David Barton is a Texan, and we know everything is larger in Texas. Even lies are bigger in Texas. Take Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies. There are lies aplenty in this work, so many in fact that the publisher, Thomas Nelson, made the very rare move last week to pull all copies of the book from sellable locations. I ordered a copy from Amazon hours before it was removed from their site. Even if you could obtain a copy (and you can still buy it on Barton’s Wallbuilders web site), I would recommend against it with all my might.
The problems begin with the promo copy on the inside front cover flap where Barton is referred to as an “influential historian.” Well, half of that statement is true. He is influential. His books and videos are widely used to teach history to homeschool and Christian school students. He makes regular appearances on TV and radio shows to talk about his version of U.S. history. Members of Congress consultant with him on matters that matter to him. Glenn Beck refers to him as the “most important man in America right now.” And the state of Texas included Barton as a member of a committee that shaped public school curriculum for the Lone Star state.
But historian? Hardly. Sure, he says he has more than 100,000 “original documents” in his library. All that does is give him access to words and facts. Anyone can quote words and recite facts. A true historian knows how to put those words and facts into context within the bigger picture. And a historian allows the facts to be what they are, even if it colors a historic character negatively. NPR says of Barton,
David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University and runs a company called WallBuilders in Aledo, Texas. But his vision of a religion-infused America is wildly popular with churches, schools and the GOP, and that makes him a power. He was named one of Time magazine’s most influential evangelicals. He was a long-time vice chairman for the Texas Republican Party. He says that he consults for the federal government and state school boards, that he testifies in court as an expert witness, that he gives a breathtaking 400 speeches a year.
Barton, naturally, disagrees. On his Wallbuilders web site, he answers critics who say he is not a historian thus:
After The Jefferson Lies rose to a New York Times best-seller, similar attacks were launched against it from academic elitists. I will address three of these attacks below, but first, I must tackle their oft-repeated talking-point that I am not a qualified historian – a claim they make to cast a shadow of doubt over all the facts I present. However, this charge, like their others, is completely false. After all, I am:
- Recognized as an historical expert by both state and federal courts;
- Called to testify as an historical expert by both the federal and state legislatures;
- Selected as an historical expert by State Boards of Education across the nation to assist in writing history and social studies standards for those states;
- Consulted as an historical expert by public school textbook publishers, helping write best-selling history texts used in public schools and universities across the nation.
No court can anoint one a historian. Neither can boards of education or textbook publishers. Historians are recognized as thus by other historians. Historians, most of all, work to get facts and words right. And Barton doesn’t come close so often that it’s hard to find times when he is right. Barton approaches history with an agenda already formed, and makes everything fit into this frame whether it wants to or not. Want an example? Ok.
“You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause,” he told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network. “Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document; we’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.” (NPR online edition)
Article 3, Section 1 of the Constitution deals with the Federal courts. Section 3 deals with treason. Be that as it may, here is how the Constitution reads:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.
A direct quote from the Bible? Not hardly. How about Article 2?
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.
And here is Deuteronomy 17:15:
You shall surely set him king over you, whom the LORD your God shall choose: one from among your brethren shall you set king over you: you may not set a stranger over you, who is not your brother.
A verbatim, which can only mean word-for-word, insertion? Really? Yet say it enough times and people will start to think you know what you’re talking about. And plenty of people do. For instance, Mike Huckabee said,
I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country would be better for it.
And this is a man who wanted to be our president.
Barton is a master at two plus two equals yellow. He says that because Jefferson once signed a document that had the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ” printed on it that this proves he accepted orthodox Christianity. Jefferson also owned a copy of the Koran, something President Obama just brought out on Friday at a Ramadan dinner at the White House. Does this mean Jefferson was also a Muslim? By Barton’s reckoning, I think it does.
I’m not trying to disprove Barton. There are plenty of others who have done that. Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter have done a great job in their book, Getting Jefferson Right. Read that and make up your own mind if Barton with his 100,000 documents has a correct picture of Jefferson. Rick Green is a colleague of Barton, and he dismisses Throckmorton and Coulter like one who knows he doesn’t have a good defense: he belittles his opponents.
