The fine historian Thomas Kidd has been doing some excellent reporting work on the controversy surrounding David Barton’s book-length attempt to expose the “lies” and “myths” about Jefferson, his faith, his infidelity, and his view of slaves. The book has been promoted by Glenn Beck (who wrote the foreword), and Kirk Cameron featured Barton in his documentary Monumental.
Kidd reports that philosopher Jay Richards—who found the book to contain “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims”—asked some conservative evangelical historians to examine the book’s claims.
Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.”
A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton’s characterization of Jefferson’s religious views is “unsupportable.”
A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College, evaluated Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians.’” Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company.
There is even a book-length response just published:
A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.” For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.”
Today Kidd reports that Thomas Nelson has decided to pull the book from publication.
The problems are not limited to a single book.
Political philosopher Greg Forster, an expert on John Locke, decided to take a look at one of Barton’s essays on Locke and found it to be filled with errors.
As historian John Fea points out, it appears that virtually no Christian colleges—conservative or otherwise—teach or endorse Barton’s revisionist views, though he is still very popular in some conservative Christian circles (especially in some, though of course not all, homeschooling networks).
This is actually a very interesting test case for those who have bought in to Barton’s historiography, methodology, and conclusions. Do we care about the truth, or do the conclusions we want to hear justify the means used to obtain them?