Are Conservatives Rethinking David Barton?

Maybe.
Reacting to the news that David Barton had been appointed to head up the Ted Cruz supporting Keep the Promise Super PACs, Messiah College historian John Fea wrote this:

Recently I have been in conversation with some Christian conservatives who have decades of experience as Christian Right insiders.  These Christians are growing more and more concerned about Barton’s views of the American past and are worried that they have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to their understanding of the American founding.  Stay tuned.

Several months ago, I heard similar rumblings but then Barton started appearing at various conservative events and now he is picked to run the Cruz PACs. So it is hard to tell which conservatives are feeling they have been “sold a bill of goods.”
And the “bill of goods” isn’t just about “America’s founding.” It is about HIV/AIDS, PTSD, crime rates, Obama’s record on prosecuting child porn, Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamations, and Barton’s own NCAA basketball career.
Staying tuned. In fact, I’ve been tuned for about three years. Not sure what is taking so long.
Paul Harvey today seemed to rejoin the fray. That’s good.
 
 

Should Historians Read Providence in Historical Events?

In a word, no.
Although I am sure about what I think, providence is an issue of importance to religious historians. To explore the issue, Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition published a helpful post yesterday on the subject which teases out some of the issues and players.
He examines the views of six historians which believe Christian historians should describe God’s hand in human events and those who don’t.
If you enjoy the history posts here, you will want to read the entire post.
For what it’s worth, I am in the Carl Trueman-John Fea camp.
Today, Taylor follows up with more from David Bebbington and others on how the Christian historian should write for a secular audience.  Since I don’t believe the Christian historian is omniscient and can tell what God is doing, I don’t think the writing is much different when providing an accurate historical narrative.
I really appreciate this series because it brings attention to some of the issues at stake with David Barton’s fractured history. Barton writes as if he understands the providence of God and claims that historical facts validate his view. However, to get to his position, he takes history hostage and tortures it until the hostage supports his religious view of the events.  Having a providential mindset in advance of the facts can easily set up the historian to find what he wants to find, or more accurately, what he believes he needs to find in order for his religion to seem true to his audience. In my belief system, God does not need that kind of help from me.
 
 

Thanksgiving Week: What Historians Think is Important About Thanksgiving

Starting on Sunday, I plan to post contributions from historians about they think is important for us to know about Thanksgiving. I have asked numerous historians to send something in and I am very happy with what I have received so far.
Watch for this daily series to begin on Sunday afternoon.
To read all posts in the series, click Thanksgiving 2014

Springboro School District to Allow Course in Constitution Featuring David Barton

Speaking of David Barton and the Constitution, I learned yesterday that the Springboro School District plans to offer a summer course on the Constitution taught in part by Barton via video.
Here is the brochure advertising the course:

springborocourse

John Eidsmoe was Michelle Bachmann’s mentor* at Oral Roberts University and Ricki Pepin runs something called the Institute on the Constitution. Pepin’s website leaves no doubt about the type of course being offered.  She says she provides “educational opportunities for learning about your American and Christian heritage.”  Here course is different from other courses, which just teach the Constitution.  Her course teaches kids how to think biblically.

