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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 • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. blinky

    It's hard to ignore that there is a lot of bloodthirsty imagery directed at nonbelievers in the Koran and classical Islamic literature. "The History of the World-Conqueror" by Juvaini makes rich, beautiful prose, but so much of it is spent on violence sworn on targeted enemies, and whether nonbelievers convert willingly or by force is often totally contradictory.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Sweatheart

      It is a common midnesnrstandiug that the Salem witches were burned, but no witches in the Colonies were ever killed at the stake as they were in Europe, as the British courts considered a burning death too cruel. This is so sad, I spent a long time at the site reading about these poor woman and men.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  2. cybercmdr

    They did a good job with the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City, as well as a number of abortion centers. Offshoots, like the Branch Dividians and the Jonestown cult can get pretty crazy. Mostly though, fundamentalist Christians try to work within the system to take over school boards so that they can disallow the teaching of evolution, or other concepts the don't agree with their world view. The American Taliban aren't as violent, but have a long term strategy to turn the clock back on American excellence in science and to rewrite history to fit their beliefs.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • cybercmdr

      Shoot, this was supposed to be posted as a reply to someone saying that Christians do not get as violent as Muslims.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • lostisland

      There is real truth within your comments, and I wish america would wake up to how toxic their advocation for the 'intelligent designer' really is. It's about FAR more than evolution. And about half of americans tacitly support it. I could live peacefully with religion if by it's very nature it didn't usurp governments and affect policy for all. But that's not the way it works, and thus as long as religions can spread their lies we'll ALL be facing 'religious war', even if waged non-violently in the classroom...

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  3. Scott

    Islamaphobia does not need made up atrocities; there are plenty of real ones. The writer of this article makes it seem like there is not danger to Christians or anyone else, but the reality is that an American walking in the streets of hundreds of cities across the Middle East would be dead in minutes. The reality is that Muslims want blood right now, specifically, American, Jewish and Christian blood. That's not a phobia, that's a fact.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • todd in DC

      And Americans don't do that to Muslims? We had someone recently kill a bunch of people in a Sikh temple because they looked Islamic.

      The problem isn't Islam, it's religon. Even the Christian religion. ESPECIALLY, the christian one.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  4. Nicky

    type him on google and see what pops up.. last days, nothing like a false prophet, look how CNN makes this on the main page.. that is so funny. Satan is at work like never before.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Really

    The problem is not Christians or Muslims. The problem is a cultural difference. In the US we have the all of the wonderful rights like freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We are the only country in the world with these kinds of rights. Even countries that call themselves democracies don't have the same rights as we do. As a result, it is very difficult for someone who is non-american to understand our culture and our freedoms. In other countries, there is only one religion. It is unheard of to speak against the religion and if it were done it you could be maimed, put to death,or put in prison. Even if you wanted to practice another religion you would have to do so in secret or leave the country. The recent events highlight this. An Egyptian American Chrisitian made a hateful movie about Islam. Something he certainly could not have done in Egypt, but because of our freedoms he took the opportunity to put exactly how he felt to film, and even posted it on facebook for the whole world to see. The Muslims in other countries, not the Muslins in the US were outraged and resorted to violence, as this was highly blasphemous. The American Muslims, while sickened by the film, only denounced it. Why? Cultural differences! That film to the Muslims in other countries was akin to murdering someone in their family. It simply does not happen. Thanks to technology information can now travel the world in a short period of time, and what you have is time bomb that unfortunately exploded.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  6. jeff tartt

    It's ok to make jokes about God and Jesus.It's ok to make movies about Jesus.I think the people of the US should burn flags of these turban wearing ,camel riding,countries.I'm not afraid to offend anyone who promotes violence in the name of religion.

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

    The REALITY is Jesus is part of the Judeo Christian MYTH and will NEVER "return"!!! Islam and Judiasm are no different! Based on MYTH not reality!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  8. MG

    No, I will not forgive and forget. The World Trade Towers. Almost 3000 dead. More recently the attack on the embassies. 4 dead.
    4 dead over a video. A video. Yet they can kill us, burn our flag?
    You can keep your a** kissing.
    I won't kiss their a**. I will not forget. I will not forgive.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • dave

      A very UnChristian post

      September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      MG: Good for you. Hold it in...let it fester....maybe it will even do you damage

      September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • pdanielj

      Sigh. Try reading the article again.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  9. Rick Paurulski

