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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. Joe in NH

    Comparing Christainity to the Muslim religion displays for all knowledgable people how ignorant this writer and the commentors actually are... It's about as ignorant as saying all gays and pedophiles are the same.... And whoever said athiests are the smartest people has to be one of the stupidest people around... If you are not a Christian then may I suggest you keep your thoughts and opinions to yourselves as it only shows just how ridiculous you people you actually are...

    September 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Fernando

      You may suggest anything you like in this country. As you say, we have freedom of speech and I would go even further in encouraging you to collect your posts and celebrate being a good American by sharing these with your coworkers, employer and neighbors. Since you're a Christian, you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  2. d0g

    What he is saying is that Muslims across countries in Africa and Asia have attacked Western embassies (not just those of the US) and killed 4 people in response to an "adolescent and puerile film", but hey – fearing Islam is an unjustified phobia.
    Here's the reality....just a small percentage of 1 billion Muslims is still a LOT of Muslims. Some of those radical Muslims are only a bad election away from getting nuclear weapons (Pakistan). Some of those radical Muslims are just a tad short of developing them (Iran). The problem there is the same as in this country – DON'T LET RELIGIOUS NUTS CONTROL THE GOVERNMENT!!! (CAPITAL LETTERS; exclamation points). I don't fear 99.9% of Muslims. Is my fear of the remaining .1% Islamophobia, or just plain old survival instinct?

    September 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  3. dwp19542004

    islam is for pigs and only pigs like muhammad the best pig cooker around

    September 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Razeeya

      Stupid is as stupid says. ignorance breeds hatred; what breeds stupidity

      September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Razeeya

      Stupid is as stupid says. ignorance breeds hatred; what breeds stupidity?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • pslongley

      There is no place for this comment. Are you a Christian? A realllllly good Christian? Well how about his. 4 million killed by Christians during the Thirty Years War, countless Mulims – about 150,000 in Sudan alone, not counting Iraq....ahem...innocent muslims by the way – ie. not extremist. Catholics killed over 350,000 during the Spanish Inquisition and Christians slaughtered millions during the Jewish Holocaust. The history of religion is bloody and tragic. The Christians – throughout history have more blood and more victims of pedophilia than any other organized religion. No one who kills in the name of religion or espouses such hate as you has a thread of goodness or faith in them

      September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Emre

      You are absurd buddy. Sit behind your screen, hide away from reality, just like the film maker.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • pslongley

      And by the way. I love my neighbour and am agnostic. And the figures I quoted are fact. Christianity is no different than Islam and American right wing fanatics are no different than Iranians in their extreme and dangerous positions.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  4. Rob Polhemus

    Can you imagine anyone sick enough, sociopathic enough, antiChristian enough, or unpatriotic enough who wouldn't agree with Brian McClaren's article and the Sermon-on the -Mount Jesus philosophy he promotes here. Good people of all faiths must applaud his words and should be grateful to him.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  5. HoverMe

    It's time for us to take back our country from the Democrat party and the media...but I repeat myself. this is nothing but a cover for a vicious 9.11 attack prearranged and well executed. Sorry...it has nothing to do with a video that was produced with first amendment protections that are slowly fading away. This is a cover-up of the highest magnitude and its time to wake up and realize what this white house (it doesn't earn capital letters) is doing to our country

    September 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  6. annie

    We should be defendning freedom of speech in America, not blaming or accusing...Americans have freedom of speech. end of discussion.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  7. JNM 1982

    What good timing for a pro-Islam / anti-Christian article! Are you just tyring to insult Christian Americans? The author and CNN can kiss my ass. Btw, my favorite professor in college is a Muslim.
    Why doesn't CNN do an article about rich-whiteman-phobia, which is real and unjustified. This so-called Islamphobia is mostly imaginary, but even it were real, it is legitimately earned.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Dave

      If the idea of a Christian is to be as much like Christ as possible, I suggest you re-examine your behavior here.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  8. Astra Navigo

    What amazes me – or not – are those who've commented on this article.

    "Anti-Christ is what this guy is"; "This guy's a moron"; "You don't see Christians burning embassies, do you?" – - Hate is hate; it doesn't matter if the evangelical Jesus-thumpers in the U.S. have whitewashed it with their own brand of intolerant religion.

    Religion is the problem. Regardless of the 'brand', religion is the problem.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • HoverMe

      Your ignorance is breathtaking. How you can begin to place those two events in the same column is amazing. Why don't you go back to researching what ten commandments statue to remove next and leave the intelligent discussion to those of us with at least half a brain.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  9. Andy

    There are two issues here: general Islamaphobia and this film. The film, by all accounts, is stupid and not connected to any serious thought or to the United States in any way...and there are probably many worse things on the internet. But the Islamaphobia may not be racism. If hundreds of Christians blew themselves up in crowds using nail-laden suicide vests then people would eventually and rightfully begin to distrust Christians. Developing a defensive bias based on knowledge and experience is not the same thing as racism.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  10. Ben L

    The issue is that muslims are meant to be spreading their message. the term jihad, used in the qur'an means "strive", which can be interpreted as conversion in its best sense, or violence in its worst. here are some quotes in the qur'an, im not taking them out of context. if you think i did , I included the verses so you can read more and get the whole context.

    O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, – an evil refuge indeed. (9:73, 66:9)

    Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness. (25:52)

    there are many more, but i wont waste your time. what we need to realize is that while some Muslims interpret this as a need to do missionary work, its not a long stretch for them to interpret it as a need for violence against anyone who is not an Islam believer. I'm not saying we should wage a war against Islam or anything like that, but to say we should ever think their religion does not teach violence against others is very uninformed.