GROUP CLASS DISTINCTIVES – Why are we different from other Constitution courses?
Restoration begins with education.  The root meaning of the word “education” is to “pour in and draw out.”  We pour information and knowledge in, but unless we understand and know how to practically apply it (draw it out), true education has not occurred.  Educated activism, therefore, is the key to restoration of America to her principled roots.  For this reason, our Constitution course teaches you how to USE this document, not just learn its contents.
Other Constitution classes – Hillsdale College, National Center for Constitutional Studies, Heritage Foundation – are good entry level classes to learn the basics of the Constitution, to set the foundation.  But, when we build a house, the foundation is just the beginning.  If we build no house on top of it, the foundation is unused and will never fulfill its intended purpose – to provide a home and shelter for a family.  Likewise, if we are to restore Constitutional law to this country, we DO have to lay the foundation, but then we have to BUILD upon it until we learn to USE it for its intended purpose – to protect and defend individual’s right to life, liberty and property.
The IOTC class is a 12-week course on the Constitution, with three important distinctions from other Constitution classes:
First distinction – We begin with history.  It has been said that history is to a nation what memory is to a person.  If a person has amnesia, they are living in absolute confusion.  They don’t know who they are, where they came from, what they believe in, what’s important to them, what their hopes and dreams are for the future.   The same confusion reigns in a nation where citizens don’t know their history.  It’s where we are today as a nation, lost and confused, not knowing where we came from, or where we’re going or what vehicle to use to get there.  Our Constitution classes will show you.  We teach the history of law and government as it originated from God as recorded in the Bible. Going forward, we trace the progression of this foundation through Columbus, the Pilgrims, our founding fathers and we study their belief systems.  As students learn these foundations, they begin to see our nation’s history as part of who they are.  They begin to see it as their HERITAGE, their inheritance.  It’s truth.  It’s powerful.  It’s motivating.  It gives individuals a sense of their purpose and destiny as Americans.
Second distinction – We teach how to USE the Constitution.  After laying the historical foundation, we do teach the Constitution, but we don’t just teach about it.  We relate its principles to current events during class discussions.  There is much interaction and many, many opportunities given for application of what the students are learning. Because of the first distinction – their knowledge of their heritage and ownership of this nation – many, many of our graduates get very involved in their local communities.  Some of them are running for offices we didn’t even know existed before like Precinct Committee Chairmen.  Others are attending various city, county, state board meetings, and offering Constitutional solutions to the problems discussed at these meetings, not just venting another opinion.  Still others are starting up citizen action groups to hold their elected officials accountable.
Third distinction – We teach students HOW TO THINK.  While teaching the Constitution, we help the students turn on their brains.  We show them how to reason through current events from a Biblical and principled foundation, so they will not be deceived by the media or anyone else. How do we do this?  By introducing them to the Principle Approach to education (the method used by our Founding Fathers).  Defining our terms from Noah Webster’s original 1828 Dictionary, asking leading questions, using primary source documents, what the founders themselves wrote, not what somebody wrote about them.  This method of learning is incredibly thought-provoking and exposes principles and truths that are then applied to our modern-day government situations.
Won’t you join us in this movement of educated activism?  – The Constitution cannot defend itself.  We the people must do it.  No matter who we elect, educated patriots must hold our leaders at every level of government accountable to the Constitution.  We can’t do that if we don’t know what it says.  Join me and other IOTC graduates in the cause of preserving our God-given liberty and restoring our Constitutional Republic.   If you don’t, who will?

When the state of Ohio passed a law requiring schools to teach about the founding documents, I wondered if the stage was being set for the introduction of Barton’s materials into the classroom.  These summer courses are supposed to be evaluated for use in the school system to help meet the requirements of the law. There is another one day course apparently written by Cleon Skousen (one of Glenn Beck’s favorites) which will also be evaluated.
It is clear from the promo material and the teacher’s website that the course establishes one particular religious view under the guise of the public school. Furthermore, as regular readers know, the accuracy of the content is questionable given Barton’s video sequences used to reinforce the Christian nationalist teaching.
*Eidsmoe says he deplores racism but has spoken to white supremacist groups. See this article for more…

My Response to David Barton

Yesterday, on his Wallbuilder’s website, David Barton responded to Getting Jefferson Right. He also had strong words for Clay Jenkinson and Alan Pell Crawford, two other critical reviewers of The Jefferson Lies.

There is much I could respond to, but I will limit myself to some general responses and then issue a challenge to Barton.

Barton leads his response to Getting Jefferson Right by claiming that we are part of the academic elite with a need to publish or perish. His criticisms are not consistent; he says we are academic elites but demeans the book because we published it as an ebook first.  Publishing a digital book for $4.99 is not an elitist move.  If anything, an argument can be made that digital publishing allows authors to bypass the elitist system.  Barton says we are part of the “publish or die” mentality of academia. That criticism shows how little he knows about Grove City College where Michael and I teach (Barton incorrectly called it Grove College). While publications are appreciated around here, the real value is on excellence in the class room.

Continue reading “My Response to David Barton”

BeliefNet Promotes The Jefferson Lies

I was surprised to see this Jefferson and the Bible gallery at BeliefNet. The first page cites David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies, which is never a good beginning.

