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Back to School, Part I: Glenn Beck University Employs Discredited “Historian” David Barton to Praise Clerical Activitism - in 1775

Reported by Guest Blogger - July 14, 2010 -

Guest blogged by Margarita (with Alex)

Glenn Beck has proclaimed this a “Summer of Restoration.” What does he want to restore? Our faith in America and a renewed sense of its exceptionalism, by teaching us the “true” history of America’s founding. Hence, the series of online seminars he calls "Glenn Beck University," available on his website to "Insider Extreme" subscribers. The first lecture in the series (the theme of which is "Faith, Hope and Charity”) was “Faith 101”, taught by discredited revisionist historian and Mike Huckabee buddy David Barton, founder and president of the Christian nationalist group WallBuilders.

Wallbuilders claims to be an education organization which presents "America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built - a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined." Barton is the author of a slew of books and videos asserting that the modern view of separation of church and state is not consistent with the views of the Founders.

Thankfully, no one wrote on a blackboard, wept, called anyone a socialist Marxist racist Commie, or exhorted us students to take back America - this is a university after all, dear reader, and we must remain dignified. Barton’s lecture was called "The Black-Robed Regiment" and it described the strong role of "preachers" (as he called them) in shaping the American Revolution. He mentioned clergymen Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Mayhew (who is said to have coined the phrase "no taxation without representation”) and George Whitefield (who urged the colonies to independence and later helped establish the American military.) Here are some other points Barton made to advance his argument:

- All the thoughts articulated in the Declaration of Independence had been preached in pulpits before 1776.
- Preachers mobilized their parishioners to fight in the Revolution and sometimes led them themselves.
- Preachers regularly gave "election sermons" advising congregations what God says about the type of leaders we should have.
- When the Constitutional Convention got bogged down, delegates took a three-day "prayer break", then came back refreshed and sailed through the rest of the job.

Let’s take these points one by one. First, Barton cites Alice Baldwin, author of The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (1928) as the source for his assertion that the Declaration of Independence was based on preaching from the pulpit. While Baldwin’s scholarship may be reputable, Barton fails to inform his “class” of a few additional considerations: one, since the churches in colonial America also served as community centers, it was not unusual to hear sermons given on just about any issue of interest to the community, including issues we today would consider secular; two, Enlightenment (non-religious) ideas were being widely debated, so it is very possible that these ideas might have infused even the thinking of the preachers. The fact that ideas in the Declaration were first preached in church doesn’t meant that they were necessarily religious or Bible-based.

Yes, preachers did mobilize their parishioners. Now this is interesting: some of the "preachers" were black. They included one Rev.Wentworth Cheswell, who apparently made a midnight ride of his own about the same time as Paul Revere did - except he rode to New Hampshire instead of Lexington (and then stayed there). If he hadn’t, maybe Longfellow’s poem would have read:

Listen, my children, while I tell
Of the midnight ride of Wentworth Cheswell.
"Take the preachers out and we don’t have the same result," said Barton, lamenting that we didn’t hear about their contributions any more.

And I sat there shaking my head. Dearie me, what activists the clergy were back in this country’s early days! Yet this March, Glenn Beck issued guidelines to help you know if your church has been infiltrated by Marxists, like, watch if your minister uses horrendous terms like "social justice". Or, make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last. (Do "election sermons" fall under those guidelines by any chance?)

I can’t help but think that Glennzo and his cronies wouldn’t have been so kind to these "preachers" if they were alive today. Take Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, mentioned above. He was a Unitarian (gasp) and his views were so liberal he was almost refused entry into the clergy. Some claim he incited a mob to smash someone’s house. Maybe there are advantages to having been dead for two hundred years.

As for the claim that delegates to the Constitutional Convention took a three-day prayer break and came back (presumably) divinely inspired – well, here is what Chris Rodda, author of Liars for Jesus and researcher at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation had to say about this on my Beck U. classmate Keith Olbermann’s show last week:

"He had the one about the Constitutional Convention taking a three- day break to go to church. In reality, what that was, was they took a break for a couple of days for the delegates, one from each state, to hold a meeting to hash out some stuff. And it coincided with the Fourth of July. Some of the Fourth of July celebrations were being held at the church. Barton’s version is that they all went to church for three days, came back and then everything was hunky-dory and they were able to finish writing the Constitution…Also, George Washington didn’t even stay for the religious service. He stayed for the oration by a law student, and then he split to go hang out with the — his former fellow Army officers at some event."

I had decided to go Back to School since my knees are troubling me too much to spend the summer hiking or taking salsa lessons; but after trying to separate fact from fiction after 35 minutes (wait, didn’t I pay for an hour?) of David Barton’s “history” lesson, I need to go ice not only my knees, but my head. So I’ll just leave you with a quote from our Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson:
Believing ... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God... that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
Hope 10, featuring David Buckner, airs this evening at 8 PM (ET) at Glenn Beck dot com. I'll get the ice ready, you bring the smelling salts.