Ken Starr vs. David Barton?

Ken Starr, Baylor University president and Bill Clinton bête noire, has some interesting things to say in a Washington Post op-ed published Sunday. And David Barton, founder of the religious-right and historical revisionist organization WallBuilders, won’t like much of it.

Starr’s column addresses the question of whether Christians such as himself could vote for a Mormon, such as Mitt Romney, for president. In short, his answer is yes:

“Without endorsing or even praising (much less criticizing) any candidate, I strongly encourage Americans who would ask this question of themselves to consider and weigh thoughtfully our nation’s constitutional traditions. At their best, those are traditions of welcoming religious forbearance. . . . (T)he litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend.”

Starr goes on to discuss previous American presidents and their beliefs about religion:

“(A) number of great presidents have come to the White House without membership in any faith community. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist and was vigorously attacked for his religious views (or lack thereof). Abraham Lincoln, as a matter of conscience, refused to join any church. Yet our nation’s capital rightly dedicates two of its most stately monuments to those two men of unorthodox spiritual worldviews.”

Citizens as voters do well when they pause to reflect on our nation’s history and traditions. If an unbeliever such as Jefferson or non-churchman like Lincoln can serve brilliantly as president, then America should stand — in an intolerant world characterized all too frequently by religious persecution — as a stirring example of welcoming hospitality for highly qualified men and women of good will seeking the nation’s highest office.

Jefferson was a “deist”? An “unbeliever”? Uh-oh. Don’t tell “historian” David Barton. In pursuit of his political argument that the founders intended to establish a Christian nation with its laws and society based on the Christian Bible, Barton places Jefferson in a pantheon of early American leaders who used their public offices to promote Christianity.

Here’s what Barton said about Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others of the nation’s founders in a discussion with Glenn Beck on Beck’s Fox News program from April 2010:

BARTON: Well, what happens today is we know Jefferson and Franklin, and nobody else on that. We’ve been taught to recognize the least religious and we’ve been taught, oh, all —

BECK: And they weren’t the least religious.

BARTON: And they weren’t. You know, if you take even Jefferson and Franklin, there’s no question that those guys are a whole lot more religious in their public expressions.


BECK: They didn’t — correct me if I’m wrong — they didn’t necessarily believe in the organized religion that was jammed down your throat —

BARTON: That’s right.

BECK: — where it was I got to baptize you in the name of Jesus and there’s no other truths.

BARTON: That’s right.

BECK: That’s what they didn’t believe.

BARTON: But they were not secular. They were not anti-God. They were not even anti-Christian. As a matter of fact, the way they do it, Jefferson has 19,000 written letters. There are six letters in which he raises some questions about orthodox Christian teachings. Everybody focuses on the six, they don’t touch the 19,000. So, that’s the way they make these guys look bad.

Barton and Beck later discuss how Jefferson as president promoted Christianity. In their exchange, Barton agrees with Beck that Jefferson “didn’t care what church you attended”; he simply wanted folks to “go to church; worship God; follow the 10 Commandments.” “And that’s what made Jefferson unusual as he was not denominational guy,” Barton said. “He was a trans-denominational guy.”

We won’t engage here in a debate over Jefferson’s religious beliefs. We see no need. There are plenty of good resources on this topic produced by respected historians. But David Barton is not a respected historian. He’s a political propagandist who distorts and misuses history to promote an ideological agenda.

We will point out that Jefferson supported religious liberty and strongly believed that such freedom is best protected when government and religion remain separate. But Barton doesn’t like that either.

6 thoughts on “Ken Starr vs. David Barton?

  1. There have been many instances recently of the lines between church and state being violated. George Washington was a Christian, but he believed in the separation of church and state.

    Religious doctrine should not be legislated if our country is to continue to respect religious freedom.

  2. I bet the Barton supporters (leaders of the Religious Right) that are getting ready to meet down at the Pressler Ranch on Friday are shaking in their shoes after the tremendous Romney victory tonight in New Hampshire.

    Over the weekend, “The Tennessean” (local metropolitan daily newspaper in Nashville) reported on the Pressler meeting. It said that the leaders of the Religious Right are very concerned about how well Romney is doing, and they are concerned that a Romney presidency will result in their being cut off from easy access to the halls of political power and rubbing elbows with the Republican big boys in Washington, D.C. But why be so bland when we can use Biblical truth? The boys are crap-loss-scared that both their bodies and souls will be thrown into outer darkness to experience wailing and gnashing of teeth. If that sounds kind of pathetic to you folks out there, that may be because it really is. Here are all these big-time Religious Right dudes who claim to be in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit and are convinced that they act as the personal voice of God on planet Earth. Yet, their lives are somehow still on the empty side if they cannot get personal party invitations and head tables at banquets with Caiaphas the High Priest, Herod the Great, King Agrippa, and Pontius Pilate.

    I am not at all surprised at their concern. The Southern Baptist Convention, southern baptist preachers, and other assorted Christian fundamentalists have defined the Mormon faith as a non-Christian cult for decades. The Mormons know this, and they do not like it one bit. Therefore, it is not easy to imagine why they might be so concerned about a Romney presidency. I think the Blues Brothers expressed it best, “Rubber biscuit!!! You go hungry baw-baw-baw!!!!”

    It would really be neat to be a fly on the wall at that meeting on Friday. Fearing Romney and his blanket of outer darkness and remembering the famous words of Karl Maulden (“What will you do?”), will they beseech their followers to reinvigorate the candidacy of Rick “one percent” Perry? Can you envision Donald Duck standing in front of a limestone cave and shouting, “Lazarus come forth!!!?” Will they order their flocks to vote for Newt Gingrich (famed for adultery, unethical acts, and turning his back on southern evangelicalism to become a Catholic—because his latest wife wanted him to do so.) Ah-ah-ah!!! I smell wayward submission. Why is Gingrich submitting to his wife? Will they endorse an unelectable Roman Catholic nutcase like Rick Santorum? I can see them going for his nuts—but not his Catholicism. That leaves only three dark horse options from left field: Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Elmer Fudd. For this bunch, Elmer has to be the obvious “go to” guy when it’s 4th down with one second left on the game clock.

  3. That’s a very well written essay by Ken Starr. The only improvment I would make would be the inclusion of the brilliant but underappreciated James Madison. His contributions to religious freedom were every bit as significant as those of Jefferson.

    As for David Barton………well one who spends all his time trying to undermine the Constitution cannot be called anything other than a traitor. And he should be punished accordingly.

  4. I first heard about David Barton in graduate school and I couldn’t believe that people would take what he says as total truth without researching the subjects he espouses. I am a Bible believing Christian and I find some that would call themselves Christians could be so willfully ignorant and/or just plain naive.