This morning I wrote BeliefNet and asked them to correct what was wrong which would in effect mean removing most of it. I have no reason to think that they will not be responsive. Many well-meaning people read Mr. Barton’s materials and think they have discovered hidden truth. I suspect the BeliefNet folks have simply not checked the sources.  Here, with a little editing, is what I sent to them. Feel free to contact them as well or leave a comment at the bottom of the pages.

I am writing to offer comment and suggest that you modify or remove the gallery about Thomas Jefferson and the Bible. The web address is here: http://www.beliefnet.com/News/ElectionCenter/Gallery/Urban-Myths-About-Thomas-Jefferson.aspx.

Along with a colleague I have written a book (Getting Jefferson Right) which responds to The Jefferson Lies. I am an evangelical but believe that the facts are more important than ideology. I hope you will take these concerns seriously and makes changes to make your materials conform to the facts.

The gallery is significantly factually flawed. I will only comment on a few things but hope you will contact me so I can offer a fuller explanation.

The first page of the gallery says that Thomas Jefferson was an active member of the VA Bible Society. In fact, he donated $50 once to the society on request of his insurance agent, Samuel Greenhow. Being an active member would indicate attendance at meetings, being an officer, donating regularly or even joining. There is no indication in Jefferson’s writings that he did anything more than give a donation. Also, regarding the financial struggles of Jefferson and the donation. Jefferson was almost always in financial trouble and died in dept. Below is the letter Jefferson sent to Greenhow in full. Note that Jefferson does not want the society to give Bibles out in other countries.

Your letter on the subject of the Bible Society arrived here while I was on a journey to Bedford, which occasioned a long absence from home. Since my return, it has lain, with a mass of others accumulated during my absence, till I could answer them. I presume the views of the society are confined to our own country, for with the religion of other countries my own forbids intermeddling. I had not supposed there was a family in this State not possessing a Bible, and wishing without having the means to procure one. When, in earlier life, I was intimate with every class, I think I never was in a house where that was the case. However, circumstances may have changed, and the society, I presume, have evidence of the fact. I therefore enclose you cheerfully, an order on Messrs. Gibson & Jefferson for fifty dollars, for the purposes of the society, sincerely agreeing with you that there never was a more pure and sublime system of morality delivered to man than is to be found in the four evangelists. Accept the assurance of my esteem and respect.

On page two, you say that Jefferson personally helped fund a ground breaking Bible. In fact, he paid a subscription fee to get a copy of the Thompson hot-pressed Bible, just like the other 1271 subscribers did. Jefferson was even late in paying his final subscription fee.

Page three is accurate.

Page four is similar to page two: Jefferson purchased Thomson’s work when he saw it advertised. Here is what he told Thomson:

 —I see by the newspapers your translation of the Septuagint is now to be printed, and I write this to pray to be admitted as a subscriber. I wish it may not be too late for you to reconsider the size in which it is to be published. Folios and quartos are now laid aside because of their inconvenience. Everything is now printed in 8vo, 12mo or petit format. The English booksellers print their first editions indeed in 4to, because they can assess a larger price on account of the novelty; but the bulk of readers generally wait for the 2d edition, which is for the most part in 8vo. This is what I have long practised myself. Johnson, of Philadelphia, set the example of printing handsome edition of the Bible in 4v., 8vo. I wish yours were in the same form.

Jefferson learned of the project from the papers and wanted to buy one. Buying something is not the same thing as funding the project. Continue reading “BeliefNet Promotes The Jefferson Lies”

I will be on the Jerry Newcombe Show tonight to discuss Getting Jefferson Right

Tonight, from 9:00-9:30pm, I will be on the Jerry Newcombe Show. The program can be heard live on the station’s website (look for the listen live icon in the upper right hand corner or try this link).

Newcombe is author of The Book That Made America: How the Bible Formed Our Nation and co-author with Peter Lillback of George Washington’s Sacred Fire.

The plan is to discuss Getting Jefferson Right.

David Barton’s 700 Club Interview: The Things We Didn’t Say

Guest post by Michael Coulter

David Barton was interviewed for the July 4, 2012 edition of the 700 Club.  It is 9 minutes of remarkably misleading television.   There are many false claims about Jefferson, but I want to focus on Barton’s reference to our book Getting Jefferson Right in this post.

