Religious-right activist David Barton is currently traveling the country as part of the Faith Wins “American Restoration Tour,” spreading his right-wing pseudo-history in churches in an effort to mobilize conservative Christians heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
On Monday, Barton spoke at Mountain View Baptist Church in Cowpens, South Carolina, where he claimed that the Bible instructs religious leaders to take responsibility for recruiting candidates to run for office.
“If you go to Exodus 18:21, the Bible is very clear,” Barton said. “The Bible says, ‘Provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.’ OK, guys, let’s have elections. Let’s have local, county, state, and federal elections.”
“But how do you get those [candidates]?” Barton asked. “Who does that providing? It’s interesting: the spiritual leader. Moses says—and he repeats this in Deuteronomy 1 and Deuteronomy 16—he says, ‘I went and recruited from among you good people, and I brought them before you and set them before you, and you chose from among those good people.’ In other words, ‘I recruited candidates for office, and then you elected the candidate you wanted to office.’ So what happens is there’s a recruiting effort going on in the background. Moses is the one who did it.”
As we have noted before, Barton intentionally misrepresents this passage from the Bible in order to promote his own right-wing political agenda.
In Exodus 18, after having led the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to settle all the disputes that arose, and so his father-in-law, Jethro, urged him to select judges who would hear the simple cases while reserving for Moses the difficult ones and thus easing his burden. Here’s the passage from the New International Version:
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
According to Exodus, it was Moses who picked which judges to place in charge, which is pretty much the exact opposite of an election. Nobody got to vote on any of these judges. But in an effort to promote his Christian nationalist political agenda, Barton regularly misrepresents the passage when speaking to his Christian audiences.