David Barton on Real Life with Jack Hibbs: Did the University of Virginia Have Chaplains?

David Barton was on Calvary Chapel pastor Jack Hibbs’ show Real Life with Jack Hibbs last night. Part one is available on You Tube with apparently more to come. They didn’t get into much until near the end of this segment. At about 22 minutes into the video, Barton accuses others of using history to support an agenda. Then he illustrates how he revises the work of PhDs in history with original sources by citing his involvement in a 2011 book with Daryl Cornett, William Henard, and John Sassi titled, Christian America? Perspectives on our Religious Heritage. In that book, Daryl Cornett said about the University of Virginia:

At the University of Virginia there was no Christian curriculum and the school had no chaplain.

Barton cited that claim to Jack Hibbs. Watch:

Barton claims to have refuted Cornett by going to an original source. While it is true that the University of Virginia eventually created a chaplain position, this was not the case from the beginning of the school. Originally, UVA did not employ chaplains. Barton doesn’t tell you that scholars are concerned with the founding of the school and no academic historian I am aware of disputes that the school eventually added chaplains.

Barton tells Jack Hibbs that the claim about chaplains and the UVA is made in connection to Jefferson (who died in 1826). In addition, Barton says he has a newspaper from “that era” which contains an ad by the chaplain of UVA. However, what Barton does not tell Jack Hibbs is that Jefferson was long dead before that newspaper article was published in 1837. By not placing the events in proper context, Barton misleads the audience to think the existence of chaplains at UVA came when Thomas Jefferson was alive. Not so.

The claim about chaplains at UVA is also in Barton’s pulled-from-print book The Jefferson Lies and was one Michael Coulter and I addressed in our book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President. To fully address Barton’s claim and our response to it, I have taken that section from our work on the 2nd edition of the book and made it into a pdf file for review.

Barton’s claim to correct academic historians is stunning. From the pdf, let me take just a bit of what Barton does to James Madison. From Getting Jefferson Right:

Another aspect of the chaplain story bears comment. Barton takes portions of a letter written by James Madison and selectively portrays the quote as an announcement about chaplains. Here again is what Barton quotes [from The Jefferson Lies] from Madison:

By 1829, when the nondenominational reputation of the university had been fully established, James Madison (who became rector of the university after Jefferson’s death in 1826) announced “that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by…services of clergymen.”

Rather than a public announcement or a policy change, Madison wrote those words in a May 1, 1828 letter to Chapman Johnson, one of the members of the university Board of Visitors. The actual quote depicts a completely different meaning than Barton implies. Here is the entire section of the letter, from which Barton lifts his quote. Barton leaves out the words from Madison which are required to understand the meaning. Another unwarranted change Barton makes is to add the word “permanent.” What Barton omitted is in italics below:

I have indulged more particularly the hope, that provision for religious instruction and observances among the Students, would be made by themselves or their Parents & Guardians, each contributing to a fund to be applied, in remunerating the services of Clergymen, of denominations, corresponding with the preference of the contributors. Small contributions would suffice, and the arrangement would become more & more efficient & adequate, as the Students become more numerous; whilst being altogether voluntary, it would interfere neither with the characteristic peculiarity of the University, the consecrated principle of the law, nor the spirit of the Country.

Contrary to Barton’s claim, Madison did not make an announcement in 1828 that permanent provision for religious worship would be made by clergymen. Instead, he told one of the university board members his hope that parents and students would voluntarily secure clergymen to provide religious services if so desired by the parents and students. Indeed, reading the entire letter, Madison’s view was that such instruction should come in this voluntary manner rather than having it come via the hiring of members of the clergy to teach.vii Such an arrangement would preserve the independence of the school from religious entanglements and disputes while respecting the free exercise of religion. Barton’s selective quotation of a primary source obscures Madison’s meaning and adds a revised one he apparently prefers.

Obviously, Barton is the one doing the revising. Barton said Madison wrote this:

 “that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by…services of clergymen.”

However, James Madison actually wrote this:

I have indulged more particularly the hope, that provision for religious instruction and observances among the Students, would be made by themselves or their Parents & Guardians, each contributing to a fund to be applied, in remunerating the services of Clergymen, of denominations, corresponding with the preference of the contributors. Small contributions would suffice, and the arrangement would become more & more efficient & adequate, as the Students become more numerous; whilst being altogether voluntary, it would interfere neither with the characteristic peculiarity of the University, the consecrated principle of the law, nor the spirit of the Country.

I hope it is obvious that the import of this is not about when UVA had chaplains. It is about credibility and what appears to be an intent to mislead people.

I have images of the Globe newspaper Barton referred to. Barton touts his original documents but I haven’t found anything yet that I can’t get via an historical data base. The letter was in an 1837 edition but wasn’t an ad to get students to come to UVA.

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To read the segment on chaplains at UVA, click Did the University of Virginia Have Chaplains?

Comments

  1. Dr. Keith Blank says:

    I see Barton as an attorney who is zealously representing his client (God, and America), within the bounds of the law. You are opposing counsel, who represents his client, (academic purity), with the same zeal. Each of you are entitled to make your case, but for me, Barton’s cause has much higher stakes. You are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic while he is trying desperately to save the passengers. Like Charles Finney, he is on retainer for the Lord, to plead his cause in all things.

    • Warren Throckmorton says:

      I see representing truth as being more in line with God than academic purity. I doubt the Lord would use dishonesty to stick up for any cause.

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