Michele Bachmann, Queen of Christian Nationalist History Lies
On Tuesday April 21, 2009, Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was granted 5 minutes by the House Speaker pro tempore, and proceeded to emit a short pious speech on behalf of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, that included the following history lie, which was then duly entered into the Congressional Record:
George Washington, our first President, demonstrated that he was not offended by the image of the risen Christ. In fact, our Nation's first President let his views be known quite clearly on his inauguration by a prayer which George Washington himself gave at his inauguration. He said, and I quote, Mr. Speaker:'Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally, that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'
It wasn't the first time that the falsified, debunked "Washington's Prayer" has been declaimed in Congress - it has been recited numerous times by members of Congress and the Senate and even more frequently by chaplains - but Bachmann might well be the first member of Congress to have attributed the debunked "prayer" to Washington's inaugural speech, a bizarre tactic considering how easy it is to access the text of Washington's speech at the U.S. National Archives.
In my two previous installments of this sporadic series, I've covered the promotion of falsified American history in Book From Alan Grayson Opponent Todd Long Features Falsified American History and In '05 and '08, Todd Akin Entered Christian Nationalist History Lies in the Congressional Record.
But among the packs of history falsificationists roaming the chambers of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Michele Bachmann is almost suis generis (I suspect that only Congressman Randy Forbes comes close, but that's for a later installment.)
As came out late last year (see this New Yorker story), Bachmann's ties to the unregenerate Christian Reconstructionist, falsified history-addled core of the religious right trace back to her days as a student at Oral Roberts University, when she worked as a research assistant for Law Professor John Eidsmoe, on his book Christianity and the Constitution, published in 1987.
That's even earlier than when now-disgraced pseudo-historian David Barton came out with his landmark history lie-packed book The Myth of Separation which claimed (among other things) that scheming liberals, humanists, and secularists had reversed the original meaning of church-state separation as envisioned by the founders. Explains Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History,
"Eidsmoe is another Christian nationalist history revisionist, whose Christianity and the Constitution book predates the first edition of Barton's book The Myth of Separation by a year. In fact, some of Barton's lies are adaptations of Eidsmoe's lies and half-truths, a number of which are debunked in my book. But I had no idea that Bachmann had been involved with Eidsmoe or his book until she talked about it at the  Rediscover God in America conference, or that it was Eidsmoe who introduced her to Barton's material."
So, given how important Barton has been to the field, Michele Bachmann can therefore lay claim to being a grand dame of Christian nationalist American history lies, because she helped to establish some of them.
That quote above is from an extended story in which Rodda debunks a personalized history lie, about her genealogy, that Michele Bachmann seems to have cooked up while campaigning in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, to appeal to Iowa voters. At the March 24-25 "Rediscover God In America" conference, held early 2012 in Iowa, Bachmann trotted out her alleged "Iwegian" (Iowa-Norwegian) roots by claiming to be a 7th-generation Iowan.
But that's trivial compared to the great history lie classics of the Barton/Eidsmoe genre, one of which Bachmann deployed in early 2009, to attack President Barack Obama - who, in an April 2009 press conference in Ankara, Turkey, had stated "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation" - a statement that provoked outrage among evangelical Christian nationalists. In her brief April 21, 2009 speech, on behalf of the Congressional Prayer Caucus (a hotbed of history lie promotion, it seems), attacking President Obama's statement, Congresswoman Bachmann began,
"Mr. Speaker, over the course of the last few weeks, President Obama made the statement while in a foreign country that we are not a Christian Nation, that we are not a Jewish Nation or a Muslim Nation. He said we are citizens with shared values...
After starting with some real Christian piety from Lincoln, then moving on to emit the falsified "Washington's prayer", Bachmann concluded her mini-sermon with,
"with all due respect, Mr. Speaker, I think it's so important, on behalf of the Congressional Prayer Caucus of this Congress that, as the National Day of Prayer approaches, that all American citizens do what our first president prayed in his inaugural prayer... and we would do well to humbly not forget God, but to humble ourselves before an almighty God and not expect that it is we ourselves that have created these blessings for our country, but that it is a gracious heavenly God who holds our nation in His hands."
Briefly, the myth of "George Washington's Prayer" is one of the most persistent and most absurd of the history lies -- while it has been repeatedly, endlessly debunked, the Internet is nevertheless littered with versions of the "prayer" -- which was concocted by excerpting and then rewriting a passage from George Washington's famous June 8, 1783 Circular Letter (to the governors of the original 13 colonies) announcing the disbanding of the Continental Army after the end of the Revolutionary War.
(It's an extremely important document - Washington was fantastically popular at the time and some were encouraging him to use his position as head of the army to make himself king.)
Versions of the falsified "Washington's Prayer" have for many years been featured in the program of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, held by the Fellowship - the neo-fundamentalist Washington-based evangelical network of political and business elites tied to Uganda's so-called "kill the gays" bill.
The falsification itself is not a recent creation -- in my story linked above, I traced it as far back as an 1850s British abolitionist tract. But it may be older still. And why do these history lies even matter? As journalist Frederick Clarkson explains is his essay History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,
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.
History is powerful... We need it in order to know not how the religious Right is wrong, but to know where we ourselves stand in the light of history, in relation to each other, and how we can better envision a future together free of religious prejudice, and ultimately, religious warfare.