No, David Barton, I Did Not Recruit Jay Richards

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Although World Net Daily lists January 12 as the release date for the second edition of David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies, it is now available on Amazon. I ordered the Kindle version and found a serious flaw within minutes of reading Barton’s response to our book Getting Jefferson Right.

Barton claims that I recruited Jay Richards to in turn recruit Christian historians to begin a campaign against Barton. That claim is not true. After reading Getting Jefferson Right, Richards approached me via Facebook message on May 14, 2012. Before that message, I did not know Richards. Here is what Barton says in The Jefferson Lies:

Throckmorton admitted that he had recruited scholars for this purpose, led by Jay Richards, a philosopher/theologian with the Discovery Institute, who, according to media outlets had asked “10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.” Although he reported that their responses were “negative,” several of them actually refused to participate in his quest.
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 133-137). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Later in the book’s preface, Barton claims:

In fact, when Jay Richards (the speaker from the Discovery Institute who was enlisted by Throckmorton to find and recruit critics to attack my works) confronted me about what he claimed were errors in The Jefferson Lies, I repeatedly asked him if he had read the book. He refused to answer. But it was clear from his mischaracterization of my arguments that he had not read it (or at least all of it). For instance, he repeatedly asserted that I said that Jefferson was an evangelical, but as is clear in the chapter on Jefferson’s faith, I do not make that claim.

Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 613-617). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

In fact, Richards wrote to Michael Coulter and me on May 14, 2012 via the Getting Jefferson Right Facebook page. He thanked us for the book and offered to contact Christian journalists on our behalf. Then, on May 23, Richards wrote to say that he had spoken to two of Barton’s supporters about the historical problems in Barton’s book (see below for the identity of one of them which was revealed by Barton). The next day, Richards alerted me that he had been “commissioned” (it was unclear who did the commissioning, but it wasn’t me) to find six Christian historians to read Barton’s book, our book, and Barton’s DVD lecture America’s Godly Heritage. Richards then approached six scholars who then agreed to provide feedback. Richards did not tell me the identity of the scholars and I still don’t know all of them. The number providing some level of feedback eventually grew to ten.

According to Richards, Barton was also going to be informed that this process was happening.

Barton’s attempt to make me the one pulling all the strings is false and I think he knows it. I say this because on his Wallbuilders’ website, he tells the story differently. About one of the scholars recruited by Richards — The Masters’ College history professor Gregg Frazer — Barton says (see footnote 2):

From a hostile written review of David Barton and WallBuilders written by Gregg Frazer at the request of Jay Richards. That written critique was subsequently passed on to David Barton on August 13, 2012, by the Rev. James Robison, to whom Jay Richards had distributed it.

From Barton, we learn that Gregg Frazer was one of the historians recruited by Richards. Richards then gave the critique to Robison (co-author with Richards of the book Indivisible). Then, if Barton’s timing is correct, Robison gave Frazer’s critique to Barton on August 13, 2012, a few days after Thomas Nelson’s move to pull The Jefferson Lies from the shelves became public.

Not only is Barton’s claim about me false, the narrative he constructs appears to be designed to obscure what really happened. The Jefferson Lies was not doomed by political correctness, but rather by the deficiencies identified by conservative critics and reviewers. Conservative scholar Jay Richards came to us due to the merits of our work, not because we recruited him. In turn, Richards did not act alone in the effort to bring peer review to The Jefferson Lies. 

For some reason, those who commissioned Richards apparently did not follow through in a vigorous manner on the information they received. This is a part of the story as yet untold although the removal of The Jefferson Lies from publication was influenced by Richards’ efforts.

This misrepresentation of recent history is just the first of many issues from the second edition of The Jefferson Lies I will explore in the coming months.

Why Don't Christian History Professors Matter When it Comes to David Barton?

TurningAmericaLogoOf late, I have gone from trying to change the problem to trying to understand it.
Numerous Christian academic historians have weighed in on the historical misadventures of David Barton, often with unclear results in the church world. A recent example is the decision of the Missouri Baptist Convention to sponsor a talk by David Barton in MO near the end of the month. Despite clear evidence from academic Christian historians that Mr. Barton’s talks are laced with significant historical problems, the executive director of the MBC told me:

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.

Gregg Frazer, historian at The Master’s College said in response:

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?

