At the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s Nov. 9-10, 2010 annual meeting in Hampton, Virginia, the participants “adopted a resolution decrying versions of American history that minimize or deny the role of church-state separation and encouraging diligence in correcting mistaken historical accounts.” The resolution, which was passed by a wide margin, considers it “‘a threat to the flourishing of religious liberty when any version of our nation’s history minimizes or denies the historical basis’ of church-state separation. It also says Virginia Baptists should ‘be diligent in resisting and correcting any such mistaken version of our history.’” Not a bad resolution if it had stopped at this point.
The resolution was in reaction to the Texas State Board of Education’s efforts to amend its standards for the state’s social-studies textbooks. Particular mention was made in the resolution of David Barton of Wallbuilders, W. Cleon Skousen, author of The 5000 Year Leap, and “some Reconstructionist authors” who the committee said had engaged in “systematic efforts” to revise American history. I’m one of those Reconstructionist authors. One person’s revisionism is another person’s correction. Those of us engaged in the Christian history issue are attempting to bring long needed balance to the subject. I contend that America’s founding, and it’s a long founding going back more than 400 years, is not all sweetness and light. It was neither all Christian nor all secular. Even the most secular of the founding fathers could not stand as witnesses for the ACLU.
As far as I can tell, there was no discussion at the Baptist General Association’s meeting of the historical background of the phrase “separation of church and state” (it was not coined either by Roger Williams or Thomas Jefferson and is not found in the Constitution) or the actual wording and meaning of the First Amendment that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .”
“Alan Wilder, pastor of Sunny Hills Community Church in Wytheville, Va., said he generally supported the resolution but was uncomfortable with its references to authors he had not read.” Smart man. Those who voted in the affirmative fall into the Nancy Pelosi school of resolution passing: We have to pass it so we can find out what’s in it. These types of resolutions get passed all the time because the people voting on them are ignorant. I don’t mean this in a pejorative way. In truth, they are without knowledge. They haven’t studied the subject. As a result, they get snookered by those in charge; the ones with the degrees who know better than the hoi polloi. “Just trust us,” they say. “We are ‘trained and credentialed historian[s],’ and you’re not. So sit down and be quiet while we tell you what to believe!” Here’s how Richard V. Pierard explained it after the Texas “textbook-war” vote:
Rather than draw upon the expertise of trained and competent American historians, of which Texas is blessed with an abundance, the board looked to quacks, as the medical profession would label such amateurish interlopers in its field, for guidance. This pseudo-history has so infected the public discussion of America’s past in conservative religious circles that parishioners are fed a gruel of platitudes and nonsense.
I would pay to see a debate between David Barton and one of Mr. Pierard’s “trained and competent American historians.” It will never happen. These guys know that Barton would eat them alive, so they play the fiction that uncredentialed historians should not be listened to.
Baptists are protective of the idea of separating Church and State. But what most Baptists mean by separating Church and State and what liberal historians and the sycophants at the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State mean by the phrase are quite different. These organizations and critics like Pierard debate historical straw men. To be sure, there are skeptical founding fathers, and critics of America’s Christian heritage are quick to cite them. But that’s not what this debate is all about. For most conservative Christians, separating Church and State means denying power and constitutional authority to civil government to impose a particular denominational priority on the nation and compelling the people to fund it with taxes.
Of all the people I know who write on the subject of America’s Christian heritage, I doubt that anyone teaches that any single denomination of Christianity should be funded by tax dollars. Presbyterians don’t hold to it, and neither do Baptists. In fact, I’m against any tax money going to religious institutions or their work, including the highly touted Faith-Based Initiatives. Of course, I’m also against any of my money or your money going to America’s secular church—the public schools. (Given enough time, I could list other areas where civil government has no business governing or spending tax money, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.) Pierard and other Christian heritage critics only want their credentialed historians teaching and writing textbooks in what they claim are “neutral” public schools where “objective” history is being taught. Nonsense. They want to manage the curriculum and offer an education at a discounted price (that’s one of the reasons Christians voluntarily continue to send their children to government-sponsored indoctrination centers) with the confiscated money of your neighbors.
The fiction of America’s secular past begins with the usual suspects: “Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and even Thomas Paine—that ‘filthy little atheist,’ according to Theodore Roosevelt.” Are these the only men to be credited with America’s founding? Of course not, but you would never know if all we read were papers and books by Pierard’s credentialed scholars.
[There are] two weaknesses in much of the scholarship on the American founding . . . . First, there has long been a tendency to discount or ignore the role of religion in the American founding in general, and in the political thought of influential founders in particular. Second, much that has been written about the founders has emphasized the thoughts, words, and deeds of an elite fraternity of famous founders, ignoring a large company of now forgotten men and women who made salient, consequential contributions to the construction of the American republic and its institutions.1
By the way, Mr. Pierard, the authors of the book where this quotation is found are credentialed scholars.
Then there’s the timing issue. When did America begin as a nation? In 1776 with the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence? When the Constitution was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1791? As anyone familiar with American history knows, and apparently there aren’t very many who do, the nation has a long history going back at least to 1607 (Jamestown). There are scores of “founding fathers,” everyone from Robert Hunt (c. 1568-1608) at Jamestown to John Jay (1745-1829) who served as the President of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779, co-wrote the Federalist Papers, along with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and was the first chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The larger question is who controls education? Until Christians abandon government-controlled and tax-payer subsidized education, the true historical revisionists are going to win. Christians have been trying to get prayer and Bible reading and prayer back into public schools for nearly 50 years. The latest “advance” in this attempt is the sop of a “moment of silence.” And Christians think this is a victory for Jesus! “Yes, my child is allowed to be silent for Jesus at our neighborhood public school.”
- Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds., “Foreword,” The Forgotten Founders of Religion and Public Life (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2009), xiii.(↩)