Kastelyn Fossett at Politico interviews Kristin Kobes Du Mez:
DU MEZ: As he understands it, this country was founded as a Christian nation. And he stands in a long tradition of conservative white evangelicals, particularly inside the Southern Baptist Convention, who have a distinct understanding of what that means. And this is where evangelical author and activist David Barton comes in.Johnson has said that Barton’s ideas and teachings have been extremely influential on him, and that is essentially rooting him in this longer tradition of Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism essentially posits the idea that America is founded on God’s laws, and that the Constitution is a reflection of God’s laws. Therefore, any interpretation of the Constitution must align with Christian nationalists’ understanding of God’s laws. Freedom for them means freedom to obey God’s law, not freedom to do what you want. So really, Christian supremacy and a particular type of conservative Christianity is at the heart of Johnson’s understanding of the Constitution and an understanding of our government.
Fossett: Tell me more about David Barton.
Du Mez: Barton is a very popular author in conservative evangelical spaces, and he is the founder of an organization called Wallbuilders. It is an organization that for decades has been promoting the idea that the separation of church and state is a myth. He is a self-trained historian. Some would call him a pseudo-historian. He’s not a historian — I can say that, as a historian. He’s an apologist. He uses historical evidence, cherry-picked and sometimes entirely fabricated, to make a case that the separation of church and state is a myth, and it was only meant to protect the church from the intrusion of the state but that the church is supposed to influence the government. He’s the author of a number of very popular books.
Back in the early 1990s, Jerry Falwell, Sr., started promoting his teachings. I noticed that Johnson said he was — I think about 25 years ago —introduced to David Barton’s work, and it has really influenced the way he understands America. And that would be around that same time.
It’s really hard to overstate the influence that Barton has had in conservative evangelical spaces. For them, he has really defined America as a Christian nation. What that means is that he kind of takes conservative, white evangelical ideals from our current moment, and says that those were all baked into the Constitution, and that God has elected America to be a special nation, and that the nation will be blessed if we respond in obedience and maintain that, and not if we go astray. It really fuels evangelical politics and the idea that evangelicalism has a special role to play to get the country back on track.riday. Sign up for the newsletter.
I should also add that Barton’s Christian publisher back in 2012 actually pulled one of his books on Thomas Jefferson, because it was just riddled with misinformation. But that did not really affect his popularity. And again, these are not historical facts that we’re dealing with. It really is propaganda, but it’s incredibly effective propaganda. If you listen to Christian radio, you will hear them echoed. It’s just this pervasive understanding of our nation’s history that is based on fabrication.