Peter J. Marshall, conservative evangelist in Texas schoolbook controversy

By Matt Schudel
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 11:14 PM

The Rev. Peter J. Marshall, 70, a conservative Christian evangelist who became a central figure in politically charged battles over school textbooks and the religious interpretation of U.S. history, died Sept. 8 after suffering a heart attack at a gym near his home in Orleans, Mass.

Rev. Marshall, who was born in Washington, was the son and namesake of a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister who was chaplain of the U.S. Senate from 1947 until his death in 1949. Catherine Marshall, the chaplain's wife, wrote a bestselling book about her husband, "A Man Called Peter," which was made into a film in 1955 with Richard Todd.

The younger Rev. Marshall began his career as a Presbyterian pastor in New England before forming an evangelistic ministry in 1977. He traveled the country to speak about what he called "America's Christian heritage" and often said the role of Christianity among the nation's founders had not received sufficient emphasis from historians.

"We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America," Rev. Marshall told the Wall Street Journal last year, "and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."

He often supported conservative political causes and was a consistent opponent of Democratic officeholders, including President Obama, whom he denounced as a socialist on his Web site.

Rev. Marshall also attributed the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina "as a judgment on the wickedness and decadence of New Orleans" and to God's wrath over societal tolerance of homosexuality.

Believing that traditional school curriculums in the United States had a liberal bias, Rev. Marshall wrote several history textbooks with a Christian focus that were widely used by advocates of home schooling.

Last year, he was one of six people named to a review board of textbooks in Texas, even though he was not a Texas resident and had no formal training in education. Rev. Marshall was one of the more outspoken members of the committee, which made recommendations on the content of schoolbooks. The panel had an outsize national influence because textbooks adopted in Texas are often used throughout the country.

"My point in all of this is that children of this nation need to be taught the truth about the biblical world view," Rev. Marshall told the San Antonio Express-News last year. "The influence of the Bible and the Christian faith is absolutely gigantic in American history."

He said that the historical significance of early feminists, Hispanic labor leader Cesar Chavez and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall - the first African American member of the court - had been exaggerated.

"To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous," Rev. Marshall said.

After a national uproar, Chavez and Thurgood Marshall were restored to the Texas history books, but the longtime Democratic senator from Rev. Marshall's home state of Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy, was eliminated.

Peter John Marshall was born Jan. 21, 1940, when his father was pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in the District. He attended Sidwell Friends School through the 11th grade before graduating from a prep school in Massachusetts.

He graduated from Yale University in 1961 and received a master of divinity degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1965, the same year he became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He led churches in West Hartford, Conn., and East Dennis, Mass., before beginning his ministry.

His marriage to Edith Roberts Marshall ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children, Mary Elizabeth Marshall of Athens, N.Y., Peter Jonathan Marshall of Keller, Tex., and David C. Marshall of New York City; a stepsister, Linda Lader of Washington and Charleston, S.C.; two stepbrothers, Chester LeSourd of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Jeffrey A. LeSourd of Lincoln, Va.; and three grandchildren.

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