Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who Are the Righteous?

This post does not intend to be another "David Barton sucks" post. Rather it seriously asks what some of his more vocal critics have not: Who are the "righteous"?

In the most recent voter video Wallbuilders produces, Barton harps on Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation," and asserts the Bible (and "coincidentally," America's Founders) teaches you need to get "the righteous" in power to enact "righteous" policy. Or else (you know).

I think I know what Barton means by "righteousness" -- his socially conservative fundamentalist understanding of what the Bible teaches that is amenable to what other religious conservatives (whether Jewish, Mormon, Roman Catholic, etc.) would, in large, support. (Abortion, same sex marriage, etc.)

But who are the "righteous"? Folks who support "right" policies whether they be Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim or Atheist?

Or folks actually OF the "right" religion? And is it the case that you have to be of "the right religion" to govern effectively?

My biggest problem with Barton to date is his lack of clarity pertaining to these terms. And some of his (1) religiously conservative Christian (2) followers (I am neither) seem to be coming around. They see Barton in political-theological communion with the Mormon Glenn Beck, praying together, seemingly, to the same Providence? With the implicit suggestion that the "God" of the Declaration of Independence is One, non-descript enough that Christians, Mormons and who knows else equally can claim Him because of His non-descriptiveness? (Perhaps believers like Barton should believe the god of the DOI is a he not a He).

When Barton says the "righteous" should rule, I don't hear him saying someone who supports righteous policy as opposed to someone who is a "Christian" like him. Not that he rejects the votes of non-Christians who support his preferred policies. No, they can come along for the ride. But the "righteous" are the "regenerate." I don't want to put words in his mouth. He can clarify. That reading (as others) seems very plausible, to me.

Indeed, Barton uses the term "Christian" in a narrow enough sense to suggest he doesn't see President Obama or Speaker Pelosi as "Christians" even though they say they are. What about Glenn Beck? Where is the basis for the idea that if you are a socially conservative heretic, cult member (according to evangelical thought) you get to be "righteous" but if you are a political liberal, you are not even if you claim to be a "Christian"?

Please explain. That's all I ask.

I'll end with Roger Williams, no theological liberal, but a fanatical fundamentalist of the Baptist tradition. Yet, he understood religion & politics dramatically differently than did his fellow fundamentalists, the Puritans of Massachusetts.

Williams certainly wanted righteous policy, but made it clear that one's personal religious convictions had absolutely NOTHING to do with one's "fitness" to be a governor. And for that reason, he did away with religious tests in Rhode Island that he founded and, for the first time in Christendom (at least as it relates to America's lineage), formed a government that did not covenant with the Triune God.

As he put it, when he noted (in a novel revolutionary sense) that the UNREGENERATE and PAGANS were just as QUALIFIED to govern as "real Christians":

All lawful magistrates in the world...have, and can have not more power, than fundamentally lies in the bodies of fountains themselves, which power, might, or authority, is not religious, Christian, etc., but natural, human and civil. And hence, it is true, that Christian captain, Christian merchant, physician, lawyer, pilot, father, master, and (so, consequently,) magistrate, etc., is no more a captain, merchant, physician, lawyer, pilot, father, master, magistrate, etc., than a captain, merchant, etc., of any other conscience or religion... A pagan or anti-Christian pilot may be as skillful to carry the ship to its desired port as any Christian mariner or pilot in the world, and may perform that work with as much safety and speed....

America's Founders, it should be noted, followed Williams in this regard (see Art. VI, Cl. 3 of the US Constitution). Does Barton?


Tom Van Dyke said...

Nothing John Jay didn’t say.

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

Now you might not like that, but it was recognized at the Founding that non-Christians could get elected, too. “Providence” gives America that choice.

The irony is that Jefferson was quite suspect about his Christianity, but won the overwhelming support of evangelical Baptists because he was all for religious pluralism. The weekend he wrote “the Danbury Letter,” he sat in the chambers of the House of Representatives for a Sunday service.

And for the record. Ronald Reagan's public record contains little that's overtly Christian. You know the tree by its fruit, it says in a book somewhere.

Brian Tubbs said...

