Politico: David Barton’s Political Usefulness Trumps Scholarship For Evangelical Groups

Politico’s Stephanie Simon has an eye-opening article out today regarding David Barton and his evangelical supporters. Although I don’t agree that Barton’s reputation has fully bounced back, the article correctly reveals the disappointing pragmatism that plagues some Christian organizations. I will have more on this article in a separate post.

This section is especially disturbing:

Focus on the Family, meanwhile, edited two videos on its website featuring a lengthy interview Barton gave to Focus radio. The editing deleted a segment in which Barton declares that Congress printed the first English-language Bible in America — and intended it to be used in schools. That’s one of Barton’s signature stories — it’s a highlight in his Capitol tour — but historians who have reviewed the documentation say it’s simply not true. Focus also cut an inaccurate anecdote about a contemporary legal case, which Barton cited to make the point that society today punishes people of faith.

Asked why the videos were edited, Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior director of public policy at Focus on the Family, at first said they had not been, though before-and-after footage can be publicly viewed on websites archiving Focus broadcasts. Earll then said she could not comment beyond a statement noting that Focus “has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with David Barton” and respects his “broad base of knowledge” about early American history.

In an interview with POLITICO, Barton said his remarks were sometimes taken out of context but defended his scholarship as impeccable.

A subset of the evangelical historians who raised issues with Family Research Council brought these problems to Focus on the Family’s attention this summer. In a post later today, I will point out which sections were removed without notice. It is shocking that Focus initially denied they had edited the material. Why is David Barton’s reputation so important that a Christian group would resort to subterfuge to cover it up?

 

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  • Lynn David

    I’m surprised the article called Barton a “historian.” I do not quite rightly know what to call him. I think the word ‘amateurish’ is best appended if he must be described as a historian.

    You seem to mistake his standing among academics (dare I say sane people) vs the common conservative American. The common conservative wants his beliefs acknowledged and elevated to the position of truth. People like Barton do that and so he is important to religous ultraconservativism both in terms of religion and politics. To those who would seek to press those goals, Barton is a tool toward advancing those goals. To people such as that, it doesn’t matter if is scholarship is mistaken, problematical, or simply lies.

    Look what people said in that article. Ronda Vuillemont-Smith says,”he’s a man of honor.” And yet your exposés on Barton here have shown that he is not such a man of honor. Look what Ted Cruz said in that article:

    “I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend. David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”

    It sure seems to me that what is right or true does not matter politically when your political beliefs, especially your religiously-inspired political beliefs are involved. What matters seems to be whether Cruz can co-opt phrases like “freest and most prosperous nation in the world” and have Barton back him up in both a religious and political context. And every other conservative who choses to court the religious right would be just as happy to have Barton on their side. The vast middle doesn’t seem to matter in American politics.

  • Lynn David

    I’m surprised the article called Barton a “historian.” I do not quite rightly know what to call him. I think the word ‘amateurish’ is best appended if he must be described as a historian.

    You seem to mistake his standing among academics (dare I say sane people) vs the common conservative American. The common conservative wants his beliefs acknowledged and elevated to the position of truth. People like Barton do that and so he is important to religous ultraconservativism both in terms of religion and politics. To those who would seek to press those goals, Barton is a tool toward advancing those goals. To people such as that, it doesn’t matter if is scholarship is mistaken, problematical, or simply lies.

    Look what people said in that article. Ronda Vuillemont-Smith says,”he’s a man of honor.” And yet your exposés on Barton here have shown that he is not such a man of honor. Look what Ted Cruz said in that article:

    “I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend. David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”

    It sure seems to me that what is right or true does not matter politically when your political beliefs, especially your religiously-inspired political beliefs are involved. What matters seems to be whether Cruz can co-opt phrases like “freest and most prosperous nation in the world” and have Barton back him up in both a religious and political context. And every other conservative who choses to court the religious right would be just as happy to have Barton on their side. The vast middle doesn’t seem to matter in American politics.

  • Patrocles

    “Why is David Barton’s reputation so important that a Christian group would resort to subterfuge to cover it up?”

    - Perhaps, because Barton sides with the Christians and doesn’t sit on the fence?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Pat – Terrible reason if so, and false dichotomy. Are you suggesting that all of those Christian evangelical scholars are sitting on some kind of fence?

  • Brenda Schoolfield

    If I were more cynical, I might think that money has something to do with the issue. This is a valid question–”Why is David Barton’s reputation so important that a Christian group would resort to subterfuge to cover it up?” Perhaps because (indirectly) it is about money (well, there, I guess I am cynical enough). Barton appeals to a group of people who feel they are losing ground in the culture. They are desperate. Barton engages them and then draws them to political fundraisers (as has happened here in SC). He draws them to donate to the FRC and other interest groups and politicians.

    God’s Truth and the Church (Kingdom of God, Body of Christ) are strong enough that they don’t need lies to remain healthy even in this wicked world. Sloppy scholarship (and I believe I’m being generous here) in the name of bolstering Christianity is reprehensible.

  • David Farrell

    I think we see this almost common place on both the far right and far left. Both sides are so blind to reason that they are desperate. Both sides seems to have adapted an “end justifies the means” logic.

  • Patrocles

    Warren,

    I wonder. If “all of those Christian evangelical scholars” really don’t sit on a fence – do they take any stand whatever?

    In the matter of therapy, you acted rather clever. You didn’t stay negative (negation of “reparative therapy”), but you constructed your own positive alternative (“sexual identity therapy”).

    In these theological matters, I miss something similar. You and your friends seem content with denouncing something called “Christian nationalism”. But where’s the positive alternative (if it isn’t simple secularism)?

  • Tom Van Dyke

    In these theological matters, I miss something similar. You and your friends seem content with denouncing something called “Christian nationalism”. But where’s the positive alternative (if it isn’t simple secularism)?

    Bingo. These so-called “Christian” scholars are part of the secular-left/anti-Religious Right academic establishment and don’t rock the boat. Unless it’s Barton’s, of course.

  • Scotty G.

    So now the ‘upstanding’ Christian is one who resorts to duplicity and subterfuge, behind a mask of ‘interpretation’? To what purpose? A more twisted and fractured foundation would hardly be imaginable.

    If Christians must sell their souls to gain political and social power, then such an establishment is nothing more then a regime to be feared. Who’s learders are led by moral relativity and who govern by situational ethics.

    No doubt many may do this out of some genuine desire to do good. But such good intentions will lead where such roads always do. If the Crusades and Salem witch trials of our past teach us nothing, they demonstrate that an unfettered religious reign can never maintain its benovolent motives. Such eathly power only corrupts. Christ never sought it and admonished thoes who did.

    Comments like the one from TVD exemplify how the lines will be drawn. We have been weighed and measured by a jury of one and we have been found wanting. If we do not side with the establishment, then we are ‘betrayers’ and ‘heretics’.

    He speaks of rocking boats. I ask whos boat should be rocked; the ones who do not know the Truth, or the ones that know the Truth but distort and otherwise disregard it?

    Such as these believe that Christian fortitude flows from governing over others for their own good, and maintaining the rightiousness of others. Christ demonstrated that strength lies in laying down ones rights for others, even enemies and even unto death. In such meekness God is glorified, not the individual or the church. It’s counter intuitive, but it is also the only way to be counterculteral in the way Christ has called us to be.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.” ~ C.S. Lewis


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