Monday, January 19, 2009

And the Battle Rages On

The Ongoing Quest to "Save"
America's Founding Heritage
by Brad Hart

This coming semester will be my final stepping stone in my pursuit for the illustrious M.A. in History! As part of this final semester, I plan on devoting my last graduate paper (due sometime in May) to researching the origins of the "Christian Nation" movement. I hope to travel back to the infancy of the American conservative movement (during the 60s and 70s) and see how Christian conservatism, particularly the emergence of the "Moral Majority" inspired this movement to "save" America's Christian heritage from the hands of the "secularists." As a result, it is likely that my posts for the next few months will center on this particular theme, and I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions along the way. This will be an interesting experiment into how blogging can help in preparation for what I hope will be a legitimate graduate paper on this important historical topic.

Now, I mention this here for two reasons: First off, I SINCERELY HOPE to have your input, criticism, etc., since I believe it will only help me for the better on this project. Second, I believe that this is a very legitimate issue in America today. Just look at how many organizations are devoted to "saving" our Christian heritage:

Wallbuilders
As most of us are already aware, Wallbuilders was started by David Barton in 1989 and is, "dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built-a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined." Barton, who has zero training or education in history of any kind (he graduated from Oral Roberts University in 1976 with a B.A. in Religious Education) has become extremely popular with the religious right, while at the same time receiving tremendous scrutiny from the historical community. Not surprisingly, this division has only furthered both Barton and the religious right's resolve to "rescue" America's Christian heritage.

The Spiritual Heritage Tours
Founded by Tim Wildman (of the American Family Association and American Family Radio) and Stephen McDowell (of the Providence Foundation), this organization is devoted to providing a traditional Christian view of American history for tourists of Washington D. C. As their website states:
Are you looking for a tour of our nation's capital - Washington, D.C. - that will be much more than looking at impressive monuments? Are you looking for a tour that will help you capture the deep, rich, Christian heritage of our country and the people who founded it? If you are, then our Spiritual Heritage Tour is for you!

The American Family Association Journal emphasises that these tours provide citizens with a clear picture of history, free from the obscure secularism of history today, and centered on Jesus Christ, whose influence was paramount on the founders:

Throughout history, nations have built monuments, usually to record victories in battle or to honor their gods. Every nation’s monuments and national symbols reflect the heart of the people and identify what they believe is the source of their nation’s greatness and achievements.

However, America’s monuments were not built to record countries conquered or battles won. Our memorials contain the declaration that the source of our birth, liberty, and greatness is God.

A tour of our historic sites reveals that America was a nation birthed by men who had a firm reliance upon Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ
The Spiritual Heritage Tours provides tourists with "historians" who are specifically trained in "America's true Christian history," which provides these tourists with an "accurate" understanding of our nation's founding.

American Christian History Institute
Founded in 1978, The American Christian History Institute provides the following mission statement for its followers:

A powerful, positive, and attractive Biblical view of God, man and government is displacing and destroying the isolation, ignorance and indifference many Christians have had concerning their nation and its Gospel purpose. American Christian History Institute was established to re-educate the American Christian in his responsibility to be governed by principles of the Scriptures in all areas of life, including the civil sphere, and to restore the understanding and practice of local self-government. This educational program embraces all Christians in America.

American Christian History Institute (A.C.H.I.) is dedicated to teaching Christians:

* That there would be no America if there were no Christianity;
* Why Christians are so important to God in respect to "His Story" and government of men and nations;
* How responsible they are for the quality and conduct of American education, government and economics; and
* How to restore America's historic Biblical method of reasoning to the home, church and school, the three constituents of Constitutional Liberty.
The Providence Foundation
Founded by Stephen McDowell and Mark Beliles, the Providence foundation:

is a nonprofit Christian educational organization whose mission is to spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by instructing individuals in a Biblical worldview. Emphasis is upon educating in principles, rather than issues, drawing upon examples in history for illustration.

The founding era of America's history is especially emphasized since ideas of Divine Providence and similar terminology expressed a basic link in the Founder's thinking between God and history.
The Providence Foundation also provides its followers with a link to its Biblical Worldview University, which, as part of its curriculum, provides its students with material that is heavily saturated in the "Christian Nation" belief. Everything from David Barton's American Heritage Series to McDowell's America's Providential Historyare the assigned/suggested reading for the course.

This is just a small sample of the large assortment of organizations that are dedicated to the singular goal of "saving" America's founding heritage. And while I do not plan to focus on these organizations in my research paper, I do think it is important for us to recognize their appeal to a large portion of the American populace. This is not simply a fringe faction of Christianity, but is a grass roots movement that has woven religion, politics and history into a fabric of quasi-nationalism.

Now, in fairness, we also must recognize the fact that there exist just as many (if not more) secular organizations that are dedicated to the opposite goal. Groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Americans for Religious Liberty, and Backyard Skeptics are laboring just as hard to prove their belief that America's founding heritage is a rational history of religious pluralism, which gives no sanction to religion and demands an absolute separation of Church and state.

Again, I welcome you critique over the next few months. Also, I need to make it clear that I do not plan to make this a blatant attack AGAINST the Christian nation thesis. Instead, I only wish to explore its roots, evolution and impact. So, I do not only welcome the critics of the Christian Nation debate, but also the supporters. In fact, I would probably find the insight of the Christian Nation apologists to be more helpful.

15 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

while at the same time receiving tremendous scrutiny from the historical community.>

Barton is not attacked by the historical community, he's only attacked by secularists.

Brad Hart said...

