John Throckmorton and Separation of Church and State

In 1640, thirty-nine male residents of Providence in what is now Rhode Island voted to ratify a system of government that allowed residents complete freedom of conscience in religious matters. The exact phrase they agreed to was “Wee agree, as formerly hath bin the liberties of the town, so still, to hould forth liberty of Conscience.”

This was the settlement of Roger Williams, the Baptist minister who had been expelled from Salem, MA and who championed religious freedom next door to John Winthrop’s Massachusett’s Bay colony where the wrong beliefs could get you in trouble with civil authorities. Williams founded Providence in 1636 and deeded shares of the land to twelve other men in 1638. One of those men was John Throckmorton. Throckmorton, a direct ancestor of mine, came from England with Williams and was also one of the 39 residents of the city who signed the first charter guaranteeing liberty of conscience.

Doing a little Ancestry.com research, I recently discovered this direct line back to John Throckmorton and I must admit it gave me an irrational measure of pleasure. I have taken pretty clear stands for separation of church and state and vigorously opposed Christian nationalism. My David Barton fact checking work has been motivated by passion for the belief in church-state separation. The current revival of Christian nationalism motivates me to counter it as I am able. Learning that a great, great, (five more greats) grandfather was involved at the beginning as a co-laborer and friend with Roger Williams is deeply satisfying.

Even after John Throckmorton became a Quaker, he stood up to Williams when Williams criticized the Quaker movement. It appears my ancestor was zealous to defend his independence of mind, even when his old friend came against him.

The story of Williams and Great(x7)-Grandpa Throckmorton reminds me that once upon a time Baptists were known for their fierce dedication to separation of church and state. Now, they are known for these shenanigans:

Here is John MacArthur declaring that he doesn’t support religious freedom.

John Leland, the great Baptist who preached in MA and VA, said:

No national church can in its organization be the Gospel Church. National church takes in the whole nation and no more, whereas the Church takes in no nation but those who fear God and work in every nation. The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever.

Should one sect be pampered above others? Should not government protect all kinds of people of every species of religion without showing the least partiality? Has not the world had enough proofs of the impolicy and cruelty of favoring a Jew more than a Pagan, Turk, or Christian, or a Christian more than either of them? Why should a man be proscribed or any wife disgraced for being a Jew a Turk a Pagan or a of any denomination when his talents and veracity as a civilian him to the confidence of the public?

Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

Many Christian nationalists today want the government to privilege Christianity. They don’t like what some people do in their private lives and want the government to legislate against it. Even though the state has no compelling interest in regulating this private conduct or conscience, Christian nationalists appeal to concepts like biblical law and biblical morality to suggest that the civil law should reflect their idea of what the Bible teaches.

 

Getting Jefferson Right Gets a Rise from the Fall of Mars Hill Church

I haven’t written much about the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church because I wanted to hear the whole thing before I did. Now that I have, I will say more about it over time. On the whole, I recommend it. Several years ago when Mars Hill Church was unraveling, I assumed someone would do a deep dive into the rise and fall of the church; I just didn’t think it would be Christianity Today.

On the level of individual work, Mike Cosper did an superb job of weaving characters and various story lines in and out of the narrative.  Having written and produced a documentary in the past, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into that beast.

What brings me to the blog backroom at this time is something I just learned over the weekend: Mike Cosper’s casual mention of my book with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, has led to a modest Mars Hill bump in interest in Getting Jefferson Right since The Tempest episode came out on November 12. I’ll call it a Mars Hill Rise.

Here is what Cosper said about the Jefferson book starting at 1 hour and 11 minutes into The Tempest episode.

There’s a sense in which he (Throckmorton) was an ideal candidate to respond to this particular moment in the story (the plagiarism aspect). For several years, much of Throckmorton’s blogging had been focused on debunking the work of David Barton, a Christian nationalist, known for writing books and curriculum about the origins of the U.S. that are popular in some very conservative homeschool circles.

That led to the publication of a book called Getting Jefferson Right which Throckmorton co-wrote with Michael Coulter. The book carefully deconstructs many of Barton’s Christian nationalist myths and it led to one of Barton’s books being pulled from publication. His foray into looking at Driscoll didn’t come from any specific interest in his work. I think in a way that’s also reflected in his interest in Barton. Warren has a mind for detail; a mind attuned for the kind of research and cataloging necessary to track instances of plagiarism.

