Named by Time in 2005 as one of the nation's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals." David Barton is a self-styled 'historian' who has acted as a key bridge between the mainstream political right and radical-right religious ideology.
Barton, the founder and leader of WallBuilders, is best known for claiming that America was founded as a Christian nation and wrote a book entitled The Myth of Separation. He says the founding fathers intended only Christians to hold office, citing early documents to back that falsehood. Barton has no training as a historian beyond a bachelor’s in religious education from Oral Roberts University.
Barton’s historical revisionism goes beyond that. In a DVD, “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White,” he paints the Democratic Party as responsible for the travails of black Americans, conveniently omitting U.S. history after 1965 and the GOP’s subsequent racist “Southern strategy.”
Barton’s work has been widely debunked by professional historians, who say he violates the central tenet of historical scholarship: that the past must be understood on its own terms and for its own sake.
Mike Lilla, who has taught at the University of Colorado and Columbia University, has criticized the “schlock history written by religious propagandists like David Barton … who use selective quotations out of context to suggest that the framers were inspired believers who thought they were founding a Christian nation.” Paul Harvey, a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says that “Barton’s intent is not to produce ‘scholarship’ but to influence public policy.” “The Christian Nation ‘debate,’” Harvey continues, is a “manufactured controversy” drummed up by “a group of ideological entrepreneurs” like Barton, “who have created an alternative intellectual universe based on a historical fundamentalism.”
Even scholars from institutions with strong religious affiliations have decried Barton’s manipulation of American history. Derek H. Davis, director of church-state studies at Baylor University, says Barton’s work contains “a lot of distortions, half-truths, and twisted history.” Randall Stephens, an associate history professor at East Nazarene College, writes that Barton’s “hyper-politicized work” dresses “his founders up in 21st century garb. … In history circles this is what we call ‘bad history.’”
In Barton’s version of history, the founding fathers “already had the entire debate on creation and evolution,” and chose Creationism – despite the fact that Charles Darwin didn’t publish his theory of evolution in The Origin of Species until 1859. Barton also contends the American Revolution was fought to free slaves. “That’s why we said we want to separate from Britain, so we can end slavery.” (In reality, numerous founders were slaveholders; the British Empire outlawed the institution three decades before America did.)
The scary thing about David Barton is that he has the ear of so many. He is a former co-chairman of the Texas Republican Party, a one-time consultant to the Republican National Committee, and an adviser at various times to Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. Last year, Huckabee said he wished all Americans could be “forced — forced at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message.” Former Fox News conspiracy-monger Glenn Beck uses Barton to teach history at Beck’s “university.”
Barton’s interests extend beyond his view of Christianity. He advocates government regulation of homosexuality and has claimed that gay people die “decades earlier” than others and have more than 500 sexual partners apiece in their lifetimes. He cited infamous Islamophobe Robert Spencer in attacking U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman. He opposes immigration reform, saying that God established national borders, and has appeared on the radio show of hard-line nativist William Gheen. At one point, Barton even spoke at an event put on by Pete Peters, a pastor of the anti-Semitic and racist Christian Identity theology (he later said he had no idea that Peters’ group was “part of the Nazi movement”).
In 2010, Barton joined the battle to bowdlerize the Texas social studies curriculum for public schools, supporting efforts to excise Martin Luther King Jr. and 1960s farmworker activist Cesar Chavez from textbooks. As reported by Washington Monthly, Barton said King didn’t deserve to be included for advancing minority rights because “[o]nly majorities can expand political rights.”
In 2012, a new member of Alabama Public Television’s ruling body pushed the network to air a documentary series produced by Barton. Two top executives were fired after determining that Barton’s historically inaccurate videos, which promote his Christian view of the nation’s founding, were inappropriate for public broadcasting. Several members of the Alabama Educational Television Commission quit in protest of the firings.