Without being asked about the book, Barton says:

 A lot of that goes back to a whole academic viewpoint of  Deconstructionism. . . there’s a couple of professors who hate this book and they’ve got a book written to rebut it and they start up right up front saying “hey you think American exceptionalism is a good thing.  It’s not.  American exceptionalism is terrible.”  That tells you the philosophy.  They don’t like America as that position.   And Jefferson six of the ideas he put in the Declaration are the basis of every idea in the Constitution. That produces American exceptionalism . . so if you’re going to tear apart American exceptionalism, you’ve got to tear  the guy who founded it.  And so you go after Jefferson and other founders . . .  If you don’t like American exceptionalism, you’ve got to take him out.  That’s really the target of academics. (2:49-3:50)

Here’s what we wrote in the introduction of GJR about American exceptionalism:

Barton then argues that the “joint influence of Deconstructionism and Postructuralism” has undermined “American exceptionalism.”  The problem with this brief reference to the phrase, “American exceptionalism,” is that Barton uses the phrase as if it has a single and agreed upon meaning, and that meaning is that “America is blessed and enjoys unprecedented stability, prosperity and liberty.” The problem with this characterization is that the phrase, “American exceptionalism,” lacks a single, canonical definition. There is no one author that can be said to have indisputably originated the idea.  Raymond Smith says that it is a “school of thought that views U.S. politics and society as a distinctive product of unique circumstances.”  The components of American exceptionalism, according to Smith, include social mobility, a distinctive national creed, and unique institutional development.  Smith also asserts that “American exceptionalism” also sometimes “carries a connotation of superiority” with respect to democratic practices.  Smith further argues that the xceptionalist perspective has been used to justify expansionist or aggressive military policies undertaken by the US government.   Some, like Smith, see the term used in a variety of ways; others, such as Michael Ignatieff, a public intellectual and scholar of human rights (and currently the leader of the Liberal Party in Canada), sees the term as mostly negative asserting that it refers to “human rights narcissism,” which refers to the embrace of negative rights at exclusion of positive rights; “judicial exceptionalism,” which refers to the position that foreign court practices and rulings are irrelevant in the United States; and to “American exemptionalism,” which is the view that the United States can and should be exempt from some multilateral treaties and institutions (such as the International Criminal Court).  Harold Koh, a Yale professor of international law, argues that American exceptionalism includes a favorable element such as “a distinctive rights culture” but also a “problematic face  . . . when the United States actually uses its exceptional power and wealth to create a double standard.”

For deconstruction, post-structuralism, and American exceptionalism, Barton takes complex terms and uses them in a way that nearly all scholars would not recognize.  (Note: footnotes that accompany this portion of text in book are here removed.)

Our point is rather straight forward: Barton uses a term whose meaning is contested, but he uses it as if it has a single, uncontested meaning.  We do not say that “American exceptionalism is terrible,” but we acknowledge that some writers use the term in a negative way.

In social life, there are many terms whose meaning is contested.  Take a commonly used term, such as conservative.  There is no single agreed upon definition for that term.  Rush Limbaugh, David Brooks, Russell Kirk, William Buckley – all significant American conservatives – would all have different definitions of what is a conservative.  No one can reasonably claim that there is a single definition of a conservative.  In the same way, there is no single definition of American exceptionalism.

Moreover, Barton says, “They don’t like America as that position,” even though we say nothing remotely like that.  And further our aim is not to “tear apart American exceptionalism.”

As a biographical note,  I presented a paper at a 2011 conference hosted by Grove City College’s Center for Vision and Values on Alexis de Tocqueville and American Exceptionalism (the presentation can be viewed or heard by clicking the link, wherein I argue that Tocqueville could be understood as promoting a modest version of American exceptionalism – by which I meant that Tocqueville saw the United States as having a distinct political culture and circumstances which enabled the growth and operation democratic political institutions (but not the immodest version of American exceptionalism which sees the US as some kind of chosen nation).  You can’t listen to that talk and call me someone who hates the concept of American exceptionalism.  Moreover, if one looked at my course syllabi with their plentiful selections of Federalist Papers and other documents from the founding era as well as lengthy passages from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one could not conclude that I am trying to “tear apart American exceptionalism.”