    I see decent and sincere Christians convert to Islam on a daily basis in my citiy in NY because the Muslims invite to their religion with honesty and respect. They don't denegrate and insult any religion. Becuase of the wide-spread anti-islam network in the media and internet, the sincere ones actually end up converting to Islam when they find out the reality through authentic sources. I feel bad for the mis-informed and ignorant Christians out there who are missing out on all the heavenly glory. Time is precious and death is approaching every soul.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Horus

      authentic sources? Bwahahahahahahah..... I feel sorry for ignorant people who believe in cultural constructs from periods long ago, absent modern understanding.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  10. Dave

    Wouldn't this be Visa-Versa ?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • agavemike

      Sweden let millions of them into their country with an open mind. Now they are trying to enter government and force a second set of sharia based laws. This why they have to be stopped. Do you want American freedoms compromised by Islamic Fanatical law? Or better yet would you like to become a victim of an attack by a Muslim only to find out that they can't be prosecuted because their set of laws says its okay?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  11. Franklin Row Hunter

    We should stand by the free speech our forefathers fought for. Stop apologizing for our culture and realize your ability to speak your mind is what you are campaigning against. . The repression of the Islamic culture breeds childish rage by adults who are incapable of understanding that in the USA we can say things that are not government dogma. So they childishly believe that anything put out by the Hollywood Ilk is a USA government statement involving the whole of The Ugly American culture. We on the other hand make the mistake of discounting dogma on their streets as the ranting of a minority of individuals. No, the rantings we hear and the violence we see are endemic to a repressive religion enforced by government. Muslims are in that phase today, where during the Inquisition it was the Christians. The difference is that Christians have advanced in their beliefs to be tolerant, and the Muslims have not.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Really

      Yes. That is what they believe. It is a total cultural difference.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  12. Donna

    The riots have occurred because Muslims do not understand our freedom of speech –plain and simple. We can not start pointing fingers at the people with varying opinions and religious beliefs. This is a fight for freedom- freedom of speech, freedom of religion. The fact that we start blaming people for ant-Islamic and anti-Christian writings and videos is totally against the American way of thought. Let's not get dragged into this islamahobia , evangelical hatred crap!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  13. Frederick Lee

    Genesis 16:12: A diagonosis for an inherited behavior disorder by descendants of Ishmael's line.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  14. asche

    Nothing I like more than hearing a religious nutjob fumbling to rationalize some other religious nutjobbery. At this point in human history, the fact that conversations of this nature are still around means I couldn't possibly know which end to pick up for discussion. As far as Islamophobia, it's not a phobia, it's perfectly reasonable skepticism and caution based on observation and an sense that something is OBVIOUSLY not right. The same can be said of most belief systems but few belief systems of such popularity regularly have people saying it's ok to behead children if you don't believe in the invisible man.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  15. dav

    Just because Brian D. McLaren is Islamophobic does not mean everybody else is.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. John Stults

    what a load of crap.. I am a christian and I fear no man.. i fear no religion.. I am wary however of EXTREMEISTS.. in any religion.. from any walk of life.. i don't know if this was written for page clicks.. or to keep a job.. but you can't write a basis on a religion based on assumption.. as a christian if I wrote that Muslims have Christianphobia or Jewishphobia it would be considered a hate piece.. and who knows what wold happen there.. you're an idiot and should stop writing

    September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • LiberalChristianSuicide

      Amen Brother!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Scott

      Although a bit harsh, this is pretty much on.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  17. alligator face

    ALL RELIGIONS are a joke......EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • sam stone

      some are just worse jokes

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • dav

      Athestist are fools who believe their children are just animals availible for slaughter.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Neal

      And Jesus is simply a part of the Judeo Christian MYTH!!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • LiberalChristianSuicide

      Islam is the Sam Kinnoson of Religions

      September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      dav: you know soooo much about what atheists think. too bad you write like a moron

      September 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  18. Jesse

    I'm not a fan of evangelical Christians, but this "Islamophobia" nonsense does not stem from rival religions. When women are stoned to death without trial, do we hear a peep from the Islamic world? No, because they're too busy rioting throughout the Arab Spring over an amateur movie. The apologetic and cowardly stance of this author makes CNN look no better than FOX News.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • chris

      no you will not under there law thay not being good musilm,s

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  19. Reasonably

    It's time for all fundamentalists to shut the h*ll up and stop insisting your religion is the best religion and you'll force your opinion on anyone who thinks differently! You'd think we were still in the dark ages.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Mr. McLaren, are you high? It is not 'islamaphobia' to dislike a religion that offers so much death, death to infidels, death to liberated women, death to gays, death to 'shameful' daughters and wives, death to those who are not Shia or Suni, death to children who don't obey and so on and so on and so on. Islam is ALL about death as witnessed by all of us over the last 50 years. Call Islam what it is – a Death Cult and it should have the light of day shown on it. Shame on you.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Sounds an awful lot like the GOP platform, actually.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.