Is it too much to ask that far-right ideologues at least not lie in their efforts to politicize clergy and their houses of worship? Next month pastors attending a so-called “Government Transformation Summit for Visionary Leaders” in San Antonio will have the pleasure of being treated to another disingenuous and absurdly distorted lecture on civil rights history by — wait for it — self-proclaimed historian David Barton.
Yeah, that’s the same David Barton appointed two years ago by the State Board of Education as an “expert” to help revise social studies curriculum standards for nearly 5 million Texas schoolchildren. The same unqualified David Barton whose bachelor’s degree is in religious education, not the social sciences. The same David Barton who heads a far-right organization that argues separation of church and state is a “myth.” And he’s the same partisan hack — and former Texas Republican Party vice chairman — who has spent a career preaching a distorted history of the civil rights era. (Oh yeah, and the same guy who has twice spoken at events sponsored by white supremacist groups.)
Barton is only one of a list of speakers at the “Government Transformation Summit,” which is set for April 12-13 in San Antonio. The event apparently is being sponsored by the religious-right group Justice at the Gates. From the invitation:
“God‘s heart is to transform nations, not just individuals. God wants to heal governments, not just churches. Whether your calling is to the church, the marketplace, education or government, God wants to use you to affect a larger sphere than you ever dreamed possible.”
Now, let’s be clear. The Texas Freedom Network applauds all citizens — laypeople and clergy — who exercise their right to participate in political debate and actions to improve our communities and our country. But we also think citizens deserve the respect of being told the truth, not the political propaganda Barton peddles to audiences he hopes are gullible enough to believe him.
The invitation’s short bio of Barton notes that he is a “premiere historian on America’s spiritual history.” Well, not quite. Barton has no formal training as a historian. None. His politicized portrayals of American history — especially his argument that the nations’ Founders intended to create a distinctly Christian nation with laws based on the Bible — have been exposed by real historians as bunk.
The invitation also suggests that Barton will be talking to pastors about the history of the African-American experience and the struggle for civil rights. But Barton often distorts that history. A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report in 2006 (The Anatomy of Power, pages 17-21) explained how Barton’s version of civil rights history is terribly simplistic and misleading. For example:
“In a 2003 WallBuilder report entitled ‘A History of Black Voting Rights,’ Barton notes that Strom Thurmond, a notoriously segregationist U.S. senator from South Carolina, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party after a “change of heart on civil rights” in 1964.54 That’s nonsense. Thurmond was among the first of legions of southern white conservatives who began leaving the Democratic Party in the mid-1960s. Most switched their support to the GOP as Democrats finally began to overcome southern Congressional opposition to civil rights legislation. Indeed, Barton neglects to include any discussion of successful efforts by the Republican presidential campaigns of Barry Goldwater (1964) and Richard Nixon (1968) to court southern whites anxious about integration and the civil rights movement.”
The “Summit” invitation suggests that pastors will learn how they can transform the nation. Perhaps they can start by asking Barton to tell pastors the truth about our nation’s history.