Saturday, Rick Green, who co-hosts the WallBuilders radio program with evangelist and author David Barton, asked for an example of a specific inaccuracy or false claim by Barton. Barton's book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson was dropped on Thursday by Thomas Nelson Publishing Company which said "it lost confidence in the book's details."
Before the announcement, Associated Baptist Press reported that a group of evangelical pastors in Cincinnati had announced that they were planning on boycotting Thomas Nelson for promoting the The Jefferson Lies because they were "concerned that the book glosses over Jefferson’s heretical views about Jesus Christ and excuses him for owning slaves." Wednesday, NPR broadcasted a blistering critique. A day earlier, Thomas Kidd at the God's World Christian news site remarked on the negative publicity that the book was receiving from Christians. One such Christian critic was Dr. John Fea, Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania and author of a number of award-winning books.
"The internet is abuzz today with leftwing bloggers, elitist professors, and downright jealous peers licking their chops and rubbing their hands in excitement as they repeat the juicy quotes about David Barton books being full of 'embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.' Yet not a single article can point to a single factual error, quote out of context, or misleading claim," Green wrote on his blog Saturday.
News has a tendency to buzz for awhile and then fade. Barton says he has a new publisher and that people will still be able to buy his book, an announcement well-received by his fans. He's moving on and people are buying his book.
But when Green wrote,"If you can show me specifics that back up the image created by the critics innuendo, I’ll post it right here for the world to see," it opened the book up to criticism again, especially since Green is a significant figure with Barton's WallBuilders organization and word spreads quickly on the Internet.
Chris Rodda, who's been studying the founders' historical writings for years, accepted the challenge and submitted a comment on Green's blog post. Rodda is a blogger at The Huffington Post, the Senior Research Director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and author of Liars For Jesus, an extensive rebuttal of various Christian nationalist commentary on history. Though the title of her book might put some Christians off, it's not anti-Christian. In fact, it has an introduction by a Christian pastor who encouraged her to write the book.
Rodda took a screenshot of her comment to the challenge, which pointed out two issues: Barton's claims about religion at the University of Virginia and the "Jefferson bible" as a tool for promoting Christianity to the American Indians. She provided links to a free download of her book, Liars For Jesus as well her online compendium of documents that support the footnotes in her book, so that Green and his readers could see for themselves whether or not her rebuttal was legitimate. The comment read:
I can absolutely show you specifics that back up the 'image created by the critics.'
Many of the claims in Mr. Barton's book are debunked in a book I released in 2006. My book is not only thoroughly footnoted with original sources (many of them the exact same documents cited by Mr. Barton), but there is a footnote archive on my website containing images of all the documents cited in my footnotes so that anyone reading my book can instantly view the original sources for themselves to verify them.
My book debunks many of the lies found in Mr. Barton's "The Jefferson Lies," including, but not limited to, just about everything that Mr. Barton claims about religion at the University of Virginia and Jefferson's other educational endeavors (chapter 5 of my book) and Mr. Barton's claims in his chapter on the "Jefferson bible" about Jefferson promoting Christianity to the Indians (chapters 3 and 4 in my book). There are many more examples I could give, but I think these two should suffice as proof that Mr. Barton's critics are absolutely correct.
A free PDF version of my book can be found at: http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_FINAL.pdf
My footnotes archive where people can verify all of my footnotes for themselves can be found at: http://www.liarsforjesus.com/footnotes.htm
Then she waited for her comment to be posted. A comment had been published after her submission, but not hers. So she blogged at Freethought Blogs and told her Facebook "minions" — a joke amongst her readers — what was happening and shared the screenshot to back up what she was saying. Fans read what she wrote and started posting over at Green's site.
"Chris Rodda's body of work is the checkmate that even conservative Christians can't ignore," Justin Griffith , an active duty soldier at Ft. Bragg, told us.
Green, it turns out, was traveling and said he did not have time to deal with the comments, especially ones that were not proving specific instances of Barton's misrepresentations.