Of course, Frazer is correct.
Here is what I don’t understand. In the face of evidence that you are may be responsible for disseminating error, shouldn’t you check into it? This almost never happens. There is clear evidence that a problem exists and the person in charge does nothing but defend the decision.
Shouldn’t Dr. Yeats have a conversation with Hankins and Frazer?
I can supply him and his board with names of over 50 Christian academics who can provide relevant evidence regarding the matter at hand.
I wrote and asked the MBC why Christian academic historians don’t matter. No answer.
Southern Baptists send their children to Christian colleges to get an education from academics who have dedicated their lives to getting things right. Of course, we don’t always get it right but the values of the academy push us to correct where we are wrong and own up to it. However, when it comes to church work, respect for Christian colleges often goes out the window, at least in the area of historical scholarship. Wallbuilders has the right slogan so it doesn’t matter what the organization’s founder teaches or how many key facts he gets wrong.
Barton’s claims don’t just relate to America’s founding era. He has falsely claimed that violent crime has risen almost 700% since the early 1960s (crime did rise until the mid-1990s but has been falling since then). He has misled audiences about HIV vaccines, PTSD, and numerous other more current issues. He even claimed to play college basketball for Oral Roberts University. He didn’t. This was debunked by ORU. He claimed to be a translator for the Russian national gymnastics team (they brought their own). His book on Thomas Jefferson was pulled from publication by a Christian publisher after they fact checked it. Much more could be said.
Shouldn’t the people responsible for these meetings check into these things?
I realize that the MBC may be at odds with the parent convention over religion and politics. Recently, the SBC pulled an invitation for Ben Carson to speak at an event due to concerns about those entanglements. Perhaps the MBC leadership disagrees with that approach and wants a more political approach to religion. However, if so, that is no reason to mislead the people you are responsible for.
Think about that for a minute. The SBC pulled Ben Carson’s invitation but the MBC is rock solid on sponsoring David Barton.
Something is wrong with this picture.

Historian Scott Culpepper: When the Church Spreads Propaganda

Dr. Scott Culpepper currently serves as associate professor of history at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. His Ph.D. is from Baylor University and he has a M.Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Culpepper is the author of Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence: The Bishop of Brownism’s Life, Ministry, and Controversies (Mercer University Press, 2011). When he read my post earlier today, he had the following reaction:

Two very disturbing realities are revealed in Warren‘s piece. First, while the people in the pews may still be operating out of ignorance, evangelical and Republican leaders can no longer hide behind that defense. They know Barton’s methods are unethical and they simply do not care because he furthers their agenda. Which makes one rightfully question if an agenda that rests on so little integrity is really worth furthering.
Second and perhaps more frightening, the article reveals a reluctance on the part of evangelical Christian scholars who know better to press these issues because of their fear that the evangelical constituency will retaliate in defense of Barton. Once again, I have to ask if such a constituency is really worth appeasing. I experienced some of this timidity personally at the Conference on Faith and History this fall and have no doubt that Warren knows whereof he speaks. These are sad times when the body of Christ has effectively become an arm of the Ministry of Propaganda.

Scott has had some experience with pressure to overlook Barton’s historical mischief. Appreciate his thoughts here and hope other Christian historians will continue to expose the cover up.

The Great Confrontation of 2012: David Barton and the Evangelical Historians

In August 2012, Thomas Nelson (now part of Harper Collins Christian) pulled David Barton‘s book The Jefferson Lies from publication. This rare move by Thomas Nelson took place in the midst of efforts by several people to confront Barton with his errors. While I cannot tell the whole story (in part because I don’t know it and in part because the main players are not willing to discuss it completely), I can provide a little more insight into the situation. The door was opened to this by a footnote on David Barton’s website and other vague references to a series of meetings that took place in 2012. The footnote is on the page where Barton claims to explain false quotes from his first book. Barton says this:

Although many people, including several respected academics, have told David that they admire his honesty and transparency, others have attempted to use this practice against him. For instance, in a recent critique of David’s work, Professor Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College writes:

“Having been confronted over the use of false quotes, Barton was forced to acknowledge their illegitimacy in some way on his website. There, he describes them as “unconfirmed” – as if there is some doubt about their legitimacy. In a computer age with search capabilities, we know that these quotes are false – the fact that they are listed as “unconfirmed” reflects a stubborn attempt to hold onto them and to suggest to followers that they might be true. That is made worse by the fact that under these “unconfirmed” quotes are paragraphs maintaining that the bogus quote is something that the person might have said.” 2

What an interesting reward for trying to be honest and transparent.

Barton’s claim to be “honest and transparent” requires much more attention, but for the purpose of this post, let me move on to Barton’s description of the source of Gregg Frazer’s words. In the footnote, Barton explains the source of Frazer’s quote:

From a hostile written review of David Barton and WallBuilders written by Gregg Frazer at the request of Jay Richards. That written critique was subsequently passed on to David Barton on August 13, 2012, by the Rev. James Robison, to whom Jay Richards had distributed it. 