It seems that Barton cannot confront our criticism of his claims with discussions of texts and facts, but must go to a classic type of bad argument – the ad hominem criticism.  Warren and I are certainly not bothered by ad hominem criticisms, but we do wish the Barton would respond to what we actually wrote, rather than what he imagines we wrote.

And one more thing.  Perhaps Barton would find this distinction unintelligible, but we don’t hate his book (or him).  We find many of his claims to be erroneous and his arguments to be specious, but that’s not the same as hating something (or someone).   Hate derives from fear or in response to real or perceived threat or injury. Our criticism arises from dispassionate analysis of his claims.

On David Barton's claim that Unitarians were "a very evangelical Christian denomination"

David Barton told Liberty University students in their September 9 chapel that Unitarians were at one time “a very evangelical Christian denomination.” In his effort to define what he called modernism, he said this about the Unitarians the late 18th and early 19th century:

And the example of that is what happens when you look at Universalist Unitarians; certainly not a denomination that conforms to biblical truth in any way but as it turns out, we have a number of Founding Fathers  who were Unitarians. So we say, oh wait, there’s no way the Founding Fathers could have been Christians; they were Unitarians. Well, unless you know what a Unitarian was in 1784 and what happened to Unitarians in 1819 and 1838 and unless you recognize they used to be a very evangelical Christian denomination, we look at what they are today and say the Founding Fathers were Unitarians, and say, there’s no way they were Christians. That’s modernism; that’s not accurate; that’s not true.

Last week, I briefly examined Barton’s claim that Unitarians were a “very evangelical denomination” with the help of college professor and attorney Jon Rowe. In a 2007 post, Rowe noted that Unitarians during the era of the Founding Fathers denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. While Unitarians used the Bible to come to their conclusions, one cannot call them evangelical in any meaningful or current sense of the word.
I also asked two Grove City College colleagues with expertise in religious history, Gillis Harp (professor of history) and Paul Kemeny (associate professor of religion and humanities), to react to Barton’s claim about the Unitarians. First, Dr. Kemeny contradicted Barton, saying:

To call nineteenth-century Unitarians a “every evangelical Christian denomination” is like calling a circle a square. While many were deeply pious, Unitarians rejected the deity of Christ and consequently the Trinity. Since the common sense meaning of “evangelical Christian” usually entails an affirmation of Christ’s deity and by implication the Trinity, it strikes me as a rather oddly creative use of the term to suggest Unitarians were “evangelical Christians.”  The Unitarians’ early nineteenth-century critics, such as orthodox Congregationalist theologian Leonard Woods, would likely be surprised to learn the Unitarians were actually “evangelical Christians after all.

As Kemeny notes, the orthodox theologians of the time did not think of Unitarians as orthodox. The Congregationalists of the eighteenth century were in dispute with their fellows who were moving in the Unitarian ways. For instance, President John Adams is often listed as a Congregationalist, but, as I documented previously, his views were decidedly Unitarian.
Dr. Harp also discounted Barton’s theory, saying

It is misleading to refer to early 19th century Unitarians as ‘evangelical.’  If Barton means that they were far more orthodox on many basic doctrinal matters than are Unitarians today – then, sure, one can say that.  But belief in the incarnation and substitutionary atonement are both essential to evangelicalism and these were both firmly repudiated by all Unitarians in this period.  Some Unitarians certainly continued to follow evangelical personal habits (daily prayer, Bible study, promoting evangelism) but that doesn’t make them evangelical doctrinally.

Christian scholars Harp and Kemeny agree that the claim is faulty. What about the original sources? If Unitarians of the era were evangelical in doctrine, perhaps this would show up in their writings. However, even a cursory examination of the leading Unitarian thinkers demonstrates that Barton is incorrect.
Barton cites Jared Sparks as a man who said George Washington was a Christian in the evangelical sense. However, Sparks was a leading Unitarian. Sparks’ ordination to the ministry in 1819 was the occasion for William Ellery Channing to preach a sermon outlining Unitarian beliefs in a break with the more orthodox Congregationalists.
Sparks was also the editor of the Unitarian Miscellany and Christian Monitor. In an 1821 edition, he explained the Unitarian position on Christ.

