David Barton is an author who has made it his mission to reveal the truth about the nation’s founders and the principles they lived by. This includes the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation, that slavery was not as bad for black Americans as it is made out to be, and that the nation’s founders intended education to hold a Christian perspective. Mr. Barton founded the organization Wall-Builders, has authored over a dozen books, and has been called one of the world’s most influential evangelicals by Time magazine. While many of Barton’s books have drawn criticism, his most recent has created a firestorm of controversy. The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson presents our third president as a committed Christian who rejected the evils of slavery and wanted to keep the influence of religion in the public arena. This is a much different picture of Jefferson than most historical scholars agree upon. The History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies “the least credible history book in print.” Several books and numerous articles have been printed refuting the facts in David Barton’s book.
Earlier this month (August 2012) Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, ceased publication of The Jefferson Lies and pulled many of the copies from stores. citing that they had “lost confidence in the book’s details” and “learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.” Despite all of this criticism many political conservatives and religious evangelicals have rallied behind The Jefferson Lies.
We are all drawn to people who validate us. This is why, as Christians, we embrace people like David Barton who tell us that we are right, and we should be in charge. This is what we hear when we are told that our nation’s founders were Christians like us, that they did not really intend a separation between church and state, and they wished America to be a Christian nation. But being quick to embrace a version of history that supports our own values without verifying that the scholarship is valid is irresponsible and arrogant. Are we so desperate to be told that we are right that we ignore truth?
I believe that it is vitally important that Christians are people who live within the truth and express truth in all we do. Unfortunately, we are sometimes more interested in being right than being true. Being true means being honest about the flaws of both our forefathers and ourselves. We should never try to portray ourselves, our leaders, our religious history, or our national history as something it is not.
We should make moments like this into opportunities to humbly examine our own approach to truth, rather than claim persecution by the “liberal elites.” When Christians refuse to behave with humility and truth it is damaging to the entire faith. It is damaging to the reputation of Jesus.
Also read John Bea’s excellent article What We Learned From the David Barton Controversy.