Congressman to Conservative Evangelical Christians: “This Is Our Country, It’s Our Turf”

This is the kind of politics that you get when you believe that America was founded as a Christian nation.

It is the kind of politics that you get when you do not care about promoting any meaningful approach to pluralism.

It is the kind of politics that you get when you live in fear and have no interest in trying to live together with people who see the world differently.

It is a culture-warrior approach to Christianity that alienates others and hurts the witness of the Gospel in the world.

Watch Georgia Congressman Jody Hice speaking to a group of David Barton followers in Washington D.C.  earlier this month.

I should add that I watched the entire speech.  This clip is not taken out of context.

 

Glenn Beck: “I guarantee you the [history] professors at college will have the wrong answer”

Do you want your kids to have a two-week internship in the “historic library of [Glenn Beck’s ) Mercury One?”  You can participate in this internship program with Beck’s studio historian David Barton for $375.

If you want to be part of this Beck-Barton attempt to promote Christian America you can expect to learn things like this:

Mercury One is opening up our library for a hands-on experience to research original historical documents from our incredible collection, providing specialized teaching and instruction, and the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge from our speakers and guest lecturers.

This unique, once in a lifetime experience is two weeks of nonstop projects, research, lectures, and outings for people who want to know more about America’s incredible history, learn about the people directly involved with the founding of our nation, and identify the philosophies and ideologies that shaped our laws and original documents.

We spend our mornings in a classroom-like setting and each afternoon we dig through online resources as well as our unique, original library. We will delve into topics such as:

  • A Biblical Worldview
  • The Truth in History
  • America’s Godly Heritage
  • Early Education in America
  • How the Bible Influenced America
  • American Exceptionalism
  • God and the Constitution
  • Reclaiming the Land

We will research our Founding Fathers, discovering their accomplishments, families, and faith, giving individual presentations at the end of each week.This is a specialized training for 18-25 year old. Apply now for this limited space opportunity. The cost is $375.

All interns are required to provide their own transportation, food and lodging in the Dallas area.

Let me take a guess about how the topics listed above will be taught:

A Biblical World View:  This means that Barton will teach you that the founding fathers upheld a view of the world just happens to be identical to the “world view” of the Christian Right wing of the Republican Party.

The Truth in History:  I am guessing that this means you will be learning some form of providential history.

America’s Godly HeritageYou will learn that all or most of the founding fathers were Christians and that they were trying to build a Christian nation.

Early Education in America:  You will learn that all of the founding fathers were graduates of theological seminaries and Bible colleges.

How the Bible Influenced America:  You will learn that the separation of powers actually comes from the Old Testament and that preachers used the Bible to serve their own political ends.  You may even learn that the use of the Bible to serve political ends is a good thing.

American Exceptionalism: You will learn that America is a “city on a hill.”  It is exceptional because it is the new Israel–God’s chosen people.

God and the Constitution:  Not sure how this one will be taught since God is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Reclaiming the Land:  You will learn about Seven Mountain Dominionism and the need to restore America to its supposedly Christian roots.  In other words, you will learn the same lessons that Ted Cruz learned from David Barton.

Want to learn more about David Barton?  Click here.

For a more nuanced view of all of these issues click here.

 

Alan Jacobs to Evangelicals: If Character No Longer Counts, Then What Does Count?

Trump fans

In an essay in the Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs, Baylor humanities professor Alan Jacobs wonders why so many evangelicals no longer value character in their presidential candidates.  He writes:

One of the most surprising developments of the 2016 presidential campaign was the wholesale abandonment by many conservative Christians, including many Catholics and most evangelicals, of a position that they had once held almost unanimously: In politics, character counts. It is not difficult to understand how this happened, though people who share many fundamental religious convictions will be debating for a long time the wisdom of replacing the familiar standards for evaluating political candidates.

All this has received a good deal of attention in the press. But one very important element of this change of emphasis has been neglected: If character no longer counts, or at least is no longer definitive, then what does count? What criteria should determine a Christian’s attitude toward a political candidate? There is no uniform answer to this question, but the most common answer given by Christian leaders supporting Donald Trump is a troubling one. It replaces the public assessment of virtue with the private judgments of pastors. And it has consequences not only for Christianity in America, but also, thanks to the sheer number of Christians in America, for the whole social order and political culture of our country.

The piece critiques the pro-Trump arguments of William Bennett, R.R. Reno, Mark Bauerlein, Jerry Falwell Jr., David Barton, and others.

Read it here.

A David Barton Disciple is Running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania

This should be interesting.

Rick Saccone, a state representative from Pennsylvania’s 39th Legislative District, is running for Senate in the hopes of gaining the GOP nomination and defeating incumbent Bob Casey in 2018.

This is interesting for readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home because Saccone is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.  (If you don’t know David Barton, click on this link and read some of our posts about him).

In fact, Saccone will kick off his campaign at a rally in the state capitol rotunda on February 27th.  Guess who will be introducing him:

I have never heard Barton speak live.  I live ten minutes from the capitol.  I could take off my history hat and put on my journalism hat and go “cover” this event for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  But, alas, I will be teaching American history on that day and at that time. 🙂

Here is Saccone speaking from the Barton playbook:

And here are some of his tweets:

Virginia’s House Resolution 297 and the “Christian Heritage” of the Commonwealth

christian-american-photoA lot of Christian nation stuff has been coming across my screen in the last few days.  I have some time today to address it, so stay tuned.

First, we have the Virginia General Assembly’s House Resolution 297.  Here it is:

WHEREAS, on April 26, 1607, a chartered expedition, subsidized by the Virginia Company to establish colonies on the coast of North America, disembarked upon the banks of Cape Henry, now Virginia Beach; and 

WHEREAS, the Reverend Robert Hunt, the expedition’s official cleric, and the members of the expedition erected a wooden cross in symbolic reference to the Christian faith, invoked a public prayer of dedication, and pledged that the Gospel message would be spread throughout the region and, from that region, abroad; and

WHEREAS, the ensuing Jamestown settlement was the site of the first public communion ceremony in Virginia, in the tradition of the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament; and

WHEREAS, the Jamestown settlement was the first permanent English colony in North America and included a recognized church wherein Christian worship, teachings, and baptisms were conducted in accordance with the Gospel message, as exemplified by the baptism of Pocahontas, a member of the Powhatan tribe of Native Americans in the region; and

WHEREAS, the Judeo-Christian principles, as established in the Law of Moses and set forth from the earliest days of recorded history, of equality, human dignity, and equal protection under the law have provided an incalculable influence on law and thought throughout history, and in particular to our shared English common law tradition and Western civilization; and

WHEREAS, these same principles of equality, human dignity, and equal protection rooted in Mosaic law influenced America’s foremost Civil Rights leaders, including the esteemed Virginia Civil Rights attorney and leader Oliver White Hill, Sr., whose own paternal grandfather founded Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Richmond, which the Hill family attended and where Oliver Hill attended Sunday School; he worked diligently, influenced by his Christian faith, to end racial discrimination and helped end the doctrine of separate but equal; and

WHEREAS, according to the Pew Research Center, millions of Virginians, representing various denominations, identify as Christians, carrying on the faith traditions brought to North America by its first settlers; and

WHEREAS, thousands of churches in the Commonwealth continue to provide spiritual leadership and education; care for the poor, indigent, and homeless as commanded by the Gospel message; and conduct generous outreach in their communities; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, That the enormous influence of Christian heritage and faith throughout the Commonwealth’s 400-year history be recognized; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates transmit copies of this resolution to Rodney Walker and First-Landing Festivals, requesting that they further disseminate copies of this resolution to their respective constituents so that they may be apprised of the sense of the Virginia House of Delegates in this matter.

