In June 2014, David Barton went with PA Pastors’ Network president Sam Rohrer to lecture Ukrainian pastors and a few politicians on the Christian nation thesis. Nine minutes of Barton’s speech (through an interpreter) is on You Tube.
In the video (at about 4:20 through 6:20), Barton talks about John Locke’s use of Bible verses on the establishment of civil government. Watch:
This man is named John Locke. He was a great lawgiver in history and he was also a theologian. He wrote this particular book on civil government in 1690. This has been used by nations across the world in building their governments. We actually own many of the original works by these lawgivers from four or five centuries ago.
Now if I were to ask us as ministers to name the Bible verses we can think of that address civil government, I would imagine that we could come up with 25 or 30 verses.
In this book here less than 3 cm thick, he lists over 500 biblical references to how civil government is to operate…. No, (interrupting the interpreter) 1500, 1500. I don’t know of a Christian today who could name 1500 Bible verses on how civil government’s to operate.
We may be Christians but we don’t think biblically about government.
I asked Greg Forster, an expert on John Locke (see an earlier critique of Barton’s treatment of Locke), to evaluate Barton’s claims about Locke and the 1500 verses. Forster’s answer is below in full:
Barton does not tell us the title of the book he holds up, but from his description it is impossible that it could be any book other than the Two Treatises of Government. However, his characterization of it is outrageous. Claiming that the Two Treatises “lists over 1,500 biblical references on how civil government is to operate” is not much more dishonest than claiming that the Bill of Rights protects 1,500 rights.
In his edition of the Two Treatises, editor Mark Goldie of Cambridge University lists only 121 Bible verses cited in the entire Two Treatises. And that’s including all the places where Locke didn’t cite the verse explicitly and Goldie “interpolated” the citation. In addition to those 121 Bible verses referenced, Goldie lists six places where Locke cited an entire chapter of the Bible, and one place where he cited an entire book (Proverbs). That’s it. But anyone who has read the Two Treatises will know Barton’s claim is false without having had to count.
Moreover, a large number – possibly even the majority – of those 121 citations are not to passages “on how civil government is to operate.” The Bible references in the Two Treatises are heavily concentrated in the First Treatise. The overwhelming majority of the First Treatise, in turn, is devoted to an extended analysis of small number of selected verses from the first two chapters of Genesis, especially Genesis 1:28-30. That’s a lot of analysis devoted to understanding the biblical text, but it’s not a large number of verses cited. The remainder of the First Treatise, where other biblical verses are cited more frequently, looks to the Bible not primarily for instruction on civil government but almost entirely on the power of parents over their children, especially the inheritance of property from parents to children. Locke is interested in these verses because he wants to use them to refute Robert Filmer’s claim that today’s kings inherit their power from Adam, but these are clearly not “biblical references on how civil government is to operate.” They are biblical references on how families are to operate. In fact, the point that descriptions of the how the family should work are not descriptions of how civil government should work was Locke’s main point!
After all this, it seems trivial to point out that Locke did not, in fact, “write” the Two Treatises in 1690; he published it in that year, but wrote it much earlier.
Perhaps Barton is counting the over 900 verses in Proverbs. However, not all of those verses relate to civil government. Clearly, Barton embellishes and inflates until what he starts with is unrecognizable.
As noted in January, David Barton is speaking at Lancaster Bible College on March 19. A group called the Pennsylvania Pastor’s Network is listed as sponsor of the U-Turn conference, named after Barton’s book with George Barna (who is also slated to appear). Even though I have lived in PA for 20 years, I knew almost nothing about them. My initial thought is the PPN might be mainly the people advertising the event, and that seems to be the case.
According to Capstone Legacy Foundation operations manager, Kevin McKay, the PPN is a ministry affiliate of the Foundation but is not financially supported by it. McKay told me that Capstone does not exert operational control over the network. He declined to offer comment about Barton’s appearance on behalf of their ministry affiliate. The PPN is not incorporated and does not file a 990 form with the IRS, rather Capstone files for them.
I asked the PPN how many pastors made up their network but they did not provide a specific answer. Instead, PPN’s Amy Baisley told me that the network is a new effort and is “in communication with thousands of pastors.” However, there is no evidence that being “in communication” with many pastors translates into membership or involvement in the work of the PPN or parent group, the American Pastor’s Network. Currently, the PPN is one of three affiliates of the APN. PPN did not answer repeated requests for membership numbers. My perception based on their response to my inquiries is that the network is quite small.
I asked CEO of the PPN and the APN, Sam Rohrer, why he decided to invite David Barton to headline the conference as an historian in light of the controversy surrounding the accuracy of his historical claims. As an illustration, I used the removal of the The Jefferson Lies from publication by Thomas Nelson. In response, Rohrer told me:
Let me say that I appreciate you taking the time to express your concern about David Barton being part of the March 19 conference. Like you and me who write and speak a lot, we know how easy it is to for opponents or even overly zealous well intentioned people to parse a person’s words, and make a mountain out of a mole hill. The case that you cite is quite old, known by very few, discounted by most and without merit. I have personally talked with key people on this matter over the years and find the concerns to be short on substance and absent of malicious intent.
There is no one I’ve ever met who embraces Truth and integrity – including Jesus Christ – who hasn’t had someone try to build a case against them at some point. I believe that David is the kind of man that if he would ever mistakenly make an inaccurate statement that he would do his best to acknowledge it, make it right and go on. If only all those in positions of leadership would determine to do the same.
I asked the Capstone Legacy Foundation a similar question since the PPN is a ministry affiliate and they offered no comment.
It is hard to take Sam Rohrer’s comment seriously. Barton’s book was pulled less than three years ago in 2012. Rohrer has not talked to Jay Richards or me or anyone who could provide the rest of the story on the matter. However, I suppose this display of confirmation bias may help explain how Mr. Barton continues to be revered within certain evangelical circles while the rest of the world scratches their heads.
One of the reasons I continue to track Barton’s claims is because it makes a fascinating study in confirmation bias and in-group loyalties. I continue to be amazed at how Barton can make easily debunked claims like crime has gone up 694% since 1963 and that he played basketball at Oral Roberts University and that the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim, and so many more without arousing concern among his true believers.
Barton recently worked with Rohrer on the PPN’s Ukraine Initiative. This close working relationship and the fact that Barton endorsed Rohrer for governor in the 2010 Republican primary argues against Rohrer being able to be objective regarding his ally.
For more information about the event, click here.
Yesterday, the PA Pastors Network, a small group of far right pastors announced that Mike Huckabee will appear via video at a March 19 conference at Lancaster Bible College. Also appearing will be David Barton, and George Barna. The title of the conference (U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership) makes it sound like a stop on the promo tour for Barna’s and Barton’s new book (U-Turn).
Other confirmed speakers for PPN’s “U-Turn” conference include: author Steve Scheibner, Gary Dull of the American Pastors Network, Sandy Rios of the American Family Association and American Family Radio, Jeff Mateer of the Liberty Institute, Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ, and Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries, who will speak on PPN’s Ministers Together project, an initiative which brings together pastors and elected officials on a biblical rather than political basis.
Looks like big fun if you are a tea partier or Christian nation advocate. Sam Rohrer heads the PA pastors’ organization and is also working with David Barton on the initiative to make the Ukraine a biblically based nation.
Lancaster is about 5 hours from here; maybe I’ll go over and see what happens.
PA is home to numerous conservative Christian historians (Historians at GCC and Messiah College come to mind immediately and there are others). If Sam Rohrer wanted pastors to hear from Christian historians on the nation’s founding, he has a wealth of options.