The elitist professors like Kidd, Throckmorton, Coulter, & Jenkinson write boring books that very few people read and they give boring lectures that are only attended by students forced to do so in order to get a grade. When these guys see Barton telling history in a way that is BOTH accurate and fun and they see millions of people are captivated and want to learn more, then perhaps it could be just a little jealousy could be causing them to lash out at Barton with innuendoes backed by no actual merit. But the bigger issue is that they do not want to lose the power of being the keepers of the keys to history. They want their “interpretation” of historical figures to control how generations view history, rather than letting historical events and historical figures speak for themselves.
You’ll find the phrase “elitist professors” repeated by both Barton and Green continually when they refer to anyone who opposes them. Both use those words frequently to put down any dissenting voices. And people buy into this. We are so conditioned against “secular media” and “elite academicians” that just using those terms draws a line in the sand that many Christians are afraid to cross. The thing is Throckmorton and Coulter are both evangelical Christians themselves. They are not against Barton. They are for the truth. But who does Green compare them to? Hitler and Saul Alinsky.
Question: What do elitist professors have in common with Adolf Hitler & Saul Alinsky?
Answer: They masterfully use the powerful art of innuendo to falsely defame those with which they disagree.
So now, disagreeing with someone equates you with the worst mass murderer of all time? (Saul Alinsky was an early community activist. Not exactly on the same level as Adolf Hitler.) And if you seek truth in history, that makes you an elitist professor who lies about about those with differing views?
Truth, however, takes a backseat to building a power base like Barton has over the years. Potomac Fever is highly contagious, running all the way to Texas. Barton makes a lot of money selling his materials to homeschool parents, Christian schools and churches. He also knows that the evangelical voting block wants to hear that with just a little more effort, we can return our nation to its Christian roots. We can once again have a solid Christian like slave-owning Thomas Jefferson at the helm. (Oh, wait. Jefferson wanted to free his slaves, but the law in Virginia wouldn’t let him? Right.)
And why is that so important? Why is it so vital to prove that the founders of our country were committed Christians? Why lie and say that parts of our Constitution were taken verbatim from Scripture? Why invent stories about Jefferson starting a church in the Capitol (he didn’t) or wanting to free his slaves but couldn’t (he could have)? What is so important about making sure our past fits into a certain box in the present?
What if we found out that Jefferson really was an agnostic who fathered children with one of his slaves? How does that affect one’s relationship with the Lord today? Why are we so determined to make America what it is not, what it never has been? Don’t get me wrong, I love our country. We are incredibly privileged to live where we do. And I want the best for our nation. I have my own convictions when it comes to voting for people and issues. And when the elections are over, I trust that the Lord has placed those in office of his own choosing. I trust he can still turn the hearts of rulers like he can turn a river. I do not believe one who purports to be a Christian is inherently better than one who does not at running our government, whether on a local or national level.
I talked with Adam Palmer about this on Sunday. “Adam,” I said, “what if President Obama came out and admitted what a majority of Republicans believe already: That he is a Muslim? So what?”
“Exactly,” Adam said. “Except for being a liar and saying he was a Christian, what difference would make?”
“Well,” I said, “he’s a politician. Of course he lies.”
I remember when my childhood hero was found to have feet of clay. Pete Rose, the great member of the Big Red Machine of the 70s, and the Hit King of the 80s, was banned from baseball for gambling. It was a shock in a way—one of the greatest players of the greatest game violated the number one rule of baseball—but in another, it wasn’t. Rumors had been circulating for years. His bookie was from my mom’s hometown, and word gets around. But Rose’s banishment from the game did not mean I had stop liking baseball, or the Reds, or Pete Rose for that matter. And I’ve had great debates with other baseball fans about whether or not Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame (no). We may disagree on that one, but we stay friends.
If history shows us that Jefferson—or any of our presidents—was less than what we hoped for, does that mean we have to stop loving our country? If all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not evangelicals, does it really matter?
Truth does matter. And unfortunately, that is something David Barton has not yet realized. Unless you believe his way, you are believing a lie.
One last quote on the matter of religion and coercing others into your beliefs.
Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
Who said this?