As Brooke Newman points out in a recent Washington Post op-ed, the real problem with this Resolution is not that its sponsors got their facts wrong.  (Although some do appear to be wrong).  It is how the facts are interpreted and explained.  This is an important point. Christian nationalists like David Barton and others often have their facts straight. Most of us can read from historical documents and quote them.  But this is not history.  History requires that we put those facts in context and avoid manipulating them for the purpose of making political points in the present.  As I have said a hundred times, both the left and the right are guilty here.  I have written a short primer on how think historically titled Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  It is a quick read.  Some of you may find it helpful.

The authors of this resolution are not interested in providing a full picture of the Jamestown experience.  They are politicians.  And although the resolution does not make any direct demands in terms of public policy, the very fact that these Virginia politicians feel the need to pass such a resolution implies that they are trying to lay a foundation for their view that America was somehow founded as a Christian nation and should somehow return to being one.

Anyone who has studied colonial Virginia and Jamestown cannot deny that religion played a role in its founding.  But to suggest, as this resolution does, that religious motivations were more important than economic self-interest is not fair to the historical record. (I just spent the last week with my U.S. History Survey students discussing these very points).

In addition to Newman’s op-ed, I would encourage you to read my fuller take on these matters in chapter 5 of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. The chapter titled “Were the British-American Colonies Christian Societies.”

Two Excellent Responses to My Glenn Beck/David Barton Post

  1. barton-and-beck

Earlier tonight I wrote a post about a David Barton and Glenn Beck plan to bring their pseudohistory to American schools.  You can read it here.

Since I published the post I received two excellent comments.  I am re-posting them below.

The first comment comes from Yale history graduate student Michael Hattem:

Without money, we have to fight on platforms that don’t require large amounts of money. When you search for Barton on YouTube, it comes up with dozens (if not hundreds) of videos of him talking his nonsense. Why is there no series of videos by actual historians entitled, “Why David Barton is Wrong about the Founding?” That’s something that could be done relatively cheaply, if the inclination and will existed. In addition, we should petition the organizations in our field that have resources to put a small amount of them toward directly counteracting this initiative. Why can’t the AHA or OAH or similar organizations help provide the organizational impetus for actual historians willing to volunteer time to visit local public schools in their own areas. No distinguished speaker fees, no travel, just historians getting into schools FOR FREE through the imprimatur of our professional organizations. We don’t have the money that they have but it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can’t collectively counteract the willful miseducation of our nation’s youth about the fundamentals of American history.

After reading Michael’s post I began to rethink my Spring 2017 season of the Virtual Office Hours.  I was going to do something about history in the #ageoftrump, but now I am might do something on Barton.   We start filming this week.

The second comment comes from a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home who goes by the name “SpaceHistorian.”

I recently read Rick Perlstein’s excellent book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. He documented how a few wealthy Libertarian families, the Coors, the DeVos, the Mellon Scaifes, the Olins, the Bradleys, etc., poured money into right-wing think tanks (Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum, American Enterprise Institute, CATO Institute, Hoover Institute, etc.) in order to take over the Republican Party with the goal of promoting the unholy mixture of Ayn Randian economic policies with alleged Judeo-Christian moral principles. The Koch Brothers came on the scene later but with many of the same Libertarian goals. All of this money funded AstroTurf groups that infiltrated the GOP at the local level, the state level and through Ronald Reagan, the federal government. These conservative think tanks have provided the so-called “experts” that regularly appear in newspapers, magazines, online and on TV network news shows and cable news shows all parroting the same bought and paid for Libertarian narrative. So this is a “revolution” that has been decades in the making and largely pulled off outside public view disguised as a average American citizen’s movement.

So how do we overcome decades of indoctrination, subversion, the takeover of all levels of government, the takeover of corporate media, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build and defend this Libertarian/bastardized Christian worldview? Money equals power and influence in America. The more money, the more power, the more influence people and groups have in America. The people dedicated to the Libertarian/Christian alliance do not play by any rules or respect for the facts. All they care about are results which justifies their actions. So how do those of us with a sense of human decency, ethics and conscience battle the forces arrayed against us? We now live in a world where “alternative facts” are the new “truth” and evidence to the contrary is dismissed as fake news by those who traffic in producing and promoting fake news.

So solve these challenges and our Constitutional Republic just may survive to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. Fail and the United States ends the great experiment in democracy started in 1787. So no pressure Dr. Fea, no pressure at all sir.

“Though conservative think tanks get a lot of money, their money does not come from the wealthiest foundations by any means. There are plenty of liberals with enough money to match the conservatives. Wealthy liberals, however, want their money to go as directly as possible to the downtrodden and oppressed, with nothing significant designated for infrastructure, career development, or their intellectuals. From a position external to the liberal moral system this seems irrational and self-defeating. But from inside the moral system it seems natural.” (George Lakoff, “Moral Politics,” pp. 417-418).

The Lakoff quote resonates with me a great deal.  Part of it reminds me of some of the things I wrote about in this post.

Yet Another Reason Why Evangelicals Should Be Wary of David Barton’s Pseudohistory

ba98f-david-barton

David Barton’s Wallbuilders radio show is now referring to Barton as “America’s premiere historian.”  On today’s show his co-host Rick Green played a speech Barton gave at his  Dallas Pro-Family Legislators Conference.  (It is unclear when this conference was held).  During the speech Barton attacked me again.  Here is what he said (highlights are mine):

When you look at the Declaration, every single right set forth in the Declaration had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. It’s a fun thing to do.  Read the Declaration sometime and look at it as a list of sermon topics. See if you could come up with Bible verses for all those rights.  Because that’s what they did. We’ve got the old sermons from those days to show you how the Declaration was built out of the pulpit.

So, that’s prior to 1763. Then when you get the Declaration itself it was largely based on the writings and John Locke. Richard Henry Lee said that they copied the Declaration from Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

I have long said that Two Treatises of Government, John Locke in that work cited or referenced the Bible on 1,500 occasions. Two Treatises is about an inch thick and about 400 pages long.

An article came out last year by an academic named John Fea who just mocked me and said, “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.” And it’s on a Biblical worldview website. So, it’s out there.  

