Wednesday, May 16, 2012

David Barton Keeps Peddling Falsehoods

Thomas Jefferson attended a religious service in the U.S. capitol shortly after he wrote the famous letter to the Danbury Baptists proclaiming a "wall of separation between Church and State."  This is true. And it raises all kinds of questions about his use of that phrase.

Over two hundred years later David Barton appeared in the U.S. Capitol building and tells a story about George Washington that has been proven over and over again to be false.  At what point do we call Barton a "deceiver" or a "liar?"


Here is the section from my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction on the famous painting of Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge.

There is one major problem with Potts's story of Washington praying at Valley Forge - it probably did not happen. While it is likely that Washington prayed while he was with the army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778, it is unlikely that the story reported by Potts, memorialized in paintings and read to millions of schoolchildren, is anything more than legend. It was first told in the seventeenth edition (1816) of Mason Lock Weem's Life of Washington. Weems claimed to have heard it directly from Potts, his "good old FRIEND." Potts may have owned the house where Washington stayed at Valley Forge, but his aunt Deborah Potts Hewes was living there alone at the time. Indeed, Potts was probably not even residing in Valley Forge during the encampment. And he was definitely not married.  It would be another twenty-five years before he wed Sarah, making a conversation with her in the wake of the supposed Washington prayer impossible. Another version of the story, which appeared in the diary of Reverend Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, claims that it was John Potts, Issac's brother, who heard Washington praying. These discrepancies, coupled with the fact that Weems was known for writing stories about Washington based upon scanty evidence, have led historians to discredit it.

Actually, Barton could have made a pretty good case that Washington was a "man of prayer" without the Isaac Potts--Valley Forge story, but he once again chose sensationalism over evidence.

Is it time to gather Christian historians together to sign some kind of formal statement condemning Barton's brand of propaganda and hagiography?