(UPDATED to include Russell Moore’s comments…)
The religious right’s favorite self-styled historian David Barton has come out in favor of leaving Confederate statues in public view, blaming “the left” for the push to remove them. According to an article in World Net Daily, Barton sees “the left” at work:
David Barton, a historian and author of “The Jefferson Lies,” said the crusade against Confederate monuments is simply an attempt by the left to erase history. He said even monuments that some might think are offensive can be used for a good purpose.
Barton then says the next target for the leftists are monuments to abortion foes and opponents of slavery.
Soon we’ll have to take down Susan B. Anthony statues because even though she fought for women’s suffrage, she was openly pro-life; and, in today’s women’s movement, no one can be a true woman unless she supports Planned Parenthood and abortion. And of course Harriet Tubman statues will be taken down, for even though she was a leading conductor on the Underground Railroad bringing slaves to freedom, she was also a huge advocate for the right to keep and bear arms. For modern civil rights advocates, guns are anathema, and no true civil rights advocate can be for guns!
We no longer look at heroes as people or as complex individuals; rather we now judge them solely by one issue, whatever that issue happens to be at the time. We are creating a culture where we believe we have a right not to be offended or even have our misconceptions challenged; and we’re willing to use coercion to keep ‘me’ from being offended, even if that offends ‘you.’ What offends us now is so routinely redefined that probably no statue now will survive more than a generation before it becomes offensive to someone who will demand its removal.
Here Barton reduces monuments to slavery as a mere “offense” as if a tribute to slavery was simply offensive to the fragile sensibilities of left leaning people. I certainly don’t consider Jefferson Davis to be a “hero,” complex or otherwise. Barton’s minimization of slavery as a mere offense is in itself offensive and insensitive and demonstrates the need to remove these tributes to slavery from their place of honor.
Opposition to the Monuments Comes from the Right and Left
Barton’s narrative about the source of opposition to the monuments is contradicted by a prominent New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, Jr. Rev. Luter is pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Luter is one of over 100 New Orleans area pastors who signed a letter supporting the removal of the statues.
Via Twitter, I asked Luter if he considered himself on “the left” or the right and he replied that he is “a part of the Right.” Also on the list of pastors supporting the removal of the statues is Rev. David Crosby, the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. Crosby was nominated for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency last year. Being in leadership in today’s Southern Baptist Convention does not strike me as an activity of those who populate “the left.”
President of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore told me he agrees with his New Orleans brethren:
I agree with Drs. Luter and Crosby. I’ve always said that we should not whitewash history in either direction, by denying that it happened or by commending what is not commendable. This was the position I took in regard to the flying of the Confederate flag and is applicable here too.
Finally, Barton again claims that Virginia state law made it “difficult, if not impossible” for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to free their slaves. This is a bogus claim. The 1782 law on manumission not only made it possible, but enabled many slave owners in Virginia to free their slaves. Washington did so at this death but Jefferson declined to free his slaves and even sent slave catchers to hunt down those who ran away from Monticello.
To sum up, some pastors on the list of New Orleans pastors who support the removal of the Confederate statues may be left leaning or centrists politically. However, as I have shown, at least some come from the political right. Clearly, Barton is wrong about the sources of opposition to the public display of symbols which celebrate the Confederacy. People across a wide spectrum favor removal of the statues to be placed in museums or other place where people can learn from history. As with so many issues, Barton spins a narrative he likes first without regard to all the facts.
The irony here is that it is Barton who is at work altering truth, whether it be about Virginia slave laws, or the source of opposition to Confederate symbols.