Before my stint as Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I had never heard of David Barton. When that job required me to engage in discussions with people who refused to believe in the separation of Church and State, however, he was frequently quoted.
Barton–a total fraud–was frequently touted in these debates, cited as a “respected Christian historian,” and it was unsurprising that the folks making those assertions dismissed the debunking protestations of a female ACLU lawyer (Jewish, to boot!).
That background may explain why I immediately clicked through to read a Politico article titled “The Bogus Historians Who Teach Evangelicals They Live in a Theocracy.” Here’s what the author–himself a devout Evangelical–had to say about Barton:
The people packed into FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich., weren’t here for Bill Bolin, the right-wing zealot pastor who’d grown his congregation tenfold by preaching conspiracy-fueled sermons since the onset of Covid-19, turning Sunday morning worship services into amateur Fox News segments. No, they had come out by the hundreds, decked out in patriotic attire this October evening in 2021, to hear from a man who was introduced to them as “America’s greatest living historian.” They had come for David Barton. And so had I.
It would be of little use to tell the folks around me — the people of my conservative hometown — that Barton wasn’t a real historian. They wouldn’t care that his lone academic credential was a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. It wouldn’t matter that Barton’s 2012 book on Thomas Jefferson was recalled by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, for its countless inaccuracies, or that a panel of 10 conservative Christian academics who reviewed Barton’s body of work in the aftermath ripped the entirety of his scholarship to shreds. It would not bother the congregants of FloodGate Church to learn that they were listening to a man whose work was found by one of America’s foremost conservative theologians to include “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”
All this would be irrelevant to the people around me because David Barton was one of them. He believed the separation of church and state was a myth. He believed the time had come for evangelicals to reclaim their rightful place atop the nation’s governmental and cultural institutions. Hence the hero’s welcome Barton received when he rolled into FloodGate with his “American Restoration Tour.”
Throughout his decades of public life — working for the Republican Party, becoming a darling of Fox News, advising politicians such as new House Speaker Mike Johnson, launching a small propaganda empire, carving out a niche as the American right’s chosen peddler of nostalgic alternative facts — Barton had never been shy about his ultimate aims. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who favors theocratic rule; moreover, he is a so-called Dominionist, someone who believes Christians should control not only the government but also the media, the education system, and other cultural institutions. Barton and his ilk are invested less in advancing individual policies than they are in reconceiving our system of self-government in its totality, claiming a historical mandate to rule society with biblical dogma just as the founders supposedly intended.
The author went on to describe the speech Barton delivered, which he described as “exalting a curious version of the Christian ideal.” Evidently gun restrictions are un-Christian. So too are progressive income taxes, government health care and public education. During his denunciation of critical race theory, he shared a slide showing logos for The New York Times’s 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter framed around a Soviet hammer and sickle.
There was much more…
What the deeply religious author described is part and parcel of a phenomenon that has become increasingly obvious over the past several years: the transformation of Evangelical Christianity from a religion into a political ideology. In this essay and in his new book,”The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism,” he documents what he calls the “deterioration of American Christianity.”
The Politico article is quite lengthy. And terrifying. I strongly encourage you to click through and read it in its entirety. It illustrates the politicization of the churches the author witnessed firsthand in his research for the book–research that took him to “half-empty sanctuaries and standing-room-only auditoriums” and included shadowing big-city televangelists and small-town preachers. He says he reported from inside hundreds of churches, Christian colleges, religious advocacy organizations, denominational nonprofits, and assorted independent ministries.
Among the other things his chilling descriptions illuminated was the importance of teaching accurate history–and the motives of the Christian Nationalists who are attacking the public schools that teach that history.Comments