    Quran (2:191-193) – "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]... but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah."

    We have to understand them in order to protect ourselves from their extremists and to possibly prevent the spread of extremism to the rest of Islamic believers. Christian missionaries ask you to join, the Qur'an tells Islamic missionaries to make you join. That's a dangerous difference no matter how you look at it.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  11. Mohammy

    Okay, so the guy who wrote this is an idiot and the material is very insulting. Has anyone raided CNN's offices? Attacked their CEO over it and dragged him into the streets? No, we are complaining with our voice not physical violence. Notice the difference?

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  12. OHRazorback

    The author is incredibly naive. He parrots the official position of the administration and Ambassador Susan Rice that the protests were the result of a film, and does note the bizarre coincidence that well-timed, coordinated, and complex attacks occurred in Benghazi on the anniversary of 911. Mind boggling.
    While Islam is the predominant religion in some fairly advanced countries (primarily in the far east), it remains the primary religion in relatively closed (culturally, poltiically, socially, lacking in basic freedoms), in the middle east, southwest Asia, and Africa.
    I would ask the author to research what percentage of muslims support jihad, the number is north of 50% globally. What % of muslims support sharia law? What % of muslim countries are open to churches being built in their own countries and treat apostates humanely?
    Yep, it's all islamophobia....pure hysteria. Get real. Get a clue.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  13. Robert

    Yes, of course. It's out fault yet again. It always seems to be our fault. We of the Christian faith are just so full of intolerance and hate. Sure. Tell you what, liberals, please keep up this argument. Keep on talking. Continue with your lies, your flawed point of view, get it out to as many people as you can.....and we'll see you in November.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Astra Navigo

      " We of the Christian faith are just so full of intolerance and hate."

      Yes, you are. Time to look in a mirror, Robert.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  14. Dana Hatch

    Over 270 million people have been murdered under the name of Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Astra Navigo

      ...and millions without counting have been murdered in the name of the Cross.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • chris

      Just a quick question... How many were killed during the crusades supposedly in the name of Christianity??? Yea, thats what I thought.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  15. Steve

    Haven't seen the film, or the trailer. I do believe that it probably is
    puerile and stupid. But who are you really blaming for this anti-American
    outbreak of violence: the filmmaker, or the rioters? They are always
    erupting into violence over something they find offensive. They
    seem completely unable to control their anger.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  16. Pat Collington

    Does freedom of Religion give the Islamic schools in our country (like the schools in Virginia) to use textbooks containing hatred towards Jews & Christians?

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Dave

      Yes, it does. It also allows Christian schools to teach hatred of gays and atheists. I don't like any of these opinions, but this is how our country works.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  17. Patrick Portland

    And once again, CNN finds mopes like this to spout off nonsense. Another apologist just like the apologizer in chief taking up space in the white house. Parsing this nonsense has nothing to do with these camel jockeys' violent overreaction to any perceived insult to their beloved pedophile Mohammed. Islam is a sham religion, Obama is an apologist, & CNN will do whatever it takes to to take the heat off Obama for his inaction & ridiculous response to this crisis. Journalism at its finest...NOT!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Astra Navigo

      "...camel jockeys..."

      "...sham religion...."

      If there was ever a textbook example of hate speech, Patrick wins the prize.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Dave

      Patrick, how would Jesus handle these issues?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  18. chris

    can we get a book on christianaphobia? Maybe evangelicals wrongly dislike all muslims, but a large sect of muslims is committing acts of violence against christians and jews for no reason other than their religious leader told them to. I'm sick of reading articles like this that are not unbiased and objective. If a whtie christian burns a quran these types of scholars extrapolate it to every white and/or christian alive. When large groups of muslims, backed by quasi-governments and popular benevolence, attack a "christian" or "western" target these same scholars pretend like its a small minority. I think a much higher percentage of the muslim world supports jihad than the christian world supports islamophobia. And saying that violence is being done by many people in the name of islam does not make you an islamophobe. Defending terrorism in the name of colonialism, ie killing white people b/c some white person did you wrong, is immoral and vile. If you are doing it to sell books or make a name for yourself you should be shot. Unfortunately, an entire generation of scholars coming of age have been brainwashed to think "counter-_____" equals intelligence.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Agnes

      Well, the first 1,000 chapters of christianaphobia can be devoted to their active and sustained generaltional suppression of their fellow gay Americans.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • ADR

      Ahhhhhh! of course, the Christians they are to blame! Brilliant Mr. McLaren! Is anyone really surprised???? it was only a matter of time before the "Christians" were to blame for all of the evils of the world. Why stop there, lets see, who else can we blame...I am sure Mother Tereas had something to do with all the Islamic Extremists/Terroist murdering, tourturing, etc...Lets see, yes, small children I'm sure must have a part in this as well!

      September 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Jessica

      Most Americans take their religion with a million grains of salt and work hard to keep it out of politics. Islamic countries take their religion straight up and with an equal amount of politics. The latter is a combustible concoction.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  19. ROMNEY 2012: OBOZO HATES AMERICA AND FREEDOM

    If you don't vote republican, you are a terrorist

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  20. David

    This notion that the recent attacks in the Middle East have been sparked by a video on You tube is absurd. Most "spontaneous" demonstrations do involve RPGs or coincide with 9/11 as was the case in Libya. The fact is that due, perhaps to the fact that Islam has never experienced a reformation, Islam has developed a virulent strain that is, at it's core, fascist in nature. The author asks for tolerance for a religion that is itself intolerant.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Regina

      Both Christianity and Islam have some apologies to make toward God's gay creations if they ever want to be taken seriously. They can't both be the victim when they both have the world wide gay population in their sights.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:23 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.