Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rodda and Barton on the Black Robe Regiment

David Barton has a new feature at Wallbuilders on the Black Robe Regiment. His arch-nemisis Chris Rodda is set to debunk it. Barton is already responsible for the Baboon statistic that 27 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were "ministers" -- a figure which Rodda properly called out. In reality only one signer -- John Witherspoon -- was a minister.

From what I have researched, even though Barton was wrong on ministers and the Declaration, I do see "ministers" as preaching American Founding/DOI ideas before Jefferson and company wrote the DOI.

Barton quotes Alice Baldwin: "There is not a right asserted in the Declaration of Independence which had not been discussed by the New England clergy before 1763."

She did say this. And I think her assessment is accurate. But there is more to the story. Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis likewise quotes Baldwin to support HIS thesis: that the political theology of the American Founding was neither Christianity nor Deism, but "theistic rationalism." That those ideas weren't "Christian" but rather something else.

Many of those "New England" clergy referred to were, like Jonathan Mayhew, theological unitarians. And they didn't proof quote the Bible as final trumping authority when asserting the "rights," similar to or the same as those found in the DOI. The Bible was referenced as authority. And so was the book of Nature. These "rational Christian" clergy thought the two needed to work together for ultimate Truth discovery (they were not Sola Scriptura evangelical Protestants).

And as I observe, most of the relevant "rights" came from Nature, not the Bible; though after discovering the rights in Nature, the Bible was then referenced for support. And sometimes those discoveries in Nature (like the right to rebel against tyrants!) were used to interpret or otherwise explain away parts of the Bible that seemed to teach otherwise (like Romans 13).

This was a form of politically and theologically liberal, rationalistic Christianity, if it's accurate to call it "Christian" at all. This nuance is certainly lost on Barton.

Though after the recent news that David Barton thinks Mormons can be Christians, I'm not sure what he endorses as a "test" for "Christianity" or "Christian principles."


Tom Van Dyke said...

I think heralding on of Barton's errors in the past so early in the OP here rather poisons the well.

Whether he's right or wrong on this particular issue is the only concern.

Einstein was wrong about a few things: we would not start an essay with that, except to excuse, not condemn, error and fallibility.

Phil Johnson said...

It seems there will be no end ever to the hashing and rehashing of claims regarding any role(s) that Christianity carried out in America's Founding.
The movement we call Modernity began during the times of Martin Luther and the greater Reformation movement. When men stood up to the establishment--the Church--they were seen as a threat to the authority of the Church to govern society in every corner of civilization and beyond. In those early days those men were handled in different ways and to the extreme. How dared they stand up to the Magisterium?
But, the movement continued on bringing about the Founding of America along with other very important events. The role Christianity played in American Creation was more about a movement away from the established authority than ever it was from within the authority except that just about everything that transpired was within the framework of religion.
America's Creation represents a movement toward the secularization of society.
But, everyone knows that.

Anonymous said...

It appears I need to learn more about this Barton character. But apart from his talks, I'm not sure I believe the founders intended a secular nation, nor did they envision a nation where everyone had to be a Christian.

And I'm only posting anonymously because I have yet to take the time to create a Google account.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I may have been too hard on Barton; though I do want to explore the issue of ministers & the Founding more. I think the jab was relevant. A more cautious thesis than "theistic rationalism" is the political theology of the American Founding was a non-creedal, freethinking rational Christianity. One would think that ministers would be enemies of this system. And indeed many were. However, ministers were also promoters of it. Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy were ministers.

bpabbott said...

I view Barton as Christian Nationalist who presents history in a manner consistent with his activism. There are several examples where Barton did not check the reliability of historic assertions because they were suitable to his activism.

Unfortunately, the result is a one-sided historic perspective (distortion ?), which attracts some more radical elements (theocratic types ?), andI harms his credibility.

To be fair, I'm skeptical that Barton intends to deceive. I think he genuinely believes in the premise that the success of the US is a result of its religious heritage and hence has been divinely favored (if that is an accurate description ?).

Phil Johnson said...

. I think [Barton] genuinely believes in the premise that the success of the US is a result of its religious heritage and hence has been divinely favored.
I'm reading Twelve Lectures of Jurgen Habermas. It seems to me that the spirit of discussions regarding the Christian Nation continuum has some light put on it by this quotation out of Habermas' first lecture:

“The disengagement of the horizon of expectation from the handed-down potentials for experience is, as [Reinhart] Koselleck shows, what first makes possible the opposition of a new age living in its own right to those past epochs from which modernity dissociated itself. Thus, the constellation of the present in relation to the past and future has undergone a specific change.” (My bold)

Tom Van Dyke said...


"Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk." (J├╝rgen Habermas - "Time of Transitions", Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151, translation of an interview from 1999).


As for David Barton, he is seldom quoted directly. The reader is warned not to believe anything purporting to describe his beliefs unless quoted directly.

On the "Christian nation" question, this is what Barton has on record. Hardly the "theocracy" he's accused of pumping.

Contemporary post-modern critics (including President Obama) who assert that America is not a Christian nation always refrain from offering any definition of what the term “Christian nation” means. So what is an accurate definition of that term as demonstrated by the American experience?

Contrary to what critics imply, a Christian nation is not one in which all citizens are Christians, or the laws require everyone to adhere to Christian theology, or all leaders are Christians, or any other such superficial measurement. As Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1837-1910) explained:

[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world. 8
So, if being a Christian nation is not based on any of the above criterion, then what makes America a Christian nation? According to Justice Brewer, America was “of all the nations in the world . . . most justly called a Christian nation” because Christianity “has so largely shaped and molded it.”

That's about it.

Phil Johnson said...

Tom's quotation from Habermas is right on point.
The ideas of, direct legacy, continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation, and that we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage in no way detracts from our present dissociation with the future imagined by our dearly beloved who have passed on. Instead, it uses history in a way to improve our life styles as we imagine a new future unavailable to people who lived in the past. Unavailable to them because they had no idea of the situations with which we would be faced. That's why they created our wonderful Constitution. They had the presence of mind to recognize that "the times, they are a changing!!".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Well, I like ALL of your quotes, Phil and Tom.

bpabbott, I've always liked you fair-mindedness!

Jon, I appreciate your posts, which are many!

I do know that we are "christian" above anything else, therefore, what does Obama mean when he says we should be a leader among natons as to morality? That seems like an odd statement, unless he defines Christianity in a particular way....or does he see America as a Christian nation? Perhaps not.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Maybe like Tom, he's committed to a "good works" "community minded", "social justice" type of christian framing. This means that chrisitanity is for those that have been disempopwered. It would be a movement of "black power" over against a biased white empowered class, it would be equalization of resources in opposition to capitalism, consumption in line with human rights, and scientific concerns, it would be for humanity, as in humanitarian concerns, and peace movements....this is the way in which morality is defined as Christian....

Wayne Sedlak said...

Please see the link. I'm the ORIGINAL AUTHOR of THE BLACK REGIMENT. I think you'll find it helpful.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Riddle me this, Batman---Why aren't "social justice" Christians of the left accused of "theocracy"?

This is what burns my butt about these culture wars. Me, I think it's equally valid for one's religious faith and scriptures to impel him to vote for GOP social conservatism OR Democrat social statism.

This is what American religious pluralism means to me, and to the Founders, I think.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I must be on FB too much, as I was looking for the "like" button to check!! ;-)!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Private property is just that, private and it is protected in our country. What one does with private property is his business. So, social agendas need not apply. The individual makes that choice!

Marxist types, are dependent on Statist solutions, which isn't much different than GOP solutions, because one barters for the poor, while the other barters for the rich. Both use Statist means to further their cause!

Brad Hart said...

Wow! This has to be one of Barton's all-time worst historical faux pas. Thanks for posting this, Jon and nicely done, Ms. Rodda.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Barton didn't say they were "ministers." He said they "trained for the ministry." That's wrong, but as we see, the culture war has deformed the truth here.

As for the "Black Regiment," Barton has little at the website, and our Ms. Rodda only threatens to take him down, but writes she's too busy at this time.

Therefore there's no there there, and the OP here is devoid or real news or content.

But that doesn't matter either--it's the heat, not the light, that makes some people happy.

Altho Mr. Rowe has somewhat of a point about the unitarianism of some Founding-era pro-revolution preachers, that doesn't mean that they strayed from the core arguments of Calvinist resistance theory that dated to the early 1600s, and were the driving force of the First English Civil War, also called "The Puritan Revolution."

