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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. Nihtgenga

    Shame on CNN for spreading this man's narrow-minded opinion as if it were news! Just report the news, and leave the opinion-making to the masses.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Bill

      Ha ha, that one was good ... too bad the "news" here just serves to isolate the outdated modality of thought embodied in self-loathing that has plagued the intellectual leadership in our society for decades now.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  2. Scott

    No sir you are wrong. The world must wake up to the fact that religion is dangerous and destructive.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Bill

      God doesn't kill people. People kill people.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  3. jimbo

    Another self-loathing liberal L()SER

    September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  4. Bill

    This is just too funny. Yeah, it's Falwell and Graham's fault that an eighth of the planet spontaneously went ape$h1t over a silly 13 minute amateur clip that looks like it was made by a poor middle-school imitation of the Onion. If the absurdity of this situation doesn't bring home the vast chasm, the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between Western free speech and Islamic fanaticism then what will? Wagging your finger at a bunch of hillbillies when every Ackmed-abdulla-magilla-gorrilla and his brother has wiped their a$$es with the American flag on global TV for the past decade is ludicrous.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  5. adam

    This Statement:
    "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."
    ...proves the counterpoint. I don't remember an offensive film, joke, or anything every driving normal people to kill... Since when does the moral barometer put offensive film making above murder? Perhaps rather than us owning up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia, the author should own up to the fact that the people doing the killing are, in fact, muslim.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • cnnmembuh

      Good point. The fact that we're even having this argument showcases the absurdity involved. Res ipsa locquitur – the thing speaks for itself. You cannot go on defending the radical element of Islam (which, unfortunately, is significant). The perpetrators are sub-human animals without formed consciences. Anybody who can justify the indiscriminate murder of innocents in the name of Allah is either insane or pure evil.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • sebek

      Let me remind you sir, the blind hatred of christian right after sep11, when in Texas and in other parts of USA, Sikhs were killed because they wore turbans, and in the minds of right wing-extremists, they looked muslims. The author in this article has some valid points. There is a fringe in evangelical right that is equally violent. Fortunately, most americans and europeans who are christians are educated and do not hold fundamentalist views.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  6. ceodata

    So, CNN is worried about "Islamophobia" on the part of Christians when Muslims are rioting and killing people? Unbelievable.

    I don't worry that evangelical Christians are coming to kill me because I don't agree with them about something. People who insult Christianity also don't have to worry about being killed by evangelical Christians.

    While Brian McLaren and other *dhimwits* whine about "Islamophobia", Christian communities in the Middle East are being wiped out by Muslims.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  7. Leigh

    This is a ridiculous article. One, some sources are stating this video didn't have a thing to do with these embassy stormings; that there were premediated and coordiated attacks meant to coincide with 9/11. The facts are still coming up. Two, even if this video was indeed the cause that' s no exuse for these violent riots. Doesn't the very nature of these riots undescore that Islam not a peaceful religion? This is one of the worst pieces I have ever read on CNN.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  8. Joseph Turner

    Though I will someone agree to your opinion, I must say that it is the media and our government that must own up to the truth about Islam. Islam is a dangerous religion that in most cases converts people through force and those who leave Islam often have to stay on the run to survive. Believers of any other religion are in fact often persecuted by followers of Islam. Take a look at Islamic nations and you will find there is very little if any freedom of speech or human rights. Women have virtually no rights at all. For the life of me I cannot see how anyone who believes in freedom, human rights, women's rights etc. cannot see the danger of Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • MP

      All the these knowledge of Islam that you have, where did you learn it.

      Media? my suggestion is that go to a library and pick a Quran with the

      translations done by reputable translator, like Oxford University or find it

      on line, learn it and then talk. in Africa also lots of stuff happens by the

      poor people of Africa and they are Christian, do you blame Christianity for

      it, go and find an American Moslem, there are hundred thousands of them.

      also as far as Freedom of speech, when the founding fathers created it was

      to allow dissent people be able to speak their mind and not get harassed.

      it was not using it to spread hate. if somebody wants to bully an over weight

      person and publishes article about than person and down grade him or her, do you

      guys call it Freedom of speech or press. Having a naked photo of a woman

      taken at the privacy of her own place and publish it even if that

      women is a princes, it it right, would you like it if it was your sister.

      people grow up this is an ugly world we are living now and standards have changed

      compare to when all these Freedom of speech and Free Press was created.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Bob Dole

    It is ironic that Islam demands respect (but they behave like wild animals, destroying and killing), then wonder why no one likes Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Chewbacca

    The problem is both Muslims and Christians.

