By Jason Hines, Esq. -

Yes­ter­day was a pre­miere event for the Reli­gious Right move­ment. In churches, homes, and other venues around the coun­try, con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians watched the pre­miere of “One Nation Under God,” a DVD cre­ated by the group United in Pur­pose, headed by Bill Dal­las. (You can find out more gen­eral infor­ma­tion about the DVD at the One Nation Under God web­site.) We attended a show­ing that was being held at the Old West Cow­boy Church in Robin­son, TX. Yes it was exactly as it sounds. One man showed up in spurs and chaps on a horse. The pas­tor of the church, who is also a char­ter mem­ber of the Waco Tea Party, wel­comed us and talked about how it was impor­tant for Chris­tians to “repos­sess Amer­ica.” He told us that about 2,500 dif­fer­ent venues would be pre­mier­ing the DVD and they hoped to have 50,000 show­ings before the 2012 election.

There were sev­eral speak­ers on the DVD, and each of them had two respon­si­bil­i­ties. First, to make sure that they estab­lished the idea that Amer­ica is a Chris­t­ian nation that that Judeo-Christian prin­ci­ples are to be incul­cated into gov­ern­ment. Sec­ond, the goal was to con­vince Chris­tians that they should be polit­i­cally involved, vote their val­ues and encour­age other Chris­tians that they should do the same. Sev­eral pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tives are recruited to help make these points. Despite the mul­ti­plic­ity of voices, there are some prob­lem­atic themes that run through­out the pre­sen­ta­tions. Each of the pre­sen­ters engages in some ele­ment of either mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion or mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of facts, spe­cious logic, or just plain bad theology.

The mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of facts was some­what expected. Most of it was con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cal talk­ing points. Both David Bar­ton and Newt Gin­grich made men­tion of the fact that the Supreme Court has taken prayer out of schools. Of course this is not true. Engel v. Vitale (1963) did not take prayer out of schools. Instead it ruled that teacher led school prayer is uncon­sti­tu­tional. The Court has since ruled that sec­tar­ian prayers at school events are uncon­sti­tu­tional. But the right of the indi­vid­ual to pray or lead other like-minded indi­vid­u­als in prayer is still allowed. To obfus­cate this point is to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Bar­ton also mis­in­ter­prets the US Con­sti­tu­tion. He says at one point that Art. VII of the Con­sti­tu­tion incor­po­rates the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. Art. VII actu­ally says, “The Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­ven­tions of nine States, shall be suf­fi­cient for the Estab­lish­ment of this Con­sti­tu­tion between the States so rat­i­fy­ing the Same.” I am sure Mr. Bar­ton has a rea­son for say­ing that a one sen­tence arti­cle of the Con­sti­tu­tion that makes no men­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence some­how incor­po­rates that doc­u­ment, but he gave no fur­ther explanation.

Gin­grich mis­in­ter­preted the his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing of Thomas Jef­fer­son. Gin­grich said that his­to­ri­ans say that Jef­fer­son didn’t believe in God, except that no rep­utable his­to­rian would say that. The truth is that Jef­fer­son was a Deist who believed in the con­cept of God, but not in the super­nat­ural ele­ments of Chris­tian­ity. Peo­ple like Bar­ton, Gin­grich, Bill Dal­las, and oth­ers have a his­tor­i­cal prob­lem. The US Con­sti­tu­tion makes no men­tion of God or Chris­tian­ity, and has some explicit anti-religious state­ments (i.e., the Estab­lish­ment Clause and the pro­hi­bi­tion on reli­gious tests for hold­ing office). There­fore, in order to make their argu­ment, they have to con­nect the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence to the Con­sti­tu­tion, and that’s a hard sell unless you’re will­ing to stretch the facts.

The speak­ers on the One Nation Under God DVD also engage in some inter­est­ing and fal­la­cious logic. Most of it is found in the assump­tions that they make. Bar­ton for exam­ple, makes two very dan­ger­ous assump­tions. First, he assumes that noth­ing has changed in the 235 years since the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. So the vastly dif­fer­ent con­text of today has no effect on how he views what our nation should do and what the Con­sti­tu­tion should allow. The great strength of the Con­sti­tu­tion in my opin­ion is that the Founders were smart enough to build in flex­i­bil­ity so that the doc­u­ment could adjust to fit the times. Bar­ton, Gin­grich, Dob­son, Rodriguez, and the other speak­ers on this DVD seek to bring Amer­ica back to an era where it was more homoge­nous. Gin­grich in fact quoted a sta­tis­tic that 80% of Amer­i­cans believe in “clas­si­cal Amer­ica.” I do not know what that means, but that descrip­tion is scary to me. Dr. Tim­o­thy John­son, the head of the Fred­er­ick Dou­glass Foun­da­tion, an African-American con­ser­v­a­tive group, also used spe­cious logic in order to attack lib­eral Chris­tians. Dr. John­son said that he did not under­stand how peo­ple could say they are pro-life them­selves and then vote for pro-choice can­di­dates. Dr. John­son seems not to be able to under­stand that there are some peo­ple who believe in their per­sonal moral­ity, and yet do not want to impose that moral­ity on others.

