While high-profile mass media journalists such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow have recently begun giving Washington's "C Street House" some long overdue scrutiny, another aspect to the story has been almost entirely overlooked. Beyond an apparent lust to be above normal legal and moral constraints, and a proclivity for illicit sex, some C Street members share another simmering, but very different, passion: overwriting and falsifying the historical record in order to justify claims that the United States was originally founded as a Christian nation.
According to a July 20th story from Politico.com, Virginia Congressman James "Randy" Forbes (R-VA) attends Bible study groups at the C Street House. When not piously engaging in C Street's Bible studies along with "family values" advocates such as GOP Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Ensign (R-NV), who shared knowledge of Ensign's extramarital affair before the news became public, Representative Forbes indulges his lust for foisting a fake, Christian nationalist version of American history upon the nation. Randy Forbes' latest legislative push, H. Res 397, backed by a sizable rump GOP House faction, is literally packed with American history lies.
Washington's 'C Street House' provides cheap rent, is registered as a church, and is run by a shadowy Washington based association known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship." The group and its activities, the subject of a 2008 book by journalist Jeff Sharlet, has over the summer of 2009 become notorious as a string of sex scandals has enveloped three national politicians who have lived at the C Street House or gone to Bible study classes there: South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada GOP Senator John Ensign, and former Republican Congressman Charles "Chip" Pickering.
The frequency with which names of C Street House's current and former members are popping up in the news, implicated in sex scandals, lends credibility to media lampooning of the cheap rent church as a Christian frat house, but there's a sinister edge to C Street Culture.
The institution is run by "The Family", whose longtime head Douglas Coe operates in the Washington back-room shadows as if a Christian mafia don; for decades, Coe has been able to grants his supplicants private face time with US presidents. Doug Coe has also publicly evinced admiration for the revolutionary dedication of Bolsheviks, Chinese Red Guard who chopped their own parents' heads off, and Hitler Youth willing to follow their Fuhrer's every command.
In a recent op ed, Buzzflash.com editor Mark Karlin observed that accounts of C Street's secretive, cultic subculture suggest the group might cover for crimes committed by C Street members.
But The Family's crimes against the integrity of the American historical record have been very real and very public. For decades, a fabricated George Washington quote, known as "Washington's Prayer", has been incorporated into the program of the National Prayer Breakfast, an event held by The Family every year since President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended the first National Prayer Breakfast event in 1953. The egregious example fits into a wide pattern of abuse that amounts to a Christian nationalist guerrilla war to remake the historical record. In recent years Randy Forbes has been at the tip of the spear in that war.
On December 8, 2007, Randy Forbes introduced a House resolution, H. Res. 888, that purported to promote "education on America's history of religious faith." In fact, the resolution was packed with 75 assertions, most of which amounted to lies and distortions of the American historical record.
Enter historian Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History and also head researcher for The Military Religious Freedom Foundation. In January 2008, Rodda began an ongoing series, at the website Talk To Action (disclosure: this author is co-founder of Talk To Action), which disproved House Resolution 888's numerous historical fallacies.
The resolution contained a list of 75 historical assertions. HR 888 began as follows:
"Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith."
Rodda's writing was the centerpiece of an Internet-based campaign to publicize and oppose Forbes H. Res. 888, which never made it to the House floor but managed nonetheless to gain 93 co-sponsors, mostly Republicans.
Undeterred by the failure of H. Res. 888, on may 4th, 2009 Randy Forbes re-introduced the text of the resolution, as House Resolution 397, which currently has 74 co-sponsors.
The trigger for the reintroduction of the falsified US history fussilade was, by Randy Forbes' own statements, president Barack Obama's April 7, 2009 statement during a public appearance in Turkey, in which Obama declared that "one of the great strengths" of the United States is that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
Obama's declaration set off a firestorm of criticism from Christian conservatives in Congress and the Senate, with GOP Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann attacking Obama, in an April 21 speech on the House floor in which Bachmann cited the falsified "Washington's prayer" as evidence that the United States was in fact a Christian nation. Mention of the falsified "prayer" is not at all unusual in Congress. The Congressional record notes multiple citations of the "prayer" in Congress, including by Senate chaplains associated with The Family.
