Publisher pulls David Barton’s book of lies about Jefferson
August 9th, 2012
Former Texas Republican Party Co-Chair and evangelical “historian” David Barton is a darling of conservative Christians who believe that America is a Christian Nation and that God hand-selected very devout men to bring about it’s creation and that whole “separation of church and state” thing is just a fiction created to exclude Christians from their rightful role in government. He has for several years appeared on Christian television with stories that confirm their beliefs.
Earlier this year he set out to “debunk” the horrible lies that liberals and atheists were saying about revered Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. In his book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, Barton bets his reputation on articulating just how and why history backs up his claim that Jefferson was a devout Christian (of Barton’s flavor) who opposed slavery, and that the Founding Fathers really set out to enshrine religious principles in the Constitution rather than protect the citizenry from religious coercion.
He just rolled snake eyes.
Evangelical Christian professor and blogger Warren Throckmorton was long been on a campaign of debunking Barton’s absurd assertions. In May, he and fellow Grove City College professor Michael Coulter authored Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, in which they use documents (often more complete examples of Barton’s snippets) to disprove his revisionist history.
This encouraged others to take a closer look at Barton’s historical claims. For example, Greg Forster writing for First Things, a project of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, found his claims about John Locke to be, well, let him say it:
I should note for the record that I’m not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke’s Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet Barton’s attempt to fit Locke into his larger historical narrative forces him into numerous distortions. Moreover, the article contains a number of incidental facutal errors that don’t even advance his thesis, indicating that his inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading and into outright incompetence.
Criticism mounted – much of it from fellow conservative Christians who were offended by the blatancy of the dishonesty. But the final straw was when a coalition of Cincinnati area pastors – including several African-American pastors – threatened to boycott the Christian book publisher that printed Barton’s book.
Bishop Dwight Wilkins, president of The Amos Project, said, “We have privately approached Thomas Nelson about our concerns, with no resolution.” The pastors/church leaders pointed to four major concerns the group has with The Jefferson Lies:
1. It glosses over Thomas Jefferson’s unorthodox and heretical beliefs about Jesus Christ;
2. It minimizes and justifies Thomas Jefferson’s racism;
3. It excuses Thomas Jefferson’s practice of enslaving African-Americans.
4. The Jefferson Lies is riddled with factual distortions and falsehoods.
Rev. Damon Lynch said, “David Barton falsely claims that Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves.” In fact, Jefferson was allowed to free his slave under Virginia law, but failed to do it. The Jefferson Lies glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views.
So today David Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, has announced that they will cease publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. Because, ironically, it is lies: (World)
Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”
Barton stands by his story, asserts that other publishers are ready to take up the book, claims Throckmorton is nuts, and blusters about a room full of PhD’s who endorse him but insist on remaining anonymous. But he has taken a serious blow. In the field of history, your credibility is your meal ticket. Once it has been proven that you’re a liar, you no longer have much to contribute.