Friday, February 26, 2010

USA's Christian Roots Not In Danger


David Barton, Founder of WallBuilders Internet web site, writes of his concern for America's Christian roots: "America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage," is largely ignored. It is his conviction America's Founding Fathers has been seriously attacked and undermined. Recently, Burton was named by Time magazine as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals.

Considered an expert in historical and constitutional issues, he is often a guest on conservative religious television cable shows. He councils Texas and California revision committees on what should be in or out of new editions of public school textbooks. Rick Perry has loaded the Texas committee with conservatives who agree with most of Burton's presumptions.

The supposedly vanishing "Christian roots," of our nation are a primary concern for Barton. In his widely circulated book, "The Myth of Separation," he argues that the Founding Fathers intended "that this nation should be a Christian nation; not because all who lived in it were Christians, but because it was founded and would be governed by Christian principles."

Barton's research is sketchy, leaving the reader with half-truths or outright lies. He writes: "Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? The other three all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of Scripture, and His personal intervention."

The names, birthdates and religious data of these men (there were 56, not 55) are easily obtained from the Library of Congress. There you learn that 77 percent of the signatories were religious or member of a Christian church.

"That leaves 23 percent," writes Derek Davis, former editor of Church and State Journal, "of the founders with no record of religious affiliation." From these facts and their letters, many considered themselves to be Deists (believe in a supreme being of creation, but one who does not intervene in the universe).

At another point, Barton writes, "Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote on the front of his well-worn Bible: 'I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrine of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also.' (He was supposedly was a Deist – but not in the strictest mold.)."

Dr. Davis admits it has the hallmarks of Jefferson as the author, "but it is not found in any of his writings." Barton's interpretation of this passage from Jefferson's letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803, is the problem of reading too much into it. Reading the entire reference it is evident Jefferson was not promoting the Christian faith.

It is difficult 200 years later to say how these men regarded religion. Late in Jefferson's life, he life wrote a note to James Smith, expressing confidence that "the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States."

Jefferson was not an atheist, but neither does he appear to be an orthodox Christian. Davis writes: "He is perhaps best described as an enlightened Deist."

Another point Barton seems to have read with pre-conceived ideas of the life and words of our first president, General George Washington. Barton asks if Washington was a Christian? The words he quotes from Washington's personal prayer book are not likely his own.

Washington attended the Protestant Episcopal Church after his retirement. He had two pastors, Dr. Abercromble and Bishop White. Both shared what they knew of Washington's faith when asked. To one of these, the bishop replied by letter (Aug. 15, 1835): "Dear Sir: ... [T]ruth requires me to say that Gen. Washington never received the communion in the church of which I am the minister. Mrs. Washington was a habitual communicant." Church membership was low in 1780s, about 30 percent of the population.

America's "Christian roots" are not in danger. Such "roots" have developed by "wanting it to be so." For those who believe Christianity will flourish with more Christian political environment, will be disappointed. History has proven the exact opposite is true.

1 comment:

Doug Indeap said...

David Barton, mentioned in the post, should be taken with a grain of salt. As revealed by Chris Rodda's meticulous analysis, zealotry more than fact shapes his work, which is riddled with shoddy scholarship and downright dishonesty. See Chris Rodda, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History (2006) and She presents Barton's claims, reviews the evidence and explanations he offers, and then shines a bright light on the evidence omitted, misinterpreted, or even made up by Barton with documentation and references so complete one can readily assess the facts for one's self without the need to take either Barton's or Rodda's word for it.