklin out of deism and turned him into a “faith guy for the rest of his life.”  (I have argued that Franklin dabbled with deism early in his career, but never really embraced the movement in its purist form.  Nor did he ever become a Christian).

30:00ff: Barton makes the case that George Washington was a Christian.  Maybe.  But Barton here is still fighting with Paul Boller’s 1963 book George Washington and Religion.  I don’t know of any Washington scholars today who say Washington was a deist.  Yes, there many some secular pundits out there who make this claim, but Boller’s argument has been largely debunked.  (Although I would not go as far as Christian Right writer Peter Lillback who tried to turn him into something close to an evangelical Christian.  Again, I have a chapter on Washington in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).

31:07ff:  Shapiro asked Barton about Thomas Jefferson.  Barton answers with most of the same talking points he first introduced in his book The Jefferson Lies. This book has been largely discredited by historians, including many evangelical historians.  (The book had so many historical problems that the conservative evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson pulled it from publication.  I covered this extensively here. I also call your attention to Michael Coulter’s and Warren Throckmorton’s Getting Jefferson Right.

42:00ff: Barton uses the Barbary Wars to suggest that Islam is incompatible with American values.  This is why the Trump evangelicals love David Barton.

49:00ff:  Barton claims that the founders believed that only Judeo-Christian values would sustain a healthy republic.  In other words, Barton argues that the founders did not think morality with roots in other sources could sustain a republic.  Some founders believed this, but others did not.

51:00ff:  Barton says he has 120,000 documents from the founding era.  Please get these documents into an archive!

52:00: Barton claims that the separation of powers come from Jeremiah 17:9.  He rejects the idea that the American view of separation of powers comes from Enlightenment writers.  For a more nuanced view on the Bible’s influence on the founders see Daniel Driesbach’s Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers.

55:25ff:  Barton cites Donald Lutz’s study of the founding.  This is a good study, but the findings can also be twisted for culture war purposes.  I write about Lutz’s work in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

57:45ff: Shapiro asks Barton how he deals with the fact that the Bible was used to justify slavery.  Barton invokes “original intent” here.  He claims that the Bible teaches liberty, not slavery. Note how Barton transitions from a historical argument to a theological argument as he answers Shapiro’s question. He defends the teaching of the Bible, claiming that if one considers its ideas in context one could not conclude that it endorses slavery.  I have some sympathy with this argument, but it also fails to treat the Bible as a product of the ancient world where slavery was generally accepted.

But what I find most interesting here is how Barton admits that the Bible was used for all kinds of things that we would consider immoral today.  If this is true, then why is he unable to point out the sins of the founders and the nation they created?  If we live in a sinful, broken world, wouldn’t we expect our nation to be a deeply flawed?  Why try to glorify the founders?  Why not embrace the complexity?  Because it all comes down to political power.  To tell an honest story about the founders would not fit very well with David Barton’s political agenda.

Click here to see all my blog posts about Barton.  I have been writing about this guy for a long time.