On Monday, I wrote about a time in 2012 when David Barton was confronted by evangelical historians. I linked to a devastating critique of Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage by Gregg Frazer, professor of history at The Master’s College. Much of the critique is helpful even if one has not seen Barton’s DVD because Frazer includes enough of the context to make the critiques clear. However, there is one section which might not be as clear as the others. To help readers use the critique well, I want to provide some additional context.
Specifically, I refer to this section of Frazer’s critique:
Barton’s claims about the percentage of quotes directly from the Bible or based on the Bible or from “men who used the Bible to write their conclusions” are gross misrepresentations that are too confusing and complex to explain briefly here. A few comments will have to suffice. First, his percentages are blown out of proportion. He notes that a study found the Bible to have the highest percentage of citations (34%) and he claims that another 60% came from “men who used the Bible to write their conclusions”; consequently, he claims that “94% of the quotes of the Founders were based on the Bible.” First, neither the 60% number nor the 94% number come from the study – Barton made those up. Second, the study is careful to note that “reprinted sermons accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations, making this nonsermon source of biblical citations roughly as important as the Classical or Common Law categories [10%].” Most importantly, while Barton appeals to this study during his discussion of the framing of the Constitution, the study says that during the debate on the U.S. Constitution, “the Bible’s prominence disappears” and “(t)he debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.” Even at that, the percentages are misleading in and of themselves, as misapplication and misinterpretations of passages (abuse of the Bible) are counted the same as proper use. Satan quotes the Bible (e.g. Luke 3:10-11) too, but that does not indicate any righteousness or interest in promoting Christianity on his part.
The study in question was conducted by Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman, both then at the University of Houston. Frazer is correct in his criticisms but there is more that can be said about Barton’s misuse of the study. For that additional information, please see my prior post on how the Institute on the Constitution mimics Barton’s errors and then this post by Jim Allison and Tom Peters.
This is a case where Barton cites the study improperly, and then fails to cite all of the relevant sections of the study. Barton’s main argument is that the founders used the Bible as a foundation for our form of government. However, Lutz and Hyneman demonstrate that the Federalist defenders of the Constitution did not refer to the Bible once in their writings. On page 194 of the study, Lutz charts the analysis of the citations in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.
Note that the Bible was not cited at all by the Federalists. It was those who opposed various aspects of the Constitution, the Antifederalists, who cited the Bible. While Lutz and Hyneman are fair in their research, Barton spins and omits relevant information to twist their argument beyond recognition.
The title of this post begins by calling attention to what I call “the David Barton cover up.” Religious right leaders know about the many critiques from Christian academics but those leaders choose to ignore them. David Barton’s fractured history is apparently too important to challenge. Major organizations (e.g., Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Liberty University, Gateway Church) and individuals (e.g., David Lane, Glenn Beck, Sen. Ted Cruz) are aware of the findings of numerous conservative Christian historians. However, the work of these scholars does not matter. Countless state and federal legislators have been led astray which has consequences for the state of our political process.
These organizations and leaders are responsible as are Christian media sources who fail to ask these leaders hard questions; it remains to be seen if they will ever do the right thing.