Political Animal


August 17, 2012 4:18 PM Barton’s Fall From Grace

By Ed Kilgore

Back in June I wrote about a new book by two conservative evangelical writers who took great issue with the take on Thomas Jefferson’s church-state views offered by the famous controversialist David Barton, who more than any one person is cited by Christian Right folk as “proving” America was intended by its Founders to be a “Christian Nation.” At the end of the post I expressed pessimism about the impact of this debunking given Barton’s enormous political usefulness, particularly to the vast Teavangelical interests who claim the Declaration of Independence set out divinely established permanent edicts protecting everything from fetal rights to absolute limits on taxes and business regulations.

But turns out I underestimated conservative evangelical scholarship, which has turned against Barton with a vengeance, as noted by Thomas Kidd in the latest issue of World magazine:

Jay W. Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and author with James Robison of Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late, spoke alongside Barton at Christian conferences as recently as last month. Richards says in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.
Their response was negative. Some examples: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.” A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton’s characterization of Jefferson’s religious views is “unsupportable.” A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College, evaluated Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians.’” Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company.

And on top of that, the biggest blow, per TPM’s Casey Michael:

Thomas Nelson Publishers announced this month that it has ceased publication of The Jefferson Lies, Barton’s latest work.
Casey Francis Harrell, the director of corporate communications at the publishing firm, said that, due to a spate of recent complaints, Thomas Nelson had “lost confidence in the book’s details.” The Jefferson Lies, a New York Times bestseller, has been pulled from Thomas Nelson’s website, and the company has asked online retailers to cease offering the work to the public.


In Kidd’s damning account of the uniformly negative assessment of Barton’s most recent work by conservative evangelical scholars, he adds this afterthought:

Barton has received support from Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and other political leaders.

No kidding. I think it’s safe to say that a whole lot of conservative political argumentation about church-state relations, the Constitution, and the Founders has always rested on Barton’s authority, which is now been taken down many notches.

So next time you hear some pol or gabber say confidently that it’s a “well-known fact” this was intended to be a “Christian Nation” with eternal constitutional rules of governance which happen to coincide with the conservative movement’s economic and social prejudices, you might want to ask: “Who Says?” If it’s David Barton, it might be time to laugh.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on August 17, 2012 4:55 PM:

    Jayzoooz H. Keerist on some channel besides FOX "News"!

    Barton's work makes Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" look positively scholarly.

    And that's like saying, "The Hunting of the Snark" is a more accurate reflection of today's reality, than "How to Woo and Marry a Vamipire!"

    Barton wouldn't know history, not only if it bit him in his lying ass, but if he died today, and was somehow brought back to life 200 years from now.
    This ignorant MFer would still confuse W with Churchill.

    Maybe something's finally happening to America, because, back in the Bush mis-administration, I couldn't image something like THIS happening!

  • TR on August 17, 2012 5:11 PM:

    So next time you hear some pol or gabber say confidently that it’s a “well-known fact” this was intended to be a “Christian Nation”...

    ... you could just refer them to the Treaty of Tripoli (1797).

    American's first ever treaty, it was initiated by George Washington, signed by John Adams, and ratified unanimously by a Senate whose membership was half made up of men who'd passed the Constitution.

    And it says "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."


  • Rob on August 17, 2012 5:11 PM:


  • Larry Reilly on August 17, 2012 5:17 PM:

    Keller somehow reminds me of the late Sen. William Scott, R-Va., who, when named "Dumbest Congressman" by New Times Magazine, called a news conference to rebut the, uh, (dis)honor.

  • Kathryn on August 17, 2012 5:20 PM:

    Thanks TR, good information.

  • Comstock Load on August 17, 2012 5:46 PM:

    Yeah, but a volunteer parish historian for a tiny church in the rural midwest somewhere, said that everything Barton said is true. So to be 'fair and balanced' both sides of the argument have to be presented as equal in the press.

  • martin on August 17, 2012 5:58 PM:

    And yet the Tea Partiers here in Alabama have used Barton to tear apart Alabama Public Television


  • Mitt's Magic Underpants on August 17, 2012 6:01 PM:

    Thanks, Jon Stewart, for promoting this guy.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on August 17, 2012 6:31 PM:

    The Jefferson Lies, a New York Times bestseller.....

    Looks like some evangelical organization just got stuck with a shit load of worthless books. Something tells me the "Teavangelicals" (awesome term by the way) will distribute the books anyway with not a peep about them being pulled by the publisher.

  • Philip Turner on August 18, 2012 9:43 AM:

    Ed's post from yesterday afternoon is a good one, but has been superseded by events in the publishing industry. Publishers Weekly reported Friday that negotiations are underway for Glenn Beck (who wrote a Foreword to "The Jefferson Lies") to publish Barton's next book. Barton himself has bought all 17,000 recalled copies from Thomas Nelson, the Christian publisher that canceled it last week, and he is gleefully going to sell them-- a discredited book that some people will nonetheless lap up. Beck's imprint may even take on "The Jefferson Lies" at some point I've written about it all and included the Publishers Weekly link at a blog post I put up yesterday, called "Disgrace is No Biggie, to Glenn Beck," at this url: http://philipsturner.com/2012/08/17/disgrace-big-deal-glenn-beck/

  • Lou on August 18, 2012 9:49 AM:

    The book became a bestseller on Amazon after Thomas Nelson announced it was pulling copies.

    Publishers Weekly reported yesterday that Glenn Beck's company is going to pick it up.

    Seems like there's no level of mendacity that doesn't go unrewarded at the far-right end of the political spectrum.

  • Lou on August 18, 2012 9:52 AM:

    Sorry, didn't see Phillip's reply before I posted.

  • smartalek on August 18, 2012 12:45 PM:

    Perhaps there is yet hope in the world?
    This is a pleasant surprise -- at least tentatively.
    (It does matter what the scholars involved would say is true in lieu of the discredited factoids and refuted assertions. Mr K, care to follow up on that at some point, or to provide links for those of us too inept &/or lazy to find them ourselves?)
    Still, this is good news.
    To cop to my own prejudices, before reading this post, I'd have been inclined to assume "conservative evangelical scholarship" an oxymoron. I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong on that.
    (I still won't be holding my breath for their announcements endorsing "Darwinism" or anthropogenic climate change, though.)

  • Michael Rollins on August 22, 2012 11:49 PM:

    Anytime I post on a Beck-Barton page or site and use the names Roger Williams and John Leland, my post are deleted and I am banned. They will leave ad hominem and criticism of their facts, but urgently remove post about early Baptist and their mission of faith known as Individual Liberty of Conscience. I believe they fear this type of discussion and it needs to be brought to them. The early secularist need to be heard.

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