When the much-awaited response came out late Saturday night, an entire blog article was devoted to Rodda and "her minions" who by then were anxious to see how the challenge would be handled. The tone was set in the first paragraph, "Why the clanking cymbals and blathering nonsense of some critics does not answer my challenge for specific proof that any premise in David Barton’s book about Thomas Jefferson is inaccurate…"
"For those who have not been able to build much of an audience (think back to liberal talk radio trying and failing, trying and failing, etc. and always pushing the “fairness doctrine” so they can force their views on audiences built by other people), there is often an attempt to use someone else’s audience to get out their message. This is perfectly fine when the host invites them to participate," Green wrote, acknowledging that he did extend an invitation by offering the challenge. "Chris Rodda seems to have devoted her life to making youtube videos of herself ranting about WallBuilders and now she has teamed up with the military version of the ACLU. Her criticisms are exactly like those I described in my previous blog, but even more illogical and lacking real substance. She has a very small audience, so she follows our radio show and blogs and looks for opportunities to criticize. She has written a 'book' (Editorial note – not our quote) about her criticisms of those of us who promote the faith of America’s Founders and based on her comments on my web page, wants to use my website and FaceBook page to promote and sell her book." (She hasn't posted to Green's Facebook page, but apparently some of the 'minions' were.)
The Huffington Post, where Rodda has an audience, is the 87th most visited website in the world, according to Alexa statistics. FreethoughtBlogs, where she also writes, is the 17,120th most visited site. Green's lands at 5,188,173. So it's curious why she'd want to peddle her book on Green's site because of her "very small audience." Her screenshot reveals that she offered to give it away, not sell it. But if giving the book away is what Green meant to say, it was to provide the factual backup, not to self promote. Last year, she forfeited any profit for her book that had been enjoying sales and offered a free download at The Huffington Post. The offer was in response to Jon Stewart's interview of Barton — and she had to increase the bandwidth on her server to deal with the demand.
Calling people fools is tricky business, especially since Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:22 that "[W]hosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." "I really struggled with whether this was a Proverbs 26:4 or 26:5 situation…I often struggle with knowing which one of those verses to apply to a situation. Proverbs tells us to sometimes ignore a fool in their folly and at other times to answer them. I’ve been a fool in my folly at times when I was best ignored and then there were times when God sent mentors to answer my folly and get me back on track, so I kind of understand why Proverbs has both scenarios, Green admitted.
He could have just ignored Rodda and her "minions," and to his credit, Green did provide a link to Rodda's Liars For Jesus website. "I will not hand over my hard earned outlets (website, Facebook, etc.) to critics who have proven themselves to be illogical and slanderous. Those critics are more than welcome to build their own audience. But since I did issue a challenge and ask for people to give me specifics, I am gladly recommending to you Ms. Rodda’s book because it is further evidence of EMPTY criticism that reminds me of clouds without rain."
His response addresses a portion of Rodda's book that dealt with the Northwest Ordinance, not the parts about the University of Virginia or the Jefferson bible that Rodda was referring to in her original comment (which was not published, leading readers unfamiliar with her screenshot showing what was really said to conclude that she was trying to hawk her book at the site by making weird claims). "Rick Green was challenged by Chris Rodda regarding her exposure of David Barton as a flat-out liar when it comes to his writing about American history," Al Stefanelli told GodDiscussion, when asked of his opinion. Stefanelli is a seasoned journalist and author. "Rick responds by saying he 'will not hand over my hard earned outlets (website, Facebook, etc.) to critics who have proven themselves to be illogical and slanderous.' I say, if deflection were an Olympic sport, Green would have won the gold medal."
It's not just the freethinking types who found the response combative, and some started posting their own challenges that as of this writing, have yet to be published. One was one of Rodda's "minions" whose comment has, as of this writing, not been posted on Green's challenge article (quoted with permission):
I just posted my own small contribution to answering Rick Green's challenge on his website. It is, of course, "awaiting moderation." And I signed with my full degree and honors, which I NEVER do unless I'm required to provide them, or feel that I need them to make a point. Since I'm more of a theologian than a historian, I took on two of the sections of the Constitution that Barton claims are direct quotes from the Bible. Here's the whole thing, in case anyone wants to wade through it.
David Barton is fond of declaring that the language of our United States Constitution was strongly influenced by the language of the Bible. Barton told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network, "You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause – direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim.”
The Bible translation in use at the time of writing of the Constitution was the Authorized Version of 1611, commonly known as the King James Version. Because Barton cites chapter and verse in his second example, the comparison is quite easy.
Constitution, Article II, Section 1, fifth paragraph: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
Deuteronomy 17:15, KJV: “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.”
Even if one permits the substitution of “President” for “king,” there is simply no way in which the former can be regarded as a verbatim (word for word) transcript of the latter. They differ in intent as well as in language, for the Constitution refers to formal, legal citizenship in a nation, while the Deuteronomy passage refers to blood membership in a clan or tribe.