Unitarians believe, that Jesus Christ was a messenger commissioned from heaven to make a revelation, and communicate the will of God to men. They all agree, that he was not God; that he was a distinct being from the Father, and subordinate to him; and that he received from the Father all his power, wisdom, and knowledge. (p. 13)
Although unitarians do not believe Christ to be God, because they think such a doctrine at variance with reason and scripture, yet they believe him to have been authorized and empowered to make a divine revelation to the world. We believe in the divinity of his mission, but not of his person. We consider all he has taught as coming from God; we receive his commands, and rely on his promises, as the commands and promises of God. In his miracles we see the power of God; in his doctrines and precepts we behold the wisdom of God; and in his life and character we see a bright display of every divine virtue. Our hope of salvation rests on the truths lie has disclosed, and the means he has pointed out. We believe him to be entitled to our implicit faith, obedience, and submission, and we feel towards him all the veneration, love, and gratitude, which the dignity of his mission, the sublime purity ot his character, and his sufferings for the salvation of men, justly demand. But we do not pay him religious homage, because we think this would be derogating from the honour and majesty of the Supreme Being, who, our Saviour himself has told us, is the only proper object of our adoration and worship. (p. 15-16)

Regarding sin, Unitarians denied original sin and consequently the need for Christ’s atonement to pay the penalty for sin. Again in 1821, Sparks wrote:

We have only room to state, that we do not believe “the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed, and his corrupted nature conveyed to all his posterity;” nor that there is in men any “original corruption, whereby they are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” (p. 19)

Disputes between trinitarians and the anti-trinitarians (as unitarians were often called) raged in eighteenth century New England. Historian E. Brooks Holifield wrote in his book Theology in America that the divinity of Christ was in doubt among New England clergy as early as 1735, adding

By 1768, Samuel Hopkins could claim that most of the ministers of Boston disbelieved the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. By 1785, James Freeman succeeded in leading the Episcopal congregation at King’s Chapel in Boston to delete Trinitarian views from their liturgy. (p. 199)

In his speech to Liberty University quoted above, Barton refers to 1784 as a point of reference for what Unitarians were. Perhaps he has this transition at King’s Chapel in mind when the church went from Anglican doctrine to Unitarian beliefs. The minister at the time, James Freeman, considered the church Anglican. However, in another sign that orthodox leaders of the day did not consider Unitarian views to be in line with traditional doctrine, the local Bishop refused to ordain Freeman in the Anglican church.
A question for Mr. Barton: Since the Unitarians at the time took pains to distinguish themselves from orthodoxy and the orthodox leaders of the day did not consider unitarian beliefs to be what we would today call evangelical, why would we dispute them now and call them “very evangelical?”
 

Should you believe David Barton when he speaks about history?

Last week, I wrote a quick post noting that David Barton thought a woman posing as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War was a good thing. Today women can serve openly, but this seemed odd to me in light of religious right concerns about gender bending.
Barton told the story about the female soldier on Glenn Beck’s Founder Friday show. The rest of the show was actually quite interesting with several stories about female, African-American and Jewish patriots. I found myself enjoying the presentation and thought this is important information. Then a question occurred to me: are these stories true?
Yesterday, I posted about how Barton cherry-picked correspondence between Benjamin Rush and John Adams in order to create a fiction about John Adams beliefs. In general, the distortions about the beliefs and actions of Thomas Jefferson and others have created doubt in me about the rest of what he presents. The result is that I feel I must check anything from his organization before considering it accurate.
This is a shame. This is a huge concern and one which provides a powerful incentive for advocates and scholars alike to get their facts straight. Given the status of those who consult Barton, it apparently has not had much effect as yet. However, in my view, those who look for better among evangelicals are not finding it at Wallbuilders.
Confirmation bias is a strong and powerful phenomenon, so strong that it can compromise good intentions and undermine the very ends you seek. I would like to believe but there is only One Being who can ask me to walk by faith and not by sight and it is not David Barton.