Jon Rowe is correct to attempt to define orthodoxy, because as David Barton uses it, he (Barton) is engaging in sleight of mouth. And I suspect he knows he’s doing it.
One of Barton’s core arguments is that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox in their Christian faith. When Barton is speaking to a television audience, he might even go a bit further and say, “evangelical,” instead of “orthodox.” Barton may, as Miettinen has spelled out, have a method to justify his position, but Barton’s audience is clearly getting a very different message.
And why does he make this argument of high level of orthodoxy, and even occasionally substitute the word, “evangelical?”
Well, the answer is simple. It’s what his audience wants to hear. And here’s the part Mr. Miettinen misses when he says that Rowe is, and Barton is NOT clinging to the unhistorical definition of Christianity: Barton is not a historian.
Rather, Barton is a politician. He’s been a high-ranking member of the Texas GOP and a paid consultant to the Republican National Committee, including a stint as a GOTV spokesman for the 2004 Bush campaign. He continues to lead groups of pastors into the fold with special DC tours. Barton is an advocate, not a scholar.
I suspect Mr. Rowe’s clarification of the Founder’s orthodoxy, or lack thereof — AS MODERN LAY-FOLK UNDERSTAND IT — is quite a threat to Mr. Barton’s story, or at least with his audience. Maybe Rowe’s use of the term orthodox Christian doesn’t follow some hifalutin rule of history departments, but it sure breaks down the opposition. What if Barton’s audiences knew that several of the signers were unitarians? You see, creeds aside, there are few more important notions to Christian Right Evangelicals than the deity of Christ. Jesus was God. Unitarians, Socinians (Jefferson’s likely position), and Arians (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses) are all heretics from an Evangelical perspective — even if they call themselves Christian.
It is doubtful that modern Christian Right Evangelicals would support Jefferson or Adams for elected office today, were their true opinions on the public record. Even David Barton knows that, which is why he uses tortured logic to re-present them in a more “helpful” image. Jon Rowe knows of their heresy as well, and he’s exposing it, effectively driving a wedge into the Barton myth. Good for Jon.
I am an Evangelical. I think we need about 100 Jon Rowe’s, though it would be even better if they too were Evangelicals — people from in the camp to right it. Fortunately, much of what Jon is doing is popularizing the work of Gregg Frazer, who is an Evangelical. We need more Rowe’s because Barton, in a phrase Evangelicals will have special appreciation for, “tickles the ears of his audience” — that is, he tells them what they want to hear; not what’s true. If he did tell the truth, it would be too nuanced to be of remunerative value to him, or political value to his partisan patrons.
If this was a Christian (founded) Nation, then for Mr. Barton, it means vote Republican. For his listeners, most of whom will agree to give their vote to the GOP after hearing his presentation, it means something more…
This was our country. It was stolen. We need to take it back.
This is a powerful motivator to the culture wars.
There's more. Read the whole thing.