I love it when threads of my life come together and this was a significant couple of minutes for me. The modest sales boost or the Facebook page interest aren’t the remarkable points here. For me, it was Cosper’s matter-of-fact dismissal of Christian nationalism. The reference to David Barton’s “Christian nationalist myths” was extremely gratifying. As I listened, I became aware that numerous people who had never thought about Christian nationalism in a negative way (or at all) were listening to the podcast since Rise and Fall has remained near the top of the podcast charts since it came out.

Indeed, in Getting Jefferson Right, we deal with some of the foundational stories that Christian nationalists like to tell. Did Congress publish the first English Bible in the U.S. for the use of schools? Did Jefferson create an abridgment of the New Testament to evangelize native Americans? Was Jefferson forbidden to free his slaves by Virginia law? Did Jefferson sign his presidential documents in the Year of our Lord Christ? Christian nationalist history is unlike any history most of us have heard or studied. In our book, we focus on claims involving Thomas Jefferson and give the facts.

For more on Getting Jefferson Right, click through this link. You can find the book in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon. Conveniently, Amazon says it arrives before Christmas!

For more on the removal of Barton’s book from publication, see this link.

David Barton in the News: Remember His Earned Doctorate and Division One Basketball Stardom?

Self-styled historian David Barton is in the news calling State Department officials “clowns” while he and Glenn Beck claim to rescue people in Afghanistan. Ministry Watch issued an appropriate “close look” at Beck and Barton’s charity — the Nazarene Fund — since it is unclear what they are doing in the midst of this disaster.

I am not an apologist for the Biden Administration’s handling of the end of the American military presence in Afghanistan. However, if David Barton makes a claim, my experience is that it should be checked out. Here are at least two reasons why.

Unearned Doctorate

Almost 5 years ago now, David Barton released the following video on his Facebook and Youtube accounts:

In this video, Barton very clearly claims to have an earned doctorate while, at the same time, he covers it up and fails to say where he got it. THe day after I saw the video, I discovered the “degree” came from church based LIfe Christian University. The school doesn’t offer history or education degrees and isn’t accredited by any recognized agency. It is registered with the IRS as a church and has no campus. Furthermore, Barton never attended any classes nor did he do any specific work for the so-called “earned” degree.” The president of the school just gave him a degree, perhaps for a fee, although that much was not revealed.

When I posted this information, Barton removed the video from his websites and stopped referring to himself as “doctor.” He never mentioned it again and has refused to ever explain or apologize for the deception. To their discredit, no Christian news outlet has ever pursued him and demanded answers about why he castigated progressives for making up stories, when he spun the yarn.

There are so many more reasons to be skeptical but here is just one more.

David Barton’s Division One Airball

IN 2015, David Barton told a seminar audience that he played basketball with the Oral Robert University Division One basketball squad when he attended the school as a student:

The main claim was:

I remember when I was playing basketball, the college stuff that we did. We started every day with a five mile run, then we lifted weights, then we had an hour of racquetball, then we had two hours of full-court basketball, then we came back for another run. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but in those years, our college team set the NCAA record for two years in a row for most points scored. We averaged 105, 104, 103 points a game, I forget what it was. But you had to run a lot, it wasn’t a lot of fun, but you get the results.

As it turns out, Barton did not play for the D-1 team at Oral Roberts.

This was confirmed by the NCAA and school records, calls to the university, and the testimonies of the head trainer and a sports reporter for the school paper at the time. He simply didn’t play on the team but told a story that made it sound like he did.

If a man can weave together those kind of stories about himself, shouldn’t we demand a much higher level of verification before we accept what he says about other things?

Mystery Pastor at the Capitol Riot is David Barton Student

Yesterday, David Bonner at his Wondering Eagle blog wondered about the identity of this pastor who showed up in video culled from Parler by ProPublica.

Twitter came through again and identified the pastor as Tyler Ethridge:

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post about this but I was interested in this detail: Ethridge is a big fan of David Barton and graduated from Charis Bible College’s Practical Government School which is a project of Barton and Andrew Wommack.

In this video, Ethridge explain his view that it is quite possible that Trump could get a second term after mass arrests on Inauguration Day. If that doesn’t happen, the U.S. will surely become completely communist under Biden.

When I started writing about David Barton and Christian nationalism in 2011, I really didn’t think I would be reading and writing about the bitter fruit a decade later. I thought that the demise Barton’s The Jefferson Lies in 2012 would do damage to the entire Christian nationalist movement. It did for awhile, but the movement morphed and thrived. Barton has not had the public prominence he once had, but he is still behind the scenes animating Christian soldiers marching as to war.

I wonder which class at Charis covered insurrection.

 

 

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.

I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.

As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century, The Washington Post,  USA Today,  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN,  MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Blog Theme: Civil Rights and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Interview with Jeff Sharlet

Interview with author Jeff Sharlet

In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.

This is second in a series of interviews marking 15 years of blogging. I started blogging in July 2005. The first interview with Michael Coulter is here.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.

That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.

Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.

When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.

Despite the Ugandan’s belief, I don’t believe the American Fellowship supported the bill. At the time (December, 2009), Jeff wrote a guest post for my blog which outlined his belief that the American Fellowship opposed it. In my rare interview with Doug Coe, he made it clear that he and the Fellowship opposed the bill and criminalization for homosexuality anywhere. Furthermore, at the National Prayer Breakfast, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke directly to the Ugandan people and by name opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I don’t think the opposition could get any clearer than that.

I was in the African suite watching Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches on television when they condemned the bill at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. It was silent in the suite as the African delegation watched. Afterwards, some were stunned, some were angry. Some still believed that some Americans had to say those things in public, but may privately support them. However, they could not deny that the American Fellowship opposed the bill.

Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.

At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.

In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.

In the interview, we discussed the background of the Netflix documentary, The Family. I had the good fortune to be included in three of the five episodes of that series.

Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.

Additional Reading

Scientific Consensus Statement

History of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill – NPR

My Salon series about a Nevada church who dropped support of a Uganda missionary over the bill

Straight Man’s Burden – Harpers

The Bill Inspired by American Evangelicals – The Atlantic

All of my posts about Uganda

All of my post about the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) and the National Prayer Breakfast

All 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

 

Image: Jeff Sharlet’s Twitter Page

Happy Blog Anniversary to Me #15

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I started this blog with these words:

This is a test, nothing but a test. A test of your routine blogcasting network.

I didn’t know what I was doing, but with the encouragement of a former pastor Byron Harvey, I launched into the wild world of blogging. I started out on the old Blogspot platform and then moved to WordPress in 2006. I moved from there to Patheos in 2013, just in time to cover the demise of Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia. When Patheos decided I was too hot to handle, I moved really quickly back to this independent format on WordPress. Since 2005, I have written 5,010 posts according to WordPress backroom counter.

To celebrate, tomorrow I start a series of blogcast video interviews with people who are associated with topics I have covered over 15 years. I started out writing about sexual orientation therapy and research. Then the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill became a cause and international story in 2009. I started writing about and debunking David Barton’s and other historical claims in 2011. In late 2013, I took up the demise of Mars Hill Church and followed that until it closed in 2014. In 2015, I started writing about Gospel for Asia. Now I write about evangelical misadventures, debunk fake quotes,  and examine a little bit of anything touching on the topics I have covered from the beginning.

I think some readers will be surprised at some of the people I interview, but they all will be worth tuning in to hear. These will be taped, last about an hour and posted about once a week over the next couple of months. Tomorrow I start with an interview of Michael Coulter, my co-author of Getting Jefferson Right.

I am pretty sure there are some readers who have been here since the beginning. In any case, let me know when you started reading and what topic(s) brought/keep you here.

David Barton Features Anti-Vax Speaker at Legislators Conference

Yesteday, I wrote about David Barton’s pitch to Republican lawmakers to avoid low income, young, and uneducated people in voter registration efforts.  Today, I want to point out that Barton promoted anti-vaccine ideology to the assembled legislators by having Theresa Deisher as a featured speaker for the event.

Deisher has a PhD in microbiology from Stanford and was, at one time, a mainstream scientist. However, she converted to anti-vax ideology several years ago and has promoted the theory that vaccines cause autism via the introduction of fetal DNA. Her theories have been thoroughly examined and lack support.

One of the more recent empirical tests comes from friend of the blog Morten Frisch. Frisch and colleagues examined the population of children in Denmark and found no relationship between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Deisher asserts autism cases are related to use of this vaccine. Here is the summary:

Participants: 657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.