So what I’ve been doing the last several months is I’ve gone into John Locke’s Two Treatises and I have documented every time he quotes a Bible verse. The deal with John Locke is he didn’t always tell you he was quoting a Bible verse because everybody knew it back then.

If I said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Most of us would say, “That’s John 3:16.” If I said that to the guy on the street they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.  They don’t know John 3:16. Well see, here’s a Biblical worldview guy who didn’t recognize Bible verses throughout John Locke’s piece.

So, I’ve already documented that 1,500- way over. It’s an embarrassment for a Biblical worldview academic to not recognize the Bible.  But that’s a difficulty we have now.

OK, where do I begin?  Here are a few points:

  1. My name is pronounced “Fee-ah.”  It rhymes with the female names “Mia” or “Tia.”
  2. David Barton puts the following sentence in quotes and attributes it to me: “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.”  I challenge him to connect this quote with my name.  He will not be able to do it because I never said these words.
  3. David Barton claims that I have written an article arguing that there are only 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.  I have never written such an article.  In fact, I am not on record anywhere–either at The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, in a published book, or elsewhere–claiming that there are 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Frankly, I have never really been interested in this question and I am too busy to read Locke and count the number of Bible verses. (Maybe one day I will have the time). Yet Barton has criticized me at his conference, on his radio show, and on the transcript of the radio show on his Wallbuilders website.  The fact that Barton has not only mentioned this falsehood, but has put my words in quotation marks, is especially disturbing.  I spend a lot of time with my students teaching them the proper use of quotation marks.
  4. I am glad that Barton considers me a “Biblical worldview academic.”  At least he is not questioning my Christian faith.  I don’t really describe myself using the phrase “Biblical worldview academic,” but I will take it.  It is good to know that Barton still sees me as part of the fold. 🙂
  5. I am glad to see that Barton now believes that the “Declaration itself was largely based on the writings of John Locke.”  I always assumed he believed that the Declaration of Independence was based directly on the writings of the Bible.
  6.  I don’t know how many Bible verses are in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, but Barton obviously thinks it is important.  Why?  Because if Locke was indeed the primary influence on Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (a premise, by the way, that could be debated), then it is absolutely essential for Barton to show that Locke’s biblicism was somehow transferred to the words of the Declaration. Barton’s entire ministry at Wallbuilders depends on it. Let’s remember that Barton is not a historian. He is a politician who practices what the historian Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.”  He is not studying Locke to advance general knowledge or even to help us better understand Locke in his 17th-century context.  He is doing this because he is trying to convince his followers that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document.  And if he can prove that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document then he can tell his followers that the United States was founded a Christian nation.  And if he can prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation he can convince his followers that we need to “return” to such a place. And if he can do that, he can more easily advance his political agenda as a GOP operative.

I am going to stop there.  I have critiqued Barton’s work many times (including the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “built out of the pulpit”).  You can read some of those critiques by clicking here.  I have also addressed the relationship between Christianity and the founding in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

I should also add that all of my critiques of Barton’s work are based on actually things that he has said and written.  As a fellow “Biblical world view” guy I would ask him to give me the same courtesy.

Glenn Beck Will Oppose Trump Even If It Means Hillary Wins

3baaa-beck

I never saw this coming.  I wonder if Beck’s court “historian” David Barton who has said that Christians who do not support Trump will need to answer to God, will still appear on the show.  Should be interesting.

Here is the CNN report:

Conservative political commentator and media personality Glenn Beck said opposing Donald Trump is a “moral, ethical” choice — even if that results in Hillary Clinton becoming the next president.

The outspoken opponent of the GOP’s presidential nominee wrote on Facebook over the weekend that every voter had to decide for themselves what constitutes “a bridge too far,” after the release of footage last week in which Trump can be heard making lewd and sexually aggressive comments about women.

“It is not acceptable to ask a moral, dignified man to cast his vote to help elect an immoral man who is absent decency or dignity,” Beck wrote on Facebook in reference to Trump. “If the consequence of standing against Trump and for principles is indeed the election of Hillary Clinton, so be it. At least it is a moral, ethical choice.”

Beck, who founded media venture TheBlaze after rising to prominence as host of his eponymous radio and TV show, campaigned for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during the Republican primaries, and has consistently criticized Trump throughout the primary campaign and even after Cruz endorsed him.

He joined a growing chorus of conservative leaders over the weekend who are appealing to Trump to withdraw his candidacy for president, adding that a vote for the businessman was “validating his immorality, lewdness, and depravity.”

But Beck said his public stance against Trump did not equate to unfettered support for the Democratic presidential nominee.

Read the entire piece here.

An Open Letter to the Students of Charis Bible College

Dear Students,

This afternoon I watched a class at your school, Charis Bible College, taught by the Christian minister David Barton.

First, I want to affirm your interest in the study of the past.  As a Christian and a historian, I am pleased to see so many people in attendance at a history lecture.  A few years ago I wrote a book titled Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  In that book I wrote that the study of history has the potential of transforming our lives by helping us to more effectively live out the Gospel.  I bring up this book because I cover many of the same things that David Barton covered in his September 30, 2016 lecture.  I also recently published the second edition of a book called Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  Like Why Study History?, this book also covers much of the same ground that David Barton covered in his lecture.

I encourage you to read these books.  They take a decidedly different Christian approach to American history than the one you heard on September 30 from David Barton.  Both of these books are born out of my love for God and the call to worship God with my mind as we are told to do in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27.  I am not a pagan.  I am not secular in my orientation.  Like many of you, I am an evangelical Christian who believes that salvation lies in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that we should live our lives guided by the authority of God’s inspired word as set forth in the Bible.

As you may know, I have been a strong critic of David Barton because I believe that his books and lectures do not offer a clear understanding of American history.  As a Christian, I want to pursue truth.  As a truth-seeker and a Christian it is wrong to manipulate the past, and not tell the entire truth about it, even if such manipulation might appear to serve what some of us believe to be positive ends in the present.

So with this in mind, please let me point out a few things about David Barton’s recent lecture. You can follow along with the lecture here.

4:10: David Barton says that Jedidiah Morse wrote the first history of the American Revolution.   He did not. Morse’s Annals of the American Revolution was published in 1824. Several other writers had published histories of the American Revolution before this.  Two of the most notable examples are David Ramsey’s History of the American Revolution (1798) and Mercy Otis Warren’s History of the Rise of Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. (1805).

4:10ff:  Barton says that historians are “supposed to show us God’s fingerprints all across history….”  As Barton correctly points out, this kind of history is known as “providential history.”  I should say for the record that I believe in the doctrine of divine providence.  I believe that God orders and has ordered the world according to His will.  But I wonder if we can be so certain about what God is actually doing in history.  How can human beings, with limited capacities for understanding the will of God that stem from our sinful nature, claim to be able to know what God has done in the world apart from what He has revealed to us in the Bible?  1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that we “see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  Our knowledge of God’s providence is limited as long as we remain aliens and strangers in this world.  My God is too big and too awesome to for me to pretend that I can discern his purposes in this or that historical moment.  Instead, it is my duty to remain humble and do my best to understand human behavior as it has unfolded over time.

