Fea Hammers Jeffress for Distortions on American History

Fea Hammers Jeffress for Distortions on American History July 3, 2018

John Fea, history professor at Messiah University and an evangelical Christian himself, has done fantastic work debunking the historical revisionism so popular among his own people. At the History News Network, he strongly critiques and debunks many of the claims that Trump-loving megachurch con artist Robert Jeffress makes about Christianity and America’s founding, most of which come straight from professional liar David Barton.

Jeffress has been preaching his “America is a Christian Nation” sermon for a long time. On Sunday he stuck with his usual script. He indicted the “secularists, atheists, and infidels” for “perverting” the Constitution. He chided the federal government’s failure to acknowledge God in the public square. He told his congregation that academics, historians, and teachers have been lying to them about the religious roots of the United States.

Jeffress made one problematic historical reference after another. He made the wildly exaggerated claim that fifty-two of the original fifty-five signers of the Constitution were “orthodox conservative Christians.” He peddled the false notion that the disestablishment clause in the First Amendment was meant to apply solely to Protestant denominations…

To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton and Wallbuilders were the source of most of the historical information Jeffress presented in his Freedom Sunday sermon on June 24th.

For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community.

One fascinating study that Fea cites is from a group of sociologists who wrote about their research recently in the Washington Post, where I somehow missed it. They surveyed Trump voters and found that “the more someone believed the United States is—and should be—a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump: and that “no other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump.” They asked for their positions on these statements:

The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.
The federal government should advocate Christian values.
The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state (reverse coded).
The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.
The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.
The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.

They found that positive answers to those questions were the single most accurate predictor that someone would vote for Trump. This despite the fact that Trump has never shown the least bit of interest in any of those positions other than as a shallow political ploy, has lived a life that is about as un-Christian as it can get and has displayed behavior that would make those same people apoplectic if committed by a Democrat.

So Christian Nationalism is the key to keeping Trump’s base together, it seems, the thing that unites them. This all strikes me as quite bizarre, especially when you consider the other Republican candidates he was up against in the primary. Surely Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and at least a couple of others have shown far more interest in those issues and don’t come with all the moral baggage that Trump comes from. So that can’t be the fully story. I suspect it’s a question of them projecting their beliefs on to someone with enormous name recognition that they believe to be a bare-knuckles political brawler in a way that the others weren’t.

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