In a Wednesday Onenewsnow article about Ronald Reagan’s Christianity, David Barton is quoted as saying:
Reagan’s faith matured over the years from a “pretty shallow” faith early on to more mature understanding of scripture.
While many people did doubt Reagan’s sincerity, Reagan biographer and Grove City College colleague Paul Kengor told me that Reagan never had a shallow faith. While Barton can be credited with acknowledging that Reagan had a faith, Kengor has shown via his many articles and books that Reagan’s faith was important in his life from his childhood.
Barton was asked to comment on a newly discovered letter written by Reagan to his atheist father-in-law. The letter was in essence an evangelistic appeal for his father-in-law to convert to Christianity. Kengor has a commentary on the letter here.
My concern in this post is not about Reagan’s faith. It seems clear to me that he was an imperfect believer as is the case with any believer. In my view, any comparisons to Donald Trump as court evangelical Robert Jeffress attempted earlier this year are faulty because Reagan actually believed in Christianity. In my opinion, Trump is acting the part and giving evangelicals just enough to keep them as a voting bloc.
Rather, this comment from Barton is another illustration of why he can’t be trusted as a historian. There has been a resurgence of interest in Reagan’s faith over the last decade or so. A historian familiar with the literature should be aware that there are good reasons to believe Reagan’s personal faith was meaningful to him and that he maintained those beliefs throughout his life. One might contest various applications of his faith or how consistent his actions were with the faith but to call his beliefs or faith shallow isn’t accurate.
By the way, if you want to get a icy silence from Wallbuilders, ask Mr. Barton about his earned doctorate.
On Friday, David Barton tweeted a video of a talk he gave to legislators in 2017 about education. In it, he gave lots of statistics and what he claimed were historical facts. Much of what he said sounded either obvious or false but I can’t say for sure since I haven’t checked it all. However, at about 30 minutes into the talk, he said something that was vintage Barton. Watch:
He showed a picture of Abe Lincoln and claimed Lincoln said:
The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
This isn’t how actual historians behave. They don’t try to fool their audiences into believing something that isn’t true. And this isn’t the first time with this exact same quote.
How can an audience rely on Barton’s claims when he fudges a quote he knows can’t be found in Lincoln’s works? A fair questions is: what is he fudging on more important claims?
Student Follows Teacher
One of Barton’s warnings to legislators is about professors who have the wrong philosophy. He asserts that liberal professors will turn students liberal. The fake Lincoln quote was designed to put the exclamation point on that principle and warn that liberal professors today mean liberal politics tomorrow.
(As an aside, I have to ask if that’s true, then where did Trump come from?)
In any case, I also have to ask if that’s true, what do we have to look forward to from Barton’s students? Find a quote you like and attribute it to your favorite historical figure. Go out of your way to stretch the truth to create an impression that helps you politically. Deceive your audience for the sake of Jesus and his chosen nation, America?
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Again this summer, David Barton is separating students from their money. Last summer via Glenn Beck’s Mercury One charity, the historical document collector started a summer internship program designed to prepare students ages 18-25 to educate their professors in history. Round two is this summer and Barton carries on his war with professors via his students.
Barton: Racists? What Racists?
I feel sorry for the students but it is too late for those who have already gone through it. Last summer, some came away with some problems they had to unlearn. In this post, I want to focus on something Barton said in the OneNewsNow interview.
And contrary to reports from liberal media outlets and academics, the country was not founded by a bunch of slave-owning racists, he [Barton] argued. “Once we separated from Great Britain, then you find that three out of four Founding Fathers released slaves, freed slaves, started abolitionist societies, went on to crusade against slavery,” he offered as examples.
While I don’t trust his math, I don’t need to have an exact percentage to assess what happened at the founding of the United States. Whether most founders owned slaves or not (I believe they did), what matters is what they did when it counted. In Christian America, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention decided that preserving the union was more important that ending slavery. We all know the history. Slavery didn’t end because noble founders “released slaves, freed slaves, started abolitionist societies, went on to crusade against slavery” or any such thing.