I understand that Jedidiah Morse and many other early historians believed that providence was the best way to interpret the past.  As Christians we need to ask ourselves whether or not they were correct in believing this. I think the best we can do in discerning the mind of God in history is to use the word “perhaps.” The word “perhaps” acknowledges the limits of our humanity in the wake of the Fall (Gen. 3) and acknowledges that we can never truly know God’s will in the affairs of human history on this side of eternity.  I know that the term “perhaps” does not provide us with the certainty that some of us, including David Barton, would like, but it also prevents us from falling into idolatry–claiming that we know just as much as God in terms of what he has done in American history.

4:35ff:  Barton says that unless one thinks about history in terms of providence the subject is “boring.”  If you believe this, you have not experienced very good history teaching. You have not been exposed to one of the many outstanding history teachers and professors who can make the human experience as it developed through time come alive in the classroom.

5:00ff:  Here Barton talks about Abraham Lincoln’s apparent conversion experience.  It is important to realize that nearly every major scholar of Abraham Lincoln–people who have spent their entire lives studying this man–are skeptical about the conversion experience that Barton discusses here.  This includes politically conservative Lincoln scholars such as Allen Guelzo and Gabor Boritt.  I would encourage you to read Guelzo’s biography of Abraham Lincoln titled Redeemer President.  It is an excellent treatment of Lincoln’s faith from the pen of a leading Christian historian.

6:00ff:  David Barton is correct in his analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. It is “deeply profound,” especially in its call to have “malice toward none” and “charity for all.”  As a Christian, Lincoln’s speech, with its various references to the Bible, inspires me to live in a way that seeks reconciliation and justice. Lincoln calls us to live in a way that repudiates the culture wars in which we currently find ourselves.  I would encourage you to read the speech and reflect on it and then read it to your kids and grandkids and talk about it in the light of our current political culture.

7:20ff:  David Barton is at the blackboard talking about the major battles of the Civil War. He suggests that the reason the North won the war was because of Lincoln’s call for a day of prayer and fasting in the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg.  As Barton notes, the Union did quite well after Lincoln called for this day national fasting and prayer.  This segment of the lecture drew the most applause from those of you in attendance.

But let me raise a few questions here.  Can we be certain that Lincoln’s call for a day of fasting and prayer was the reason the Union won the Civil War?  Perhaps.  Let’s recall that most of the battles after Gettysburg were some of the bloodiest of the war.  Tens of thousands of lives were lost including the lives of civilians–women and children.  Does God care more about winning a war than the lives of all of these men and women that He created in His own image?  I am guessing that most of you care about life because God cares about life.  You want to promote policies that defend life.  If so, what was God’s will here?  Even Lincoln himself said in his First Inaugural Address that “both sides prayed to the same God” and read the same Bible.  The Confederates also had days of fasting and prayer.  In fact, the Confederates had massive religious revivals in their military camps, the kinds of revivals that David Barton said happen when a society looks back upon its past.  (And the Confederacy was quite proud of their slave-holding past and even made Biblical arguments to defend it). What was God doing here?

And if Lincoln was right in claiming, as he did in the First Inaugural Address, that the war was God’s punishment on both the NORTH and the SOUTH for slavery (“250 years of unrequited toil”) then things start to get complicated when we try to discern what God was doing in the war.   And why does God’s providence always seem to work in favor of the United States?  I hope you are wrestling with these questions and not settling for easy answers like the ones that David Barton provided in this lecture.

11:20ff:  David Barton says that the “first right protected in America” was the “right to religious conscience.”  Is this true?  If Barton is referring here to the order of the words in the First Amendment, the phrase “religious conscience” does not appear in this amendment. Rather the phrase “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is mentioned.  But if I hear Barton correctly, he is saying that the claims made in the First Amendment are actually a watered down version of the idea of “religious conscience” that was protected as far back as the arrival of the Pilgrims and the Puritans in the early 17th century, over 150 years prior to the adoption of the Bill of Rights.  So let’s assume Barton is correct here.  Did the earliest settlers who arrived in America 400 years ago want to protect the “religious conscience of everyone in their society?” Sadly, the answer is no.

The founders of the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony (founded by the Puritans Barton mentions) believed in freedom of conscience, but only for those Christians who believed exactly the way they did.  Barton quoted 1 Corinthians 8, which says, to paraphrase Barton, that it is our responsibility to “respect differences of religious conscience.” But he then went on to describe a 17th-century society in New England that did just the opposite.  Serious Christians in 17th-century New England were banished from Puritan society because they had different theological beliefs than those of the leadership of Plymouth and Massachusetts. Anne Hutchinson believed that the leaders of Massachusetts, including John Winthrop, the man who coined the phrase “City Upon a Hill,” were not sufficiently Christian enough. She was kicked out after a lengthy trial.  And when she later gave birth to a deformed baby Winthrop said that it was a punishment of God placed upon her for disagreeing with the doctrinal teachings of the Puritans.  Winthrop believed that he was speaking on behalf of providence.

Roger Williams was booted from the colony because he was a Baptist and believed in the separation of religion and government. He criticized the Puritan leaders because he did not think it was appropriate for the government to meddle in religion. His primary interest was to protect the purity of the church.  Williams was forced to wander in the wilderness and nearly died of starvation until the Indians helped him found the town of Providence, Rhode Island.

Winthrop “differed on the little things” (Barton at the 14:30 mark) with Hutchinson and Williams, but in doing so he did not respect their right to exercise their religious consciences. Yet Barton holds up the society Winthrop governed as a model for us to follow today because these “first settlers” celebrated “religious conscience.”

Perhaps the greatest irony of the New England settlements was that these Puritans came to America partially to protect their right to conscience, but then did not protect the rights  of those with whom they disagreed.  It is important that we get a full picture of the past.

15:30:  Barton says that the early settlers (I assume he means New England settlers because these are the images he shows) “had a great relationship” with the Indians.  I am not sure how he defines “great,” but it is worth noting that these Puritans and Pilgrims were in almost constant war with the Indians over the course of the seventeenth century as white settlement moved westward into Indian lands.

17:35:  French Huguenots did not “primarily found” South Carolina and New York., as Barton says.  While Huguenots were present in both places, these colonies were not founded “primarily” on religious freedom.  New York (known at the time as New Netherland) was founded in 1620 by the Dutch as a trading outpost.  South Carolina was founded by settlers arriving from Barbados with their slaves.

19:10:  David Barton suggests that the First Amendment only protects the “rights of conscience” of those who are Christians.  “As long as” one’s actions are “biblical,” or fall within a “biblical scope,” and reflect a belief in the Christian Gospel and the inspiration of the Bible, they are protected. So I wonder what happens to people living in America whose consciences lead them to live as Muslims or atheists?  How do they fit into the American experiment?