Results: During 5,025,754 person-years of follow-up, 6517 children were diagnosed with autism (incidence rate, 129.7 per 100 000 person-years). Comparing MMR-vaccinated with MMR-unvaccinated children yielded a fully adjusted autism hazard ratio of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.85 to 1.02). Similarly, no increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination was consistently observed in subgroups of children defined according to sibling history of autism, autism risk factors (based on a disease risk score) or other childhood vaccinations, or during specified time periods after vaccination.

David Barton’s Project Blitz has caught on with religious right lawmakers. I would really hate to see anti-vax ideology become a part of the religious right dogma. Putting Deisher in front of legislators as an expert is troubling even if she didn’t talk about vaccines.

This is getting more serious as time goes on. Misguided parents listening to anti-vax crusaders put their children at risk. See below:

Constituents of legislators who want to expand exceptions to vaccination should be prepared to ask their legislators where they are getting their information about vaccines.

GOP Lawmakers Encouraged to Avoid Registering Poor, Young, Irreligious Voters and to Take Dominion Over Government

David Barton regularly hosts a strategy conference for state and federal legislators. For the version held this year in November, Barton posted photos which revealed some interesting details of the far right battle plan. I am surprised he posted this one:

Take note of the slide being used by George Barna. I assume this is from a talk on election strategy, Barna’s slide encourages selective voter registration. The audience is encouraged not to register young, uneducated, lower income, and irreligious people. Barna told the audience that those groups gravitate toward socialism.

In addition to the rather undemocratic tone of this advice, I don’t think he is correct. While it was true at one time that college-educated voters on average went for the GOP, now the trend has reversed. College-educated voters now are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate.

Wallnau Climbs His 7 Mountains

Another revealing photo from the conference gallery is this one of Lance Wallnau teaching lawmakers about 7 mountains dominionism. Simply put, this view of Christian involvement in culture mandates a takeover of seven aspects of society: Religion, Family,Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment and Business.

Wallnau is clearly teaching the legislators about the seven mountains mandate. Since these Christian legislators are considered government level apostles, their job is to take dominion in the mountain of government. This is the objective of Project Blitz which is supported by Barton via financing by his Wallbuilders organization. Project Blitz seeks to pass legislation which privileges Christianity in Congress and in state legislatures.

Barton and his group of Christian nationalist lawmakers aren’t interested in pluralism. They want to empower Christian Republican voters to enact a legal structure that privileges conservative Christians. Even though this is their right to pursue, in my view their aims are contrary to the vision of the framers who crafted a framework for pluralism and freedom of conscience for all.

 

 

 

Mercury One Exaggerates Relationship with the Lincoln Library and Museum

Last week, I wrote about Mercury One’s place in a scandal involving the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois. In 2018, Glenn Beck and David Barton borrowed a copy of the Gettysburg Address from the Lincoln Museum for a Mercury One exhibit in Dallas. A anonymous complaint triggered an investigation by the IL Inspector General into allegations that the Gettysburg Address was improperly loaned out to Beck and Barton. The IG report confirmed those allegations. The report asserted that the former museum executive director should not have loaned the document given the slipshod logistical arrangements for the transfer and exhibit and the poor reputation of David Barton as a historian. The executive director was fired and the chief operating officer was allowed to resign.

After writing about the IG report, I noticed that Mercury One still lists the Lincoln Museum as a partner on a website devoted to one of the organization’s exhibits — 12 Score and 3 Years Ago. On that page, Mercury One claims: “For the first time, the exhibit is partnering with five world-class organizations including: The African American Museum of Dallas, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Frontiers of Flight Museum, and Dallas Historical Society.”

I asked Dave Kelm, general counsel for the museum, if the Lincoln museum had any kind of partnership. After some research, he responded as follows:

So there was no partnership. Mercury One bought some pictures of the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation. Mercury One tried to borrow the Emancipation Proclamation from the Lincoln Museum and the museum staff turned them down because of David Barton’s reputation and the faulty processes used in the transfer of the Gettysburg address.

I think this is called spin or reputation management. Certainly the truth is different than the hype. In fact, the Lincoln museum declined to lend Mercury One an article because “under no circumstances” should the museum “be associated with him [David Barton].” Here is the expanded quote from Dr. Samuel Wheeler, Illinois state historian and Carla Smith, museum registrar:

Dr. Wheeler said that based on what he later learned about Mr. Barton, he believed that “under no circumstances” should the ALPLM be associated with him. Ms. Smith said that if she had known what she later learned about Mr. Barton’s reputation, the 2018 loan would have been an “instant no.”