Uh...ok, OFT, keep living in your dream world. The rest of us on planet earth, who recognize that Barton REALLY IS attacked by the overwhelming majority in the historical community will keep plugging along.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Brad,

If you would share it, I would look forward to reading your paper. Perhaps you could post little sections of it.

Off the bat, I'd suggest incorporating "The Light and the Glory" by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. It was a classic of the Christian America camp in the 70s and they are ready to release an updated version of it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Very few respected conservative, ANTI-secular historians want to go near Barton.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It might be better to look past the fringe groups and find what really had an impact.

The Moral Majority certainly did, and it was designed as an interfaith initiative that included Catholics Jews and Mormons.

Now it's true that it was mostly composed of evangelicals, but it served its purpose: Evangelicals went from being among the least-registered and politically active to being among the most. Some numbers might be helpful [p. 54]:

http://books.google.com/books?id=R6pgCWiDZ-4C&pg=PA52&lpg=PA52&dq=moral+majority+jews+mormons&source=web&ots=X5MyJ0bV3t&sig=ozsO7jeaPpJ4wQa4CroosDeg8Vc&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result#PPA54,M1

Now, it'll be interesting if you regard the rest of your suspects as Americans or as Martians. And though I'm sure you'll find inaccuracies and exaggerations in their arguments, that wouldn't be the same as proving that their vision of America and its Founding isn't closer to the historical truth than their secular opponents'.

To focus on their errors while ignoring their truths would of course be sophistic. ;-)

Brad Hart said...

Rowe writes:

"If you would share it, I would look forward to reading your paper. Perhaps you could post little sections of it."

Not only would I be happy to do that, but I would LOVE the feedback.

TVD writes:
"Now, it'll be interesting if you regard the rest of your suspects as Americans or as Martians. And though I'm sure you'll find inaccuracies and exaggerations in their arguments, that wouldn't be the same as proving that their vision of America and its Founding isn't closer to the historical truth than their secular opponents'."

Yes, I agree, and your point is well taken. I'm sure that I will be pointing out a number of errors, but I refuse to let this become a "Barton/Falwell/Christian Right Bashing" paper. Yes, I hope to point out the successes as well.

Jon:

That's a very interesting idea. I didn't even think about the Light and the Glory series.

Thanks for the input, and keep it coming!!!

Our Founding Truth said...

Uh...ok, OFT, keep living in your dream world. The rest of us on planet earth, who recognize that Barton REALLY IS attacked by the overwhelming majority in the historical community will keep plugging along.>

while at the same time receiving tremendous scrutiny from the historical community.>

Too bad, these statements are two different things.

If you could post some actual discrepancies by Barton that would help your case. Don't post the fraudulent quotes abbot posts. If you post those, I will call you out, and hammer you for it.

I hope you do some quality research and post the words of the framers, not what historians believe. The historians are ignorant of human nature, as well as Republican Government.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "To focus on their errors while ignoring their truths would of course be sophistic. ;-)"

hmmm, unfortunately your comment is sophistic as well. Truth does not have an ower ... errors do.

I enjoy Jon's (others as well) posts because he presents an understanding that explains the evidence known to him in a manner that satisifies many perspectives. These explanations do not begin with a conclusion and try to work backward.

A good historical explanation should be congruent with as much evidence as it can be and in conflict with as little at possible.

Barton's approach is quite different from that of a historian. It is different because he is an activist. He begins with his ideology and ignores or misrepresents evidence that contradicts the world view he seeks to project upon others.

The suggestion that Barton has presented any truths is spacious, in my opinion. That he even seeks truth out is contradicted by his past behavior.

I should mention that while I find his activism misplaced, I have great admiration and respect for his accomplisments. Imagine the good he could do if his goals were materially constructive.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm tired of talking about david Barton. I did not refer to him.

And no, my comment wasn't sophistic. I did however, put it up for your enjoyment, and now neither of us has got any enjoyment from it. That's a drag.

bpabbott said...

OFT: "Don't post the fraudulent quotes abbot posts. If you post those, I will call you out, and hammer you for it."

No matter how many times you repeat a lie it will not miraculously turn to truth.

You're making a positive assertion, let's see the evidence. Where is *one* fradulent quote?

bpabbott said...

Tom: "I'm tired of talking about David Barton. I did not refer to him."

ok. My apologies. As the post regarded Barton, I had inferred the same of your comment.

Tom: "And no, my comment wasn't sophistic."

I guess we'll not agree on that.

Tom: "I did however, put it up for your enjoyment, and now neither of us has got any enjoyment from it. That's a drag."

ahh ... sarcasm! ... I prefer it to symbolism any day! :-)

You certainly must realize that tossign about the word "sophistic" is quite annoying to me, yes?

... irony is cool too! ;-)

Pinky said...

January 20, 2009

This is a glorious day for America.
.
My hopes are soaring.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your addiction to sophistry is such that you defend it even in the abstract, and that you choose to devote a comment to the subject. It appears to be your chosen method of inquiry, which leaves us no venue to converse.

Actually, I wasn't being sarcastic. I did put it up for your amusement, and was disappointed it couldn't yield a chuckle.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Your addiction to sophistry is such that you defend it even in the abstract, and that you choose to devote a comment to the subject."

Well if that is true, in this, we are two of a kind ;-)

Brad Hart said...

OFT writes:

"If you could post some actual discrepancies by Barton that would help your case. Don't post the fraudulent quotes abbot posts. If you post those, I will call you out, and hammer you for it."

Ooooh...you have me shaking in my boots. Sorry, OFT, but you haven't "hammered" anyone on this blog.