Another Journalist Revels in Ignorance about Dominionism
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 19, 2011 at 11:00:10 PM EST
In recent weeks, we have seen an odd flurry of articles and conservative op-ed columns attacking a number of authors and journalists who write about the Christian Right.  Religion writer Mark I. Pinsky has issued the latest scurrilous screed, this time in USA Today.  It is remarkable that so much prime real estate on the op-ed pages of the leading newspapers in the country has been devoted to downplaying or denying the significance of dominionism and related subjects, or to seeking to discredit some of us who have written about these things.  So much ink, so few facts.

Mr. Pinsky makes three main charges I would like to address.

The first of these is his complaint that left-wing Jewish writers are primarily responsible for critical work about the role of dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism in evangelical Christianity.  Those he names:  Sara Diamond, Michelle Goldberg, Rabbi James Rudin, and Rachel Tabachnick do indeed hail from Jewish backgrounds, but there are many non-Jews, including evangelicals, who have prominently written about these subjects.  I have written extensively about them myself, notably in my 1997 book Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.  Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, MA has written widely about these things in books and articles.  Although we did not coin the term, he and I  certainly popularized the use of the term dominionism in the early 90s.  But evangelical seminary professors Wayne House and Thomas Ice predated all of our books in this area, in their 1988 book Dominion Theology:  Blessing or Curse?. Steve Clapp wrote an influential feature article in Christianity Today magazine about Christian Reconstructionism in 1987. Bill Moyers did a TV documentary in 1987.  More recently, Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott a national leader in the moderate Baptist movement published a six-part series (here at Talk to Action) on dominionism based in part on his personal experiences in the right wing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention; and when the Religious Right, led by a well-known Christian Reconstructionist named Steven Hotze, took over the his local Republican Party in Houston in the early 90s.  There are many, many such examples. The fact is that these matters have been prominently written about by journalists and scholars, Christian and non-Christian, evangelical and non-evangelical for decades.  In any case, writing about these things did not begin in 2006 nor has writing in this area been dominated by Jews.

(For a primer on dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism in the context of the current controversy, see Berlet's essay "Inside the Christian Right Dominionist Movement That's Undermining Democracy.")

Second, Pinsky claims that various liberal "exposes" about dominionism are of "a splinter, marginal figure, such as David Barton or John Haggee [sic]".  But neither Barton or Hagee are in fact, marginal figures in evangelical Christianity or in wider public life.  We could say much about both of them but suffice to say that Barton was named one of the nation's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals" by Time magazine in 2005 and for many years served as the vice-chair of the Texas GOP. Barton was repeatedly featured on Glenn Beck's Fox News show at its height.  His books are widely used in evangelical Christian schools and home schools.  For his part, Hagee is one of the best known evangelists in the world. His show is seen by millions each week around the world and is carried by several networks. His organization Christians United for Israel remains a powerful if controversial entity, and its annual Washington conferences are routinely addressed by senior pols such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). His support was courted and received by 2008 presidential contender John McCain until a controversy led to their mutual renunciation, making headlines around the country.  Controversial? Yes.  Marginal? Far from it.

Finally, I would ordinarily be glad to join Pinsky in criticizing people who make sweeping, factually unsupported generalizations about evangelicals. Good reporting and scholarship requires using fair terms, making reasonable distinctions, and drawing well-founded conclusions based on facts.  But I cannot join Pinsky in this case, because none of the writers he names engage in the behavior he complains about. In fact, he does not cite a single example in support of his inflammatory charge. Yet Pinsky would have us believe that these writers are trying to smear all evangelical Christians by using an unfair "caricature" of evangelicals as "dark conspirators trying to worm their way back into political power at the highest levels."

He claims it all began in 2006

"and every two years since in the run-up to the presidential and off-year congressional elections, books and articles suddenly appear -- often written by Jews -- about the menace and weirdness of evangelical Christianity."

He further claims:  

The thrust of the writing is that these exotic wackos -- some escaped from a theological and ideological freak show -- are coming to take our rights and freedom.

He goes so far as to call all this "demonization" and compares the work of the aforementioned writers with anti-semitic smears suffered by Jews over the centuries.

"We didn't like it, when people said we had horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague, much less conspired to rule the world through our Protocols."

But Pinsky is engaging in a false equivalence to hype a case he has not made.  Again, he offers not a single fact in support of his charges.

Perhaps most remarkably, he writes all this in the service of an article headlined "The Truth About Evangelicals."  

If truth was Pinsky's aim, he missed by a mile.

