David Swartz on Responding to the Claims of Christian Nationalists

Yesterday, Asbury College history prof David Swartz briefly opined on the Christian nationalist appropriation of the Bible as foundation for their view of American history. Swartz extends an article by Seth Perry in a recent Religion and Culture Web Forum.

Swartz discusses the reaction against linking the Bible with Christian nationalism and notes that evangelicals have blurred distinctions at least since the 1970s. He writes:

Piling on have been evangelical historians represented at hundreds of state universities and Christian liberal arts colleges. In the 1970s and 1980s they were led by a scholarly triumvirate made up of Robert Linder (Kansas State), Richard Pierard (Indiana State), and Robert Clouse (Indiana State). In the 1980s Mark Noll and George Marsden conducted a sometimes-combative dispute with Francis Schaeffer over the notion of Christian America. And more recently, Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and John Fea of Messiah College have taken on David Barton and enlisted dozens of colleagues in opposition to his flood of books, speeches, and videos. Largely due to their activism, publisher Thomas Nelson in 2012 pulled Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies.

Well, that is appreciated.

Swartz ends by saying, “a formidable evangelical brain trust stands united in support of the kind of nuance and context practiced by the broader historical guild.”

He is correct that a consensus has developed among Christian scholars to support good history and oppose simplistic Christian nationalist accounts of the nation’s founding (my paraphrase). More importantly, many are speaking to Christian organizations, albeit with mixed success.

For instance in 2013, the Family Research Council removed a error filled video of David Barton talking at the Capitol after numerous historians complained and requested action.  However, this year, the FRC had Barton back to repeat the Capitol Tour.  FRC’s fall back to pragmatism was disappointing and demonstrates the great gulf between Christian parachurch organizations and Christian scholars.