Who Are the Righteous

This post does not intend to be another “David Barton sucks” post. Rather it seriously asks what some of his more vocal critics have not: Who are the “righteous”?

In the most recent voter video Wallbuilders produces, Barton harps on Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation,” and asserts the Bible (and “coincidentally,” America’s Founders) teaches you need to get “the righteous” in power to enact “righteous” policy. Or else (you know).

I think I know what Barton means by “righteousness” — his socially conservative fundamentalist understanding of what the Bible teaches that is amenable to what other religious conservatives (whether Jewish, Mormon, Roman Catholic, etc.) would, in large, support. (Abortion, same sex marriage, etc.)

But who are the “righteous”? Folks who support “right” policies whether they be Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim or Atheist?

Or folks actually OF the “right” religion? And is it the case that you have to be of “the right religion” to govern effectively?

My biggest problem with Barton to date is his lack of clarity pertaining to these terms. And some of his (1) religiously conservative Christian (2) followers (I am neither) seem to be coming around. They see Barton in political-theological communion with the Mormon Glenn Beck, praying together, seemingly, to the same Providence? With the implicit suggestion that the “God” of the Declaration of Independence is One, non-descript enough that Christians, Mormons and who knows else equally can claim Him because of His non-descriptiveness? (Perhaps believers like Barton should believe the god of the DOI is a he not a He).

When Barton says the “righteous” should rule, I don’t hear him saying someone who supports righteous policy as opposed to someone who is a “Christian” like him. Not that he rejects the votes of non-Christians who support his preferred policies. No, they can come along for the ride. But the “righteous” are the “regenerate.” I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He can clarify. That reading (as others) seems very plausible, to me.

Indeed, Barton uses the term “Christian” in a narrow enough sense to suggest he doesn’t see President Obama or Speaker Pelosi as “Christians” even though they say they are. What about Glenn Beck? Where is the basis for the idea that if you are a socially conservative heretic, cult member (according to evangelical thought) you get to be “righteous” but if you are a political liberal, you are not even if you claim to be a “Christian”?

Please explain. That’s all I ask.

I’ll end with Roger Williams, no theological liberal, but a fanatical fundamentalist of the Baptist tradition. Yet, he understood religion & politics dramatically differently than did his fellow fundamentalists, the Puritans of Massachusetts.

Williams certainly wanted righteous policy, but made it clear that one’s personal religious convictions had absolutely NOTHING to do with one’s “fitness” to be a governor. And for that reason, he did away with religious tests in Rhode Island that he founded and, for the first time in Christendom (at least as it relates to America’s lineage), formed a government that did not covenant with the Triune God.

As he put it, when he noted (in a novel revolutionary sense) that the UNREGENERATE and PAGANS were just as QUALIFIED to govern as “real Christians”:

All lawful magistrates in the world…have, and can have not more power, than fundamentally lies in the bodies of fountains themselves, which power, might, or authority, is not religious, Christian, etc., but natural, human and civil. And hence, it is true, that Christian captain, Christian merchant, physician, lawyer, pilot, father, master, and (so, consequently,) magistrate, etc., is no more a captain, merchant, physician, lawyer, pilot, father, master, magistrate, etc., than a captain, merchant, etc., of any other conscience or religion… A pagan or anti-Christian pilot may be as skillful to carry the ship to its desired port as any Christian mariner or pilot in the world, and may perform that work with as much safety and speed….

America’s Founders, it should be noted, followed Williams in this regard (see Art. VI, Cl. 3 of the US Constitution). Does Barton?

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6 Responses to Who Are the Righteous

  1. Mark Boggs says:

    And this is the crux of what troubles me. The logical extension of all of this “vote only for the ‘right’ people” stuff. How about we gauge, as Williams seems to understand via his statement above that competency is mostly unrelated to one’s religiosity, the competency of the people running for office? This is why I had such a beef with Romney as he wanted to make the particulars of his religion off limits while insisting that the US needed religious leaders. If religion is important, then its particulars should be important also (as we might see with the scrutiny of an Islamic candidate).

  2. tom van dyke says:

    Jon, Williams’ very next paragraph reads

    It is true, Christianity teaches all these to act in their The excellency of
    several callings to a higher ultimate end, from higher principles, in a more heavenly and spiritual manner, &c.

    Which says, to my reading, that although Christianity is not necessary, it can certainly help with the righteousness [and teleology] thing. This changes the meaning of the Williams quote substantially.

  3. James Hanley says:

    The “no religious test” clause does not, obviously apply to the individual in the voting booth. But if it’s an important enough principle to enshrine in the Constitution, then it may be a good idea for each voter to voluntarily apply it to him/herself.

  4. tom van dyke says:

    Oh, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t vote for a candidate who’s too religious or “righteous. The door swings both ways.

    I see nothing wrong with it. Half of Catholics vote Democrat for “social justice,” the other half don’t because of abortion. Both are valid reasons in my eyes.

    In fact, Mike Huckabee was probably a better candidate than McCain, except for being too religious.


    BTW, the first major commentator on the Constitution, Justice Joseph Story, was very sympathetic to Christianity in the American polity. However, religious tests would take the form of not only a union of church and state, but of most concern, intersectarian strife.


    Even the hint of it doomed Huckabee’s candidacy to my mind. [And my vote.] He really didn’t get close to winning the nomination.

  5. James Hanley says:


    Of course the door swings both ways. There was no implication that it didn’t.

    And even if no mention of religion or faith was never made, people would sometimes vote for someone who shared their political sect or total lack of one just because they agreed on the issues. And to the extent their political sect or lack of one led them to those issue positions, that’s not at all in conflict with my suggestion.

    As to Huckabee, his faith didn’t bother me, but his populism sure did.

  6. tom van dyke says:

    His faith sure bothered me. Too sectarian, something he said about being God’s Army or something—on the campaign stump in 2008! No, no, no. Far too divisive for me.

    I guess he got the support of his sect, but not even a majority of evangelicals, let alone Republicans, let alone the general electorate.

    Although I come off like a holy roller, I’m really just defending pluralism and find little in Jefferson that I don’t agree with. I come from the Catholic perspective, a vote which splits 50-50. As John Adams said in explaining Jefferson’s win in 1800,

    The National Fast recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has alarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, &c,&c,&c, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicion prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment as a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whispers ran through them [all the sects] “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President…”

    [The Presbyterians were the pushiest sect at that time. It certainly applies to evangelicals like Huckabee’s stripe today.]

    And we were getting to the same place, James [imagine that], no conflict with your suggestion. I meant that as a successful 2-term governor and a far better speaker, Huckabee was probably the better candidate. I did want to note that as someone who’s sympathetic to religion in the polity, I for one found Huckabee’s much too much, and do not think I’m alone in that.

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