David Barton: Christian Illusionist?

This post comes by way of John Fea’s blog. Although Fea wrote about it last week, there is still something fresh here. Fea cited John Wilsey who teaches history and theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wilsey heard David Barton speak at a church in Brazoria, TX and filed a report on the experience.

Wilsey calls Barton a Christian illusionist. Although generally critical, he says Barton is a walking encyclopedia. Wilsey’s assessment of Barton speech:

The really disturbing aspect of the presentation is that Barton is a manipulator of Christian folks who sincerely love their country. He goes in front of Bible believing people who, for the most part, do not spend all their time thinking about the American founding but who do want to believe that America’s heritage is exclusively Protestant. He goes with data mined from the historical record that will suit his particular cultural agenda. He presents that data with no explanation of context. He gives no credit to any other sources that are not explicitly evangelical.

Early in Wilsey’s report, I think he gives Barton too much credit. Calling him a walking encyclopedia implies that Barton is actually providing facts when he speaks. Of course, some of what Barton says is true, but he often weaves facts together with legend to create a false picture. Thus, when he is motoring through his speech, failing to even finish some words before he starts the next, he is not getting it right, even as he says some true things.

The term Christian illusionist is troubling. I think if you simply take the term Christian as a category, I understand what Wilsey is saying. Barton is after all not a Hindu illusionist. However, there is something wrong about Christians creating illusions as if they were reality. Another word besides illusionist might be more descriptive.

There is a market for Christian illusionists. The response to The Jefferson Lies being pulled and the exposure of Barton’s historical illusions has been disappointing. Initially some Christian groups came out with admissions and apologies that they had been fooled by the illusionist. However, even many of those articles lacked a prophetic call for truth. Christian leaders who should know better are sitting silent, knowing the illusion is taking place but failing to do more to stop it.  Meanwhile, thousands, probably millions, are deceived.

For a good book that debunks Barton’s illusions about Thomas Jefferson, go here.