Mr. Bar­ton makes the same illog­i­cal leap in his dis­cus­sion of Chris­tians in the vot­ing booth. He assumes that all Chris­tians feel the same way he does, and that if those Chris­tians vote pro-choice or pro– gay mar­riage, then they are not vot­ing their val­ues. This type of rhetoric is disin­gen­u­ous and does not help to win peo­ple to their cause.

Finally, there are just some shock­ing cases of bad the­ol­ogy. David Bar­ton cites sev­eral texts that he claims stand for cer­tain propo­si­tions. We checked each of the ones we could man­age to write down, and all of them were mis­in­ter­preted. For exam­ple, Bar­ton cites Is. 33:22 as sup­port for the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. While that verse does men­tion the 3 branches of gov­ern­ment (king, law­giver, and judge) the verse says that the Lord is all those things. There­fore, a gov­ern­ment that fol­lowed Isaiah’s words there would vest all those pow­ers in one posi­tion, because that is what the Bible says in that verse. Rev­erend Samuel Rodriguez states that there is a bib­li­cal and moral imper­a­tive for Chris­tians to vote a cer­tain way, but cites no bib­li­cal sup­port. Dr. James Dob­son makes 2 egre­gious the­o­log­i­cal errors. When asked about whether Chris­tians should be involved in pol­i­tics, Dr. Dob­son quotes Abra­ham Lin­coln not the Bible. Dr. Dob­son goes on to say that when a coun­try for­gets who they are, then they are destroyed. He implies that if Amer­ica for­gets their Chris­t­ian her­itage and begins to allow abor­tion and gay mar­riage then they will be destroyed. This state­ment is not just bad the­ol­ogy, but it is also offen­sive to every group of peo­ple who have been oppressed in the his­tory of Amer­ica. So God’s destruc­tion will not fall because Amer­ica enslaved Africans, destroyed their fam­i­lies, raped and killed them, but it will fall because of the unborn and gay peo­ple? Amer­ica did not for­get who they were when they were oppress­ing women or Asians or Catholics or any other group, but now is the time Amer­ica is mov­ing away from its Judeo-Christian prin­ci­ples. As with Gingrich’s state­ment about long­ing for a “clas­si­cal Amer­ica,” this state­ment both­ered me. Dr. Dob­son is using his the­ol­ogy to white­wash his­tory, and to ignore the fact that Amer­ica has never been the Chris­t­ian nation that these peo­ple envi­sion it to have been.

Dr. Dob­son is using his the­ol­ogy to white­wash his­tory, and to ignore the fact that Amer­ica has never been the Chris­t­ian nation that these peo­ple envi­sion it to have been.

As I think about the events of the day and the con­tent of the DVD, two final points jump out to me. One, Newt Gin­grich said what the goal of this DVD really is. At one point he states that it is time for peo­ple of faith to take back power from the minor­ity elite. That is the real issue. It is not truly about hav­ing this nation be Chris­t­ian. It is not truly about feel­ing per­se­cuted for their major­ity faith. Rather, this is about want­ing to be in con­trol of oth­ers. To com­pel peo­ple to fol­low their will (not even the will of God).

Two, my wife and I noticed some­thing inter­est­ing as we sat amongst the mem­bers of the Old West Cow­boy Church. The pas­tor pro­vided note paper for us and encour­aged us to take notes for our own edi­fi­ca­tion. As we looked around room, we real­ized that we were the only peo­ple attempt­ing to take detailed notes. Most peo­ple did not write any­thing down at all. Some only wrote down a sen­tence here or there. My wife and I were the only peo­ple who attempted to record all the major points being made by all the speak­ers. This lack of crit­i­cal thought was the most appalling thing to me. These peo­ple were being sold on all kinds of his­tor­i­cal, log­i­cal, and bib­li­cal inac­cu­ra­cies, and they were more than will­ing to accept it with­out inspection.

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Jason Hines is Asso­ciate Edi­tor for Reli​gious​Lib​erty​.TV an inde­pen­dent reli­gious lib­erty web­site. A Har­vard Law grad­u­ate, Jason prac­ticed com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion in Philadel­phia for five years and con­ducted sem­i­nars on reli­gious lib­erty in his spare time. This gave him the oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss issues of reli­gious free­dom with Adven­tists in churches all over the United States. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his life to work in reli­gious lib­erty. To that end, he enrolled at the Sem­i­nary at Andrews Uni­ver­sity, where he is pur­su­ing a Master’s Degree in Reli­gion. He is also a PhD can­di­date in the Reli­gion, Pol­i­tics, and Soci­ety at the J.M. Daw­son Insti­tute for Church-State Stud­ies at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity. Jason blogs about reli­gious lib­erty and other reli­gious issues at the​hi​ne​sight​.blogspot​.com