Over at Politico, Tim Alberta, author of the new book The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals In An Age of Extremism has published an excerpt from his book exposing “bogus historians” Chad Connelly and David Barton. Here is a taste:
The people packed into FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich., weren’t here for Bill Bolin, the right-wing zealot pastor who’d grown his congregation tenfold by preaching conspiracy-fueled sermons since the onset of Covid-19, turning Sunday morning worship services into amateur Fox News segments. No, they had come out by the hundreds, decked out in patriotic attire this October evening in 2021, to hear from a man who was introduced to them as “America’s greatest living historian.” They had come for David Barton. And so had I.
It would be of little use to tell the folks around me — the people of my conservative hometown — that Barton wasn’t a real historian. They wouldn’t care that his lone academic credential was a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. It wouldn’t matter that Barton’s 2012 book on Thomas Jefferson was recalled by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, for its countless inaccuracies, or that a panel of 10 conservative Christian academics who reviewed Barton’s body of work in the aftermath ripped the entirety of his scholarship to shreds. It would not bother the congregants of FloodGate Church to learn that they were listening to a man whose work was found by one of America’s foremost conservative theologians to include “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”
All this would be irrelevant to the people around me because David Barton was one of them. He believed the separation of church and state was a myth. He believed the time had come for evangelicals to reclaim their rightful place atop the nation’s governmental and cultural institutions. Hence the hero’s welcome Barton received when he rolled into FloodGate with his “American Restoration Tour.”
Throughout his decades of public life — working for the Republican Party, becoming a darling of Fox News, advising politicians such as new House Speaker Mike Johnson, launching a small propaganda empire, carving out a niche as the American right’s chosen peddler of nostalgic alternative facts — Barton had never been shy about his ultimate aims. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who favors theocratic rule; moreover, he is a so-called Dominionist, someone who believes Christians should control not only the government but also the media, the education system, and other cultural institutions. Barton and his ilk are invested less in advancing individual policies than they are in reconceiving our system of self-government in its totality, claiming a historical mandate to rule society with biblical dogma just as the founders supposedly intended.
This is what the “American Restoration Tour” was all about: restoring a version of America that never existed.
In a baggy dark suit and bright orange tie, clicker in hand, Barton droned through a slide show that patched together quotes and dates and bygone events to make his case that America is a good nation because it was founded as a godly nation. Inconvenient episodes such as slavery were relegated to a footnote. Barton assured us that America’s misdeeds were relatively minor — “All races, all people, all nations, have had slavery and been slaves at some point themselves,” he said nonchalantly — and that secular progressives were deliberately amplifying them to diminish that goodness and godliness of America.
Inside this house of worship, Barton spent an hour and fifteen minutes exalting a curious version of the Christian ideal. He slammed gun restrictions and progressive income taxes, government health care and state-run education curriculum. At one point, while denouncing critical race theory, he posted an ominous slide showing logos for The New York Times’s 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter framed around a Soviet hammer and sickle. Rounding out the collage were antifa and anarchist symbols. The left, Barton said, was encouraging “rioting, rebellion, and radicalization” that threatened our blessed nation from within.
He closed with a quote from Charles Finney. The famed evangelist, Barton explained, had “led one hundred thousand people to Christ in one year” during the early 19th century. He was central to the Second Great Awakening and preached that revival would only come to people who were pursuing it. Part of that pursuit, Barton said, quoting Finney, was to realize that “politics are a part of religion” in America, “and Christians must do their duty to their country as a part of their duty to God.”
When Barton stepped down from the stage, nodding to acknowledge the standing ovation, Chad Connelly jogged up to take his place. Connelly was Barton’s partner, the other half of the American Restoration Tour. He was also an old acquaintance from my time spent covering campaigns in South Carolina, where he had chaired the state Republican Party. Connelly had jumped to the Republican National Committee in 2013, accepting an appointment as the national party’s first-ever director of faith engagement. After mobilizing evangelicals to vote for Trump in 2016, Connelly launched his own venture, a group called Faith Wins, which sought to replicate that model and turn out conservative Christians on behalf of GOP causes nationwide.
Read the rest here.
We wrote about the American Restoration Tour here.
The day Alberta’s piece appeared, Chad Connelly was on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” a program produced by the Family Research Council. The guest host was former Georgia congressman Jody Hice.
0:20 to 5:00: Hice addresses the Alberta piece in Politico. He calls it a “hit piece” and tells his version of his interview with Alberta. He says: “People who acknowledge that they don’t know our Lord, don’t love the Lord, can barely find a church with a flashlight, and the guy who wrote the article I spoke to in the interview said he’s a believer. And I asked him if he spent quite as much time chasing down the liberal churches.”
5:30: Hice wants Connelly’s and Barton’s critics to define “Christian nationalism.” Hice says that they can’t define it. OK, I’ll take the bait. Here is how I define “Christian nationalism”: A “Christian nationalist” is someone who believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and thus need to restore that founding through political ends. This is how I used the term in my 2011 book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.
Connelly says he “loves to debate liberals.” I had no idea. I am happy to debate him at any time on the American founding. I extend the same invitation to David Barton. I’d also be happy to come to one of his American Restoration Tour events and provide a more nuanced and complex view of the founding.
11:50: Connelly thinks Barton is a true historian of the American founding because he collects manuscripts. Let’s be clear. Barton’s vast collection of primary sources makes him a manuscript collector, not a historian of the American founding.
12:10: Connelly says that people criticize Barton because “they… hate the idea of freedom.” He adds: “They believe they’re elites, they’re smarter than you and I, you peons need to sit in the corner and we’ll tell you what to think, we’ll tell you what your opinion is, they don’t like the idea of freedom.” This is a classic Christian Right move. Whenever the Christian Right view of American history is criticized, they make universal claims, suggesting that those of us who want to make sure American history is interpreted correctly and not blatantly used to advance political agendas are somehow un-American.
12:23: Connelly continues his screed against these so-called “elites”: “They think they have cornered wisdom [but] we know that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord…Jody, you and I know from biblical truth [that] you don’t even get wisdom–you can have knowledge–but you don’t have wisdom without a fear of the Lord. So these people don’t even have that foundational aspect of the fear of the Lord that gets them to the level of wisdom…They feel enlightened and feel that we’ve got this special bit of knowledge. It’s not unlike the New Age movements, the Gnostics, the atheists of way back when trying to discount the truth of the Bible when you and I know the Bible [has been] nothing but proven over and over again.”
Who are “these people?” Some of the best criticism of Barton has come from evangelical Christians. Most, if not all, history professors at Christian colleges (including faculty at Bob Jones University and Liberty University), reject David Barton’s view of the founding. Tim Alberta is a Christian. If you have doubts about that, listen to my forthcoming interview with him on CSPAN Book TV.
I have spent my entire career critiquing David Barton’s dangerous influence on the church and the country. I’ve also written and spoken about Christian wisdom. If holding a Ph.D and spending decades studying the American founding and American religious history makes me “elite,” then so be it.
This Hice-Connelly interview only confirms what Alberta wrote in The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory. It reveals the deep-seated anti-intellectualism present among conservative evangelicals. It shows how politics has torn the church apart. As long as Connelly is able to secure funding to travel around the country with David Barton and tell lies about the American past in service to his “Christian” political agenda, the more anti-intellectualism and the political captivity of the evangelical church will persist.
HT: Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch