In the real world, if you fake your credentials or tell stories about your accomplishments, there can be consequences. In today’s evangelical subculture, Christian celebrities often avoid the fullness of these consequences. I could talk about Ravi Zacharias who passed off honorary doctorates as earned doctorates for many years and said he was a professor at Oxford when he wasn’t. He had to fess up and took a little heat over the matter, although arguably it hasn’t slowed him down much.
Today, I will examine a claim from David Barton. He seems even more immune from consequences than Zacharias. First, I want to note some cases similar to Barton’s which resulted in real consequences for people and then ask why Barton is above it all.
The Fake Statistician
Amy Apodaca was a statistician for the Army until it was learned that she faked both masters and doctorate degrees. Apodaca told the Army she had degrees from major universities including Yale. However, she only had a BA in sociology from U of TX in Austin. In 2014, Apodaca was forced to resign her job.
The Fake Professor
In 2014, David Broxterman was a popular professor at Polk State College in Lakeland, FL until officials discovered his doctorate was fraudulent. He claimed to have a doctorate from University of South Florida but did not. He was arrested and charged with stealing his salary since it was garnered until false pretenses.
Luggage C.E.O. Had to Pack His Bags
In 2018, Ramesh Tainwala was forced to resign as CEO at Samsonite because he referred to himself as “Dr.” when in fact he did not have an earned doctorate. Tainwala actually attended classes at the Union Institute in Cincinnati but did not complete the degree. He rarely used the Dr. designation and the company bio did not refer to a doctorate. Even so, the company took the allegations seriously and said in a statement that the resignation was in the best interest of the company and shareholders.
The Principal Busted by the School Paper
In 2017, Amy Robertson was going to be principal at Pittsburg (KS) High School. That is, she was until the school newspaper staff discovered her graduate degrees came from a diploma mill. Once this became known and accepted by the administration and school board, Ms. Robertson resigned.
You know where I am going with this.
On September 7 2016, self-styled historian and Project Blitz promoter David Barton placed a video on his Facebook and YouTube accounts proclaiming that he had an earned doctorate. He said he had chosen not to talk about it before, but he claimed he was now showing it to his audience. After I disclosed that the degree came from Life Christian University (which gives degrees to people without ever attending their diploma mill), Barton, the next day, removed the video from both accounts. Here is the video claim:
Barton began by chastising progressives for doubting his claim that he had a doctorate. He said he has two honorary doctorates and then for reasons that became clear later, he pointed to what he called his “earned doctorate,” but he didn’t say where he got it. He hid it behind another diploma. At the time, that seemed strange since there is no reason to hide an earned degree unless one has something to hide.
As it turned out, the diploma was given to him by Douglas Wingate, president of Life Christian University. Barton didn’t take any courses or go to any classes. Wingate’s diploma factory just gave it to him. In Missouri, a doctorate from Life Christian University issued like this can’t be called “earned” according to state authorities. Joyce Meyer had to remove the phrase “earned doctorate” from her website in connection to the piece of paper given to her by Wingate’s “school.”
Barton ended his bragging video with this sentence:
So for all of you critics, sorry to pop your balloon but I do have an earned doctorate.
However, the piece of paper that he kept partially hidden isn’t an earned doctorate. He appeared to know that because he hid it and took the video down as soon as it became known. Now what?
To my knowledge, Barton has never addressed this matter publicly. Only one Christian media outlet – UK’s Christian Today (not Christianity Today) wrote about it. Many people in Christian leadership know about this and about the compromised material in Barton’s speeches and books. And yet, Barton continues to show up in large evangelical churches like Gateway Church, on conservative talk shows like Ben Shapiro’s, and in major evangelical political initiatives like Project Blitz.
Barton also claimed to play Division One basketball while in college (his college said he was not on the team) and to translate for the Russian Olympic gymnastics team (they had their own translators). However, no significant Christian media investigation took place after those claims came to light. Nor did any of the Christian organizations which claim high standards of integrity take any action or require any answers.
Even without the media coverage, I am aware that many leaders in organizations like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, American Family Association, etc. know the issues. And let’s not forget the fact that Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson was pulled by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. They have been made aware by their ideological fellows, and yet they continue to use Wallbuilders materials and feature Barton’s work. I don’t know if evangelicals on a large scale will ever figure out how they have been misled.
Apodaca, Broxterman, Tainwala, Robertson and Barton. One of these names is not like the others. Maybe four of them should have chosen evangelical Christianity as their area of endeavor. They might still be in business.
Additional note: Maybe the reason Barton hasn’t said anything about this is because in Texas it is illegal to claim a fictitious or substandard degree.
Sec. 32.52. FRAUDULENT, SUBSTANDARD, OR FICTITIOUS DEGREE. (a) In this section, “fraudulent or substandard degree” has the meaning assigned by Section 61.302, Education Code.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) uses or claims to hold a postsecondary degree that the person knows:
(A) is a fraudulent or substandard degree;
(B) is fictitious or has otherwise not been granted to the person; or
(C) has been revoked; and
(2) uses or claims to hold that degree:
(A) in a written or oral advertisement or other promotion of a business; or
(B) with the intent to:
(i) obtain employment;
(ii) obtain a license or certificate to practice a trade, profession, or occupation;
(iii) obtain a promotion, a compensation or other benefit, or an increase in compensation or other benefit, in employment or in the practice of a trade, profession, or occupation;
(iv) obtain admission to an educational program in this state; or
(v) gain a position in government with authority over another person, regardless of whether the actor receives compensation for the position.
(c) An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor.
(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section or the other law.