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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.

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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. Citizen Al

    Dude, I did not read the entire article but it is not phobia, fear that is causing Christians and non-Christians to reject, walk away from islam and its followers. It is the actions of islamic believers. Calling non-muslims infidels, suicide bombings that often kill innocent people, to include children and women, the over reacion we just witnessed around the world. Remember, the muslim world cheered on September 11, 2001. As a Christian, I take people at face value, also as a Christian I know actions speak louder than words. And right now, the action of the few you are talking about, are making a lot of noise with their actions. Yes, Christianity had its issues too, but they have mostly been worked out. Now it is time for the muslim world to police itself and show the rest of the world their true, peaceful faith, if it is.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  2. DePastaSauce

    The author does prove one thing – the only way to substantiate a false premiss is with false facts....

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  3. NF

    Great article!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  4. junaid

    i am convinced that the many of commentators here are some paraniod redecks full of hatred, self-loathing, illogical conclusions.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  5. OOO

    Keep fighting it out, christians and muslims.
    I think you all are a bit extremeist and crazy following any religion in the first place.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • chuckt

      Atheism is a Religion because you belive that all of science is truth. Even science has theories that are not proven, but they are best guess scenario. So your faith is in science or it's in yourself alone, but either way it's a form of faith.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • John Carter

      You are right about Christians and Muslims but you are Wrong about Christianity and Islam. those muslims and Christians they are not following the religion as God want it to be but they are practicing the religion via heritage with wrong emotions. the extremist should be controlled like Dictators did with them to let others live in peace so the real Mercy of Islam will appear, as I see many muslims they practice another religion but they still call it Islam!!!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @chuckt

      So wrong on so many levels. Tell me though, are you interested in just stating what you think atheism is or are you actually interested in being accurate?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  6. k

    Jesus is coming soon to throw all of islam into hell as well as sympathizers with it.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • K2

      Jesus is coming back to tell the world there's no god bu Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet

      September 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • John Carter

      I thought they said same this for Gays and Lesbians that Jesus will throw them to hell too, and he will kill all jewish, I don't know if you can call your Jesus as you defined him a Terrorist or a Savior if he will through human being to hell!!!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  7. nibiro

    make up first by BUSH – REMEMBER HIS WORDS .

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  8. Sam

    Judging from the number of hateful, ignorant comments on this thread as well as the ad nauseum rationalizations of Muslim hatred it appears to me that Bruce McLaren is exactly right.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • chuckt

      No hatred for Muslim's becasue we are taught to love the sinner, but hate the sin. The hatred is for the Islamic Religion which turns these people to an enternity in Hell. The difference is Jesus died for us and does not want anyone to die for him to be saved. Islam wants it's people to kill for their god to get to heaven. You need to read the quran to understand this and also understand God has already told us this will happen because of ishmal. They have a choice and if they choose their god, then that's their choice. No Christian wants to "make" them come to know christ. Again it's their choice.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  9. Rufus T. Firefly

    The violent fundamentalist Muslims of the Middle East are a cautionary tale of what any religion may become if it's not forced to operate within the civil laws of a secular government and the balancing effect of a diverse population.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  10. TomTom

    Brian D. McLaren has no clue how Islam works. He is a premier example of the libral mindset that thinks apologizing to the Muslims will gain their love and favor. Brian D. McLaren is a tool. Islam will stop at nothing other than total world domination. At least try to read their so called religious text.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Citizen Al

      Not sure where you deemed he was apologizing. Like the stain Christianity suffered from the likes of the Klu Klux Klan and other hate groups spouting they were doing "the Lord's work", he is saying islam is suffering from that now. I agree. Which is why people of the islamic/muslim faith need to do a self correction, police themselves IF their faith is truly peaceful and loving. Because right now, their actions say different. But, no one is apologizing, just trying to referee.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • no

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

      September 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  11. blinky

    "Hate speech"? Or as another publication said, the right to freedom from "grave insult"? Down this path lies madness. This is reverse-bullying, where one group appoints itself the victim and declares everyone else must follow whatever constraints on expression it demands.

    No, no and no.

