Faithful GetReligion readers and others who walk the religion beat will know the byline of Mark I. Pinsky, who in news circles is best known for his work at the Los Angeles Times and then at the Orlando Sentinel. Then there is another circle — mainly people who consume and study popular culture — who know him as the author of “The Gospel According to the Simpsons” and several other volumes of pop-culture criticism, with a religious bent.
I’ve run into Pinsky in a number of different settings, which is not unusual since I am a journalist who has taught courses on faith and popular culture at the seminary and college level. We share many of the same obsessions, as you can see in the title of that book I cranked out a few years ago.
However, there’s another side of this scribe’s work that you may not know about.
As a reporter, Pinsky has a bit of a cult following among evangelical leaders because of his reputation as a guy who, as I like to put it in journalism lectures, strives to “report unto others as he would want them to report unto him (or words to that effect).” Through his years of research and his face-to-face reporting skills, he has learned the art of doing fair, accurate and even empathetic (which is not the same thing as sympathetic) coverage of people whose beliefs and traditions are radically different than his own. In other words, he’s a reporter’s reporter.
This skill led to the Pinsky book that should be sold in bookstores on every campus in America that offers journalism courses, especially those that offer courses linked to the Godbeat. I am referring, of course, to “A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed.” In case your wondering, Pinsky has been invited to join your GetReligionistas more than once, but he’s basically too busy to blog on a regular basis. We can always hope.
Now, spinning off the recent wave of Dominionism coverage, Pinsky has raised his voice once again with a USA Today op-ed entitled “The Truth about evangelicals.” I do not (surprise) agree with every single detail of this, but I enthusiastically want to promote this piece (and Pinsky’s book) as must reading for mainstream journalists of good will.
In other words, I would like to say, “What he said.”
Here’s a crucial chunk or two, beginning with a reference to theocracy in the George W. Bush era:
… (B)eginning 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.
Though some of the writers hail from Brooklyn or Washington, D.C., the tone is what I’d call “Upper West Side hysteric,” a reference to the fabled New York City neighborhood. 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. …
I’m as left wing a Democrat as they come, and I have lived among and reported on evangelicals for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you, this sensational, misleading mishegas has got to stop.
The truth is, the political center of gravity of American evangelicals is in the Sun Belt suburbs, not in rural Iowa, much less Wasilla, Alaska. Think Central Florida’s vaunted ‘I-4 Corridor,’ critical to carrying this swing state, where the last GOP presidential debate was held in Tampa and the next one will take place this week here in Orlando. These evangelicals are, by and large, middle-class, college-educated and corporate or entrepreneurial.
At the end, Pinsky offers this provocative summary for his Jewish readers:
If, as Jews, we replace the old caricature of hayseed fundamentalist mobs carrying torches and pitchforks with one of dark conspirators trying to worm their way back into political power at the highest levels, we run the risk of accusing them of doing to others what we are doing to them: demonizing. 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.
By all means, read it all and pass it along. And while this call for informed, real tolerance is clearly aimed at Jewish readers, at the heart it is an appeal for accurate mainstream journalism in tense political times. Amen to that, too.
IMAGE: Mark I. Pinsky on the stump, preaching the old-time journalism virtues.