The decision by Thomas Nelson Publishers to drop David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies, was, as we said, commendable. What it wasn’t is something that came out of nowhere. No, the tide against Barton had been building for some time as even those in Barton’s core audience began to sound the alarm. The backlash culminated in Thursday’s announcement, capping off what had to be one of the worst weeks ever for David Barton.
But before we go any further, let’s pause to point out the obvious: Barton isn’t likely to go anywhere. Having been essentially told by Thomas Nelson to go dissemble somewhere else, Barton will probably do just that. He has self-published previous books and will no doubt do the same for The Jefferson Lies now that he’s free to do so. This could, however, be the beginning of the end of Barton’s free ride and uncritical acceptance among evangelicals.
It was, after all, push back from some in the evangelical camp that ultimately pressured Thomas Nelson into dropping Barton’s book.
Barton’s bad run actually goes back a couple of weeks. He has long defended his works by claiming his critics were liberal academics and secularists who were simply out to get him and attack his faith. That defense began to crumble a few weeks ago when WORLD Magazine published a piece that included sharp criticism from Discovery Institute senior fellow Jay W. Richards . (TFN Insider readers should be familiar with the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based outfit devoted to taking down Darwin and in its stead promoting creationism in school classrooms. Not exactly a bunch of secularists or liberal academics by any stretch.) Richards, according to WORLD, asked 10 conservative Christian professors to asses Barton’s work. The results were “negative”:
Some examples: 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.
Next came word that a group of Cincinnati-based evangelical pastors were boycotting Thomas Nelson. At a press conference, the pastors expressed concern that The Jefferson Lies “glosses over Jefferson’s heretical views about Jesus Christ and excuses him for owning slaves.”
And then there was the NPR story last Wednesday where Barton was picked apart. The NPR on-air piece and its accompanying online piece in which Barton’s own words are juxtaposed with, you know, actual facts, were scathing and in stark contrast to the generally benign press coverage he received last year in the New York Times and during his appearance on The Daily Show.
Less than 24 hours after the NPR piece aired, Barton’s book was pulled.
What did Barton have to say about this? He told WORLD that Thomas Nelson’s decision was a “strange scenario,” and that — as WORLD paraphrased — Thomas Nelson had “not tried to engage him about the ostensible problems in the book.”
And he told the Tennessean that he recently met with a group of scholars who approved of his work.
I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.’s were in the room.
He can’t and he didn’t, telling the Tennessean he didn’t have permission to give names. As our friends at Right Wing Watch put it, Barton’s response was perfectly Bartontonian.
It remains to be seen who continues to stand with Barton. Thus far, Barton fans like Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck and others have been largely silent. The one forceful defense of Barton has come from Rick Green, the former Texas state rep who is a WallBuilders employee and co-hosts Barton’s radio show.
Oh, by the way, Green implied that Barton’s critics were like Hitler. So there’s that.