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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. Phil

    sad to say that most of the comments herer miss what the author was trying to say.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  2. John

    I have an intelligence backround and Brian McLaren's "puppies, sunshine and world peace" assessment is the height of naivite...

    "Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own." Really?

    Every intelligence agency on the planet has the same numbers...of the world's 1 billion Muslims, 10% are not peace loving, they are a virulent, non assimilating strain of Islam bent on world domination with absolutely no rule book. Brian, what color is the sky in your world?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  3. sumday

    Ok so you claim we have this phobia of Islam... so tell me does Islam allow women to be equal to men? How does Islam treat women’s testimony? Is Islam’s stated goal to convert the world to its religion and control? Do Islam nations chant death to USA and Israel? Does Islam still practice killing people over blasphemy laws? Are non-Islam people considered to have equal rights as Islam people? You speak of lies being spread so go on and tell us some of the truths about Islam- and I’m not talking theology I’m talk about practice and what is written in the Quran. Tell us about the exploits of their prophet whom their whole religion is based upon. Come on tell us the truth about it all- I mean it’s one thing to say it’s just a handful of extremist, but quite another to see MASSES of people in groups chanting death and burning our flags. My “fear” of Islam is not because I read some misleading forwards on the net, but bc I’ve seen groups of people attacking our embassies, killing our citizens, and outright saying they hate the USA. And more importantly than that I do not see Muslims of this country standing up and condemning these types of actions! I’ve met a few that sheepishly say that is not the Islam that I follow but have never heard any of them out right condemn these actions or thoughts- and yes I know and work with several Muslims.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  4. Bo

    Knowing how the jihadist islam movement has murdered, beheaded and slaughtered during history and seeing how the jihadists's hate any movement of western democracy, it is natural that especially Christians see the dangers The spirit of appeasement does not work any longer. The liberal media is all asleep in their utopia. Praise God for authentic Christians who understand and dare to stand against the evil power of hatemongers by prayers and ractions. And praise God for all Muslims who love and care for democracy!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  5. A Muslim

    Very well stated. Thank you!

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

      YOU ARE NOT WELCOME IN THIS COUNTRY. FYI.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      Jack, time to eat the business end of your sidearm, FYI

      September 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  6. volsocal

    Friendship involves trust. Moslems can't be trusted. Moslems can't be your/my/anyone in America's friend.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  7. Sivick

    Well said. People who promote hate against other religions while pretending to be religious themselves are just lying to themselves. No religion promtes hatred.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Bill

    All religion is a joke! It is thousands of years old with no bearing or place in todays society. It spawns Hate!

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

      Yes, that is why the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright all use religion to achieve their goals.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • sumday

      you say religion spawns hate???? Are you familiar with human nature? Humans do not need religion to hate as hate is a natural human emotion that we are all born with- don’t believe that huh? Tell you what go to any play ground where kids play and watch how they act- especially if adults are not watching. Kids can be quite cruel without any religion involvement. Get tired of ignorant people blaming every bad thing on religion while ignoring the reality of human nature. You can use religion to “enlighten” yourself and suppress your human nature, or you can use it to justify your human nature. Either way it is human nature that cause most of the hardships that so many blame on religion. Even if we did away with all religion we would still have governments and humans committing the same atrocities under a different reason/name. WW1 and WW2 had little to do with religion yet how many were killed during those wars?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Jack

    People who live the 21st Century as if it was the stone age cannot coexist in a civilized society like ours. PERIOD. The things Muslims do in the Middle East in the name of religion are shameful and gross, AND I DO NOT WANT THAT TO BE OUR AMERICA. Look at the UK with protests all the time, look at France with Muslims taking over the sidewalks by the hundreds to pray, look at The Netherlands and the crazyness going in there, or look at Belgium where Muslims openly say it will eventually renamed Brusselstan... That is our future here because we are OVERLY WELCOMING and OVERLY TOLERANT and OVERLY NICE. Muslims and Islam do not want anything other than the destruction of the Western civilization as we know, and unless we stand against these people our future looks darker and darker every day.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  10. Roy Brown

    Oh shut up. All the stuff you hear about Islam is true. We see it every bloody day on every news source, all of the time. Beheadings, stonings, honor killing, DURKA JIHAD, the whole nine yards.

    Who are you trying to fool, op-ed?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  11. GL

    McLaren, and others like him, is simply hedging his bets by defining the issue as "Islamlomophopia." The real issue is that extremist Muslims intend to spread their beliefs and "law" throughout the world, and, thanks to liberal politics, are seeing those intentions realized. It's clear, by the events of the past week, that one cannot even be associated with another who would put down Islam. What do you think will happen to Christians in our country if/when the Muslims get a foot hold? Islamophobia??? That implies an irrational fear, and anyone who thinks it'll all be okay if we just try to get along is just plain irrational.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  12. Victor

    Please. Muslims need to take control of their own fanatics. Whether you are a conservative evangelical, liberal Catholic, whatever, in today's world, it's the Muslims who refuse to clean up their own house. Had Christians or other non-Muslims taken up the same tactics as Muslim zealots, the world would be a much bloodier place for every non-Muslim slaughtered by Muslims under the guise of punishing blasphemy.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  13. Rod

    Shame on you, CNN.Muslims attack and kill Americans, and all you do is accuse Christians? That's outrageous!