    Both these groups worship Yahweh, a bronze-age, middle-eastern, genocidal deity who is one of the worst fictional characters in the history of man.

    As religious people tend to be one of the least educated and gullible segments of any society, religious people are the bane of this world.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • tommyboy

      what are you smoking i want some of that..

      September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  11. CharlieD

    I think there would be fewer discussions about "islamaphobia" if the radical groups amongst them stopped...oh...rioting, attacking embassies, issuing death threats, and so on when someone exercises free speech (even if the speech is repugnant).

    I'm just saying...

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  12. tommyboy

    All Desert peoples over there are heathens...

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  13. An American

    We need to move past using the lazy "-phobia" label for things people dislike. It's presumptuous to assume that someone "fears" (phobia) what they do not like, when in fact their disdain may be the result of well-informed study combined with personal experience. A more appropriate term for many people would be Islamomisos – the dislike of Islam.

    If a person studies Islam and finds its teachings in contradiction with those of their own religion, they are right to question Islam's validity and applicability. If the same person then observes that members of the Islamic faith are often depicted in the media as having hair-trigger tempers and extremely violent outbursts over seemingly trifling incidents (e.g., cartoon depictions of prophets, bad Internet movies), it is reasonable for them to believe that Muslims aren't the most rational or peace-loving people compared to typical members of other faiths.

    Why weren't there mass demonstrations condemning the supposedly un-Islamic actions of the 9-11 hijackers, who committed their atrocity in the name of Islam? I can almost guarantee the last words crossing their lips were Allahu Akbar. Those attacks, if truly un-Islamic, did more to disgrace and insult the Prophet and denigrate the Islamic faith than any low-quality movie or cartoon ever could since they were done in the name of Islam. Where were the Muslim riots and murders when that happened? One conclusion we can draw is that, despite the words of moderate or Westernized Muslims to the contrary, the 9-11 attacks were generally seen as acceptable within the Islamic faith and representative of their views on appropriate treatment of Western, non-Islamic civilization.

    Informed disdain, and not irrational fear, based on personal observation and research forms the basis of our aversion to Islam. While some people may of course irrationally fear or dislike Islam, there are many others, like me, who have spent years trying to rationalize a way to understand and accept Islam but have come up short. I tolerate Muslims because they have a right to their own beliefs, but I do not respect Islam or its teachings, nor should I feel compelled to.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • TallTale

      BAM! You just hit the nail on the head.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Moses

    Never confuse Christians with the truth.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  15. Makes Sense

    The real issue would be freedom of speech verses offending people. Everyone has the freedom of speech in the US. People protest funerals for dead service men and women saying their death means "God hates them." Anyone can make a video and put it on Youtube and anyone who has seen Youtube has seen biogtry in various forms. But when it is all said and done does offending a person or race of people equate to riots across a region? No. And this is the problem Islam is having right now. They arent bad people but when they (Muslims) riot for whatever reason then when do we as citizens of the world unite and say "Grow Up"?
    They have every reason to be mad and say whatever they want to try to relate the insult to non-muslims but when violence is the first and only response to a 13 minute video then where does it end? The video is degrading and inflammatory, I believe that is what the director was going for, but it doesnt mean he doesnt have a right to voice it nor should he be censured for it. This is about the response. And that response is grossly inappropiate and self defeating.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  16. Tomk777

    And who cares what some guy that wrote a book that nobody read says? This guy couldn't his his butt with both hands.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  17. Gerald

    Mr. McLaren,

    A phobia is an irrational fear. Within Islam, there has been shown to be a significant minority that believe those who do not believe in Islam should convert, or die. There are others who cut the heads off those who challenge the superiority of their faith, or fail to "respect Islam."

