NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty turned in one of her typically balanced and informative religion and culture reports, this time looking into the work of David Barton, an influential Texas Evangelical who promotes a Christianized form of U.S. history to classrooms. Excerpts:
David Barton says Americans have been misled about their history. And he aims to change that.
“It’s what I would call historical reclamation,” Barton explains, in his soft but rapid-fire voice. “We’re just trying to get history back to where it’s accurate. If you’re going to use history, get it right.”
Barton has collected 100,000 documents from before 1812 — original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas — something you never learn in school.
For example, you’ve been taught the Constitution is a secular document. Not so, says Barton: The Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.
“You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause,” he told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network. “Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document; we’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.”
We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out. Moreover, the Constitution as written in 1787 has no mention of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. The First Amendment does address religion.
BBH interviewed Evangelical historians who say that Barton, who only has a bachelor’s degree (and not in history, but in Christian education, from Oral Roberts University), is wildly distorting American history to serve his activism. There’s no doubting that Barton is influential:
In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to rewrite the history textbooks to make them more conservative and Christian-friendly. One of the advisers was David Barton.
Barton later said on the cable talk show Chapter and Verse that it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids go through the entire curriculum, “then another 10 years after that before those kids get elected to office and start doing things. So we’re talking 30 years from now. But, it’s in the pipe coming down.”
Count me as a conservative Christian who is alarmed by this kind of thing. I hate it when secular liberals distort history to serve their own ends. The most egregious example I can think of was the drafters of the European Union constitution ignoring Europe’s Christian heritage; even Poland’s then-president, an atheist, denounced it as an outrageous ideological distortion of the historical record. History will always be contended over, of course, but the goal should be trying to make the study of history an exercise in finding the truth, not massaging the past to make it fit a contemporary political narrative. When conservatives and Christians do this, we are no better than those we criticize. I don’t want my children to learn politically correct history, from either the left or the right. You shouldn’t either.