On Saturday, I pointed out that the Missouri Baptist Convention was co-sponsoring David Barton and George Barna to speak at the Turning America Conference to be held at the Second Baptist Church in Springfield, MO later this month.
I asked Rob Phillips, communications director for the MBC, why the MBC was co-sponsoring Barton in light of the widespread criticism of Barton’s historical claims by numerous Christian historians. The answer came from Dr. John Yeats, MBC executive director, who said:
We are grateful for the opportunity to help a leading Missouri Baptist church serve as host of the conference. Whatever your views on David Barton, we support the event and encourage Missouri Baptists to hear him out and decide for themselves. In my many years in Baptist life, I have found my fellow Baptists to be fair-minded and discerning people who love the truth. Certainly, we agree with the stated mission of WallBuilders: to educate the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; to provide information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies that reflect Biblical values; and to encourage Christians to be involved in the civic arena.
In addition to asking for explanation from MBC, I asked several Christian historians for their opinion regarding the MBC’s decision. Barry Hankins, professor of history at Baylor University, said:
David Barton’s history of the American founding is out of step with even the most conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical historians in the Christian college world. I’ve never met a professional historian with a Ph.D. who accepted Barton’s argument that the founding fathers as a group were pervasively Christian and intended to found a Christian nation as Barton defines it. Moreover, when one’s biography of Thomas Jefferson is discontinued by Thomas Nelson publishers, as Barton’s was, Christians should wonder why. It is sad that anyone in the evangelical world would continue to promote his work.
After reading Dr. Yeats reply, The Masters College historian Gregg Frazer said:
I am a conservative, evangelical, born-again Christian; I am also a trained historian whose research is centered on the American Founding. I believe that the Supreme Court’s “wall of separation” notion is bad legal doctrine based on bad history that has resulted in denial of religious freedom. But replacing bad history with more bad history that we like better is not the solution.
Baptists may well be “fair-minded and discerning people who love the truth” and it is good that the president wants Missouri Baptists to “decide for themselves.” The problem is that in order to properly discern and to properly decide on truth, people must have access to proper information and actual truth. Missouri Baptists, for example, would never come to the truth of the Gospel if all that was presented to them was Buddhism or Islam. In order to come to a proper conclusion, one must have access to the truth. How can they learn truth if Missouri Baptists hear only manufactured “history” – history as some wish it had been; history as constructed from partial quotes, quotes out of context, misleading half-truths, and complete falsehoods? The vast majority of Missourians/Americans do not have the time or resources to study primary historical documents – so they put their faith in people who claim to have done that study. When that trust is misplaced, Missouri Baptists will inevitably draw false conclusions – through no fault of their own.
If Missouri Baptists are going to hear the eccentric views of self-proclaimed historians and still have a chance to know the truth and to discern it, they must also hear from someone who can point out misleading tactics and errors and show them the actual texts that are distorted and manipulated. I’m from Missouri; I trust that Missourians could discern properly between two alternatives. But IF THEY ONLY HEAR ONE SIDE, HOW CAN THEY MAKE A PROPER DETERMINATION? When they “decide for themselves, “ will they not be captive to the information they have – whether it is false or true? Completely false information can be made to look very persuasive when presented in isolation. (emphasis in the original statement).
Frazer and Hankins reveal the problem with Dr. Yeats’ stance. After the false information is presented, how will the audience get the right stuff?