    All of you, and me too, are just going to have to tough it out and accept slings and arrows to preserve the greater principle of freedom of expression. Don't censure; educate. If you think something said is misleading or false, stand up and spell out for the world why. Don't try to silence people. Pretty soon none of us will dare speak up on anything.

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

    THE REALITY OF ISLAMIPHOBIA

    4 DEAD DIPLOMATIC STAFF MEMBERS

    4 DEAD AMERICANS !

    This kind of reporting is getting out of hand. You are not going to paint reality away by twisting the news (spin)
    We want to live side by side with muslims, but many (MANY, not the few) of them are bent on destruction

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • steve

      good grief, muslims will never live in peace, they are in a constant war, they do not want to live with the non-beleivers.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  13. Beavis

    yawn more trite liberal garbage

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  14. Josh

    cnn has a censor on here

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • no

      Thanks captain obvious.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    This is an excellent piece, and I completely agree. The evangelist Christians the author speaks of are just going down the same path as the Islamic extremists they supposedly condemn by continuing to spread these lies about Islam. It just goes to show you, there are people from every religion who pervert the true religious message to fulfill their own agendas and needs. Its not Muslims we should fear (and there are many, many, many more true peaceful Muslims than there are extremists), but extremists from all religions and creeds.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • AmericanLiberal

      What, c'mon man
      I lean left, but you are crazy if you think that, wow.....

      September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Citizen Al

      The problem is, over reacting like they did the last few days and violent actions of the past are helping to feed the stereotype that islam, the muslim faith is full of voilence and hate, not peace and love. Just saying. Christianity suffered the same fate because of zealots.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  16. John Patello

    Are you kidding me? Only a Liberal Utopian Statist would deny the fact that there is radical Muslim fundamentalism and that this is spreading, and represents a threat to humankind. Oh yes, the religion of peace that stones women and deprives them of other rights and kills non believers and converts. And we wonder why the U.S. is fast becoming a second rate power?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  17. Jackie

    Extremists in Islam are the equivalent of skinheads in Christianity. Both are ignorant to other people's beliefs and differences. Both cannot tolerate any difference in opinion than their own. Both warp and pervert the texts they hold high.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Petercha

      Jackie, skinheads are not a Christian denomination – rather, they are politically motivated by Nazism.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • JOEY

      CATHOLIC HERE....LISTEN it comes down to basically lack of education and intelligence. You can burn any pictures of JESUS you want and as many American Flags as you wish also....does not change the fact that I carry GOD in my HEART everyday and I am 100 % American always...these (not all Muslims) are just uneducated, unemployed, waste .....! A bunch of monkeys without proper cages....!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • AmericanLiberal

      what...
      what the heck is going on here ??
      Skinhead Christians, huh
      Who is telling you all this / Even I don't even think that skinheads and christians are remotely connected, wow
      I think I am done with this blog, wow
      what a bunch of nutjobs – I hope you don't think you are speaking for hte rest of us, because
      I COMPLETELY DIS-AGREE !

      September 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Arthur Moran

      Brian McLaren mentions on example of American Islamophobia which is apparently an email he received by some lunatic and then just mentions other prominent names and puts them in the same group. I have a few questions for Mr. McLaren, Did you write any articles about the peaceful and loving Muslims (who in your opinion are the majority of Muslims) about their incredible silence in the face of the atrocities that the minority of Muslims commit ? I, as an evangelical christian, denounce anything that is hateful, but it's rather silly for a scholar to write such an article in a national news media outlet with just bad logic and slandering respected people without even attempting to prove his point.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  18. Adam

    This is ridiculous. Now is when we start publishing stories about Islamophobia? Seems like you may have some kind of agenda, CNN.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  19. dick

    Yeah, just a little violence, no biggy. And just small minority of fanatics... just a few, no worry. All good. YSMF.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  20. Amer_Man

    If CNN had integrity, it would run a story labeled "Repubophobia" which takes aim at the blatant lies spread by it's writers against the Republican party.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Wes Scott

      Those stories about the RepubliKKKan party are NOT lies – they are the stark naked truth, but I don't expect you to recognize it since it is anathema to your dogma.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:32 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.