Mark I. Pinsky's misspelling of John Hagee's name, as "Haggee", is quite odd given that Pinsky mentioned pastor Hagee, and spelled his named correctly, in at least four different stories, three for the Orlando Sentinel and one for USA Today, which he wrote from 2003-2008. Now, memory can be a fickle thing, yes, but there's more:

Mark Pinsky's 2006 book "A Jew Among Evangelicals: A Guide To The Perplexed", on pages 38-42, contains an extended discussion of the wisdom of Jews partnering with John Hagee-whose name (once again) he spelled correctly and who, it would seem, Pinsky did not consider at the time to be a "marginal" or "splinter" evangelical figure.

Is is very unlikely that 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain would have so assiduously courted the political endorsement of John Hagee had Senator McCain considered him a "splinter" or "marginal" figure. Indeed, Hagee's Cornerstone Church magazine has featured pictures of an astounding number of leading Republican Senators and Congress members at Hagee's events, and pastor Hagee gave the keynote address at  AIPAC 2007.

What's astonishing to me is that Mr. Pinsky wields the "Protocols of The Elders of Zion" as a rhetorical cudgel, in apparent ignorance of real contemporary promotion of Protocols-style conspiracy theory, in America and around the world, by an evangelical leader Pinsky has covered in some depth.  

In a 2003 sermon broadcast internationally on Christian networks, pastor John Hagee claimed that Rothschild bankers control the US economy through the Federal Reserve. The Anti Defamation League identifies that particular conspiracy theory as a "Classic Anti-Semitic Myth". Hagee also put the conspiracy theory (in greater detail) in a 1996 book (republished in 2000) that, per its cover (I have a copy), claims "Over 1.1 Million Copies Sold".

I have no doubt that Mr. Pinsky, as a Jew, would be aghast to know that pastor Hagee, whom Pinsky has in the past written of quite warmly, has promoted such ideas. But there is much that Pinsky seems unaware of.

For example, Pinsky's book "A Jew Among Evangelicals: A Guide To The Perplexed" features, on the front cover, a  glowing endorsement from Rick Warren, to his "good friend" Mark Pinsky.

A year before the book was published, in 2005, Rick Warren could be found telling an audience estimated at over 20,000 people, at California's Anaheim Angels stadium, that Christians should emulate the devotion of Hitler Youth.

That formulation seemed, to me at least, to sum up the essence of dominionism; Christians should follow Jesus with all the devotion of Hitler Youth? Rick Warren could have chosen Martin Luther King as a model of absolute commitment whose example his audience might emulate. Warren did not do that. He chose Hitler Youth.

Mark Pinsky's unsubstantiated attack may be "scurrilous" but it is also tragic, in its apparent ignorance.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 11:33:25 AM EST

I think it is not at all clear that Pinsky is writing out of ignorance, Bruce.  Indeed, the material you point to demonstrates profoundly relevant knowledge, and given his skills as a reporter, he has the demonstrated capacity to build on that knowledge. Especially since he presents himself, and he is treated as, an expert on evangelicalism.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 12:00:50 PM EST
suggests that he's shilling or covering for them.

Stealth dominionists and steeplejackers are well known to us.  They have long-term goals as well as short-time objectives, and I suspect anyone writing as he has of being steeplejacked or an accessory after the fact.

(I remember a person like this who staunchly defended the Assemblies of God on a Democrat server I belong to.  He kept exposing himself as being further and further "to the right", although I haven't seen him post anything for a long time now.  I suspect he was trying to steeplejack a local party organization.)

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 12:21:51 PM EST

For once, I'm playing the straight man. But, per a comment on your linked story, the DeMoss Group seemed to be very sad to learn that the Orlando Sentinel was laying off Pinsky. According to the commenter, Pinsky had worked with the group for thirteen years.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 05:34:52 PM EST

     Indeed, when John Hagee rolled into my Orlando Sentinel circulation area with his Christian Zionism road show, and caused some controversy involving local synagogues, I did write about him. And, in my book, I also discussed the contradiction of his support for Christian evangelism in Israel.
      As a left wing Jew, without apology or qualification, I have made no secret of my fundamental differences -- political, cultural and theological -- with most evangelicals. But for the most part I like them and think they are good people, and I believe in reporting on them fairly. Do they a dark side, especially among national figures? Absolutely. But they aren't the boogieman. MP

by Mark Pinsky on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 05:53:08 PM EST
has made any broadbrush statements about evangelicals or evangelicalism, let alone declared them to be the boogie man.  

However, we do sometimes torch strawmen.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 11:54:49 PM EST

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