I've heard Barton speak personally on a few occasions, have met him once, have read two of his books, and have perused his website several times. As an evangelical pastor, I also tend to run in the same circles that he does, so I think I can speak with SOME credibility to this.

According to the Bible, NO HUMAN BEING qualifies as "righteous" in God's eyes. See Romans 3:10. Barton is well aware of this, yet it does frequently quote Proverbs 14:34 as well as Proverbs 29:2 "When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice but when the wicked beareth rule the people mourn."

So, if there are no righteous people (as Paul says in Romans), then how is it possible for righteous people to govern?

The answer is that wicked people (and we are all, according to the Bible, inherently sinful) CAN govern righteously (or at least can get closer to it than not) by praying, being honest and staying close to God's principles.

From a personal/theological standpoint, Barton would say that we need Jesus for salvation (John 14:6), but from a secular / political standpoint, Barton would say that we need honesty, prayer, and God's principles by which to govern.

I'm sure Roger Williams would agree.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Williams' very next paragraph reads

It is true, Christianity teaches all these to act in their The excellency of
several callings to a higher ultimate end, from higher principles, in a more heavenly and spiritual manner, &c.

Which says, to my reading, that although Christianity is not necessary, it can certainly help with the righteousness [and teleology] thing. Had Williams' full quote been used here, it would have left quite a different impression.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Many thanks for your clarity. I wish David Barton were so clear in this regard.

Jonathan Rowe said...


On a related note, I find evangelical interpretation of the Bible fascinating. You have no top down authority deciding the official results, like Rome.

Yet, the Bible on its face seems to contradict itself over and over again.

That is, until you get a smart minister like yourself or John MacArthur to smooth it all out.

But the end result is all of these smart evangelical interpretations of the Bible that are internally contradictionless (if they are good; many of them are not) but that contradict one another.

But when you hear people claim: The Bible contradicts itself, it's because you have competing texts like "When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice...."

And: Romans 3:10.

One thing I find a little off putting about evangelicals in this regard is they don't seem to recognize the complexity of this dynamic, when they try to sell Sola Scriptura. They strongly assert, "the Bible says X," or the "Bible says Y" when in reality X or Y is their complex synthesizing seemingly contradictory texts in ways that others might not agree with.

You hear Calvinist say, I believe in TULIP because the Bible teaches. Yet, every single letter of TULIP is disputable on Sola Scriptura grounds.

Hence Gregg Frazer's or John MacArthur's: The Bible categorically forbids rebellion, which would include America's. Hence, the DOI is an anti-biblical document.

It's not the only way to interpret those verses, but it's as fair a reading as any other I've seen.

Brad Hart said...

Indeed, Barton uses the term "Christian" in a narrow enough sense to suggest he doesn't see President Obama or Speaker Pelosi as "Christians" even though they say they are. What about Glenn Beck? Where is the basis for the idea that if you are a socially conservative heretic, cult member (according to evangelical thought) you get to be "righteous" but if you are a political liberal, you are not even if you claim to be a "Christian"?

Please explain. That's all I ask.

Great point. I almost fell over in my chair when I saw David Barton on Glenn Beck's show for the first time. Here's a guy who has labeled Mormons as heretics (he did twice at a lecture I attended here in Co.Springs) but then goes on his show? And tours with him? I know what some will say. They aren't joined together on theological issues but political ones. Ok, fine. But then why can't he (and others like him) join with liberals on Christian issues and not political ones? Maybe he has but you never see him parading around with them like he does with Beck, Hannity, etc.

To state the obvious: I think religion and politics are, to a great degree, fused at the hip in this nation. Maybe not for everyone but it's certainly true for a lot.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sam Adams would have considered his unitarian cousin John Adams a heretic too, yet they shared the same political theology.

That Beck and Barton make a similar alliance seems quite in keeping with the Founding spirit.

That you don't see Barton with "liberals" is because the Democratic Party has its own alliance of "political theology" with the strict separationists, who are hostile to Barton's [and arguably, the Founders'] POV.

Brad Hart said...

But, of course, Barton isn't the "hostile" one. This isn't keeping in the spirit of anything. It's just partisan hacks being partisan hacks. That's all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

He's a partisan hack, I do agree.