The reference to the treason clause is a bit more difficult to pin down. The clause in its entirety reads: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
“The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”
Using Abingdon’s Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (a standard reference work for those searching for particular Bible quotes) I find three uses of the word “treason.”
I Kings 16:20 “Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and his treason that he wrought, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?” (The context is a rather complex one of political intrigue within Israel. It has nothing to do with external enemies.)
II Kings 11:14 “And when she looked, behold, the king stood by a pillar, as the manner was, and the princes and the trumpeters by the king, and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets: and Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason, Treason.” (The context is a succession struggle, also internal within Israel.)
II Chronicles 23:13 “And she looked, and, behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entering in, and the princes and the trumpets by the king: and all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded with trumpets, also the singers with instruments of music, and such as taught to sing praise. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason.” (This is the Chronicles version of the story from II Kings cited above.)
Clearly none of these provides the basis for Barton’s claim that the treason clause is a “direct quote out of the Bible.” It is possible that Barton is referring to the provision in Jewish law, as first cited in Deuteronomy 17:6, that requires the testimony of two or more witnesses in order to enforce the death penalty. “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” This is one of the earliest recorded instances of the requirement in a legal code for the testimony of at least two witnesses in a criminal proceeding.
The clear source of the treason clause in the Constitution, however, is the British Act of Parliament known as the Treason Act 1695, which repeated the two-witnesses rule from the Treason Act 1547, the Treason Act 1554, and the Sedition Act 1661. To these instances of settled English law, with which Jefferson would have been very familiar, the writers of our Constitution added the provision that the witnesses must be witnesses to “the same overt act.”
Other researchers have documented at length and in depth the numerous errors, lies, and distortions in David Barton’s work. These two examples are miniscule compared to the work of others. As a faithful Christian, however, I particularly deplore the misuse of Scripture for political ends and so wish to lift these up as examples of Barton’s failure to heed the commandment against bearing false witness.
Marian L. Shatto
MAR, magna cum laude
Lancaster Theological Seminary, 1991
Sunday followed the challenge. Perhaps Green, like many other Christians, doesn't work on the Internet on Sundays because it's the sabbath. And there might hundreds of pending challenge responses that Green is having to spend time reviewing before posting any new comments.
Dakota O'Leary, a contributor here at GodDiscussion, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She isn't so sure how anyone can seriously respond to Green's challenge. "He's fond of using Proverbs to tongue lash people, especially the verses about fools. How do you respond to that kind of thing?" She raises a good point. Wouldn't it have been more diplomatic of Mr. Green to simply post something acknowledging people's questions about the Rodda post, but saying it was too broad and didn't fit the challenge?
Rodda has decided to try the challenge again, taking a screenshot and this time being more specific by challenging Barton's assertion that Jefferson wanted to bring The Geneva Academy, a "famous religious school," to his state:
The source material — Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, February 23, 1795, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, #16799 — can be fact checked by copying the citation and pasting it into the American Memory collection offered by the Library of Congress.
As the week begins, countless of Rodda's so-called "minions" and other parties will undoubtedly be visiting Mr. Green's blog to see if any more challenge responses are posted. We'll continue to follow this story — which could yield some serious discussion about what is presented in The Jefferson Lies, depending on how challenge is handled, or could, in Green's words, be "one of those Proverbs 26:4 situations" that has "wasted all of our time."
Regardless, Rodda's book debunking on a point by point basis the claims found in The Jefferson Lies will be available in a few weeks.
Update – Green has now published Rodda's specific answer to the challenge and a number of others, including Marian Shatto's comment. Right Wing Watch's answer to the challenge has not been published.
There is no response to any of the specific examples where David Barton misrepresented the facts.
Most of the answers were published as comments a day or more after they were submitted. Several "when are you going to publish Chris Rodda's answer" comments appear in the comment thread because the comments were held in moderation for at least a day. By doing it this way, it looks like Rodda's comment was published all along and creates the appearance of stupidity and harassment on the part of her supporters. Posting all of these questions buries the real challenges to Barton's claims.
In making his challenge, Green wrote that he was "waiting, waiting" for responses to his challenge, without indicating that he would post a challenge and then whisk away with travel plans, thus ignoring answers to the challenge. He is characterizing demands for moderating and approving comments as liberal whining for attention. This was quite misleading, particularly since he had time to write and publish a derogatory article about Rodda, one of the Barton's critics, and had time to moderate comments generally favorable to Barton's work before accepting sincere criticisms.