On April 6, 2011 Jon Stewart questioned presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee about David Barton. Stewart missed a few things. For example, Barton’s Wallbuilders web site has for almost a decade featured an article, by a member of Barton’s Wallbuilders board of directors, that seems to endorse “Biblical Slavery” for pagans and other miscreants, and favorably cites the work of a theologian who claimed the accepted Holocaust death toll was wildly inflated. The article has been on Barton’s Wallbuilders web site since 2003.
Huckabee is so enthusiastic about the teaching of Wallbuilders head Barton that at the March 2011 Rediscover God In America conference Huckabee stated that he wishes all Americans could be forcibly indoctrinated, at gunpoint no less, with Barton’s version of American history. As Huckabee told conference attendees,
“I almost wish that there would be, like, a simultaneous telecast, and all Americans would be forced-forced at gunpoint no less-to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.”
The pro-slavery article on Barton’s Wallbuilders web site would seem to qualify as one of Barton’s teachings given that it’s written by a Wallbuilders board member and Barton refers his readers directly to the article, clearly an endorsement of it.
So does Mike Huckabee wants Americans forcibly indoctrinated with pro-slavery ideas?
It sounds absurd, but the case I outline below isn’t the only indication Huckabee might have closet pro-slavery yearnings. As I detailed in a January 2008 Talk To Action story, one of Huckabee’s top policy advisers while Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas was Christian Reconstructionist leader Rod D. Martin. Christian Reconstructionism endorses “Biblical slavery” and founder of the movement R.J. Rushdoony expressed the sentiment that African-Americans were lucky to be slaves, writing, “Granted that some Negroes were mistreated as slaves, the fact still remains that nowhere in all history or in the world today has the Negro been better off.”.
Meanwhile, who is David Barton?
For a start, Barton has been tapped as an alleged “expert” on American history featured on the Glenn Beck show and more recently brought into Congress, by Representative Michele Bachmann, to teach constitutional principles to incoming new members of Congress.
Talk To Action contribute Chris Rodda, Head Researcher for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History, is probably David Barton’s most dedicated critic; a Talk To Action site search on “Chris Rodda, David Barton” pulls up Rodda’s seemingly endless succession of stories debunking David Barton’s seemingly endless procession of history myths, distortions, and outright lies.
David Barton has built a career upon his claim that United States government was founded on Biblical precepts. This creates a major problem – if America was founded as a Christian nation, how can we account for slavery ?
The Joy of Biblical Slavery
Barton’s own articles on slavery on his Wallbuilders web site stress that many of the Founding Fathers were strongly opposed to the institution of slavery (which is true) but then he refers readers to a Wallbuilders article by Barton’s close colleague Stephen McDowell, which explains that although Southern Slavery was wrong, it was wrong because it wasn’t Biblical slavery as defined by Christian Reconstructionist theologian R.J. Rushdoony, whose basic approach was simple – what was permissible according to Biblical scripture is permissible now: including slavery.
McDowell’s article cites R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law six times in its footnotes and that’s notable given that the book was Rushdoony’s master work on how to implement Biblical law in the American legal system. R.J. Rushdoony’s scheme included establishing stoning and burning at the stake for adultery, homosexuality, and idolatry, and the legalization of Biblical slavery. Leaders in the Christian Reconstructionism movement Rushdoony founded have for several decades now been trying to make it so.
Stephen K. McDowell appeared along with R.J. Rushdoony and other major Christian Reconstructionist leaders in a 1999 video titled God’s Law And Society. You can watch some of those interviews (not McDowell’s) on the Christian Reconstructionist web site The Forerunner. Here’s The Forerunner editor Jay Rogers’ description of the R.J. Rushdoony interview, in which Rushdoony calls for a “second American revolution” :
Not until 1973 with the publication of R.J. Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law was there an attempt at a Biblical social philosophy that uncompromisingly affirmed the validity of biblical law. Since then over 100 volumes have been published elaborating the details of Calvinistic social philosophy from a “theonomic” perspective. Led by Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, James Jordan, and Gary DeMar, theonomic authors have expounded the Mosaic law with a fullness of application to modern society never before seen in Church history. Rushdoony passed on in 2001. The work of the Chalcedon Foundation is carried on by his son, Mark.
To reiterate, although David Barton might deny it one can reasonably assume he endorses the re-introduction of slavery given that an article on Barton’s own Wallbuilders web site (which Barton links to in his own Wallbuilders articles), by a member of the Wallbuilders board of directors (Barton also serves on the board of an organization run by McDowell) endorses “Biblical slavery” as defined by Christian Reconstructionist titan R.J. Rushdoony, whose idiosyncratic views included rejecting Copernicus’ Heliocentric model of the Solar System. In his master work The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony argued that that less than one million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War Two and asserted most of those died from cold rather than execution.
God’s laws concerning slavery provided parameters for treatment of slaves, which were for the benefit of all involved. God desires all men and nations to be liberated. This begins internally and will be manifested externally to the extent internal change occurs. The Biblical slave laws reflect God’s redemptive desire, for men and nations.
McDowell then lists various types of slavery which can be legal according to scripture from the Old Testament books of Leviticus, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. According to McDowell, “pagans [non-Christians] could be permanent slaves” and to bolster this position McDowell quotes theologian R.J. Rushdoony:
“since unbelievers are by nature slaves, they could be held as life-long slaves” 1 without piercing the ear to indicate their voluntary servitude (Lev. 25:44-46). This passage in Leviticus says that pagans could be permanent slaves and could be bequeathed to the children of the Hebrews.”
Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, was a virulent racist who wrote that Africans were lucky to become slaves in America, claimed the Holocaust death toll was wildly inflated, and maintained that the Sun orbits the Earth.
As Rushdoony wrote in his 1973 book Institutes of Biblical Law, which explained how to implement Biblical scriptural directives in a modern legal system,
“The (Biblical) Law here is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. It both requires that they be dealt with in a godly manner and also that the slave recognizes his position and accepts it with grace.”
Stephen McDowell’s article is not incidental to Wallbuilders writing on slavery – David Barton has two major articles on slavery on the Wallbuilders web site and both refer to McDowell’s article “For more information on this issue.” McDowell’s article provides an intellectual sleight-of-hand which allows Barton to publicly advance the point that many of the Founding Fathers opposed slavery (which is true) while still supporting “Biblical slavery.”
To sum up McDowell’s argument, slavery was not originally in God’s plan – it entered the world, along with sin, when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil and were subsequently banished by God from the Garden. Thus evil entered creation and to manage the mess, God gave Moses Biblical Law, including laws concerning slavery – which Stephen McDowell presents as a regrettable evil that will be unnecessary when all the world’s people are converted to Christianity.
McDowell and Barton are close allies – McDowell serves on Barton’s Wallbuilders board and Barton in turn serves on the Board of Directors of McDowell’s Providence Foundation. Stephen McDowell also has accompanied David Barton on his “spiritual heritage” tours of Washington DC
The problem with the historical institution of slavery in America wasn’t that it was sinful or that it went, in principle, against God’s will. No, according to David Barton’s fellow Wallbuilders Board of Directors member Stephen McDowell, Southern Slavery was simply the wrong sort of slavery :
Examination of the Biblical view of slavery enables us to more effectively address the assertion that slavery was America’s original sin. In light of the Scriptures we cannot say that slavery, in a broad and general sense, is sin. But this brief look at the Biblical slave laws does reveal how fallen man’s example of slavery has violated God’s laws, and America’s form of slavery in particular violated various aspects of the law, as well as the general spirit of liberty instituted by Christ.
McDowell’s argumentative reliance on R.J. Rushdoony, to justify Biblical slavery is notable given Rushdoony’s other views on what the implementation of Mosaic Law in the American legal system would entail. As leading authority on Christian Reconstructionism Frederick Clarkson, describes in a Public Eye article titled, Christian Reconstructionism – Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,
Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical “warfare” is the centrality of capital punishment under Biblical Law. Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, “sodomy or homosexuality,” incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, “unchastity before marriage.”
David Barton himself carries some troubling baggage. As Americans United For The Separation of Church and State’s Rob Boston details, in 1991 Barton gave several speeches before virulently racist, white supremacist groups including at Pastor Pete Peters Christian Identity church in Colorado :
Aside from being a virulent anti-Semite, Peters has advocated the death penalty for homosexuals. According to the Anti-Defamation League, other speakers at the event included white supremacist leader and 1992 presidential candidate James “Bo” Gritz, a leader of the radical and increasingly violent militia movement, and Malcolm Ross, a Holocaust denier from Canada. In November of that same year, Barton spoke at Kingdom Covenant College in Grants Pass, Oregon, another “Christian Identity” front group with ties to Peters.
More recently, Barton was, along with (now deceased) Massachusetts pastor Peter Marshall, one of two Christian nationalists selected as “experts” for a panel that advised the State of Texas on proposed changes to Texas public school social studies curriculum. The two recommended removing Civil Right Movement giants Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from the curriculum. Even more telling was the panel’s proposal to rename the Slave Trade, as “Atlantic Triangular Trade.”
Which brings us back around to Stephen McDowell’s citation of R.J. Rushdoony, as an authority on Biblical slavery. What else did he write on the subject ? Consider this passage, from Rushdoony’s book The Politics of Guilt and Pity,
“the white man is being systematically indoctrinated into believing that he is guilty of enslaving and abusing the Negro. Granted that some Negroes were mistreated as slaves, the fact still remains that nowhere in all history or in the world today has the Negro been better off. The life expectancy of the Negro increased when he was transported to America. He was not taken from freedom into slavery, but from a vicious slavery to degenerate chiefs to a generally benevolent slavery in the United States. There is not the slightest evidence that any American Negro had ever lived in a “free society” in Africa; even the idea did not exist in Africa. The move from Africa to America was a vast increase of freedom for the Negro, materially and spiritually as well as personally. The Negroes were sold from a harsh slavery into a milder one.”
In other words, Antebellum slaves in the American South had it lucky. We cannot say whether David Barton or Stephen McDowell are racist, but McDowell’s citation of R.J. Rushdoony is certainly telling, given Rushdoony’s unabashed views. On pages 509-512 of Institutes of Biblical Law we find the following,
All men are NOT created equal before God; the facts of heaven and hell, election and reprobation make clear that they are not equal. Moreover, an employer has property rights to prefer whom he will in terms of “color” creed, race or national origin.
For an in depth related article, see Rachel Tabachnick’s
Rushdoony and Theocratic Libertarians on Slavery
Bruce Wilson on the U.S. Taxpayers Party/Constitution Party’s relationship with Reconstructionism at Talk to Action.