Out today, Vox has an article by Tara Burton hoping to help progressive readers understand the David Barton phenomenon. Over the years, Barton
has been identified as the “historian” behind a Christian nationalist narrative of the nation’s founding. Burton correctly connects newly appointed Religious Liberty Ambassador Sam Brownback and PA Republican candidate for Congress Rick Saccone with Barton. Brownback and Barton have a long relationship. I wrote about the Saccone-Barton link early last year.
Overall, to me as a long time student of this subject, there isn’t much new here.
When an Earned Degree Isn’t Earned
I am disappointed that Burton didn’t use the Vox platform to point out Barton’s academic fraud. She touched on it but left an incomplete impression:
Barton is a self-taught historian and activist. He’s received little formal historical training and his sole credentialed degree is a bachelor’s in religious education from evangelical Oral Roberts University, although he later claimed to have earned a doctorate from officially unaccredited Life Christian University on the basis of his published works.
Yes, he claimed one day to have an earned doctorate, but then the very next day, he took down his boastful claim when I revealed that the “earned doctorate” wasn’t earned but came from diploma mill Life Christian University. Barton no longer claims the degree. He won’t answer questions about his initial claim. Given that Burton said Barton gives Christian nationalism a “veneer of academic respectability,” I think this detail is quite significant.
The issue isn’t simply that he claimed a degree from an unaccredited school. Such that it is, he does have a piece of paper from Life Christian University. The claim which goes to Barton’s credibility is that he said that the degree was earned without specifying the means of earning it. Barton never said the degree was earned based on his published works. That rationale came from the president of Life Christian University, Douglas Wingate.
Despite this missed opportunity, I think Burton’s gets Barton’s influence mostly right when she says:
Barton remains a prominent figure in evangelical and dominionist circles and a regular on conservative conference circuits. He continues to speak on his nationally syndicated WallBuilders radio show, on which he describes himself as “America’s premier historian.” That said, since his fall from grace, Barton has publicly been cited by fewer and fewer prominent politicians, which makes Saccone’s choice to feature him at an early rally striking. But despite this, his influence is such that his particular narrative of American history is still taken by some on the right as, well, gospel.
These days almost no students who take my classes know who Barton is. More younger people seem wary of his claims. However, among those who strongly believe America is a Christian nation, Barton can do no wrong.