This week a year ago, Thomas Nelson publishers pulled David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from publication. As I recall, I first learned of the event from Tennessean reporter Bob Smietana who called me to ask for comment. I think the first to get it on the web was probably Thomas Kidd at World Magazine on August 9. The news broke the day after a major NPR expose on Barton’s historical claims. A day before that World posted an article citing Jay Richards and others who had raised concerns about The Jefferson Lies. There were many stories at the time on the removal of the book, an event which Thomas Nelson described as “extremely rare.”
Two of the stories World did on the constroversy (David Barton Controversy – #3; Lost Confidence – #5) were in World’s top 25 news stories for 2012. In the aftermath, World magazine hosted a debate of sorts involving Barton, Glenn Frazer, Michael Coulter and me.
Another surprising source of coverage was The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s web presence. Without taking sides, Billy Hallowell made a good effort to present our concerns about Barton’s claims, and then allowed Barton to respond. The Blaze also did two webcasts, the first with Barton and then with us. In the end, Beck allowed Barton to present his claims unanswered on his television broadcast. Since we were not invited to rebut those claims on the air, we addressed them in a series of posts here (on Jefferson and slavery, part 1; Jefferson and slavery, part 2; Jefferson and slavery, part 3; Jefferson and the Bible, part 4; Jefferson and the Bible, part 5). As I post these links, I notice that Beck’s network has removed some of the Barton videos.
Since then, a few Christian groups have reviewed Barton’s materials and made edits or ceased using his materials. Most notably, Family Research Council made Barton’s Capitol Tour video private on YouTube. Barton then made audio edits to the video to repair some of the errors and posted the edited version on his Wallbuilders’ account without explanation.
The Barton controversy continues to expose the gulf between evangelical scholarship and evangelical participation in the culture war. Just recently, Barton incorrectly said that out of 60,000 professors, just four criticized his book. He also said that “Christian professors were basically trained by pagan professors who hate God, and they’re just repeating what they’re been told.” Over the past year, Barton and his defenders have portrayed critics as academic elites who are using the strategies of Hitler and Alinsky. All because evangelical academics want to get the facts right.
For evangelicals to truly defend religious liberty and retake some moral high ground, there must be a truce in the war between culture warriors and evangelical scholars. Academics shouldn’t be judged by the academic cover they give to culture war talking points or icons. Nobody is really fooled anyway, and increasingly, younger people are just checking out. Hopefully, the ripples have not stopped rippling and there are more important lessons to learn from the controversy over The Jefferson Lies.