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 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.
Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.
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