I just returned from the Conference on Faith and History which was held at Pepperdine University from September 24-28. On Saturday, I presented a paper as part of a panel titled, Professors, Prisoners, and the Polls: Engaging the Past in the Public Square. The session was chaired by Dwight Brautigam, Huntington University. Other papers given were: “In God We Trust”: Teaching Faith In and Through the U.S. Capitol, by Fred Beuttler, Carroll University and former Deputy Historian for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Teaching History Behind Bars: The Public Platform of a Texas Maximum Security Prison, presented by John Wilsey, professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The featured commenter was Jonathan Boyd, InterVarsity Press.
The abstract is below, the full paper is at the link.
David Barton is a popular Christian writer who specializes in making a public case that America is a Christian nation. Immensely popular with conservative Christians, Barton distorts historical events to support conservative political positions in the present day. Up until recently, left-leaning and progressive critics have led the way in calling out Barton’s historical errors in the public square.
However, in 2012, David Barton published a book on Thomas Jefferson that generated much public reaction, most of it critical, from Christian scholars. Along with co-author Michael Coulter, I published a book length critique of Barton’s work on Jefferson. Eventually, publisher Thomas Nelson listened to the critics and pulled Barton’s book from publication.
This episode was unprecedented in that a Christian publisher pulled a New York Times bestselling book due to vocal public complaints from Christian scholars. What can be learned from this situation?
I take the position that Christian historians and other scholars should engage their brethren in critical scholarship when other avenues have not brought resolution. Myth-busting in this situation can serve the Kingdom and our vocation by placing a quest for truth above narrow in group interests. In-group pressures are often so strong that no real change will occur if those within the Christian community do not raise issues publicly.
Read the entire paper.
Read all posts on the Conference on Faith and History.
The final session I attended at the Conference on Faith and History was titled “The Christian Right and the Search for a Usable Past.” Gregg Frazer, Professor of History at The Master’s College chaired the session and provided closing comments.
Three papers were presented:
1. “Fallen Walls and Open Doors: An Analysis of David Barton as a Christian Historian,” by Matt McCook, Professor at Oklahoma Christian University.
In my view, McCook started out on thin ice by referring to Barton as an historian. However, from there, the presentation improved as he revealed many familiar illustrations of Barton faulty historical work. Not surprisingly, McCook called for historians to present the narrative accurately without efforts to shape the past into a politically useful one.
A religiously ambiguous Thomas Jefferson is not useful to the Christian right.
Walls such as have been established by David Barton must come down.
2. “Popularizing a Usable Past: The Providence Foundation, Kirk Cameron, and the Legacy of Francis Schaeffer” by Grove City College graduate Charles Cotherman who is now at the University of Virginia.
Cotherman compared and contrasted Kurt Cameron’s movie Monumental with Francis Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live? Both efforts used history to effect the culture war and both were less than stellar on historical precision according to academic historians. However, Cotherman presented evidence that Schaeffer’s efforts resulted in the intellectual betterment of some evangelicals who went into scholarly work via Schaeffer’s inspiration. However, such results are not likely to derive from Cameron’s movie. The amateur historians recruited by Cameron are too fact-challenged to lead to any positive result.
Cameron’s Monumental reflects decrease in public intellectualism.
Schaeffer would roll over in his grave at the praise for the aesthetics of the Monument to the Forefathers.
3. “In the Stream of God’s Sovereign Plan”: Providential History and Nostalgia in the American Quiverfull Movement by Emily Hunter McGowin student at the University of Dayton.
Emily discussed the historical revisionism of G. Botkin who is at the forefront of the Quiverfull Movement (having many children and raising them in accord with strict gender roles).
Members of the Quiverfull movement are members of restorative nostalgia.
Nostalgia tells it like it wasn’t.
Gregg Frazer then summarized the papers and hit his sweet spot with a couple of quotes/paraphrases that summed up the session:
Complicit in the promotion of bad history are the media, political organizations, churches etc. who invite David Barton to speak.