In a May 6th speech on the floor of the US Congress, Randy Forbes asked the questions, "Did America ever consider itself a Judeo-Christian nation?" and "If America was once a Judeo-Christian nation, when did it cease to be?" Forbes' speech, posted as a YouTube video segment, has so far received over 2 and 1/2 million views.
In a May 7th, 2009 press conference Randy Forbes attacked Barack Obama's Turkey declaration, stating,
"I suggest the overwhelming evidence suggests that this nation was born and it was birthed with Judeo-Christian principles and I would challenge anybody to tell me that point in time that we ceased to be such, because it doesn't exist."
Forbes went on to issue an even more explicit challenge, in a July 1, 2009 appearance on the Jody Hice Show, during which Forbes declared,
"I challenge the president or anyone else -- come up, either debate me on this issue or simply tell me where that single moment in time was when you can say we crossed the threshold -- we ceased being a Judeo-Christian nation -- and you can't do it."
Defending the House Resolution 888/397's "extensive footnotes", Congressman Forbes declared on the show,
"This...is the most documented resolution, I think, that's been filed in Congress in years because we footnote every single thing that we've put in there, and you can read this resolution and it's like reading a history of faith in America. So, we hope to get that dialogue and that debate started again..."
Randy Forbes then emitted a pugilistic rhetorical ultimatum,
"The spiritual heritage bill basically just draws a line in the sand and says wait a minute, we've got a rich history of faith in this country. We shouldn't be obscuring it. We shouldn't be running away from it. We should be talking about it."
In a July 20th Huffington Post story, entitled "I Accept Rep. Randy Forbes's Challenge for Someone to Debate Him", Chris Rodda wrote,
"Well, someone needs to cross that line in the sand, and it's going to be me.
So, Mr. Forbes, just name the time and place -- your turf, my turf (up here in NJ-6), DC, or anywhere else -- and let's debate your resolution clause by clause and see how well that very impressive looking list of footnotes you keep boasting about stands up to scrutiny.
I'll be sending a registered, return receipt letter to Mr. Forbes's office formally accepting his challenge to make sure he knows that I, as an "anyone else," have stepped up to accept it."
Over the course of the 19th and 20th Centuries, an entire parallel historiography, based on fabricated historical details, falsified founding father quotes, quotes taken out of context, deceptive textual ellipsis, and a host of other methods, has arisen and been incorporated not only into books but also textbooks and curriculum, including that taught in the national Junior ROTC program.
That falsified American history campaign has apparently had some effect. Over the last three decades, the percent of Americans who incorrectly believe the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation has increased significantly. A 2007 poll from the First Amendment Center showed that 65%, nearly 2/3, of Americans believe the founders intended the US to be a Christian nation and 55% from that poll thought the US Constitution establishes the US as a Christian nation.
As Frederick Clarkson, journalist and author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy wrote in the commentary History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters published in the Spring 2007 issue of Public Eye, a publication from Political Research Associates,
"The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right. It touches every aspect of life and culture in this, one of the most successful and powerful political movements in American history. The idea that America's supposed Christian identity has somehow been wrongly taken, and must somehow be restored, permeates the psychology and vision of the entire movement. No understanding of the Christian Right is remotely adequate without this foundational concept.
But the Christian nationalist narrative has a fatal flaw: it is based on revisionist history that does not stand up under scrutiny. The bad news is that to true believers, it does not have to stand up to the facts of history to be a powerful and animating part of the once and future Christian nation. Indeed, through a growing cottage industry of Christian revisionist books and lectures now dominating the curricula of home schools and many private Christian academies, Christian nationalism becomes a central feature of the political identity of children growing up in the movement. The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.
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