The more I study American history the more I realize something disturbingly true – the United States has never been a “Christian” nation. This is not to say that men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were not heavily influenced by Christianity and the Bible. They definitely were but that is more a consequence of a cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian worldview was prevalent than it is devotion to Jesus. Yet the myth of a Christian founding is still strong among many evangelicals and much of that has to do with Wallbuilders Founder, David Barton. Barton is a prolific writer and a self-proclaimed expert on the Founders. His many books include Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion and Separation of Church and State: What the Founders Really Meant.
Recently Barton wrote a highly controversial book entitled The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Nelson, 2012). But historians at various institutions of higher learning read The Jefferson Lies and were troubled. World Magazine reports that Glenn Moots of Northwood University read the book and found Barton to be so eager to portray the third president as sympathetic to Christianity that he missed all the obvious signs that Jefferson was anything but sympathetic to orthodox Christianity. Others said similar things.
Now Thomas Nelson, the publishers of The Jefferson Lies, has ceased publication of the book due to the errors contained within it. I have to say that, though I haven’t read Barton’s latest, I am happy to see this action being taken. Barton plays fast and loose with the Founders writings and for some odd reason he feels that mere citation of a Founder equals proof of a particular point. In reality, Barton proof texts, taking things completely out of context.
Barton hasn’t done this only with the Founding Fathers. His treatment of John Locke has received criticism from evangelical and conservative Locke scholar Greg Forster. In a blog article entitled “David Barton’s Errors” Forster deals with seven specific errors Barton makes with Locke in an article Barton wrote in 2011. Forster wrote,
Yet Barton’s attempt to fit Locke into his larger historical narrative forces him into numerous distortions. Moreover, the article contains a number of incidental facutal [sic] errors that don’t even advance his thesis, indicating that his inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading and into outright incompetence.
I have also noticed Barton’s propensity to confused correlation and causation. In America: To Pray? or Not to Pray? he argues with not a small number of graphs that since prayer was banned from public schools 1962, teen pregnancy has risen drastically, SAT scores have plummeted, murder rates have increased, the number of single parent households have grown. Barton wrote,
As suggested by the graphs and statistics, prayer in schools and the acknowledgment of God throughout public affairs is not simply a religious issue; it is a vital national issue. Obtaining God’s aid and favor by simply acknowledging him in public is an asset not to be underestimated, and we can ill afford to continue without His aid and favor. (pg. 113)
Without a doubt prayer is a vital tool for not only “religious” activities. But Barton’s statement that “simply acknowledging” God in public is “an asset not to be underestimated” sounds more like superstition than sound theology. Does Barton really think that merely thanking God with an unregenerate heart scores points with the Most High?
And while it is also true that murder rates and teen pregnancy rates and a whole host of other horrible things have increased since 1962, it is not apparent that removing prayer from public school is the culprit. Correlation is not causation. (Barton’s argument is tantamount to saying something like, “The longer I sit still the hotter it gets in my bedroom. Therefore my sitting causes the heat to rise.” This is fallacious.)
In all, I would caution my brothers and sisters from quickly buying into Barton’s views. He may “know” history well but that doesn’t mean he does history well. And let’s be honest, Christians make enough dumb assertions on their own without adding to the mix poor scholarship.