(RNS) — In the early 2000s, psychology professor Warren Throckmorton spent much of his spare time blogging about his academic work — especially his move in 2005 from supporting so-called reparative therapy and the ex-gay movement to believing attempts to change people’s sexuality were wrong.
Then David Barton changed his life.
Beginning in 2011, Throckmorton began critiquing Barton’s work — especially the popular writer, speaker and political operative’s attempts to turn Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson into modern-day evangelicals.
Throckmorton — who taught for years at Grove City College — would become one of Barton’s most influential conservative critics and played a key role in the downfall of “The Jefferson Lies,” Barton’s bestselling reimagining of Thomas Jefferson as a man on fire for Jesus.
The book was filled with so many mistakes — many of them detailed in “Getting Jefferson Right,” a booklong critique published by Throckmorton and fellow Grove City College professor Michael Coulter in 2012 — that Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, retracted the book, despite its appearance on the New York Times bestseller list.
Casey Francis Harrell, a spokesman for Thomas Nelson, told the Tennessean and other media outlets in 2012 that conservative historians and critics had pointed out errors in the book.
“Because of these deficiencies, we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to cease its publication and distribution,” Harrell said.
Had Barton — the founder of Wallbuilders, an Aledo, Texas-based nonprofit that promotes “education regarding the Christian history of our nation” — been an academic or trained historian, his career would likely have been over, said Throckmorton.
But Barton, a longtime GOP activist, is more political operative than historian, argues Throckmorton, and is more concerned with telling stories about America’s past than in recounting the truth.
“Political operatives take a licking and keep on ticking,” said Throckmorton, who recently retired from Grove City, where he taught psychology for decades.
Despite the controversy of “The Jefferson Lies,” Barton’s influence has endured, finding an eager audience with the rise of Christian nationalism in the age of Trump. Most recently he has made national headlines because of his ties to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who shares many of his views about America as a Christian nation.
The rise of Christian nationalism — the idea that America belongs to Christians and that Christians have a God-given right to rule — prompted Throckmorton and his co-author to go ahead with an updated version of “Getting Jefferson Right,” which takes on Barton as well as other conservative authors like Eric Metaxas and Stephen Wolfe — all of whom promote what Throckmorton calls “Christian nationalists’ revisionist history.”