Let me politely suggest that David Barton’s view of American history is deeply flawed.  He manipulates the past to serve political ends.  Christians might choose to defend or reject contemporary issues based on an appeal to Christian morality, but let’s be very careful about doing so based on an appeal to American history.

I wish you well in your continued studies at Charis Bible College.  I would be more than happy to come out to Colorado the next time I am in town (my in-laws live in Fort Collins) and work alongside you, as a fellow believer, to make sure we get our history correct. I would welcome the invitation.

Blessings,

John Fea

David Barton and Christians in Graduate School

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Over at The Pietist Schoolman,  Chris Gehrz, a Ph.D in European history from Yale, responds to David Barton’s “mini-tirade” against my supposedly pagan training in a secular graduate program.

Here is a taste:

…But in the spirit of seeing logs instead of specks… I want to take seriously Barton’s critique of Christian professors like John, Jared, and myself. Are we “just like” the Ivy League-trained scholars who trained us? Have we become Christians who “don’t think right”?

Though only a couple of the historians who trained me had been educated at Harvard and Yale, I’m probably even more guilty in Barton’s eyes: I received my master’s degrees and doctorate from Yale.

It was twenty years ago that I started that phase of my education, so it’s worth reflecting on how that experience shaped me. And I can’t dismiss Barton out of hand, for there is much about graduate schooling that is formative.

Grad schools don’t tend to make the same kinds of promises (“Transformational! Whole-person!”) as the Christian liberal arts colleges where John, Jared, and I work. But they do far more than deepen the knowledge, sharpen the skills, and expand the networks of their students. Graduate programs shape beliefs, values, and virtues (and vices).

How could it be otherwise? I started grad school two months before my 21st birthday, at a stage of life when I had considerable intellectual, emotional, and relational development left to complete. It was intimidating and intoxicating, as I found myself surrounded by people smarter than me, conducting cutting-edge research at a world-class institution. Far more than happens in most of those colleges that promised “low student-to-faculty ratios,” my peers and I were thrown into intimate pedagogical settings — tiny seminars held over meals in professors’ houses, one-on-one mentoring by dissertation directors. And because this stage of schooling is less about general education than professional preparation, we were seeking models of what it looks like to do what we so badly wanted to do with our lives.

Not that anyone actually emerges from that experience “fully trained,” but it’s not unreasonable to expect that we’ll look something like our teachers. In some ways I do, and am largely grateful for it — John Gaddis, Paul Kennedy, and my other professors are brilliant historians and conscientious teachers who taught me to seek truth as part of a community that spans borders and eras.

But here’s where Barton clearly doesn’t understand the graduate education of Christian history professors, perhaps because his own seems to have been quite different. In terms of my formation as a Christian scholar, graduate school did shape me — but not in the way Barton thinks.

Read the rest here.

Readers Respond (“Fire Insurance”)

Here is The Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Hannah Miller’s response to David Barton’s assertion that I “may have fire insurance” but “don’t think right.”

I live in Barton country. When a Christian in this neck of the woods declares that another person only has “fire insurance” it’s a pretty serious putdown. Even people like Barton, who consider themselves to be expert authorities on everything, cannot unilaterally declare who is saved and who is not saved. People who do make such declarations would be subjecting themselves to public censure for claiming to know a person’s heart. So the next best thing you can do to putdown a person you believe is a “Christian In Name Only” (XINO) is to say they have “fire insurance” which generally means they responded to an altar call once and may have been baptized a long time ago but in no other visible way are they living out a Christian walk in their daily life.

Because he has not had success discrediting you as a historian he has decided to subtly attack your Christianity, using this Christianese code to indicate to his followers that you and your ilk (Warren Throckmorton, etc) are XINOs and should not be regarded as true Christian authorities. You are no better than those pagan professors at Harvard and Yale. Probably worse because you hide behind a cross. Therefore, his followers should disregard everything you say as though Saul Alinsky himself had said it.

I hope readers will remember that David Barton is not just a self-proclaimed historian, but he is also a Pentecostal Pastor who runs his own church in Aledo, TX. For a pastor to use words like this is extremely hurtful to the body and cause of Christ. He is deliberately trying to be insulting and divisive. It is anything but Christ-like. He should be ashamed to cast doubt on another person’s salvation while calling himself a shepherd. He doesn’t know anything about your walk with the Lord. Barton doesn’t just need to check his historical facts, he crossed a line with this statement and he needs to check his own heart as a pastor. He should apologize for that insulting statement or step down as a pastor. Shame on you Pastor David. You need to go back and read James 3:1.

Thanks for this Hannah.  As I told Mark Kreslins yesterday when I appeared on his radio show, David Barton and other Christian nationalists have created an environment within the evangelical community where the depth or quality of a person’s faith is being judged by whether or not they believe America is a Christian nation.

Jared Burkholder’s “Open Letter to the Bartons”

jared-burkholderJared Burkholder teaches and writes history at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.  I have been to Grace. It is a great Christian college.  I also think it is fair to say that Grace is not a bastion of secularism, liberalism, atheism, or paganism.  Having said that, it is not pure enough for David Barton, the political activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda that the United States is a Christian nation. Grace did not make his list of acceptable schools.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman,  Chris Gehrz’s Christian history blog with a wide readership among evangelicals, Burkholder has published “An Open Letter to the Bartons.” Here is a taste:

Dear David (and now Tim) Barton,

Maybe you can clarify something for me. Why do you continue to insist that because you read primary sources you have a unique voice when compared to professional Christian historians like me, who you say fail to make use of original sources?

I am hardly the first to be annoyed by this, but suffice it to say this is utterly incomprehensible to me. Primary sources are to historians what hammers are to carpenters; what keyboards are to composers; what language is to writers. They are the tools of our trade, the most basic implements we learn to use.

We wrestle with their complexity. We wade through mountains of them. We have realized that using them with integrity requires difficult work and a whole lot of time. Often, we don’t just read and use primary sources, we live in them. We spend so much time with them they become part of our present reality. They show up in our dreams at night and in the space of our daydreams. We ask other people for grant money so we can go and see them. We cross oceans to handle them — maybe just to decipher the notes in the margins. We struggle with foreign languages so we can break their codes and take courses in paleography to learn how the ancients made their letters. Visit any of our classes and you’ll find we not only use original documents for our research, we assign them to our students. We might print out digital photos of documents crammed into our hard drives from our research trips so students can practice with them. We take joy when we inspire in our students the same sense of awe we ourselves feel every time we step into the archives.

Read the whole thing at The Pietist Schoolman.

I offer this for some additional context.

 

David Barton is Going to “Call Me Out”

22a3a-davidbarton-blackrobesEarlier today someone sent me a link to a “Periscope” video of David and Tim Barton talking about the work of Wallbuilders, an organization, founded by David Barton, “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”

Ever since evangelical historians debunked Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies for its historical inaccuracies he has been suggesting that these historians have been nothing short of brainwashed by their secular teachers at the universities where they did their graduate degrees.  He has even published a list of acceptable schools–places where students will receive a Bartonesque view of American history.  There are not very many schools on the list.