After Jay Richards read my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third Presidenthe asked ten Christian historians to read both The Jefferson Lies, and then our book. Richards wanted to get expert opinions on the facts in each book. He also asked Gregg Frazer to review Barton’s DVD, America’s Godly Heritage (which is still for sale on Barton’s website).

With Frazer’s permission, the complete review of America’s Godly Heritage is now available here.

As is clear from an examination of the paper, Frazer did not look at each one of the quotes in Barton’s first book. He specifically examined the DVD series America’s Godly Heritage. Even though the DVD is still for sale, Frazer found faulty quotes in it.

As Barton says in his footnote, this paper was presented to Barton by James Robison surrounding the time when his book was pulled by Thomas Nelson (August 2012). Robison is an apostolic elder at Gateway Church and host of the television show Life Today. As this footnote reveals, Robison was in on the confrontation as was Richards and the Christian historians. While I don’t know specifics, some met with Barton at his ranch where he rejected their advice and counsel. Furthermore, Barton met with at least one leader at the Family Research Council in August 2o12. In that meeting, Barton’s errors were confronted with promises from Barton to provide corrected material. However, nothing happened on Barton’s end until the Family Research Council was confronted by numerous Christian historians in the Spring of 2013.

Despite numerous clear factual errors, FRC continues to have Barton involved in their presentations to pastors. As Politico documented in 2013 (Sen. Ted Cruz defends Barton in this article), Barton has been accepted back into the good graces of the political arm of the Christian right (e.g., this apologetics conference).

The awareness of Barton’s systematic distortion of the nation’s founding is well known at the highest levels of the Christian political right and yet many such groups continue to promote Barton as an exemplary historian.  Because the Christian right is aware of the problems but continues to feature Barton as an historian, the “great confrontation of 2012” has turned into the “great cover-up of the present.”

Gregg Frazer’s review of America’s Godly Heritage is a devastating critique of this popular DVD program. It has been read by high level decision makers on the Christian right and ignored. I urge readers to read it and pass it around. I intend to give it more attention by focusing on various highlights in upcoming posts. Here is a follow up post on Frazer’s review.

The Christian Right and the Search for a Usable Past

Christian Historians and PublicsThe final session I attended at the Conference on Faith and History was titled “The Christian Right and the Search for a Usable Past.” Gregg Frazer, Professor of History at The Master’s College chaired the session and provided closing comments.
Three papers were presented:
1. “Fallen Walls and Open Doors: An Analysis of David Barton as a Christian Historian,” by Matt McCook, Professor at Oklahoma Christian University.
In my view, McCook started out on thin ice by referring to Barton as an historian. However, from there, the presentation improved as he revealed many familiar illustrations of Barton faulty historical work. Not surprisingly, McCook called for historians to present the narrative accurately without efforts to shape the past into a politically useful one.
A religiously ambiguous Thomas Jefferson is not useful to the Christian right.
Walls such as have been established by David Barton must come down.
2. “Popularizing a Usable Past: The Providence Foundation, Kirk Cameron, and the Legacy of Francis Schaeffer” by Grove City College graduate Charles Cotherman who is now at the University of Virginia.
Cotherman compared and contrasted Kurt Cameron’s movie Monumental with Francis Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live? Both efforts used history to effect the culture war and both were less than stellar on historical precision according to academic historians. However, Cotherman presented evidence that Schaeffer’s efforts resulted in the intellectual betterment of some evangelicals who went into scholarly work via Schaeffer’s inspiration. However, such results are not likely to derive from Cameron’s movie. The amateur historians recruited by Cameron are too fact-challenged to lead to any positive result.
Cameron’s Monumental reflects decrease in public intellectualism.
Schaeffer would roll over in his grave at the praise for the aesthetics of the Monument to the Forefathers.
3. “In the Stream of God’s Sovereign Plan”: Providential History and Nostalgia in the American Quiverfull Movement by Emily Hunter McGowin student at the University of Dayton.
Emily discussed the historical revisionism of G. Botkin who is at the forefront of the Quiverfull Movement (having many children and raising them in accord with strict gender roles).
Members of the Quiverfull movement are members of restorative nostalgia.
Nostalgia tells it like it wasn’t.
Gregg Frazer then summarized the papers and hit his sweet spot with a couple of quotes/paraphrases that summed up the session:
Complicit in the promotion of bad history are the media, political organizations, churches etc. who invite David Barton to speak.
Historical revisionists find what they set out to find.
Gregg was right on target and even though difficult encouraged Christian historians to keep “pushing the boulder up the hill” in a Sissyphus-like effort to bring historical integrity to Christians. Probably many Christians would be surprised to find out the extent of the distance between Christian historians and Christian advocacy groups on matters of historical accuracy.