Some founders never owned slaves and were always opposed to slavery and in good conscience refused to support the union. Others condemned slavery, but owned slaves and held racist attitudes. Still others believed Africans were destined by God to serve whites. The situation is far more complex than Barton portrays it to be. No rationalization or math trick can change what happened or make it all better. It is only in the current white evangelical Republican echo chamber that such a whitewashing can be considered informed and wise commentary.
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Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a profile of Stephen McDowell in today’s WaPo. McDowell runs the Providence Foundation, a Christian nationalist group with David Barton on its board.
Bailey attended one of McDowell’s “Christian history” tours and reported her observations. Although she doesn’t give a full account, what she describes sounds like David Barton’s discredited spiritual heritage Capitol tour.
McDowell follows the Christian nationalist approach of eliminating moral tension from history. For instance, Pocahontas wasn’t a captive, she was a convert. Bailey reports that McDowell pointed to the painting of the baptism of Pocahontas and told them “her baptism is a reflection of why the colonies were established.” In this version of history, Pocahontas willingly accepted Christ and freely married John Rolfe. In fact, the conversion of Pocahontas occurred while she was in English captivity; perhaps the Stockholm Syndrome should be called the Pocahontas Syndrome.
Some Facts Wrong
John Fea is quoted in this piece saying McDowell gets “some facts wrong.” His point is that the bigger picture is the distortion of the past for present-day political purposes. While I agree, I also think it is unconscionable how many facts these people get wrong for the money they charge. According to Bailey, McDowell charged the school group $999/person for this experience.
The financial and time investment make these experiences especially hard to undo. The participants now think they have had the hidden truth revealed to them. The Christian guide they trust pulls back the curtain and shows them the real facts. Now when someone corrects the errors, these students and their parents are prepared to discount the actual facts. There is strong motivation in most people to make that investment of time, money, and trust worth it. To find out that much of the information is wrong or biased is very hard to accept.
If you are reading this and thinking about doing one of these tours, please contact me or John Fea. There are some really excellent ways to address this subject matter.
After Barton’s book was pulled from publication in 2012, he claimed Simon & Schuster would republish it. That never came to pass. Then WorldNetDaily put it out claiming that Christian publisher Thomas Nelson pulled the book due to “political correctness.” Barton’s buddy Glenn Beck claimed that “liberal bastards” were behind the effort to discredit the book. These claims came even though most of the recent critics were Christian college professors. In short, none of these excuses hold water.
Thomas Nelson said at the time that they lost confidence in the books facts and pulled the book due to historical errors. I outlined what I know about the situation in a previous post. In fact, philosopher and college professor Jay Richards recruited 10 Christian scholars, mostly historians, to read our book and then Barton’s. On the whole, the scholars came back to Richards with the feedback that Barton had turned Jefferson into a figure unrecognizable to them. It wasn’t long afterwards that Thomas Nelson took the extremely rare step of pulling the book from publication.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said Ecclesia was unaccredited. I have corrected it to reflect that the school is accredited by the Association of Biblical Higher Education but is not regionally accredited which is the gold standard for academic accreditation.
Watch out, shoes are dropping in the Ecclesia College kickback case. Arkansas Online today reports that Oren Paris III resigned from his post as president of Ecclesia College and entered a last minute conditional
guilty plea in the kickback and bribery case which came to light early last year. Along with State Senator Jon Woods, and consultant Randall Shelton, Paris was indicted in federal court on March 1, 2017 for allegedly participating in a scheme to funnel state improvement funds through Ecclesia to Woods and Shelton. State representative Micah Neal was also in on the alleged plot and earlier entered a guilty plea.
Ecclesia College is an Christian school in Springdale AR which has the support of Christian nationalists David Barton and Eric Metaxas. The school is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education but is not accredited by the Higher Learning Commission which covers schools in Arkansas.