    There's no such thing as Islamophobia. People don't beegrudge Muslims practicing their religion. What people do hate is the violence of so many Muslims. If they would stop killing innocent people, very few folks would have a problem with them.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • JUNEYT

      What is outrages is your hypocracy!! Just 3-4 weeks ago 10 Sikhs were killed by an Christian extremist in the middle of the US. So Are you saying that YOU and All Christians are for killing Sikhs??
      Do you ever remember 250,000 Iraqis killed during the Invasion of Iraq?? Do you have any sense of honor or decency to at least acknowledge these people who died in a FUBAR war for Iraqi OIL before you blame 1.5 Billion Muslims 2-3% Extremists among them?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  14. gravis

    If they want respect they should show off more beautiful women. For example Christians like Sarah Palin are not afraid to show off their bikini bodies. And Ann Coulter can look pretty hot when she's plastered with makeup. How can you respect people wrapped in sheets?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  15. Alex

    organized religion – last bastion for the ignorant

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  16. Roberot Fontanez

    Here is CNN AGAIN doing the work for the DNC and for Obama, looking for ways to continue the mantra that this whole thing going on in the Middle East is the cause of racist ANTI Islamic idiots here in america. CNN when as far as identifying and and showing the face of the man being used by this administration as the Scape Goat for the fiasco of this administration problem in the Middle East. HELLO CNN IS NOT THIS GUY'S FAULT AND IS NOT THE SO CALLED ANTI ISLAMIC WAVE IN AMERICA IS THE SIMPLE FACT THAT THE IDIOTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST HATE US ALSO THE FACT THAT YOUR GOD OBAMA KEEPS MAKING AMERICA WEAK BY APOLOGIZING EVERYTIME HE OPENS HIS MOUTH. STOP PLAYING GAMES AND STOP LOOKING FOR EXCUSES YOU IMBECILS. HOW STUPID CAN CNN BE????

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • pork&beans

      It's his fault.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • mamabcooking

      imbecil is correctly spelled: imbecile

      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • KMACK

      Spot on Roberot, this is nothing more than CNN carrying the water for Obama. Are you kidding me, Islamophobia and Evangelicals, and a youtube movie out for over a month are the cause? What kind of fairy tale smoke has this guy dreamed up? This nonsense narrative being spinkled like fairy dust by the media is amateur, disingenious and insults the intelligence of the american public. The pitiful "as a matter of fact" pronouncements this weekend by Obama's UN secretary on the morning circuit, that all of this trouble was only caused by a month old youtube video, and nothing to do with failed foreign policy, She stonefaced spouted the company line, that there was no organized terrorist plot to attack the US Libyan Consulate. According to Susan Rice Americans are now supposed to swallow the story that an "Al Queda" reaction team, lazily eating dates, smoking cigs, and playing pool across town, were suddenly confronted by a frantically jumping and barking "lassie" ..... "quiet" Hasem.....what's that girl, yes, what, people have gathered at the infidels lair, and now we have a opening.....WHERE LASSIE, WHERE GIRL, that's it GIRL, SHOW US LASSIE YES GIRL GOOD GIRL. Lets go boys.....and according to our UN secretary the opportunistic terrorists, then showed up across town on the heels of Lassie, and were then able to take advantage of the chaos, and kill our people......Yep that's what happened.....no plot, no failed intelligence, of course we had enought security on-site......What a croc. Good girl Lassie.....

      September 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  17. pork&beans

    Christian pastors have always yelled from the pulpit that any other religion is 'evil' and not 'gods' will.
    Religion. Once the battles are over and the nuclear dust settles, a few from everywhere will sit around a campfire and declare religion dead as they realize that we're all the same.
    Islam may be evil, but as someone who used to attend a baptist church, I assure you, evil lurks there too.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  18. Steve

    Just read the Quran if you want the truth. Unfortunately, Muhammad was not a nice man and these principals are all reflected in the Quran.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  19. Gwen

    Christians should do some soul searching. Most wars are attributable to religion. That includes Christians. We need to think about what we say to others. It is a fact that Muslim violence comes from .001% of the Muslim population. Why would we punish the other 99.999 %?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Sam

      And the other 99% or let's say 80% to be fair, are happy about this violence, approving and applauding. I am Coptic Christian who lived for 26 years in Egypt so I speak based on facts and events I actually witnessed

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

      A "Fact" Please cite your source. So there are 1.5 Billion Muslims and 0.001% of them would be 1.5 million people. So you are saying that 1.5 million are all that are involved in Jihad against the west.

      Sorry you are wrong. All Muslims are involved in Jihad in one way or another and I for one doubt that only 1.5 million are involved in violent, near violent and in the support of murder in the name of Islam across the globe.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Religion poisons everything.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  20. mali

    Thank you

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 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.