Meet the Religious Right Charlatan Who Teaches Tea Party America The Totally Pretend History They Want to Hear
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Barton argues that the Bible and 150 years of sermons by colonial preachers inspired the nation’s founders. The constitutional form of government, he says, was based on a biblical model: early Hebrew government was a “federative republic,” with God having identified the three branches of government, and with councils of elders functioning like the Senate.
Barton, like other Religious Right leaders, has been increasingly embracing Seven Mountains Dominionism, which teaches that certain kinds of Christians are meant by God to dominate every sphere of society. Barton quotes Jesus telling his followers to “occupy till I come.”Although that quote comes from a parable, it’s a favorite of dominionist speakers who believe it affirms their belief that Christians are meant to be running the nation and the world. Barton serves on the board of the dominionist Providence Foundation, which claims to have trained tens of thousands of leaders on behalf of its mission, which is “to spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by instructing individuals in a Biblical worldview.” The foundation says that the notion of Divine Providence “expressed a basic link in the Founders' thinking between God and history,” and gives this definition:
"Providence" is defined as the preservation, government, guidance, and direction which God exercises over all creation, including the civil affairs of men and women. The Scriptures contain a theology of the family, the church, and the state. Principles in God's written Word that relate to civil government, politics, economics, and education are timeless and universally useful for the benefit of any culture on earth today.
Barton has been deeply involved in recent battles over the content of textbooks in Texas and the nation. The Texas State Board of Education notoriously redesigned the state’s social studies curriculum to have it conform more closely to a right-wing view of American history, even though somechanges sought by Religious Right activists like Barton were inaccurate and dismissive of the civil rights movement. The Religious Right activist who had chaired the Board of Education named Barton an “ expert” and backed efforts by Barton and preacher Peter Marshall to purge figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez from the curriculum. Barton’s involvement with the textbook controversy also provided evidence of the naked partisanship behind much of his work: he demanded that because the founders hated and feared democracy, and created a republic instead, that textbooks should not refer to “democratic values” but “republican” ones.
Credible historians, writers, and even religious groups have denounced Barton’s shoddy, misleading, and politically-motivated “scholarship,” which misquotes and misleadingly portrays historical figures and documents. Here is a sampling of Barton’s critics:
- Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute on Church-State Studies at Baylor University, said Barton “can be very convincing to an uninitiated audience. He’s intelligent. He’s well-spoken. But a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.”
- John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, has criticized Barton and Peter Marshall, who worked with Barton to influence Texas textbooks: “I’m an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch. They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present.”
- J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, argues in a critique of Barton’s teachings on church-state issuesthat Barton’s work is “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact. As more individuals, congregations and elected officials are influenced by Barton's claims, the threat of his campaign becomes more real...”Baptist blogger Don Byrd said “having Barton lecture the House of Representatives on religious liberty issues and the Constitution is a bit like having the fox lecture the hens on proper coop construction.”
- Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that Barton’s “pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.”
- Mark Lilla, a scholar who has taught at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, has publicly criticized the “schlock history written by religious propagandists like David Barton, the author of the bizarre pastiche The Myth of Separation, who use selective quotations out of context to suggest that the framers were inspired believers who thought they were founding a Christian nation.”
- The Anti-Defamation League found that Barton’s “ostensible scholarship functions in fact as an assault on scholarship: in the manner of other recent phony revisionisms, the history it supports is little more than a compendium of anecdotes divorced from their original context, linked harum-scarum and laced with factual errors and distorted innuendo. Barton's ‘scholarship,’ like that of Holocaust denial and Atlantic slave trade conspiracy-mongering is rigged to arrive at predetermined conclusions, not history.”
- Historian Richard V. Pierard of Indiana State University has called Barton’s claims that the Founding Fathers were mostly evangelical Christians “ridiculous” since the term was not used at the time, contending that “to try to take a later definition and impose it on these people is a historical anachronism.”
Barton is undeterred by such criticism. Instead, he insists that he is revealing to Americans the inspiring truth about their country that has been hidden by academic and media elites, who have conspired to keep Americans in the dark about the religious intentions of the nation’s founders.