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Wednesday, 08 August 2012 10:48

Glenn Beck’s Favorite "Historian" Is Called Out by Christian Scholars

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David Barton, one of Glenn Beck's favorite "historians", is being called out by Christian scholars for playing fast and loose with the facts.

David Barton, president of the Christian conservative WallBuilders organization and a frequent guest on Glenn Beck's broadcasts, has for years been getting away with historicide. Criticism of Barton's politically motivated and tenuous grasp of history, once the sole province of liberal scholars, church-state separationists, and left wing political activists and bloggers, is now spreading beyond liberal enclaves, as several Christian scholars are criticizing Barton for just plain making stuff up.

World Magazine's Thomas Kidd recently reported that Barton's book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, was recently voted the "Least Credible History Book in Print," by readers of George Mason University's History News Network. At the end of polling, Barton's The Jefferson Lies barely edged out Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States by nine votes -- 650 to 641.

In a recent World article titled "The David Barton controversy", Kidd reported that "some conservative Christian scholars are publicly questioning Barton's work."

According to Kidd, "Jay W. Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, [a conservative Catholic] and author with [televangelist] James Robison of Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It's Too Late, ... said in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton's writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton's work."

The responses were uniformly negative. Kidd pointed out that 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.'"

Another professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, "said that Barton's characterization of Jefferson's religious views is 'unsupportable.' Yet another, 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.'"

Kidd noted that the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), by Professors Warren Throckmorton (psychology) and Michael Coulter (humanities and political science) of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, "argues that Barton 'is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.' For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, 'seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.'"

Writing for Talk2Action, Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst with Americans for Separation of Church and State, pointed out that Throckmorton and Coulter "look at numerous pieces of disinformation spread by Barton and give the real story, usually backing up their claims with words from Jefferson's own writings" (http://www.talk2action.org/story/2012/5/8/123341/5130).

"The duty of Christians as scholars," the professors write, "is first to get the facts correct.... Engaging in scholarship as a Christian is not about who is on our team; it should have as an aim of uncovering the facts about a subject, whether it is a historical figure or a theory of social science, and following the data where they lead."

Barton, who maintained that Throckmorton and Coulter are "academic elitists" and oppose his "personal religious beliefs," still has a legion of conservative supporters, including Beck, former Arkansas Governor, and Chick-fil-A booster, Mike Huckabee, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman.

Beck claimed that Barton's book, "really opened his own eyes to America's true history that so many Americans have never heard before."

"If you've never read a David Barton book, you've not read a history book," Beck said. "David is one of the best, if not the best historians in America. He is doing everything he can to turn history back and write it and put it back to where it was and tell history like it was, and to tell the truth, both good and bad. Thomas Jefferson is such an important figure. This is a watershed book that you need to equip yourself with and equip your family and children with, so they know about the truth about Jefferson."

On his WallBuilders website, Barton blasted his critics, arguing that they are jealous of the sales figures of his books: "I have penned numerous best-selling history works, and characteristic of each is a heavy reliance on primary-source documentation ... Not many individuals in America have read more original works (or fewer modern ones) than I have; and the general public has responded enthusiastically to this history based on original documentation... [T]ypical history works by modern elitist professors generally sell very poorly; and seeing their own influence wane, they often lash out and condescendingly criticize the more popular documentary works.

"...significantly, however, the public does not respond well to these works, for publishers claim that with few exceptions most academic scholars' books sell only two hundred or so copies a year.

"After The Jefferson Lies, rose to a New York Times best-seller, similar attacks were launched against it from academic elitists. I will address three of these attacks below, but first, I must tackle their oft-repeated talking-point that I am not a qualified historian – a claim they make to cast a shadow of doubt over all the facts I present. However, this charge, like their others, is completely false.

"After all, I am: Recognized as an historical expert by both state and federal courts; Called to testify as an historical expert by both the federal and state legislatures; Selected as an historical expert by State Boards of Education across the nation to assist in writing history and social studies standards for those states; Consulted as an historical expert by public school textbook publishers, helping write best-selling history texts used in public schools and universities across the nation."

In mid-July on Wallbuilders Live, Barton, who often wanders far afield and who, according to People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch "compares homosexuality to smoking and celebrates the fact that there isn't a cure for AIDS," basically endorsed Mitt Romney's candidacy: "So why do we have a question here? Because he's a Mormon? Hey, we've got to get past labels. Just like Obama's Christian label means nothing, Romney's Mormon label means nothing. What matters is the fruit, which one is going to produce more biblical fruit ...

"There's only two options Christians have. Christians do not have the option of sitting this one out. You do not have that option, it is not a possibility. You will stand before God and He will say "I gave you your vote, what did you do with your vote?" And we can't just say "well, I chose to sit this one out."