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My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose
September 15th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Editor's Note: Brian D. McLaren  is author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group). 

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.

At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents."  Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

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Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned.  John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.

It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.

Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

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Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.

To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”

The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian D. McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. jon

    After a week of murders, violence, and angry protests, why this article? What do evangelical Christians have to do with this? It baffles me that every time we hear of irrational behavior from the Muslim world, the first thing we feel like we have to do is bend over backwards and make excuses for them. Christians should not hate Muslims or spread lies about them; true enough. But is this article really relevant given the past week? It's time to get honest with ourselves about the situation.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  2. life5678

    Wow you really are clueless Mr McLaren, you have obviously never studied Islam. I really hate it when some clueless author spews off about something he knows nothing about. You are pathetic. Islamphobia as you put it, is common sense plain and simple. You might as well say Christians have NAZIPHOBIA, because it is worse. There are good reasons to fear Islam, none of which you seem to be aware of. Start your education here http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/09/sixteen_reasons_why_islam_is_not_the_religion_of_peace.html

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Vic

    Is this the right time or place to discuss Muslim sensitivities? Why does CNN print this stuff! Regardless of evangelical short commings, the muslim world has only themselves to blame for the death and violence in the Middle East. The preception by the Muslims world that the US or the West is Islamphobic suits Muslims! Their pathetic excuse for violence, a film, shows clearly that muslim world cannot be reasoned with, and that Islam is flawed. A minority of muslim extremists instigate violence, well the fact that consistently no muslim leader or muslim group in the Middle East, or the West denouce this violence shows complicity and how gullible the author of this article is.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  4. Rufus T. Firefly

    "The Bible does not instruct it's follower's to kill anyone who does not convert. Christianity has nothing in common with Islam."

    If you believe that, you have never actually read the Bible...

    Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

    You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

    A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)

    Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

    If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

    Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. (Isaiah 14:21 NAB)

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • sean

      The Old Testament is not the primary book for Christians.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • jon

      You are missing the point of all these verses. The mandates have nothing to do with "outsiders" who won't convert. They are directed inside the Israelite camp – those who claim to follow the Law and Covenant but who begin to practice sorcery, idolatry, etc. You can think this is a harsh sentence, but the fact is, they only apply to Israel. They have nothing to do with people who "won't convert."

      September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • life5678

      All old testament -Judaism. Nothing in new testament – Christianity.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • baman

      None of the scriptures you reference are in the New Testament, which forms the basis of Christianity. Please try again using scriptures from the New Testament.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      So, somehow you're attempting to argue that those aren't from the Bible, and they aren't about killing non-believers? Really?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      The comments being made here, and specifically the quote I responded to above, are not specifically referencing the New Testament. The say "The Bible" doesn't say to kill people...that's just utter BS.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • jon

      Rufus – The texts you cited are most certainly from the Bible, and are therefore authoritative for Christians. However, you mistake them for mandates to kill anyone who doesn't believe in God. Again, commandments for putting someone to death for idolatry, sorcery, insubordination against the priests, etc., are all directed toward Israelites. They are NOT directed to people "outside" the Jewish faith. The point was to keep holiness (otherness) at the core of Israelite religion. Now, in the New Testament, salvation is for everyone. And, as others have pointed out, there is nothing in the NT about killing someone who doesn't convert. In this way, the Bible does not at all command that non-believers are to be put to death.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • sensible

      Rufus T. Firefly.. thank you for posting those examples. it absolute dictates that their has been hatred in all religions. Those that argue against that fact simply can not. old vs new testament it really doesn't matter. we americans are just lucky that we don't have extremist that follow the old testament whereas there appears to be a large number of muslim extremist that follow their old testament bible(koran).

      September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Jon, assuming you are correct, is it somehow less barbaric to authorize the killing of your own people if they don't maintain their faith? That makes these scriptures sensible and acceptable?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  5. CRH

    I think the author of this article needs to rethink his relationships with his family and his circle of Christian friends. I have receive no email communication or heard any verbal communication from anyone in my church like what he is describing. I'm sure there is a lunatic fringe out there. And they should be confronted when acting in a non-Christian manner. But to suggest that it is pervasive in a statistically significant portion of US Christians is untrue and irresponsible.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      You're not from Middle America or the South, are you? It's really not fringe beliefs.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • CRH

      Yes, I live in the heart of the South.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      I stand corrected. I am from the South, and have gotten a number of chain emails from relatives and such that say some pretty inflammatory things. They apparently believe they are perfectly loving and sensible, and can't imagine why anyone would find it offensive.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  6. baman

    Does the author really think that evangelicals are any more "islamophobic" than any other rational ethnic or religious group?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  7. sean

    Where are the moderate muslims? The muslims who deplore hatred and violence where are they? When Christians were killing each other in Ireland, Christian leaders took center stage to try and stop the violence and ignorance. Where are the imams denouncing the poor behavior of their followers? Islam does not get to be the worlds religion because they scream the loudest.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • trooperchix

      Where are they? They are certainly addressing this within their religion, as best they can. There are over 2 billion muslim believers in the world, yet somehow the world is not imploding. Sir, where are the christian leaders in calling down their extremists? Clearly not present in our American reality. I see evidence of that every single day I read the news. Cast not the first stone..