Initially, Paris was defiant and claimed he would be vindicated. Although Paris entered a guilty plea, the move may have been a legal maneuver, according to media reports. His trial was slated to begin Monday and Paris may be hoping to revisit his status if an appeals court overturns Judge Timothy Brooks decision not to dismiss the case.
In the plea agreement, Paris admits that he “knowingly obtained GIF [General Improvement Funds] money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses.” Paris then caused funds to be paid to Randall Shelton knowing that some of those funds would end up back with Senator Jon Woods in a kickback. By entering a conditional guilty plea to one count, Paris has thrown Shelton and Woods under the bus.
Incredibly, Ecclesia College is standing by Paris, writing on the school Facebook page:
As you know, Dr. Oren Paris and two others were indicted a little over a year ago by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. For Oren, his immediate family, and the extended family at Ecclesia College, this has been a period of spiritual trial, eased by an ever increasing gratitude for God’s constant presence and His great faithfulness.
While we continue to believe firmly that Dr. Paris has been honest and forthright in his statements from the beginning of this case, he and his legal team are now convinced that the best path forward is to accept a conditional plea agreement negotiated with the government. We stand with him in his decision.
Information recently brought to Dr. Paris’s attention has shed new light on facts he previously knew but had interpreted differently. This enables him to truthfully make the statement required by the government. The terms of the conditional plea agreement clear the path for an appeal to be filed with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to address some the issues raised during the course of this case that have caused us all great concern regarding the appearance of fairness of the judicial system. In the meantime, while Dr. Paris will be stepping down as president of Ecclesia College until his name is cleared in order to avoid further unnecessary distraction from the College’s mission, he will continue to serve Ecclesia.
We know and trust that God is moving on our behalf toward His ultimate answer to our ongoing prayer for His deliverance. Please continue to pray with us that the upcoming appeal will lead to a fully just outcome in the end.We are completely confident that God has every individual and this institution in His all-capable hands. To the faculty, staff, and students operations will continue as normal. We look forward to seeing Him in and through this situation for the overall good and promising future of Ecclesia College.
For His glory,
EC Board of Governance
It is very difficult to square the plea agreement with this statement from the Board of Governance. If his statement to the government is true, then he “knowingly obtained GIF money for the College under materially false and fraudulent pretenses” and “knowing and intentionally engaged in a scheme to defraud the citizens of Arkansas of the honest services of Arkansas state Senator Woods.” (See image below from page 4 of the plea agreement)
This case is not over. Senator Woods and Randall Shelton still must go to trial and no doubt they will have something to say about Paris’ involvement.
Evangelicals have been a big puzzle since Donald Trump has come on the scene. Why would these moral crusaders fall behind a womanizer who bragged about sexual assault? A new study from sociologists Andrew Whitehead, Joseph Baker and Samuel Perry in a recent edition of the Sociology of Religion journal provides some answers.
The study, which is also summarized by the authors in Monday’s Washington Post, points to a belief in core tenets of Christian nationalism as a major factor associated with Trump support. To assess Christian nationalism, the authors asked participants in the Baylor Religion Survey the following questions:
“The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,”
“The federal government should advocate Christian values,”
“The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state” (reverse coded),
“The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces,”
“The success of the United States is part of God’s plan,” and
“The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”
The authors found that the more a person believed America is or should be a Christian nation, the more likely that person was to vote for Trump. This was true across party affiliation. The image below taken from the study demonstrates that Democrats with Christian nationalist beliefs were three times more likely to vote for Trump than Democrats who didn’t have those beliefs.
Item five above is one which can be interpreted without a Christian nationalist meaning. Christians of many stripes see God as having a general plan which includes the success and failure of nations in it. One need not see America as having a special plan to endorse this item. Otherwise, I think the items assess important components of Christian nationalist beliefs about church and state.
