Sunday, August 12, 2012

The 3 - August 12, 2012

On this edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, we take a look at a controversy over a book by a well-known Christian author and historian, who has discovered that his publisher has ceased to publish his latest work.  Also, the selection of Paul Ryan as Republican Vice-President candidate has brought some positive statements from some Christian and conservative leaders.   And, in the top slot, some encouraging news out of Missouri, where voters sought to strengthen the rights of religious expression of its citizens.

3 - Barton's book on Jefferson pulled from shelves

It is quite unusual when a Christian book, especially one that is written by someone who is generally well-regarded in Christian circles, is pulled from the shelves, but that is essentially what happened this past week regarding the latest book, a best-seller, from David Barton of WallBuilders, who is a historian who writes and speaks about the rich Christian heritage of our country.

However, there are some Christian authors and professors who take issue with the information presented in the book, The Jefferson Lies.  Based on the thousands of documents that Barton possesses, he has crafted a portrait of the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. President that shows Jefferson as more in line with mainstream Christianity than many have thought.  WORLD Magazine published an article by Baylor faculty member Dr. Thomas Kidd recently, in which Kidd outlines some of the criticism.   He quotes Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, who commissioned 10 professors to examine the body of Barton's work:
Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside "orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity." A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton's characterization of Jefferson's religious views is "unsupportable." A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master's College, evaluated Barton's video America's Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that "52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were 'orthodox, evangelical Christians.'" Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford's A Worthy Company.
Barton has been endorsed by Glenn Beck, who wrote the forward to the Jefferson book, as well as evangelical and political leaders such as Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich.   One of the interesting engagements involves 2 professors at Grove City College, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, who argue that Barton "is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances."   On his website, David Barton says that Throckmorton and Coulter's book typifies attacks by "academic elitists" who position themselves as the "sole caretakers of historical knowledge."  He contends that Throckmorton and Coulter are hostile toward his "personal religious beliefs." Barton also disputes several of their specific arguments.

This week, it was announced that Thomas Nelson, the publisher of the book, has ceased its publication.   According to another article by Dr. Kidd in WORLD, the company began to evaluate the criticism, and a spokesman said, "in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

There are a lot of issues here.  I am a bit uncomfortable, in the spirit of Matthew 18, of Christians airing their disagreements in public.  But, reviews of various works are commonplace, and can be instructive for believers.  I also thought about the Rob Bell controversy over his book, Love Wins - many were outspoken about the theological questions that were raised by this book, but...its publisher, HarperCollins, which now owns Thomas Nelson, never pulled it.  I really don't know why, but one has to wonder where the theological and historical line will be drawn in the future when you have a secular company that is calling the shots over Christian books.

I like David Barton; I've had him on my radio show, and do not believe he's been disgraced or defrocked.   He has documentation to support his caricature of Jefferson - some may feel he is off-base in his treatment, they have the right to call his contentions into question.  But, he has been published, he has an excellent reputation in evangelical Christian circles, so are his rights to free speech being limited here?  And, I believe that Thomas Kidd, who has been a guest on the show, has been even-handed, reporting the controversy, quoting Barton and his critics, and attempting to present a balanced overview.

But, we are dealing with events over two centuries ago - Barton has examined the evidence and come to a well-reasoned conclusion.   Other have taken their documentation about Jefferson and come to some different conclusions.   That's just part of the game in the analysis of history.  

2 - Christian and conservative leaders applaud Paul Ryan pick for VP

Just prior to the end of the Olympic Games, presumptive Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney could be said to have won the gold medal in his pick for his Vice-Presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, whose budget plan was entitled, The Path to Prosperity.  He has been lauded by many for his willingness to take on some of the tough issues concerning reining in Federal spending, and has faced criticism because of what he has indicated should be reduced.   He is one of the leading voices for reforming entitlements, the cost of which place a real drain on the government's budget.  So, it was no surprise that Republicans, including a number of Christian and conservative leaders, were energized by the selection, and Democrats who support the President were energized in a way, as well, voicing their opposition to Ryan's proposals.

Here is a sampling of support for Ryan, as reported by Politico:

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List:  "A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no ‘truce’ when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility."

Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America:  "Paul Ryan is an energetic and solid social conservative. He has tirelessly supported the unborn and voted in favor of a federal marriage amendment. In addition, he showed great courage and willingness to make the hard decisions needed to clean our fiscal house by actually putting pen to paper and advancing a plan."

Former Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum:  "In addition to Congressman Ryan's stellar fiscal conservative positions, he is indeed a full-spectrum conservative.  He is solidly pro-life, pro-family, and will be an advocate for our military and our national security priorities."

It's no surprise that many are criticizing Paul Ryan - and in an election where jobs and the economy will be center stage, Ryan offers a clear plan to addressing the fiscal issues that our government is facing.  But, it gives an opportunity for Romney's opponents to continue to challenge him on what will be reduced or cut as a result of these economic proposals.  

1 - Missouri voters approve Constitutional Amendment on prayer

Elections in various states over the summer could prove to be indicators of the mood of the electorate in November.  The recall election in Wisconsin, the Republican primaries in Indiana and Texas, and what happened in Kansas this week are just some examples of elections where conservatives with appeal to the Tea Party movement and presumably evangelical Christians were victorious.  In Kansas, the powerful head of a Senate committee who had been instrumental in blocking legislation that would restrict abortion was brought down by a pro-life challenger.   A total of 8 incumbents faced defeat there - which I think is a manifestation of what polling data is indicating:  people think the country is heading in the wrong direction, so their frustrations could be taken out on incumbents.

And, the so-called social issues will continue to be influential in voters making their selection.   It is becoming apparent that religious freedom will be a talking point in the campaign on many levels, including the top race, where Governor Romney has just released a campaign ad criticizing the President for the contraception mandate in the health care plan, against the wishes of religious employers.  Candidates who oppose the health care law will no doubt be using various elements of it against opponents who may have supported or sympathized with it.

In Missouri, voters in the "Show-Me State" voted their values, showing their collective position on prayer and a perceived incursion on religious liberties.   According to CitizenLink, voters in that state approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday, expanding the state’s foundational document to include new sections regarding prayer and other religious issues.

Amendment 2 ensures that Missouri schoolchildren have to right to initiate prayer and voluntarily acknowledge God in the classroom, and requires all public schools to display the Bill of Rights on campus. It also states the government will not infringe on Missouri residents’ free exercise of religion.

Some of the provisions of the measures include:
  • Individuals’ and groups’ right to pray in private or public places are preserved, as long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt a meeting;
  • It allows students to refuse to take part in assignments or presentations that violate their religious beliefs;
  • It protects the right to pray on government property; and
  • Allows legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations.
This is an attempt to reinforce laws regarding freedom of religious expression and to clearly state that these constitutional rights are protected.   It's a great indicator of the value that voters in that state, and other states, place on expressing their deeply-held religious views.

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