I have been wanting to write a little piece about David Barton for some time now. Barton is the most prominent “historian” among Evangelical Christians now days and since his works are cited by many members of the more conservative media and prominent politicians it is high time to write about him. Since I actually have a Bachelors and Masters Degree in History in addition to my Master of Divinity and schooling from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College I figure that I have enough academic firepower to back up my words. David Barton is not a historian. He is a fraud and huckster who plays on ignorance and fear while playing fast and loose with history.
The website for his Barton’s ministry Wallbuilders describes him in this manner:
“His exhaustive research has rendered him an expert in historical and constitutional issues and he serves as a consultant to state and federal legislators, has participated in several cases at the Supreme Court, was involved in the development of the History/Social Studies standards for states such as Texas and California, and has helped produce history textbooks now used in schools across the nation.
A national news organization has described him as “America’s historian,” and Time Magazine called him “a hero to millions – including some powerful politicians. In fact, Time Magazine named him as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals.” (See http://www.wallbuilders.com/abtbiodb.asp retrieved 21 April 2012.)
Yes Barton is influential and he is considered by some with an obviously skewed idea of heroism to be a “hero.” He is no hero unless you believe that making up things and calling them facts is honest. Heroes save lives, heroes take real risks in fighting injustice and for freedom. Barton is no hero. But since Rick Scarborough the President of Vision America calls Barton a “Hero of the Faith” I guess that he must be right?
Likewise he is not a trained historian and he is constantly being proven to be a fraud. He has been proven to make up quotations from the founding fathers, he misrepresents people like the Deist Thomas Jefferson to be something akin to a modern Evangelical Christian.
J Brent Walker, a Southern Baptist and the head of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty takes Barton to the woodshed in this 2005 article:
Since the Baptist Joint Committee is not exactly a den of liberals so what comes out of it concerning Barton should be taken seriously by honest Evangelicals and others concerned about historical truth.
Walker is not to be trifled with in his very accurate summation of Barton’s view of the United States being found as a “Christian Nation” saying: “Barton thus argues that since the majority of Americans are Christians, or at least religious people, they should be able to use the government to privilege their religious perspective. Those who disagree should, at best, be tolerated or, at worst, discriminated against.”
This is something that I have been saying for a while but the point is most accurate and I would even add fuel to the fire by saying that Barton and his disciples are little different in their religious perspective and view of non-Christians as others that persecuted people in Jesus name time and time again. This would include the Puritans who just loved hanging Quakers and other dissenters by the neck until dead.
The fact that real Christian historians that are also Evangelicals take issue with Barton’s mythological American “Christian” history seems to matter not to the pundits, preachers and politicians that take what Barton, as well as his older and equally historically challenged but less known comrade in lies Marshall Foster as the unadulterated and incorruptible truth.
Dr. Stephen Stookey a Professor of Church History and Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Dallas Baptist University at the 2011 meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society said:
“in reacting to perceived revisions of American history, Christian America advocates recast American history, creating a quasi-mythical American tale—a story with just enough truth to give the air of credibility but riddled with historical inaccuracies,” said Stookey.
Proponents of Christian America presuppose the United States “was, is and should continue to be a constitutionally established Christian nation,” he explained. Any evidence to the contrary is ignored or recast, he said.
“Supportive data is either exaggerated or manufactured,” Stookey said. “In short, this camp presumes an inerrant historical understanding of America, as well as the original intent of the Constitution.” (See http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12554&Itemid=53 )
Barton’s work is so bad that he had to actually admit that he fabricated quotes, however that does not stop him. His recently published book “The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson” is full of historical whoppers and his biggest supporter in the right wing media, Glenn Beck calls Barton “one of the best, if not the best historians in America. He is doing everything he can to turn history back and write it and put it back to where it was and tell history like it was….”
Beck’s support is not surprising as Beck also promotes the work of the late Dr. Cleon Skousen, a member of Beck’s LDS church who espoused many of the same ideas as Barton. The Christian Nation idea is a key element of LDS eschatology because according to Joseph Smith the United States is God’s elect nation and where the New Jerusalem will reside. Skousen’s book The Great Cleansing is cited and promoted by Beck asserts that America is on the verge of the great cleansing predicted in Smith’s eschatology. Stookey in discussing Barton and Skousen noted that “Skousen, like Barton, employs spurious historical material, skewed historical interpretation and Mormon-nuanced understandings of the past, present and future trajectory of the United States.”
However I am not surprised to see how many people lap up Barton’s falsehoods. He plays on the genuine historical ignorance and fear of his audience to sell his faux history. That is what makes Barton, the fraud and huckster a dangerous. As J Brent Walker said so well the danger is the error that Christians should be a privileged class of citizens in this country and that others should be “at best, tolerated, at worst, discriminated against.”
Barton is incredibly influential in American politics and in Evangelical Christian circles. He is called a “historian” by leading politicians, pundits and conservative Christian leaders like Gary Bauer, James Dobson and the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. Barton’s website biography promotes this view, but he is not a historian. His work is shoddy and more resembles the work of a unschooled preacher who uncritically “proof texts” the Bible to make his sermon points. He is charismatic and in his lectures and speeches bundles just enough truth with his fiction to mesmerize his largely historically ignorant and fearful audiences. But then what do you expect from a man whose highest earned academic degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Education from Oral Roberts University? Of course the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers love him so expect him to remain in demand.