Citizenship Confusion: David Barton's Deception (or Ignorance)

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to start a “club” with my friends. I enjoyed starting these clubs so much that sometimes starting the club was the only thing the “club” ever did, which was fine because the important thing was that I was In a Club. I loved being a part of something significant, being on the Inside, Belonging. And, if I’m honest, I still love that feeling. Looking around at Evangelical Culture, I notice I’m not the only one.

Maybe the story we like to tell ourselves the most has us cast as the Pure, True Heritage of the Founding Fathers and the persecuted minority in a Liberal, Secular, Postmodern culture. This way we can feel like we’re the ones who really Belong in America while retaining a nice victim complex (As I’ve argued here: Citizenship Confusion: Ray Comfort and the Victim Complex in the American Church).

The story goes that the founding fathers were really Christians, and therefore the US is by design a Christian Nation which should be ruled by Christians, those who have a right and obligation to take it back for God so that it can be prosperous again.

One of the most influential and prominent Christian figures who has promoted this narrative is David Barton,  President and Founder of WallBuilders (and a man who believes that progressive income tax is unbiblical because Israel didn’t have such a policy). Barton is the owner of a huge collection of historical documents and has written numerous books on the subject of church and state and the founding fathers. However, Barton is not actually a trained historian, but an amateur who has made living off of promoting a particular narrative to a group of people who were desperate to hear that narrative. Barton’s popularity among conservative politicians and Christians is impressive, which is why he is important to talk about. For example, Kirk Cameron recently interviewed David Barton for his movie, Monumental, which I will probably discuss next week in my column.

Last week, Glenn Beck had David Barton on his show to discuss the Christianity of Thomas Jefferson and specifically the Jefferson Bible. The clip was posted on The Blaze, where readers quickly drew the assumption that the Federal Government was using the Public Schools to brainwash our kids about the Founding Fathers.

As you will see, Barton is either very deceptive or incredibly ignorant, and in either case he is not a man that Christians should be relying on for a historical justification of their political movement. If we desire to be a witness in our culture, we must stand by the standards of honesty, truth, and love that are basic to our faith. Which means that when we see figures like Barton spreading falsehood, we need to call them for what they are.

In this clip (start around the 4 minute mark, unless you want to hear Beck talk about how God is using Barton to save America), Barton describes how people often tell him how Jefferson cut out all the miraculous parts of the New Testament when he created his Jefferson Bible. Barton dismisses these people as ignorant (around 7:30) and goes on to explain a bit about how this Bible, called “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth,” has all the miracles and the resurrection included. After this, he discusses another Bible the Jefferson made, called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. In the second Bible, Barton tells us that Jefferson’s intent was to list 50 of Christ’s moral teachings so that they would be easy to read for people, because he felt that what our country needed was a good moral foundation. What Barton doesn’t say is that this book includes not only moral teachings of Christ but also the story of his life, minus all the miraculous stuff, like the resurrection.

If the purpose of the book was only to offer Christ’s moral teachings, Jefferson would have had no reason to describe his birth, childhood, or death, as he does. Barton also doesn’t mention that when most people discuss the “Jefferson Bible,” including the Smithsonian, they have the second book in mind, not the first. I was unable to find any copies of the “Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth” online, but the latter “Bible” can be seen on the Smithsonian website. And as you can see, Jefferson’s Bible ends without the resurrection. Barton dismisses as ignorant fools those who repeat the liberal lie that Jefferson cut out all the miracles from the Bible, and then when he discusses The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth–the text people refer to as the “Jefferson Bible”–he repeatedly insists that the book was about “morals,” as if it were wisdom literature, rather than a narrative, minus Christ’s divinity.

Barton’s story that the Smithsonian has deliberately manipulated the historical facts to deny Jefferson’s faith fits nicely with the narrative that we are the True Heritage of our nation’s Founding Fathers and secularists and Muslims are interlopers. But the truth is much more complicated and ugly than that, as this case shows.

The ugly truth is that in this clip, Barton is either deceptive or incredibly ignorant (I don’t want to say he lies because he might sue me; no, really, that’s happened). And there’s good reason to believe that Barton is wrong about a great deal else (See this Examiner piece, or this LA Times article, or Wikipedia’s section on his criticism, or this Facebook Page on Jefferson).

As Christians we must be fervent for the truth, and so when someone like Barton who claims to be speaking for us influences conservative politicians and seeks to promote a certain political ideology and is clearly wrong, we need to speak out, otherwise what will our witness be?

Next week, I’ll take a look at how this same narrative of history is promoted by Kirk Cameron in his movie, Monumental.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • Daniel

    “However, Barton is not actually a trained historian, but an amateur who has made living off of promoting a particular narrative to a group of people who were desperate to hear that narrative.”

    What is truly ironic is how accurately describes what Paul warned against:

    “3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”–2 Tim 4:3-4

    Conservatives nearly automatically assume this is a prediction of liberals, never considering that we ourselves can be just as guilty as letting our desires shape our doctrines rather than having sound doctrine shape our desires. The myth of a “Christian America”, supported on cherry-picking facts and documents and producing propaganda to support this narrative, is destructive not only to the church’s mission but betrays our attitude of preferring sweet lies to bitter truth.

  • Tim Pyles

    How do you know that The LA Times, The Examiner, and especially Wikipedia are accurate? I’m not saying that as Christians we should be gullible enough to believe everything just because a Christian publishes or preaches it. I’m simply saying to follow another of the Apostle Paul’s mandates to test everything as it relates to biblical accuracy and I would add as it relates to historical accuracy. I’m not saying David Barton is completely right, but I’m also not saying he is completely wrong either. I’m also not implying that you are completely right and/or wrong either I’m simply saying that we don’t become guilty of the same thing that we are accusing another brother or sister of doing. Take care and God Bless.

  • Tim Pyles

    Update to my previous post, because I didn’t proof read it before I posted it. How do you know that The LA Times, The Examiner, and especially Wikipedia are accurate? I’m not saying that as Christians we should be gullible enough to believe everything just because a Christian publishes or preaches it. I’m simply saying, to follow another of the Apostle Paul’s mandates, to test everything as it relates to biblical accuracy, and I would add as it relates to historical accuracy. I’m not saying David Barton is completely right, but I’m also not saying he is completely wrong either. I’m also not implying that you are completely right and/or wrong either I’m simply offering a word of caution that we don’t become guilty of the same thing that we are accusing another brother or sister of doing. Take care and God Bless.

  • Joel

    Drive by: Tim, just say it. You’re not saying anything at all.

    A word of caution with no basis or cause is nothing but fear mongering to silence people from speaking.

  • lpr1836

    It has seemed to me, over the couple of years, that Barton and his supporters are more invested in fusing a kind of Old Testament Christianity (that is, a “Christianity” that is much more Mosiac Law-based than Gospel-based) with the state and federal governments. I can see an attempt to broadly apply religious law as secular law but I wonder to what extent a “Christianized” federal government would interfere in private lives. Would charismatic gifts be mandated on the individual by the government? Would Calvinism or Arminianism be the nation’s official theology? Just sort of wool-gathering here.


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