I am not technically savvy enough to embed this video, but we have provided a transcript of a portion of the presentation that starts around the 21-minute mark.

Tim Barton: We will be very specific not to bring something up or expound on something that we do not have original sources…there has been such an indoctrination for so long of the wrong stories, of the wrong ideologies and so the question we always ask is “what is the source of the information, what is the original document you can link that to…?” Most professors, they don’t have original sources, they have ideas, they have their stories but it’s not rooted in truth.  So we always want to go back and say “here’s the original document, here’s what George Washington actually said, here’s what Thomas Jefferson actually said.”  And so our stories are based on the actual document…and if we can’t find an original source then we usually don’t use it…because we want to make sure whatever we’re saying we can bring it back to truth with original sources.

David Barton: Right now, actually, we’re calling out a number of Christian college professors who are very, very bad at what they’re teaching…we are doing a serious of articles…John Fea, who is at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, just did a piece talking about how the founding fathers did not want ministers involved in politics or holding office.  I’ll take that picture over there [pointing to a picture off-camera] and show you how many of the signers of the Declaration were ministers.  He [Fea] said the founding fathers didn’t want ministers–the founding fathers were ministers in office.  So they’re doing this to keep secularizing history and to keep Christians from being involved. So we will call out Fea, we will call out all these other profs who are doing the same thing….

People say “why do Christian profs do that?”  Well, Luke 6:40 [says] “Every student when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” These guys were all taught by Ph.Ds from Harvard and Yale and all these other secular schools, so they’re just like ’em now.  They may be Christian.  They may have their fire insurance.  But they don’t think right.  So that’s what we try to do.

Several thoughts:

  1. My name is pronounced Fee-ah (rhymes with female name Tia or Mia).
  2. Any historian-Christian or otherwise–would say that Tim Barton’s comments about original documents are absurd.  First, all historians work with original sources and try to draw conclusions based on those sources.  Second, one does not have to physically own a copy of the document in order to read and interpret what it is saying. This is why historians visit archives, publish edited collections of primary sources, and place primary sources online at respectable sites.  I hear David Barton talk about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution all the time.  Perhaps he can produce his original copies of these documents.  He also talks a lot  about the Bible.  Does he have a copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls in his Aledo, Texas office?  If he does, I am impressed.
  3. The piece that Barton refers to in this video can be read here.  Barton does not respond to my evidence from the state Constitutions.  I apparently have little credibility because I don’t actually own a copy of these state Constitutions.  How dare I cite them. 🙂
  4. Let’s set the record straight for the hundredth time.  Only one member of the clergy–John Witherspoon of New Jersey–signed the Declaration of Independence.   Barton’s assertion that the signers were ministers is blatantly false.  Witherspoon was the only one.  Barton has been peddling this lie for a long time.
  5. I have never heard the Christian doctrine of “assurance of salvation” described as “fire insurance.”  Barton seems to be implying that as a person of faith I have done the bare minimum to escape the fires of hell.  Well, at least he thinks I Revisedam a saved.

Any attempt to respond to David Barton is an exercise in futility. We have fundamental differences about how one interprets the past.  I want to make those differences known and challenge my fellow Christians to think in a more historically responsible way.

By the way, have I mentioned that the Second Edition of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction will be released next month?  I would love to come to your church and talk about this stuff, especially if your church has some David Barton fans.

David Barton’s List of Safe Colleges and Universities

ORU

David Barton recommends Oral Roberts University

Warren Throckmorton has some context here.

What colleges or universities does WallBuilders recommend?

There are many good institutions of higher learning whose educational approach is not only academically excellent but is also consistent with traditional conservative moral, religious, and constitutional values. The listings below include some of these schools. (Recommendations do not necessarily mean that WallBuilders agrees with everything taught at these schools, nor with every professor who teaches there.) This list is definitely not exhaustive, but it does include many schools with whom we have actively cooperated.

Here are the schools:

This is pretty narrow list of schools.  I am not sure about why these schools were selected, but I would love to hear the members of the history departments at these schools talk about the work of Barton.  If you are a member of a history department at one of these schools, and you feel it is safe to speak out, I would love to hear from you.  (I know that I have already heard from some of you in response to previous posts and I realize that there is often a large gap between the views of the faculty on these issues and the views of the administration. Apparently Barton is willing to endorse a school even if all or most of the history professors at that school disagree with him).

Here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home we occasionally posted about Barton’s relationship with some of these schools:

Charis Bible College

Colorado Christian University

Ecclesia College

Louisiana College

Liberty University: Here and here and here and here and here

Patrick Henry College: Here and here

Pensacola Christian College: Here and here and here

 

For more on Barton click here.

The Historians Who Are Supporting Donald Trump

Trump Gingrich

By now you have heard of Historians Against Trump.  But what about historians who are for Trump.  Rick Shenkman and Sharon Arana have managed to find six historians who support Trump.  They are:

Victor David Hanson

Timothy Furnish

Derek Boyd Hankerson

David Barton

Eric Metaxas

Newt Gingrich (He has a Ph.D in history)

I don’t know much about Hankerson apart from the fact that he thinks blacks fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are probably aware of the fact that I do not classify Barton or Metaxas as historians.  (Click on the links above).

I also found it interesting that Wilfred McClay was initially part of the pro-Trump list. Read the article to see McClay’s e-mail exchange with Shenkman and Arana.

ADDENDUM:  I just learned that Larry Schwiekart of the University of Dayton is also supporting Trump.

Eric Metaxas and David Barton Team Up Against “Angry” Historians

MetaxasToday David Barton, the GOP activist who uses the American past to promote his political agenda, appeared on the Eric Metaxas Show.  Thanks again to Warren Throckmorton for providing an audio clip of the part of their conversation related to Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It.

As some of you know, I have been critical of Metaxas’s book.  I have also been critical of the work of David Barton.

This is what Metaxas and Barton had to say today:

Metaxas: David, one thing I have to say that I have in common with you other than writing about American history and God’s role in it, and the role of Christians and faith and virtue, is that I have been outrageously attacked…I was thinking of you because, man, you took it on the chin.  There are some people that are just…  My thesis is that they are annoyed by our conclusions so they kind of nitpick and they find one little thing.  If there’s something that’s in my book that’s wrong I want to change it, I don’t want it to be there.  But they kind of jump on that and they write a whole essay on the thing that is wrong.

Barton: Or they take it out of context too.  Not only will they nitpick, but they never tell the reader to go read the book and look at the context.  That’s what these guys notoriously do. We’ll have a thirty minute broadcast and they will take a seven-second clip out of it and say “look what you said.”  Well, listen for thirty minutes [and] it’s a whole different thing.

