Mark Gubicza, Elizabeth Taylor, David Barton, and the Desperate Hunt for "Christian America"
Mark Gubicza was a slightly-better-than-average major league pitcher for a number of years.
Elizabeth Taylor was, well, Elizabeth Taylor.
David Barton is, or at least his official biography says he is, “an expert in historical and constitutional issues”.
I was thinking about David Barton the other day, and I thought of Mark Gubicza. And then I thought of Liz Taylor. And this is the certainly the first writing in the history of the world that has linked these three people together. Allow me…
I am a bit of a sports junkie, as many of you know, and I particularly enjoy digesting and analyzing sports statistics. For anyone who might know the reference, I think Bill James is a genius (and many of his imitators aren’t, by the way). At any rate, a number of years ago, I was reading a piece in some sports publication that used some new metric to rate every major league player, both pitchers and hitters (and ostensibly, fielders, I guess). After the author had crunched all the numbers, his apparatus spit back at us the player who, over the previous two or three years (I believe it was) was the best pitcher in baseball. And the answer was…Mark Gubicza.
It was during about that same period of time that I listened to Liz Taylor being interviewed on 20/20 or 60 Minutes or some TV newsmagazine about her good friend Michael Jackson, and when asked about the late Gloved One’s eccentricities, Liz said, “Michael Jackson is the most normal man I know.”
When I read that Mark Gubicza was purportedly the best pitcher in baseball, I remember thinking, “you haven’t told me a whole lot about Mark Gubicza, but you’ve said a whole lot about the credibility of your measuring device.” When I heard Elizabeth Taylor say that Michael Jackson was the most normal man she knew, I thought, “Liz, you haven’t told us much about Michael, but you have just spoken volumes about yourself.”
Now, how does this relate to David Barton? I’ll get to that, but for the uninitiated, a few words on the background of this post. Mr. Barton has become quite the superstar these days in some evangelical circles. He makes the rounds of churches and Christian schools, appears on Glenn Beck’s (now defunct) TV program, and leads a ministry named WallBuilders, which entails doing a lot of writing and other things.
And this is a big problem.
It’s a big problem because, quite simply, Mr. Barton plays fast-and-loose with our history. He holds neither a degree in history nor a degree in law, and yet he is accepted as an authority. Granted, he has certainly read a lot more about our nation’s history—and our Christian heritage—than have I. I am certain that Mr. Barton says a lot of things that are correct and helpful; I tend to agree that some on the secular left have not presented an accurate picture of how Christian faith helped mold our nation. But I am equally certain that Mr. Barton is guilty of presenting an inaccurate picture as well. There is plenty out there on the internet detailing his shabby regard for the facts that I need not get into specifics; you can certainly be big boys and girls and find it for yourselves if you don’t want to take my word for it.
But here’s how David Barton reminds me of Liz Taylor and Mark Gubicza: when David Barton makes statements that are completely contrary to those of every reputable historian; when he attempts to paint Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as strong Christians; when he adds his own interpretations to the writings and words of our nation’s founders as though his words were actually theirs (confident that his interpretation was their intent despite no such corroboration from any other historians); when these things happen, I say to myself, “you’ve not said much about history, but you’ve sure said a lot about yourself.”
So why do evangelicals so love Oral Roberts grad David Barton, an “authority” without many credentials? I would suggest it is because he tells us what we really want to believe. We are convinced—and I add myself to the “we” in this sentence—that the mainly-secular media slants the story in the other direction, tries to convince us that Christian faith was only incidental to our nation’s founding. And along comes Barton, who has certainly done a lot of reading and research, and we swallow what he says because we so want it to be true.
And some of it, no doubt, is. But enough of it involves historical revisionism, selective quoting of historical documents, and putting words in the mouths of our Founding Fathers, that he ought not be taken seriously as an expert in such matters.