The past week’s annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, hosted by Dallas Baptist University, examined contemporary Baptists’ unease with their own faith heritage. John Ragosta, historian and lawyer from the University of Virginia (and not a Baptist himself), brought to life the Baptist voice and witness of the American Revolutionary era, reminding today’s Baptists – in no uncertain terms – that strict church-state separation is the denomination’s great contribution to the American nation.
On the other hand, Stephen Stookey (pictured), professor of church history at Dallas Baptist University, offered a fresh-examination of fake historian David Barton. Barton, a Texan political figure with no historical credentials, has attained rock star-like status in many Baptist congregations. He is well-known for fabricating or (at best) cutting and pasting historical tidbits in order to create a historical mythology craved by today’s Christian evangelicals who desperately want to believe that – contrary to clear documentary evidence – America was founded as a constitutionally Christian nation.
Stookey, however, moved beyond a mere rundown of David Barton’s deceptions (Barton has been lying about America’s history for several decades; here’s a recent rundown of some of the lies) and instead examined the source of his fabricated history. Offering fresh historical perspective on the man who would refashion America into a theocracy, Stookey traced Barton’s mythological constructions to the late Mormon conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen, “a former FBI agent and professor at Brigham Young University who became a frequent speaker on the John Birch Society circuit in the 1970s” whose views on Mormon orgins and eschatology are the foundation of Barton’s thinking and writing.
Stookey’s new contribution to the historiography of David Barton makes it all the more difficult for Baptist followers of Barton to continue supporting his fake history. Not only is the forsaking of Baptist heritage necessary in order to follow Barton, but also the embracing of extremist Mormon conspiracies. Yet so loyal to Barton are many American evangelicals – Baptist and otherwise – that some will yet choose mythology and conspiracy over truth.
Stookey’s presentation will be published in a future edition of the Baptist History & Heritage Journal.