Make America Christian Again
In short, the more you buy into David Barton’s way of looking at history, the more likely you are to be a Trump supporter. Christian nationalist voters reason that Trump will move America toward their vision of a Christian America even if he isn’t personally devout. Once upon a time, Christian leaders told us that character counts in leaders. Now, power is what matters. Trump voters want policies in place which will coerce a Christian consensus — make America Christian again.*
The authors also found that anti-Muslim sentiment related to Trump support. Christian nationalists, such as David Barton, have demonized Islam beyond the historical record and at least one Christian “religious liberty” group denies religion status to Islam.
After reading this study, I feel on the side of the angels by fact checking Christian nationalists historical claims (e.g., Getting Jefferson Right). Christian scholars have a special responsibility to present the facts and withstand the pressure from Christian leaders to corroborate a false Christian nationalist narrative.
In a remarkable Yahoo News article, Jon Ward gives the public a look into the thinking of Eric Metaxas as he defends himself against his critics.
Metaxas is the author of books on Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and most recently Martin Luther. Much to the puzzlement of many, Metaxas is also a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump. In his email exchange with Metaxas, reporter Ward sowed sharp questions about Metaxas’ support for Trump and reaped Metaxas’ whirlwind of projection and self-justification. You must read the whole thing at Yahoo and then hop on over to Medium where Jon reproduced the email exchange in full.
I could pick out many aspects of this exchange, but Ward’s piece is so clear that little commentary is needed. I will simply hit one or two high spots and then end with some commentary on Metaxas’ rant about Messiah history professor John Fea.
House of Mirrors
Ward summarized the email exchange:
To read Metaxas’ email was like entering a house of mirrors. It was not Trump who had aroused and played upon xenophobia as a candidate by his endless talk of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and his slur of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his talk of banning all Muslims from entering the country. Rather, “Beltway and Manhattan elites” were engaged in a “new and accepted tribalism and xenophobia” against “white European ‘Christian’ varieties” and in favor of Islam.
Ward really captured the contradiction in Metaxas later in the article:
Metaxas firmly planted himself on the side of the common folk against “elites.” He protested the “patronizing” and “fundamentally un-American” attitudes of media gatekeepers, who he said believe “many Americans are too uneducated or too gullible to properly understand all that confusing news in its raw form.” But when it came to the topic of Trump’s many racially charged comments dismissing or demeaning minority groups, Metaxas didn’t hesitate to take the view of an elite who knew what was better for those communities than they did themselves.
Trump, Metaxas said, “has been perceived as wrong by certain groups, by many groups. We need to take that perception seriously, but just how seriously is the larger question. Are we not living in a time when everyone is far too easily offended, so much so that we are taking our eyes off what actually matters, off actually solving the real problems of people rather than giving politically correct lip service to those problems?”
When you attack Metaxas or Trump, you’re patronizing. When Trump attacks, the other side is too easily offended.
More contradiction comes via Metaxas’ opinion of Hillary Clinton. On one hand, he wrote to Ward:
Christians who think the Church in America might have survived a Hillary Clinton presidency are something like the devout Christian Germans who seriously and prayerfully thought it unChristian to be involved in opposing Hitler because to do so would have dirtied their hands with politics,…
He even once tweeted “Hitlery Clinton” but in the email exchange he told Ward: “Nor do I mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, but the principle at issue is the same nonetheless.” If he didn’t mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, then why bring up Hitler?
John Fea and the Beast of Revelation
Despite his complaints of being pilloried, he did not hesitate to pillory. His response to a question about historian John Fea’s spot-on critique of his book If You Can Keep It is a case in point. Ward asked in part:
The greater point is that Fea thinks you make a common mistake of many evangelicals, that of confusing America with the kingdom of God. This is a complex and nuanced point. A firm rootedness in one’s citizenship in heaven should not produce passivity or fatalism about one’s community or nation here on earth. But the critique of culture warriors often is that they cling too tightly to worldly outcomes because the two categories (kingdom of God and America) have become almost unintelligibly mixed or combined. Do you think you have done this in any way?
