Standing for truth about American history

Stephen Stookey

Stephen Stookey, a historian at Dallas Baptist University, has summarized some of the serious problems with the “Christian America” push now being promoted in some circles, most notably by David Barton and Glenn Beck.

Stookey spoke during the annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, meeting in Dallas May 20. Ken Camp has written a story on Stookey’s presentation in the Baptist Standard, and that’s where I ran across this.

The Christian America folks say they are rescuing American history studies from secularists intent on scrubbing Christianity from our history. Some secularists, it seems, would like to do that, but that’s no reason for we Christians to distort history ourselves, which I think is what Barton and Beck are doing.

Stookey acknowledged that some efforts to secularize, minimize or ignore America’s religious heritage certainly exist. “However, in reacting to perceived revisions of American history, Christian America advocates recast American history, creating a quasi-mythical American tale—a story with just enough truth to give the air of credibility but riddled with historical inaccuracies,” said Stookey, according to the Baptist Standard.

Proponents of Christian America presuppose the United States “was, is and should continue to be a constitutionally established Christian nation,” he explained. Any evidence to the contrary is ignored or recast, he said.

“Supportive data is either exaggerated or manufactured,” Stookey said. “In short, this camp presumes an inerrant historical understanding of America, as well as the original intent of the Constitution.”

Christian America advocates use out-of-context quotations and some outright falsehoods to give the Founding Fathers impeccable Christian pedigrees, ignoring or at least minimizing Enlightenment influences, he said.

“The historical reality is that the Founders were a varied collection of orthodox Christians, nominal (church) attenders, Christian moralists, deists and nonbelievers,” Stookey said.

While some advocates of the Christian America position long have existed, in recent years, they have moved into new prominence, he noted.

“Once a marginal group at the fringes of American culture and politics, dependent upon mimeographed newsletters and self-published books, this camp now enjoys significant access to public discourse via the Internet, publishing houses, television news networks and mainstream churches,” he said.

Proponents of the Christian American position gain credibility by dazzling with documentation—extensively footnoting their position papers with quotes carelessly copied from secondary or tertiary sources, he noted. Sometimes, quotes are abridged so much they imply the opposite of what originally was stated.

For more on Stookey’s speech, see the Baptist Standard story

I’m not a historian, and I suspect Barton and Beck have done a lot more study on America’s founding than I have, but trained, qualified, Christian historians generally agree that these guys are wrong. It is so hard for ordinary folks like me to know what is true and what is not, so we depend on experts. The reality is that Barton and Beck are not the experts on this; they are propagandists.

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