    Meanwhile, these same people burn american flags in the street, and chant for the death of the Jewish nation. I fear these people Mr. McLaren. Is it irrational for me to feel this way?

    If you think so, I'd like to continue this discussion later. Meet me in the suburbs of Benghazi (or Jakarta, or Tehran, etc.). Carry a Bible. I'll be able to find you.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Alec

    Oh gee, Brian McLaren is going against evangelical christians...what a shock! Thanks Brian, you're so smart, maybe you can enlighten us about how peace loving muslims really are. I'm so glad CNN uses you.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  19. Eric M

    I'm not sure why everyone is saying they shouldn't be posting or featuring such a story. For anybody who doesn't know- this is an oped piece by a well-known american christian. This wasn't written by a muslim or a scary foreigner- it was written by one of us. This article isn't anti-christian, in fact it calls us to actually act like Jesus if we want to carry his name.

    And if you are freaking out about this or find it dangerous I urge you to please go read it again- because it was written specifically for you.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • timinfla

      you're as f'd as he is. I say that with peace and love- no bomb strapped to me and I really dont want to slit your throat :)

      September 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Alec

      Do some fact checking Mr Eric, Brian McLaren is not "one of us" when it comes to christianity. He's as liberal as Bruce Springstein at George Cloney Obama fundraiser. He and CNN deserve each other.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Eric M

      @Alec: Liberal is a political distinction, not a religious one. Believe it or not there are liberals and conservatives and independents who follow Jesus.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Alec

      Sorry Eric, again, might be good for you to do some fact checking. There is something called "liberal theology" which questions the traditional views of the bible and casts aside sound doctrine. Brian McLaren is one of the leaders of this movement.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • zigzag

      one correction: "This wasn't written by a muslim or a scary foreigner- it was written by one of us. This article isn't anti-christian,"

      There are many Muslim Americans who are honorable and are serving this country in many ways. So don't exclude Muslims as Americans. otherwise i agree with your post.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Alec

      @zigzig. How come in the history of this country we've had immigrants like Italians, Irish, Engilish, etc... and now everyone wants to include "Muslims". Is muslim a nationality? Are buddists? Are hindus? Are people hindu-american? or buddist-american?
      No, but we have to say muslim-american? why?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • James Chandler

      @Eric M Liberal is not just a political word. There are Liberal Theologians, such as Brian McLaren.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  20. MIkey

    This article is truly putrid sentiment and even poorer theology. Go look in the Bible and show me where it says to make friends and get along with people who deny that Christ is the Messiah. The truth is that the Bible has just as many claims of being the exclusive Way to God as the Qu'ran does. The only people suggesting we all just get along and live in peace are the people who have created their own inaccurate versions of Christianity and Islam through poor theology. Stop wasting your time and focus on issues you can do something about.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Eric M

      Please read the bible and tell me where it says to "go forth to all nations, bombing them and slandering them in my name"

      This article is asking for Christians to extend some grace, but the comments like these clearly show we would rather be right than loving.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • John

      Not really sure which bible you are reading because it does teach that you should pray for your enemies and those who disbelieve. It does not suggest that you become great friends with them, due to the fact that being around sin heightens the tempation to sin, but it suggest loving them such as when Jesus was dying on the cross he said "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do."

      September 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • zigzag

      @Mikey: Go look in the Bible and show me where it says to make friends and get along with people who deny that Christ is the Messiah.

      Muslims believe that Jesus was Messiah. No Muslims is Muslim until he believe in Jesus to be Messiah and his virgin birth and his miracles and his prophet hood. What Muslims deny is that he was God ( which Jesus himself denied) or that he is divine Son of God. There are sons of god by tonnes in bible. So the idea that Jesus is divine is not grounded in words and deeds of Jesus. So why insist that Muslim don't believe in Jesus when your own belief is not fully grounded in words of Jesus? Should Muslims insist that you don't believe in Jesus because you have no proof about your faith in words of Jesus?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • James Chandler

      @Zigzag Muslims do no believe Jesus is messiah. They do believe he is a prophet. Traditional Muslims are believed to be the descendants of Esau. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:13 am |
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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.