Is David Barton’s Sloppy Scholarship Starting to Catch up With Him?
Pseudo-historian David Barton has been receiving significant criticism from conservative and evangelical historians who are aghast at his numerous and deliberate misrepresentations of American history, and yet Barton continues to claim that the only people who find trouble with his work are members of the liberal, secular, anti-American elite who just don’t like him exposing the “truth” about the founders. Barton said that he is like Jesus and chooses to ignore his critics, even though he usually attacks or sues them.
But as Barton’s star continues to rise in right-wing media and the Republican Party, his work has received even more scrutiny.
Today the evangelical publication WORLD Magazine ran a story about how a leading conservative Catholic became “increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings,” finding them to be full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.” The activist was none other than Jay Richards, who this year co-authored a conservative polemical with televangelist (and Barton-ally) James Robison and has also spoken alongside Glenn Beck, one of the top endorsers of Barton’s work. Richards even shared the stage with Barton at the Religious Right rally Beck and Robison co-hosted in Texas last week, Under God: Indivisible.
Richards said he spoke to ten “conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work,” and the responses were not good, as many criticized Barton for not only his much criticized book on Thomas Jefferson but also his sweeping claims about the founders at large.
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.
A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), 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.”
Richards emphasizes that he and the scholars he consulted about Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics. They largely agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but Richards argues that Barton’s books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”