Historical revisionists find what they set out to find.
Gregg was right on target and even though difficult encouraged Christian historians to keep “pushing the boulder up the hill” in a Sissyphus-like effort to bring historical integrity to Christians. Probably many Christians would be surprised to find out the extent of the distance between Christian historians and Christian advocacy groups on matters of historical accuracy.
I plan some posts today from the Conference, although not in order of presentation.
I intend to blog this session so John Fea can’t post on it first. He is on the panel. I am pretty sure I will get this out first.
John Fea, Chris Gerhz, and Paul Putz are sitting on a panel where they are displaying their blogs and discussing their efforts on social media. John Fea was live tweeting it as it took place.
Jon Den Hartog is setting up the panel now and asking good questions. One, do Christian historians bring certain virtues to the discussion of history? Another question, what is the direction from here with historians and social media.
John’s model for blogging is the Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. He started it to help promote his work, and it has become his online vita. Sunday night Odds and Ends has become a regular feature of the blog. Another is: So What Can You Do With a History Major?
John’s virtual office hours is a hit on the blog. His blog has become a legitimate piece of his scholarly work with full support of Messiah college.
Is blogging scholarship? Not in the traditional manner, according to Fea. However, he says it is a form of public engagement and service.
Chris Gerhz is up now and is talking about his 3 years of blogging and his 5 (!) blogs. He also started blogging to extend his scholarly work and perhaps has written enough in 3 years to fill a book.
He has used a blog to assist with a class; and another to promote his department. He also promotes what history majors can do with their major. I think I need to start doing that with psychology majors. What can you do with a BA/BS in psychology? Might be short and repetitive but I might be surprised. Chris also runs a research oriented blog.
Writing History in the Digital Age is a book featured by Chris in his talk.
Chris learned to write via blogging, and thinks out loud about projects and topics of interest; blogging as “pre-argument.”
Now Paul Putz. Paul was a teacher and has become a historian. Paul was converted to become a historian via the Religion in American History blog. The power of blogging.
Social media takes up a lot of time and won’t make you an historian, Paul says, but it is a public expression of what he is doing as a grad student. Blogging gets his work out there where it could actually be read by other historians. My words, blogging is a high wire act; high risk, possibly high reward. Write something good and someone might notice.
As a graduate student, blogging allows Paul to join the online community of scholars and find community. I certainly agree with this point.
Paul’s paper is so good that I kind of missed the end of it. One of the cool exhortations was to promote other people with your blogging which is a good way to avoid fluffy self-preoccupation.
Now Jon Den Hartog is opening it up for questions.
Question: Should you put up content on the blog which will later be in a book? Will people buy it if they can get it on the blog. The panel members don’t do that with the exception of a book Fea did where he build chapters around some blog posts. I know from experience that the book is always going to be worth buying.
Lots of conversation about the meaning of online community ended the session.
Grove City College’s Gary Scott Smith chimes in with a question about writing op-eds and columns for major newspapers. Way to represent GCC GSS! Most of the responses indicate that social media blends seamlessly into print media opportunities. I have certainly found this to be true.
Heading out to Pepperdine University to attend the Conference on Faith and History. I will present a brief paper at the conference on faulty history in the public square.
Primarily I will draw on my experience taking on David Barton’s work, and the subsequent efforts to confront advocacy history among related religious right groups (e.g., National Religious Broadcasters, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and others). Looking forward to speaking along with Fred Beuttler, Jon Wilsey in our session. Dwight Brautigam is the chair and Jon Boyd will provide reactions to the presentations.
The CFH describes itself as
…a community of scholars exploring the relationship between Christian faith and history. We welcome members from a variety of Christian traditions around the world. We also seek to learn from scholars outside the Christian tradition. Our primary goal is to encourage excellence in the theory and practice of history from the perspective of historic Christianity.
I intend to write some posts from the Conference. Watch John Fea’s blog as he will be doing the same thing.