How to Waste $1000: The American History Version

Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a profile of Stephen McDowell in today’s WaPo. McDowell runs the Providence Foundation, a Christian nationalist group with David Barton on its board.
Bailey attended one of McDowell’s “Christian history” tours and reported her observations. Although she doesn’t give a full account, what she describes sounds like David Barton’s discredited spiritual heritage Capitol tour.
McDowell follows the Christian nationalist approach of eliminating moral tension from history. For instance, Pocahontas wasn’t a captive, she was a convert. Bailey reports that McDowell pointed to the painting of the baptism of Pocahontas and told them “her baptism is a reflection of why the colonies were established.” In this version of history, Pocahontas willingly accepted Christ and freely married John Rolfe. In fact, the conversion of Pocahontas occurred while she was in English captivity; perhaps the Stockholm Syndrome should be called the Pocahontas Syndrome.

Some Facts Wrong

John Fea is quoted in this piece saying McDowell gets “some facts wrong.” His point is that the bigger picture is the distortion of the past for present-day political purposes. While I agree, I also think it is unconscionable how many facts these people get wrong for the money they charge. According to Bailey, McDowell charged the school group $999/person for this experience.
The financial and time investment make these experiences especially hard to undo. The participants now think they have had the hidden truth revealed to them. The Christian guide they trust pulls back the curtain and shows them the real facts. Now when someone corrects the errors, these students and their parents are prepared to discount the actual facts. There is strong motivation in most people to make that investment of time, money, and trust worth it. To find out that much of the information is wrong or biased is very hard to accept.
If you are reading this and thinking about doing one of these tours, please contact me or John Fea. There are some really excellent ways to address this subject matter.

Monday Night Live with Jerry Newcombe

Last night I was on Jerry Newcombe’s Monday Night Live talk show which is aired on WAFG-FM, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  Newcombe’s views lean toward the Christian nationalist side of things, having co-authored, What if America was a Christian Nation Again? with D. James Kennedy as well as George Washington’s Sacred Fire with Peter Lillback. I was on the show to discuss Getting Jefferson Right, and more specifically aspects of Jefferson’s life and views. The point of the show was not to focus on the mistakes made by David Barton in The Jefferson Lies, but rather to discuss our perspective on some of the same issues Barton’s covers in his book.

The first half of the 30 minute segment was devoted to Jefferson and slavery and the second half to Jefferson’s religious beliefs with some time spent on Jefferson’s extractions from the Gospels. Newcombe is a gracious host and allowed me time to develop Jefferson’s contradictions.  I experienced the segment as a point-counterpoint exchange. Newcombe brought up various anti-slavery statements made by Jefferson and I acknowledged those but noted Jefferson’s actions which were inconsistent with his lofty ideals. For instance, Jefferson spoke against the slave trade, however, he engaged in buying and selling of human beings throughout his life. Without challenge, I drove home the point that Jefferson was legally able to free his slaves but did not do it.

The second half of the show revolved around Jefferson’s religious beliefs. Newcombe was particularly bothered by Jefferson’s statements that finding Jesus’ actual teachings in the Gospels was as easy as picking diamonds from a dunghill. Jefferson’s extractions of Jesus’ teaching for what is often called the Jefferson Bible was guided by his confidence that he could easily tell what came from Jesus of Nazareth (diamonds) and what was added by his followers (dunghill). Newcombe rightly observed that Jefferson set himself up as a judge over the Bible. Newcombe seemed genuinely troubled that Jefferson believed that the Gospel writers were responsible for obscuring the real Jesus.  He had been led to believe it was the church in the middle ages which did so. I wish I would have driven this point home more strongly. After the broadcast and while Newcombe was talking to the next guest Mark Beliles (more about him in a bit), I recalled Jefferson’s assessment of the New Testament writers. In a 1820 letter to William Short, Jefferson said:

Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I seperate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and disent.

Jefferson believed that the corrupting of the New Testament began with His biographers and then became further corrupted by Paul, the author of most of the New Testament. This clearly bothered Newcombe which he carried into the next segment with Mark Beliles.

Beliles is a minister in the Charlottesville, VA area and co-founder, with Stephen McDowell, of the Providence Foundation. David Barton is on the board of that group. On their website, they describe one objective of their organization:

Jesus commissioned believers to “make disciples of all nations,” which, according to Matthew Henry, means to “do your utmost to make the nations Christian nations.”

The nations need an understanding of how to build a Godly society. We need personal revival, for all change begins in the heart of man, but Biblical revivals have historically transformed society as well as individuals. Without Biblical reformation, tyranny and oppression will increase. God has called His people to serve in civil government, education, the media, politics, and business, as well as the family and church. Everyone must know how to apply Biblical principles in their calling. Many are called to equip others in a Biblical worldview.

Listening carefully to Beliles, I could hear David Barton’s talking points about Jefferson’s religious faith. Belilies said Jefferson abridged the Gospels for missions to the Indians and downplayed the diamonds from a dunghill imagery. He tried to locate all of Jefferson’s skepticism to near the end of his life and advanced the dubious notion that Jefferson was influenced by the Primitivist and Restoration movements to change orthodox views into heresy. In our book, we examine that idea and find it to be without merit. If anything, the Restoration preachers were inspired by Jefferson and his republican ideals more than the other way around.  As far as we can discern, Jefferson never mentioned the Restoration movement but he did talk much about Unitarianism and his affiliation with that viewpoint. Beliles said people in Virginia did not question Jefferson’s orthodoxy which is just not right. For instance, opposition in Virginia to the University of Virginia often referenced Jefferson perceived infidelity.

It would have been good for us to be on together so I could have asked Beliles about his evidence, but it is Newcombe’s decision to set it up how he wants. In all, I appreciate the opportunity to present some of our work in that forum.