Metaxas: It is extraordinary I have to say. And I feel like because you’ve been through it I take it as a point of pride, you know.  Because I thought to myself “I know what I’m writing is true.”  You know, a number of people were criticizing me for interpreting John Winthrop on the Arbella when he preached this sermon about that we’re a city on a hill, and that whole thing.   It’s real clear to me, it underscores my larger thesis, that America has always been a nation for others–that we want to be a shining beacon of liberty and truth and the gospel.  That’s been who we are and a number of folks have said that I totally take that out of context, it meant something else.  And I thought to myself, that is simply wrong.  You can “quibble”–that would be the verb–you can quibble with what I’m saying, but really you cannot say that what I am saying is wrong, and I am sure it’s not wrong. 

Barton: Well, in my case, we actually have the original documents. Give me a break. But they say “yeah, but we got all these Ph.Ds who say you’re wrong.  Well, that’s alright–I’ve got the original documents. But they don’t go there. The same with your.  They’re going to criticize your through academic channels because they don’t like your conclusions.

Metaxas: It’s so funny.  It’s so funny.  It’s a lot of angry quibbling.  I take it as a point of pride because I’m called by God to do what I am doing.  It doesn’t mean that God is always on my side, but it does mean that I care about my country, I love my country. It goes way beyond this country.  If you care about the world  you need to care about America. God has a point to this country as a beacon to the whole world, a share our liberties.  So it really is something I consider important.  Your work has been foundational.  I want to thank you for the tremendous work you have done.

Listen to the exchange here.

Just a few quick points:

  1.  Metaxas’s view of Winthrop’s use of the phrase “city on a hill” IS taken out of context.  I encourage you to take David Barton’s advice and read the original source– “A Modell on Christian Charity.”  You should also read Hillsdale College professor David Gamble’s  In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. And don’t forget the post by Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at evangelical Wheaton College.
  2.  I am sure I have addressed this before, but it needs to be said again.  For years Barton has been telling the ordinary evangelicals who follow him that he is right about American history because he owns a lot of documents.  He claims that he reads the original documents and suggests that professional historians do not.  This is a completely absurd claim.  ALL professional historians read and interpret primary sources.  This is what we do.  Doing history–especially the history of political ideas– has very little to do with whether or not someone one can hold an original document in their hands.  For example, if Barton had a copy of the Declaration of Independence would he be in a better position to interpret the ideas in the document than someone who was merely reading the Declaration of Independence online or in a textbook?  I have never been to Wallbuilders or seen David Barton’s collection of documents, but I am pretty certain that most of the documents he possesses are easily accessible for historians in online and print collections.  Unless one is writing a history about these books, letter, and manuscrpts as physical objects or pieces of material culture (which is not how Barton uses the documents–he peddles in ideas), the fact that Barton owns these documents and can actually them does not make his interpretations of history any more right or wrong.
  3. I will admit that many websites do take Barton’s words, especially when he is on the radio, out of context.  But the best and most thorough critiques of his work do not.
  4. Metaxas claims that he is called by God to write such flawed history. He thus sees the criticism of his work as a “point of pride.”  As an evangelical Christian who also believes he has a calling, I find this sort of “blessed are the persecuted” mentality to be offensive.

David Barton: “Trump is God’s Guy”

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With the exception of this recent outburst, David Barton has been largely out of the news since Ted Cruz left the race.  As the director of Cruz Super Pac, Barton did not have many nice things to say about Donald Trump.  Barton was not chosen for Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council.

But things can change very quickly.  Barton now believes that Trump must be “God’s guy” in this election.

Warren Throckmorton has it covered at his blog.  Here is a taste:

What is maddening about Barton’s description is that he was asked for advice by a delegate who doesn’t believe Trump should represent the GOP. Instead of pointing the delegate to the Free the Delegate movement, he told him to accept Trump as “God’s guy.”

Barton rationalized his advice:

“One thing I know for sure is that in the race of primaries, we had a lot really good God guys in there,” Barton said. “And we had a huge turnout of professing Christians and evangelicals and others, so there is nothing to complain about that we didn’t get a voice, we didn’t get a candidate. We had great candidates to choose from and this is who the people chose, and this is who the people chose with a really high turnout of evangelicals. So I kind of look back and say, ‘Hmmm, I wonder where God’s fingerprint is in this?’ because this is not necessarily a failure of the church.”

The logic of Christian nationalists like Barton never ceases to amaze me. It goes something like this.  America is a Christian and exceptional nation.  Democracy is the prevailing political philosophy in America.  Since America is a Christian and exceptional nation, and democracy is the political philosophy that God has ordained in this nation, then it goes without saying that the person who the people elect must be “God’s guy.”

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  This theological view of politics only applies to GOP candidates. After all, the Republican Party is the community through which God’s will for America is made manifest in the world.  🙂

As Throckmorton writes: “I wonder why Barton doesn’t consider Barack Obama God’s guy. Despite all kinds of evangelical GOTV efforts and prayer rallies and such, Obama won twice.”

 

Was John Adams a Christian?

a8345-adamsIn light of the recent Twitter debate between Annette Gordon-Reed and Sam Haselby on the religion of Thomas Jefferson, I thought I would call your attention to a blog post from my friend Matthew Hunter.

I don’t know if Hunter was aware of the Gordon-Reed/Haselby debate when he wrote this, but his post about John Adams clearly comes down on the Haselby side.  Adams may have thought he was a Christian, but his rejection of the Christian doctrine of the trinity makes it difficult to label him as one.  Adams may have said he was a Christian, but he was not.

So how do we interpret Adams’s religion? Do we take Adams’s word for it?  Or do we interpret Adams’s faith in light of the history of Christian orthodoxy?  As I said several times in the midst of the Gordon-Reed/Haselby debate, the former is a a historical issue and the latter is a theological issue.  This does not mean that these two ways of understanding of the world cannot speak to one another.  In fact, some interdisciplinary thinkers like Hunter might argue that they should be speaking to one another.

In the end, Hunter is correct about at least one thing.  When we  point out that Adams’s beliefs were unorthodox we set the record straight for the Christian nationalists who want to use the second president’s supposed Christian beliefs to promote a political agenda in the present.  John Adams may have been a Christian, but I am guessing that David Barton would not want to have him on the elder board of his church.

Here is a taste of Hunter’s post:

This is a hard post to write, because suggesting any sort of gulf that favors the scholarly view is going to be tainted with a certain elitism that smacks of the sort of gulf represented above, where a semi-divine historical person presides over the terrestrial mess of mortals. There are things that they know that mere mortals cannot know. And you know that scholars are not semi-divine. Nevertheless, a gulf exists. I write this as someone whose academic training was a blend of history, social sciences and theology, so I am not strictly “a historian,” though the American founding does factor into my work.

The gulf I have in mind was brought back to the forefront of my mind when Susan Lim, a reputable Christian historian at Biola recently wrote an article about religion and the Founding Fathers for Christianity Today. Lim wrote,

“Washington’s successor, John Adams, was born into a devout Christian family and raised to carry on Puritan traditions. The second president of the United States never wavered away from his faith, nor did he ever see any conflict in being both an independent thinker and committed Christian. As David McCullough recounts in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Adams regularly boasted of his Puritan ancestry, sometimes bordered on legalism (he often refused to travel on the Sabbath), and occasionally cast stones against those he deemed less spiritual than himself. For example, Adams made it a point to highlight Jefferson’s nontraditional religious convictions when they both vied for the presidency.”