Too much culture war "gotcha" going on here, too little concern for the underlying truths. Feh.

Mark in Spokane said...

First, how does one define "minister"? If one defines it broadly as one holding church office, then Thomas Jefferson was a minister, as was George Washington -- both had served on the vestries of their Anglican parishes. If one defines "minister" narrowly (an ordained clergyman with special training who was licensed by a churcht to preach and administer the sacraments/ordinances), then Witherspoon is the only one. I don't know how Barton defines the term, but from a "low church" evangelical perspective, I could see how serving as an elder/vestryman/deacon in a parish would constitute being a "minister."

Second, the theistic rationists were not sola scriptural evangelicals, but their approach of combining revelation with observations about the natural world is not foreign to Christian orthodoxy. It was part and parcel of Catholic and Orthodox Christian theology both prior to and after the Reformation. Aquinas, Suarez, Bellarmine, the School of Salamanca -- all of these looked not just to scripture and the liturgy but also to natural law and human behavior to formulate theological principles. Within Protestantism, this same approach was prominent within the broad church movement of Anglicanism -- Richard Hooker used it in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the second most influential book of Anglican theology ever written (just after the Book of Common Prayer).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Law is to protect all of us, isn't it? This is why the culture wars transpire, because we want 'our side' to win the political debate!

Laws provide boundaries, and when these boundaries, which provide for expectations about society are breached, then trust is breached. We see some in our govenrment disrespecting our laws, and acting unbecoming of representative govenrment, while social disorder is breaking out in our streets! is this a re-living of past?

Constitutional government of our sort was to be "of, by and for the people", not the King, a particular party, a particular people, or a paricular sect! We were free because we believed in the rule of law, for rulers AND those ruled!

Government is now viewed as a sugar Daddy that is supposed to take care of all our needs, solve all our problems, and provide protection from all our fears..

How people define their needs, understand their problems, and live by their fears will determine how they see the role of government!

Govenment isn't needed for the self-responsible; nor is government used as THE solution to our problems; nor is government seen as preventing all risks in life!

Jonathan Rowe said...


You make a good point. In Dr. Frazer's thesis (soon to be a book) he notes the tradition of Aquinas AND that for orthodox natural law believers, any apparent inconsistency between the Bible and what man discovers about Nature through reason is resolved in favor of the Bible. For the theistic rationalists, the inconsistency is revolved by reason trumping. This is where the notion of an infallible Bible comes in. If the Bible has "interpolations" as not only Jefferson but Franklin, J. Adams are on record noting (that is if the good book is not inerrant or infallible) then man's reason determines what is valid revelation. Or from the perspective of Sola Scriptura evangelicalism, reason trumps revelation.

Dr. Frazer doesn't like the way the rational Christians used natural law to explain away the absolutism Romans 13 and sees that as reason trumping revelation.

We've argued this at great length here (and elsewhere). It's one of the more contentious aspects of Dr. Frazer's thesis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd add that the "co-founder" of Lutheranism, Philip Melanchthon, is still within the Scholastic natural law/reasonableness tradition as well.


To Angie: It was via both the Scholastic [Roman Catholic] tradition and Calvinist resistance theory that it was "reasoned" that contra a fundamentalist-literalist reading of Romans 13, sovereignty is given by God to the people, who in turn entrust it to the king or other form of government.

Keep in mind that it was the Anglicans who mixed church and state by making the king head of the church, then arguing for "the divine right of kings." The Roman church opposed it, as did the Calvinist Presbyterians who spearheaded the English civil wars of the 1600s. [Touching back on the Calvinist "black regiment" thing here.]

Tom Van Dyke said...

First, how does one define "minister"? If one defines it broadly as one holding church office, then Thomas Jefferson was a minister, as was George Washington -- both had served on the vestries of their Anglican parishes.

Mark, I'm not ready to defend Barton on any use of "minister" or even "trained for the ministry." But exaggerating his error-or-dishonesty is erroneous-or-dishonest in itself, and does nobody credit.

Phil Johnson said...

