David Barton tells Kirk Cameron about how the Founding Fathers wanted bibles in schools
Fake historian David Barton got a bit of what’s been coming to him on Wednesday, when NPR’s “All Things Considered” turned its polite, soft-spoken, but firmly fact-based attention to the evangelical demagogue beloved of Glenn Beck and former child star Kirk Cameron.
In a segment titled “The Most Influential Evangelical You’ve Never Heard Of,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR’s religion correspondent, introduced the “Prairie Home Companion” and “Car Talk” crowd to Barton, a self-promoting windbag who specializes in claiming that things he disagrees with are unbiblical. His special obsession is the Founding Fathers, who, he says, were devout Christians who never envisioned anything like a separation of church and state.
Hagerty blogged the segment on NPR’s website. (C&L has bolded the especially good parts for your reading ease):
“You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause,” [Barton] 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.”
We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out. Moreover, the Constitution as written in 1787 has no mention of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. The First Amendment does address religion.
[H]istorians say Barton is flat-out wrong in his facts and conclusion.
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.
As I said, self-promoting windbag.
Fortunately, there are intelligent evangelicals out there who are embarrassed and frustrated by Barton’s prominence. In the wake of the release of his book The Jefferson Lies, a bestseller that that recasts the deist, slave-owning Founding Father as an ultra-Christian champion of civil rights, professors at Christian colleges have amplified their efforts to diminish Barton’s influence.
One of these is Warren Thockmorton, who told “All Things Considered,”
“Mr. Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern-day evangelicals could love and identify with. … The problem with that is, it's not a whole Jefferson; it's not getting him right.”
Throckmorton co-authored Getting Jefferson Right, a book detailing what he says are Barton's distortions. As to Jefferson's faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians: Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity.
“He didn't see Jesus as God,” Throckmorton says. He didn't believe that Jesus performed miracles, he dismissed the Trinity. Throckmorton notes that when Jefferson decided to write his own version of the Gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, “he said he was taking ‘diamonds as if from a dunghill.’ So he picked out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule — those were the ‘diamonds.’ But the ‘dunghill’ was the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission.”
Hagerty also pointed about “another “lie” about Jefferson that Barton sets out to “debunk.” Barton says Jefferson — who owned nearly 200 slaves — was a civil rights visionary.
“Had his plans been followed, Virginia would've ended slavery really early on,” Barton says. “They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense.”
Barton quotes Virginia law that he says prohibited Jefferson from freeing his slaves during his lifetime — but Barton omits the section of the law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton says that Jefferson could not afford to free his slaves.
Of late, Barton’s complete disinterest in the difference between fact and “historical reclamation,” as he calls it, has caused quite a ruckus in my adopted home state of Alabama, where a coterie of Christian nationalists at Alabama Public Television appear to have fired two executives for refusing to broadcast Barton’s pseudo-historical claptrap.
In the wake of the firings, several prominent board members and other officials resigned. A coalition of liberal pastors, along Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (disclosure: I also blog for the SPLC) delivered to APT 114,000 signatures from people who objected to broadcasting Barton’s work on public television.
And on Wednesday, an Alabama state judge ruled that one of the executive may proceed with a lawsuit claiming that the commissioners who fired him violated the state’s open meetings law by discussing his job status behind closed doors.
“As a Christian and a pastor and a father and a grandfather, I’ve always trusted public television to be a source of appropriate entertainment and also reliable information about history and culture,” Rev. Darryl Kiehl of Hoover, Alabama’s Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church told The Birmingham News. “I am disappointed that APT is even considering broadcasting David Barton’s history of America, what I believe is a biased and misdirected history.”
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