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  8. Terry

    The few people that participate in radical beliefs (regardless of religion) is what is causing the most problems for the world's population. Sort of like one bad apple ruining the whole bunch. However, the author also needs to be careful and not get so many facts wrong. I am glad this is only an opinionated article.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • trooperchix

      Please clarify your statement "However, the author also needs to be careful and not get so many facts wrong".

      September 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  9. Patriot

    Those silly muslims, there they go – wanting to kill people again.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  10. Ali

    All Muslim leaders and organizations have apologized and condemned the incident in Libya. Muslims are 1.5 BILLION and yes some of us are crazies, morons, etc.. But that's in every faith and country, and their acts are just not done in the name of religion. I'm an American Muslim and I KNOW my religion teaches against killing or hurting anyone except in a case when you’re invaded. In fact our Prophet (Pease be up on him) tells us that it is our duty to protect foreigners of other faith in Muslim lands as they're considered "under protection". I'm not saying this to please you, I'm just sad to see how people comment strongly against Muslims as if they know Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Road Dog

      Religion has been responsible for more misery, death and oppression than anything else in the history of earth. No major religion is blameless. Catholics burning protestants; Puritans burning anyone they saw fit; Christians baptizing heathens at the point of a sword.
      This is what happens when you force yourself to live under absolutist rules created by other people in the name of something holy.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Christlink

      It also says that they ought to tax or kill non-muslims. Having lived in a Muslim country, I am fully aware of Islam's deception. Its no wonder even Muslims don't want to emigrate to Muslim countries

      September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Brisso

      Yeah, I see Christians everywhere rioting and holding signs up that say "off with the heads with anyone who badmouths Jesus". Keep it up, keep on threatening the world and spreading your people across the globe. One day we'll wake up and decide we've had enough. Let's hope it's soon. This Libya incident is about the first time I can recall any mussies actually condemning anything they're own have done. About time, but you've got a long, long way to go.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ron in Ohio

      Ali as a visitor to many Muslims nations I can say without equivocation I do not fully understand Islam nor do I profess to. What I do understand though is Islam is a very intolerant religion that scarcely recognizes others and that the Prophet was a man so disgracing him, showing likenesses of him and the sort is no different that showing images and talking about you and I; not worth killing over.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  11. American Democrats

    CNN: Hey I have an idea. Whenever a muslim kill someone lets blame it on America. Oh and better yet let's blame it on a Christian. I mean, it's not like their gonna blow anything up. CNN is the biggest bunch of cowards to walk this planet. Who do you think it is that feeds the anti-american rhetoric to the middle east? It's CNN-Syria. Right after all this happened they started running PR pieces for the countries involved all while ramping up the Anti-American sentiment. CNN....You got to go!!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • trooperchix

      Go back to Fox News. Sheesh!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  12. petemg

    God is such an awesome Creator Father that He taught people not to hate for the sake of Him. It is sad when Muslims feel that when their Allah gets ridiculed they must go out and kill/behead people. God loves all of His creation and this is the time for love and not hate.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Christian

    Was our ambassador to Libya Islamophobic?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • American Democrats

      He was a closet Islamaphobe.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Deanna

      Well said...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Christlink

      American Democrats: No cure for stupidity

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  14. Stan S.

    "At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed ... we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia."

    Beyond parody.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  15. dentont

    as soon as their radicals quit killing people, you can start lecturing our radicals

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Rob in LA

      So true! I love how everything these days is labeled a "phobia." A real phobia is usually defined as a "persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed." When people are getting murdered for an obscure Youtube video then I'd say the fear is very proportionate.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  16. Bob67

    As long as the dialogue is based on reasons of different nature (the civil vs. the fist argument), we will be in danger.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  17. gravis

    i think we should find out who has the "real" religion once and for all by having a Religion Super Bowl. Unfortunately the islamites would likely kick the shiit out of America's fat white stupid evangelistic christians. So maybe it's not such a great idea.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • emalcar

      Do you watch football? If you do, may want to continue watching after the game. Usually in the middle of the field there is a large crowd of players from both teams praying and not in any particular direction.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  18. what do muslims fear?

    soap.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  19. cholcobo3

    NO. It's time for the AUTHOR to choose: acknowledge the politically incorrect reality that Islam is a militant, poisonous religion, or continue to live in a fantasy world where Islam is the religion of peace, not the religion that stones 14-year-old r ape victimes to death.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  20. Juan

    I don't think McLaren spends much time with the typical evangeical. As a church-going evangelical, I have hundreds of evangelical friends and I would say none of them (including myself) are Islamophobic. Since he has left the evangelical world in favor of another approach to the Christian faith perhaps he is out of touch with his former brethren.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Allen

      The article could have and probably was published just before Nazi Germany came to power. Everyone wanted to blame the people yelling look out! The fact is that we will be fighting islam in every corner of the western world because people like this want to espouse stupid verbabge and can not see the forest for the trees.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.