Sunday, March 22, 2015

U-Turn Conference: David Barton on Preachers and "Biblical Values"

To read about Paul Blair's talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about George Barna's talks, click here and here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. Among the conference's high-profile headliners was David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders and the author of several contested books on American history.

In a talk entitled "When Pastors Stand for Truth: A Historical Perspective", Barton began by reassuring the audience that America is still a blessed nation, invoking "American exceptionalism". While other nations are experiencing revolutions and new constitutions, America has stayed politically stable. The U.S. is also economically prosperous and productive, producing countless patents, discoveries, and innovations, he observed.

The difference between America's past and present has to do not only with its leaders, but with its religious leader, Barton asserted. He spoke warmly of historical preachers such as Rev. Harry Hoosier and the Black Robe Regiment, disappointed that preachers are barely covered in American history. Barton claimed that the Declaration of Independence sprang from the teachings of colonial preachers, ignoring the Enlightenment origins of its ideas.
"When you look at the Declaration [of Independence] and look at all the rights that are set forth in the Declaration of Independence, historians have documented that every single one of those rights had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. What that means is the Declaration of Independence is nothing more than a listing of the sermons we've been hearing in the church for the last twenty years leading up to the Revolution."
Barton longed for a past in which religious leaders spoke before legislatures and opened state government sessions with prayer.
"You can imagine if we tried to do this today, you know exactly what would happen. 'You can't do that! That's unconstitutional!' Time out. It's the guys who gave us the documents that were the ones who were doing this."
Pastors preached on the issues of their day, Barton told the audience, including homosexuality and judges. After criticizing modern-day conservative pastors for their reluctance to criticize gays, Barton praised Benjamin Goad's 1674 anti-gay treatise, The Cry of Sodom. He scapegoated judges for a myriad of policies he disagreed with, including church-state separation, same-sex marriage, and abortion.
"The righteousness of the land is determined by the judges in that land. As I'll point out to you, it wasn't legislatures that gave us homosexual marriage, it was judges that gave us homosexual marriage. It was not legislatures who said kids can't pray before football games, it was judges who said kids can't pray before football. It was not legislatures who said we're going to have abortion on demand, it was judges who told us ... The righteousness of the land is determined by the judges, which is why God gives explicit instructions for what judges should do."
Barton told the audience that historical pastors preached on a variety of other issues, such as gambling and candidates for elections. He pointed out with chagrin that the IRS forbade churches from promoting candidates in 1954, likening the policy to prophets such as Elijah and Nathan shrinking away from condemning corrupt kings.

Since the Bible discusses political matters, the church should discuss political matters instead of shying away from politics, he argued. Convinced that the Bible supports right-wing policies, Barton cited the Gospels as he argued for the illegitimacy of same-sex marriage, the capital gains tax, and the minimum wage. After quoting Malachi 2:9, Barton argued that just as ancients consulted priests on legal matters, so too should pastors be empowered to comment on the law, since God's law trumps human law.
"You want to learn something about [inaudible], don't go to an attorney, go to a preacher. Why? Because the Bible gives 613 civil laws on how to run a country. The Bible has 613. So if you want to know what the law says, consult God's law ... Don't worry about man's law. It's got to conform to God's law, and that's why you went to the priest to find out about the law, and that's why we preach those kind of sermons, because the word of God deals with all these areas."
The problem is, those 613 laws were produced by a savage iron age culture and have no place in 21st century America. Barton conveniently forgets that many Old Testament edicts were vicious and unjust, such as laws condoning slavery, ethnic cleansing, sexual abuse of war captives, and capital punishment for smart-mouthed children, gay men, rape victims, brides who don't bleed on their wedding nights, followers of other faiths, and people who labor on the sabbath. Even the most rigid fundamentalist would recoil from these practices, since our society embraces a more enlightened moral code than our iron age ancestors. Despite what Barton would have us believe, biblical laws do not provide an appropriate blueprint for 21st century jurisprudence.

Christians have been pressured to "compartmentalize our faith" by "people who hate what we do", Barton told the audience. "We've compartmentalized our faith, which now causes many Christians to believe that there's a difference between the secular and the spiritual. God didn't believe that," he said. God's word speaks to every aspect of life, including government debt, taxes, and education, he assured listeners. Once again, the idea that iron age laws are ill-suited for a 21st century society escapes him.

In the 1960s, Christians redefined the Great Commission as a mandate to evangelize and convert, rather than to disciple people in morality, he claimed. As a result, Christians and non-Christians are becoming indistinguishable in their moral attitudes. Converting people to Christianity without teaching them values is dangerous, Barton argued, pointing to Africa as an example of the consequences. While many African nations are Christian, corruption, poverty and mistreatment of women still fester on the continent, he noted.
"Did you know in the 20th century, we successfully evangelized several countries in Africa? They now for three generations have been 90% Christian nations. We have several countries in Central America. 90% Christian ... Five years ago, statistically speaking, they looked at those countries in Africa that are now 90% Christian. In those countries, AIDS rates have increased, government corruption has increased, mistreatment of women has increased, and poverty has increased. Oh great! We're a Christian nation! Really? Where's the discipleship? Christian behavior should change and make things better. It's not doing that, and that's the aspect we've got to get back into as the church."
Wow. Does the term "white man's burden" ring any bells for you? I thought.

Barton lamented the fact that more churches are not involved in political matters, since churches were seminal in the founding of the United States. To remedy this situation, Barton suggested a threefold solution. First, Christians must be familiar with the Constitution, since ignorance will kill the country.

For starters, they should familiarize themselves with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and so should you, I thought to myself.

Second, the church should be fighting offensively, not defensively. Barton accused the church of once playing defense on issues such as school prayer while groups such as the ACLU play offense. Now, Christian advocates for student prayers, Bible clubs, etc. are going on the offensive, a strategy of which Barton approved. Third, Christians must be familiar with the Bible in order to understand and assert Biblical values.

Much like Barna, Barton paints a picture of a fundamentalist-friendly American past in order to justify right-wing activism today. His audience will be much more enthusiastic about eroding church-state separation, obstructing LGBTQ equality, and elevating the wealthy if they believe that American history vindicates them.

Like Blair, Barton forgets that he shares the U.S. with diverse Christians and non-Christians. His vision for America excludes them, and the blurring of the secular and fundamentalist religious worlds he seeks would impinge on their liberties.

Barton speaks warmly about "biblical" values, but only cites the Biblical passages that reinforce his belief system. The Bible is a collection of books written in different eras and cultures, and it does not present a unified moral code or government template. To boot, many of the values celebrated in the Old Testament are barbaric and grossly inappropriate for 21st century America, but Barton conveniently ignores them. Barton is actually championing right-wing, dominionist values, which he justifies with cherry-picked scriptural passages.

Blair, Barna, and Barton spent the morning of March 19th wooing listeners with pious talk, visions of a golden past, and calls for political action. Judging from the audience's rapt attention, applause, and sporadic calls of "Amen", the three men made an impact. The Religious Right is working hard to energize their base as the 2016 election draws near, but will they mobilize enough voters to sway the election?

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.