David Barton Ruined Conservative Christianity For Me: A Call for Stories
By Shaney Lee, HARO Board Member
Recently, a group of homeschool alumni were sharing stories of their “lightbulb moment”: a moment when we realized that we had been taught an agenda, rather than how to think for ourselves, and when we realized that the strains of conservative Christianity we had been raised with were grossly flawed. Some of us are still Christians and some are not, but we all had that “moment” where we realized we wanted to go a different direction with our lives.
As a result of that conversation, Homeschoolers Anonymous has decided to open up a call for stories from homeschool alumni about their “lightbulb moments.” The purpose of this series is twofold: One, to shed light on the individuals and ideas that need to be weeded out from the homeschooling community; two, to allow homeschooled individuals to tell their stories. Those who don’t continue in conservative Christianity as adults are often referred to as “apostates” or assumed to be “backslidden.” We want to give alumni a chance to share their side of the story.
To start off the call for stories, I wanted to share my story. This is the story of when I realized I needed to find a different path.
In October 2012 I was invited to the annual banquet for Texas Alliance for Life (TAL). Being a pro-life individual and lover of fancy events, I decided to go, despite not being thrilled with their keynote speaker: David Barton. At that point, Barton had recently been in WORLD News because his most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, had been rejected as full of inaccuracies by conservative Christian historians, and Thomas Nelson eventually decided to pull the book entirely.
Barton’s speech had three points. To this day I wish I had taken notes on what exactly Barton said and what sources he used, but to the best of my memory I will take you through just how bad the speech was.
Barton’s first point was that the Founding Fathers were pro-life. Barton’s evidence for this assertion was a quote that condemned abortion after the “quickening.” Barton followed up by telling the audience that “quickening” in that day was equivalent to “conception.”
This, however, is not even close to true. John Bouvier’s Law Dictionary defines the quickening as follows: “The motion of the foetus, when felt by the mother, is called quickening, and the mother is then said to be quick with child. This happens at different periods of pregnancy in different women, and in different circumstances, but most usually about the fifteenth or sixteenth week after conception….”
So the quote Barton read that night actually said nothing about early-term abortions, and in fact allowed for them. To this day I don’t know if Barton was lying, or just ignorant of female biology. Either is a plausible explanation.
Barton’s second point was that all that needs to happen for pro-life candidates to win elections is for pro-life voters to vote consistently, rather than sitting out some elections. While that assertion may or may not actually be true, Barton’s analysis of voting numbers and percentages from several elections in a row showed a gross misunderstanding of how statistics work. To be perfectly blunt, Barton’s analysis was so far off you couldn’t even call what he did “statistics.”
This is another area where I wish I had taken detailed notes, but his analysis essentially went like this: In this particular election, pro-life candidates got an average of 59% of the vote, while pro-choice candidates got an average of 40% of the vote. Therefore, in that election, pro-life candidates had a 19% higher chance of being elected. (Barton did this X-Y=percentage method of “statistics” several more times. Actual statistics are much, MUCH more complicated.)
The last point Barton made was that candidates who vote “correctly” on pro-life issues (as defined by the organization National Right to Life) would vote correctly on other issues as well. To demonstrate this point, he put up a chart with 10 congressmen rated “100%” on pro-life issues, and a second column next to their names and pro-life voting records that was labeled “economic issues”. With a click of a button, the chart indicated that these same congressmen had voted “100% correctly” on economic issues. Barton then did the same thing with a second chart that included 10 congressmen who had 0% records on pro-life voting issues, and according to the chart also had “0% correct” records on economic issues.
I don’t know where Barton got his numbers for the “correct voting percentage” on economic issues, but I was quite surprised to hear people around me who I knew were libertarian and I knew thought the only person who ever consistently voted correctly on economic issues was Ron Paul, gasp in delight at seeing these charts.
All of this–the out-of-context quote with a false definition for “quickening,” the numbers that may as well have been pulled out of a hat and called “statistics,” and the charts that gave no context for what “voting correctly on economic issues” meant, were enough to convince me that Barton was indeed a fraud and made me very disappointed that Texas Alliance for Life had invited him to be their keynote speaker. But it still didn’t prepare me for what happened at the end of his speech.
The entire room (excluding me) gave him a standing ovation.
In this room were NCFCA coaches, parents, and adult alumni. People who had taught me debate, logic, and rhetoric. Yet here they were, applauding a man who had just fed them lies, logical fallacies, and more fluff than a cotton field.
Something inside of me broke that night. I realized that I couldn’t trust these people to have given me a solid foundation of any sort. When given false assurance that their beliefs were correct and would prevail, they ate it up.
So I started questioning everything. If this man, Barton, was their shining example of a historian, how could I trust what they had taught me about science, economics, religion–even right and wrong? The thing about an experience like this is it’s not even about the specifics of what you’ve been taught. It’s about realizing that the people who taught you were too quick to accept what somebody had told them and ready to pass it on to future generations without subjecting those beliefs to scrutiny. As I examined other beliefs, I found many of the same patterns: arguments against evolution that were incredibly weak, disdain for trans* people that had no basis in Scripture, and more issues that didn’t stand up to scrutiny became clear as I asked questions and applied more scrutiny to the things I was taught.
I’ve left behind many things I used to believe as a result of that night. While I’m still a Christian, I am no longer conservative. I would later realize that conservative Christianity has many leaders who are liars, manipulators, and abusers; that most of the arguments I heard for conservative positions had very shaky foundations; and (the final blow to my conservatism), that when I wanted to confront real-world issues like racism, rape culture, and poverty, conservatives either turned a blind eye or offered “solutions” that weren’t really solutions at all.
I tell my story today not to belittle conservative Christians. I still know many who are good, honest people. I tell my story as a wake-up call to conservatives, especially to the conservative Christian homeschool community. If you continue to teach your children based on David Barton’s “history” or Ken Ham’s “science,” continue to follow leaders who then get exposed as sexual abusers, and don’t teach your children true logic and critical thinking, I predict the homeschool movement will eventually collapse under its own weight.
To contribute your story or thoughts:
As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.
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The deadline for submission is July 3, 2015.