I don't have a ready reference for the sources; so I'll ask questions instead of making claims. Weren't all the schools connected to one denomination or another, Harvard, William & Mary, Kings College, Yale? Didn't Philadelphia provide the first secular school after America's founding?
Can anyone name three schools that were not affiliated with a denomination of Christianity? Didn't every student receive a religious education?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil, I remember [think I remember] Ben Franklin complaining that those pushy Presbyterians had taken over the University of Pennsylvania, but I can't find it. [They do have Presbyterian Hospital even today.]

Now, I just looked up U of P history and found this:

Eager to create a college to educate future generations of Philadelphians, Benjamin Franklin presented to the men and women of Philadelphia in the fall of 1749 his vision of a school to be known as the "Publick Academy of Philadelphia." Circulating his ideas in a pamphlet titled Proposals for the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, he advocated an innovative concept of higher education, one which simultaneously taught both the ornamental knowledge of the arts and the practical skills necessary for making a living. The four colleges then in existence in the English colonies -- Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Princeton -- were all schools for educating the clergy, rather than preparing their students for lives of business and public service.

Bold face mine. Now, this may be bad history, but pretty much says the same thing Barton is selling, "trained for the ministry."

Now if the official University of Pennsylvania website is carrying bad information [and I don't know if it is], how culpable is David Barton for saying the same thing?

This "gotcha" business, aimed at not truth but discrediting Barton and his thesis, and by extension the religious right/GOP, let's be frank---this "ministry" thing is the only substantive point at question in Jon's OP here---stinks on ice, people, and is no way for us to approach doing history here.

Double feh.

Phil Johnson said...

As I recall, my source was Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg College, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
I learned that from The Great Courses of The Teaching Company.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil Johnson & I both dig Dr. Allen C. Guelzo. He was excerpted on these very American Creation pages:

Tom Van Dyke said...


I hope you'll help out here. I hate sitting through videos of any kind, agree or disagree. They waste my time, because I read faster and life is too short.

In this video

The words appear on the screen

Beck University
Faith 102

David Barton's lie that more than half the signers of the Declaration of Independence were ministers

Lie? I hear him claim they "trained for the ministry." The official University of Pennsylvania website says that prior to 1751,

"The four colleges then in existence in the English colonies -- Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Princeton -- were all schools for educating the clergy, rather than preparing their students for lives of business and public service.

Did David Barton claim they were ministers, or just that they "trained for the ministry"? Did I miss anything?

I don't want to start a war with Chris Rodda. She has always been treated with respect at American Creation when she's stopped by to comment here.

But am I missing something here? By Chris Rodda's own use of the word, people who are in error are "liars." If the University of Pennsylvania is in error here, then they are "liars" too.

And if Chris Rodda is in error here, then...

My question is only: Do we have a direct quote from David Barton saying more than half the signers of the Declaration were "ministers"?

Because looking at the prosecution's [Chris'] video, all I hear is "trained for the ministry" being mutated into "ministers," something I can't find David Barton saying.

Yeah, I'm offended by the words "Liars for Jesus," but right now, I just want to stick to the allegation made in Jon's original post.

Since we're "history detectives," surely we can get to the bottom of what was said in the 21st century with video evidence.

I don't want to call anybody a liar. I prefer to think when people are in error, they're simply mistaken, perhaps reading or hearing what they want to see or hear.

But after wasting my time looking at the video in question--I don't give a shit about Barton or his critics--I'm seeing one thing typed on the screen but another thing coming from Barton's mouth.

Let me---and us @ American Creation---know what you see & hear. Mebbe I'm in error.

Phil Johnson said...

I line up with Tom.


I don't know, did those people attending higher education schools have any choice in what training they received?
But, to say any student attending any school was trained to be a minister is to talk about the problem of freedom, isn't it?
Were there schools that trained students to be lawyers, doctors, or teachers minus the theology?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for the diligent cross-check, Phil. We seem to have emptied the room.

We have so much time to give David Barton a colonoscopy, but none to take a hard look back at his detractors.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who Watches the Watchers? Looks like just you and me, kid. And the crickets, chirping.

So it goes.

Tim Polack said...

I'll chime in with my 1/2 a cent. I'm with you guys on this. It's a fine but necessary distinction, and Chris R. must treat it accurately if she hopes to deal Barton any refutation. Crickets may continue...

Bernard Jordan said...

wow! I so appreciate this. thank you.

Bishop e. bernard Jordan