A Face in the Crowd — Part II

 current events  Comments Off on A Face in the Crowd — Part II
Mar 252010
One of the amendments proposed by the Texas School Board of Education to the social studies curriculum used in the public schools in that state requires that teachers spend time lecturing about the conservative resurgence of the 1980’s and 1990’s in America.  Well, most teachers don’t cover that because a) it’s not history yet and b) they run out of time to do those years in depth.  You’re lucky if your teacher gets to touch on Ronald Reagan much at all.  Hell, you’re lucky if your teacher goes much in detail into Vietnam.  Most of my students know nothing about that, and when I brought up Three Mile Island one semester, no one had even heard of it.  So, you’re not even talking 1980’s and 1990’s here.  It’s hard to fit it all in one semester.
What I think they should require is that teachers spend time lecturing about the conservative resurgence of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  In particular, a couple of Texans would be important to talk about (and I do — but my textbook does not).  They are Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler.  These two gentlemen got together and hatched a plan to take over the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because of their concerns that the denomination was growing too moderate (not liberal, just moderate).  They brought in like-minded peers and slowly implemented their scheme to take over the top positions and then dictate principles to those below.  They changed the official platform of the SBC to fit their conservative agenda.  Not only did their work cause a significant shift in the SBC, but the involvement of conservative Baptist political activists meant that they affected politics as well.  The rise of the political power of the religious right in the 1970’s meant significant changes in our country (including leading to Reagan’s election in 1980).  Southern Baptists — as one of the largest religious segments of our society — have been essential to this change, and Texans were at the forefront of that development.  The conservatives on the Texas School Board pushing the connection between Christianity and government in our country are heirs of Patterson and Pressler’s work.
Here’s the twist:  Patterson (after serving as President of the SBC) eventually became President of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (thereby controlling the training of future Southern Baptist ministers) — he had  previously served as President of the Southeastern Seminary as well.  During his time at Southwestern, he dismissed one of the faculty members — Dr. Sheri Klouda — because she is female and Patterson’s reading of the Bible is that women should not be in positions of authority over men (apparently not even male students).  Klouda sued the school for discrimination based on her sex.  Ironically, the judge hearing the case dismissed it, because the Constitutional ban on government intrusion into religious matters meant that the courts had no jurisdiction over matters at the seminary.  That’s right, Patterson’s ass was saved by the separation of church and state.  I doubt the School Board is pressing for that story’s inclusion in their amendments.
 Posted by at 8:26 pm

A Face in the Crowd — Part I

 current events, historiography  Comments Off on A Face in the Crowd — Part I
Mar 202010
Remember these names:  David Barton and Rev. Peter Marshall.  You should know these men because it is in good part due to their efforts that the Texas public school curriculum will soon, among other things, minimize the role of Thomas Jefferson as a contributor to the ideology of the American Revolution and the development of the U.S. Constitution.  You see, they are the “experts” that the Texas School Board relied on to alter the recommendations of the scholars and historians involved in drafting the original proposed curriculum.  The drafters celebrated Jefferson, but the Board voted to remove that information and talk about Moses as an inspiration instead.  Vocal board member Dr. Don McLeroy (a dentist) believes that the notion that our founders wanted to separate church and state is a myth propagated by secular liberals.  McLeroy rejects the work of professional historians and scholars and, instead, relies on that of Barton and Marshall to substantiate his claims.
Barton is a self-educated, self-published author on the Christian foundations of our country.  Barton does not have a degree in history or theology, but he founded an organization (WallBuilders) to promote his work.  He sells his books in church bookstores and online rather than through traditional public (read: secular) booksellers.  Again, his books are not published by any noted press.  Marshall, on the other hand, is the son of a former Senate chaplain who has an ivy league education.  Marshall has theology — but not history — degrees from Yale and Princeton.  He also has written books on the U.S.’s purpose as a Christian nation and God’s plan for America.  Despite his notable education, Marshall’s works are not published by any important press either.  Instead, his books are printed by a specialty Christian publisher.  His works are similarly marketed to church people rather than the general reading public.
Because of the influence of these authors and the power of the conservatives relying on them who dominate the School Board, the Texas curriculum is being revised to accentuate the alleged Christian foundations of our country.  It is not true that none of our founding fathers were religious men or that none of them believed in God.  It is true that they referenced a Creator, talked about God, and opened sessions with prayers.  It is also true that John Adams was a Unitarian who did not believe in God as a trinity.  Thus, Jesus to him was an important prophet, but not God himself.  Thomas Jefferson shared this view of the son of God — and, incidentally, it is from one of his letters that we get the phrase “separation of church and state.”  George Washington was a member of the Anglican Church, but he refused to take communion.  Thomas Paine, who wrote Common Sense, the pro-independence pamphlet that influenced many American revolutionaries, also wrote a book called The Age of Reason, in which he rejected all organized religions and referred to them as means for enslaving mankind.  In other words, our founders held a mixture of various religious beliefs.  It is disingenuous to claim that our founders were not influenced by Christianity.  However, it is also incorrect to claim that they intended to establish a country where the Christian religion was intertwined with the political structure.  Nothing proves this more clearly than the fact that they never passed any resolutions or laws establishing an official national church or churches.  Those who claim that our country was designed to be a Christian nation conflate (some of) the founders’ personal feelings with their political work.
If Barton and Marshall have indeed done extensive research and have educated themselves well, as they claim, they know better than the things they advocate.  And they certainly must know better than to try to minimize Jefferson in the story of the country’s ideological beginnings or to exaggerate the role of religion in the framework our founders established for our nation.  Because of the influence they’ve had in shaping Texas’ — and therefore the nation’s — social studies curriculum, it is important to identify these men and to remove them from the anonymity of history.  We should know who our historiographers are and their agenda.
 Posted by at 11:15 pm