Texas Speaker Preaches Politics From the Pulpit


JEFF HALLER/Yakima Herald-Republic
David Barton speaks while being interviewed for Christian Broadcasting of Yakima's "A Christian Viewpoint" in Yakima on Thursday.

David Barton says 75 percent of Christian evangelicals in the country don't vote. If they did, he says, "we'd get elected officials who represent what the people want."

And in Barton's mind, the people want more God in American history classes and public policies that reflect biblical values.

Barton, 50, brought the message of his Texas-based Wallbuilders organization Thursday to the Yakima Convention Center. He was invited by the Christian Coalition of Yakima.

He held a private dinner meeting with about 60 local ministers, followed by a free public speech that drew more than 500 people. The gathering included local ministers Jon Oletzke of Stone Church, Holland Lewis of West Valley Church of the Nazarene and Mike Lyon of Open Bible Christian Center.

Barton, who speaks to some 400 groups a year, said he makes a living selling books, videos and statistical information on what he calls the nation's "Christian political heritage."

His critics, including members of the clergy, have said he has no scholarly credentials or training in the disciplines of law or history.

Earlier, in an interview, Barton said he would tell the ministers not to be afraid to mix politics and the pulpit.

He said that while a nonprofit church cannot endorse or fund a political candidate, pastors can discuss voting records and other campaign issues with congregations.

"I'm telling them, 'Just get the issues out there and to tell the flock to go vote.'"

Barton said he was spurred to action 16 years ago when he was a math and science teacher at a private school in Texas.

He said he became convinced that Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 striking down public school-sponsored religious activities caused a sharp drop in SAT scores.

"I knew SAT scores fell off the cliff and the only thing that lined up was the removal of the Bible and religious principles from public schools," he said.

Barton, who is also vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said the prayer used in many schools was ecumenical.

"It was as bland as the pledge of allegiance," he said.

The founding fathers, Barton said, wanted a Christian nation in the legal, not just the social, sense, adding that separation of church and state was not one of their teachings. His 1989 book is titled "The Myth of Separation."

Critics have said the First Amendment is ample evidence he's wrong. Its first clause reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

Barton said he does not favor state-sponsored religion, and wouldn't want schools to force anyone to pray.

"I support any school where the parents don't want their kids to pray. I just don't want the courts making those decisions," he said.

In a 1996 critique of Barton's documentary, "America's Godly Heritage," the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., said of Barton:

"His presentation has just enough ring of truth to make him credible to many people. It is, however, laced with exaggerations, half-truths, and misstatements of fact."

The Rev. David Roberts, minister of the First Baptist Church in downtown Yakima, said he received an invitation to Barton's presentation. He declined to attend and didn't pass a flier advertising it to his parishioners.

Roberts said he sometimes jokes that the Bill of Rights is a Baptist document. He said Baptists have a long tradition of championing the separation of church and state because they were persecuted by the King of England when America was a British colony.

"I don't know this person (Barton), but my sense is he has taken some quotes from the founding fathers and goes running with them without looking at the larger context."

Barton said he graduated from Oral Roberts University and is an ordained minister from a local church in his hometown of Aledo, Texas, near Fort Worth. He said he holds an honorary doctorate of letters from Pensacola Christian College.

n Staff reporter Mark Morey contributed to this report.



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