Metaxas snorted in response:
Mr. Fea’s critiques have not only not persuaded me, they have helped me see more clearly why what I said in my book If You Can Keep It is necessary to communicate to as many Americans as possible at this time in history. If I could give a copy of that book to every American — or at least to every young American — I would do so. Mr. Fea’s misunderstanding on this central issue — one that particularly seems to plague academics — is at the heart of our problems as a culture and as a church.
To mix these very separate categories is a great sin indeed, but such sins must be in the eyes of the beholder. I am afraid Mr. Fea has committed the opposite sin in being so enamored of a certain anti-populist and anti-American narrative — which view is so trendy in the Academy that he should be concerned about having accepted it himself — that he falls into the category of those who find any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.
Metaxas did not answer the question. All he did was attack Fea’s character and his patriotism. If Metaxas wants to elevate discourse among Christians, perhaps he should start with himself.
Those new to the criticisms of Metaxas’ historical errors in If You Can Keep It should go back and read the many critical reviews of the book by Christian historians (here, here, here, here, here). These critiques documented the many historical problems in the book. At the time, he doubled down on the errors and aligned with David Barton against the critics.
I believe historians writing about this period of history will find Ward’s article quite helpful as a window into the evangelical split over Trump. Agree or disagree with Metaxas, I think and he and Ward deserve thanks for being willing to put this conversation before the public.
Another list of critiques of Eric Metaxas’ If You Can Keep It John Fea’s series Tracy McKensie’s blog Gregg Frazer’s review My article in the Daily Caller My blog posts addressing the errors
A military religious freedom watchdog group is asking Commanding General Major General Pete Johnson to uninvite Kenneth Copeland from the February 1 prayer breakfast at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Kenneth Copeland has a rather checkered history but the main reason for the outrage is Kenneth Copeland’s past teaching on how to address post-traumatic stress disorder. On that topic, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation Mikey Weinstein told the General:
But there’s something else that makes Copeland an even more outrageous choice to speak to any military audience. He has claimed that PTSD isn’t real because it isn’t biblical, saying on a 2013 Veterans Day episode of his TV show:
“Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me. You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it, and it doesn’t take psychology. That promise right there [referring to a Bible verse he had just read] will get rid of it.”
Copeland’s guest that day, Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton, wholeheartedly agreed, adding that warriors in the Bible fighting in the name of God were “esteemed” and in the “faith hall of fame” because they “took so many people out in battle.”
At the time, Barton and Copeland took a lot of heat over that “advice.” Before I go on, here is the segment:
I hope the General decides to find another speaker. In my opinion, Copeland disqualified himself to speak to our service men and women. In addition to his bogus advice about PTSD, he teaches that people who recite certain Bible verses will survive war. In essence, his teaching is that Christians will survive if they do the right things and recite the right magic Bible verses (Psalm 91 is one he suggests). In his PTSD video, he claims that the Bible gives a promise of survival to soldiers who fight for God. I don’t know what happens to people who don’t believe these things according to Copeland.
I can’t imagine what he will say that will be of general benefit or encouragement to people of all faiths. His teaching in his Veteran’s Day video and on his website requires a rather close adherence to his specific interpretation of the Bible. There are many Christians who reject this approach, not to mention those of other faiths and no faith. Surely, General Johnson can find someone who can bring people together and respect troops of all faith traditions.
Here is the announcement in the Fort Jackson newsletter:
National Prayer Breakfast to take place Feb. 1 at NCO Club sponsoring the National Prayer Breakfast for the Fort Jackson Community 7:30-9 a.m. Feb. 1 at the NCO Club. Nationally recognized televangelist Kenneth Copeland will be the speaker. Tickets are available from your unit. The event is free, but offerings will be accepted at the event. Attire will be duty uniform or civilian equivalent. The purpose of the NPB is to emphasize the importance of prayer for the Nation, Fort Jackson, our armed forces, and our Families. The themes for the breakfast are: prayers for the nation, community relationship and spiritual fitness.
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.