This surprised me, because I believed it was fairly well established that Adams was basically a U/unitarian (did not believe in the Trinity) unlike the Puritans, though he may have remained in Puritan Congregationalist churches. I wrote the following email to Susan (actually, I emailed “Dr. Lim” who graciously told me to call her Susan):

“I have no doubt that Adams was a man of faith and may have valued his Puritan heritage, but it seems to me that we have it pretty decisively in his own words that he was a Unitarian and (perhaps a bit more ambiguously) that he also had serious reservations about the incarnation. I appreciate the fact that there is some disagreement on this, but it mostly seems to come from American Filiopietists with political agendas.  I’m not sure how you say that he was born into a devout Christian family and raised to carry on Puritan traditions. The second president of the United States never wavered away from his faith, nor did he ever see any conflict in being both an independent thinker and committed Christian.” I guess I can sort of spin this in a way, but I think it is liable to mislead many readers.”

Susan responded: “No doubt, the term “Puritan” is a messy one.  I shy away from it in my research.  I used it here because I assume that the majority of the readers aren’t academics, and the term “Congregational” won’t resonate with as many readers.  Puritanism has come to mean so many things to so many people; and as I’m sure you know, many of the social constructs of Puritanism were made in the 19th C (largely through fiction) to comment on Victorian society (by using Puritans as actors).  Or, as Mencken wrote, that Puritanism is thought of as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.  Of course we know that this obviously doesn’t do the Puritans justice.  What I meant was that John Adams hailed from a Puritan/Congregational family, and remained committed to his Congregational church.  Yes, that church (along with many other  Congregationalist churches) moved towards Unitarianism by the mid-18th C, but I didn’t want to go into the development of Congregationalism (or Puritanism, if you will) here.”

Note that if this is true, Adams was in the advance guard of a group of Puritan Congregationalists who rejected the the doctrine of the Trinity that had defined Christian Orthodoxy for around 1400 years. At the time, many/most U/unitarians did consider themselves Christians and their services of worship would have resembled Trinitarian Puritans’ services a great deal. Susan Lim is a knowledgeable scholar. She also possesses the virtue of inclusion in her approach to John Adams and Christianity (something many contemporary Christians could learn from). I don’t believe she was trying to fool anyone. However, I still think this way of writing about things plays into the hands of those who have a political agenda and are also much sloppier in their characterizations of the faith of the founders. 

Read the rest here.

That Time I Defended David Barton

723d3-barton

It looks like I just got dragged into a debate between Right Wing Watch and David Barton over the right of women to vote.  Here is what Barton wrote on the Wallbuilders Facebook page last night:

This past weekend, I saw a tweet blasting me by HGM@RightWingIdiot1 (see picture):

@DavidBartonWB I hope you wife and if you have daughters leave you and your hate for women. How dare you state women shouldn’t vote.

This references a May 1, 2014 WallBuildersLive radio program in which I was answering audience questions, including one about women’s suffrage, the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution. The questioner did not believe the Founders were being sexist but rather that they voted more by households than by individuals. I affirmed that this was correct, and showed occasions of women voting as far back as the 1600s if they became the heads of the household. We also pointed out that the Constitution did not prohibit women from voting prior to that, but that the 19th Amendment was added to ensure women’s suffrage.

Nevertheless, Right Wing Watch – a far left secularist progressive group whose parent organization is funded by atheist billionaire George Soros – came out with an article wrongly claiming that I defended the inability of women to vote in early America. That false claim was picked up and repeated by others, including the tweet I saw this weekend.

Interestingly, one of my strongest critics and loudest opponents, Professor John Fea of Messiah College in California, actually defended me against this false charge. (I have been told by students of Messiah College that they actually taught a course there against me – that they use me to show the wrong view of American history in the Founding Era.) Dr. Fea acknowledged that he “just listened to the entire episode,” and then pointed out several reasons why the claim from Right Wing Watch was wrong, including:

“1. Nowhere in this episode does Barton say the 19th amendment was a bad thing or that women voting is a bad thing. Listen for yourself. Some might say he is implying this. If someone wants to make this argument, it is a stretch.”

“2. The clip I posted above [from Right Wing Watch] has been edited. The part of the discussion in which Barton and Green seem to suggest that women’s suffrage is a positive development in American life has been cut out.”

Right Wing Watch omitted the part of the program that would refute their own false claim. (This is something they regularly do in their frequent charges against me.) Their false accusation that I oppose women voting continues to have life even years later because folks too often repeat what others say rather than following the example of critic John Fea, who listened to the entire episode and thus recognized the claim as false.

Furthermore, I have been on record for years stating that my goal is for 100% of all Americans to be registered to vote, and to vote – I want 100% citizen participation in voting.

Given all of this, my questions for HGM@RightWingIdiot1 would begin with:

1. Did you fail your Math and English classes in school? For years I have said that my objective is 100% of Americans voting in every election. Do you think that 100% of Americans does not include women? 100% is fully inclusive and means everybody!

2. You want my wife and daughter to leave me??? I would not wish that on anyone, even those who consider themselves my enemies. It is ironic that those who accuse others of being haters are often the ones who display the most hate.

3. You really think I hate women? I have reprinted books and appeared on numerous media programs to reintroduce female heroes from history back to the modern generation. In fact, in writing history and social studies standards for state boards of education, the official public records affirm that I have been solely responsible for including numerous women in the texts.

4. Why don’t you set an example for people from your side: check the facts for yourself rather than just parrot what someone else says – learn to think for yourself rather than be part of Right Wing Watch group think.

It’s time for the falsehood that I don’t want women to vote (and so many of the other fabrications distributed by Right Wing Watch and their allies) to come to a halt. Perhaps this post will help accomplish that.

Here is the May 6, 2014 post published at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that Barton is referencing. Yes, I did defend Barton on this one.

Here is a response to Barton’s Facebook post from Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch.

A few comments on Barton’s Facebook post:

  1. Yes, I remain a “strong critic” of Barton when he is wrong about American history or using the past inappropriately to support his political agenda
  2. I will let Barton and Right Wing Watch sort out this whole women’s voting issue.
  3. Messiah College is located in Grantham, Pennsylvania (Mechanicsburg, PA mailing address), not California.
  4. As far as I know, a course on David Barton has never been offered at Messiah College
  5. In Spring 2009 I taught a course entitled “Religion and the American Founding” at Messiah College.  There were 11 students enrolled and all of them are acknowledged in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction.  And yes, we did, on occasion, discuss Barton in that class and may have even read some of his writings.
  6. If you are one of the Messiah College students who has talked to Barton about me or my classes, I would love to hear from you.  Let’s talk. Coffee is on me.