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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. me

    Kind of narrow minded to only point out Christians faults with other religions. And way to pin us ALL together cuz an idiot made a film 3 years ago that no one saw. Til now over there some how....

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

    Brian McLaren, sadly, you do not know what you are talking about. Let's begin with the truly vulnerable position of Christians in Egypt. Coptic Christians, who make up 10% of the population, are systematically discriminated against by the government; a government that claims not to be a theocracy. But, when in official statements refers to "our Prophet" and "our Sharia laws" it becomes clear who they represent, and who they don't. Moreover, the situation for Christians is increasingly dire. I do wish you would be better informed about the plight of a large community of people who did not bring violence upon themselves:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15242413

    Furthermore, no sane person (evangelical or otherwise) or government (US or otherwise) is associating themselves with the video that sparked outrage (and outrageous acts of violence against innocent people). You suggest evangelicals are, and that if they watched the video they would feel ashamed and appalled at being associated with it.

    It's a truly inane film; crude in its portrayal of Islam and Mohammed. But, does that in any way shape or form justify cowardly acts of terror? That's the point here. Hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that free speech has strict boundaries, shaped in edicts written on parchment more than 1000 years ago. In addition, a small but vocal and militant minority believe that violence against infidels and other violators of Islamic `laws' is justified. I don't. And most Americans don't. And, most liberal-thinking adults don't. Free speech is just that. It is the freedom to speak out, criticize, ridicule, pillory, even if the words and depictions offend. There are no untouchable symbols, figures, persons, religions, political parties. Once we start down that path, we've given up on freedom of thought and expression.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  3. seangarratt

    Different religions, or even variant branches of the same religion are inherently hostile to belief systems other than their own. It is built into the religious texts – that we are right and others are pagans, to be ostracized, criticized or even killed. It is part of the religious ethos to keep its members aligned together and prevent them from straying. At present Islam is the dominant religion in many particularly backward despotic theocratic states who passively or actively encourage the type of awful actions we have seen in the news recently. The USA is not a theocracy currently but that doesn't stop us from having our own not insignificant minority of religious zealots who would dearly like it to be, and would welcome a crusade to kick all Muslims out of Jerusalem and make life so hostile for US domestic Muslims that they would either have to hide or leave the country. We in the US need to keep these zealots out of government and we can only hope that countries such as Pakistan and Mali and other Islamic theocracies eventually become secular democracies. Long term I , for one, can only hope that religion is eventually marginalized out of existence.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  4. Rick

    Islam really has nothing to do with it. Quite a few Christians are phobic about anything that might seem the least bit unChristian.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Jack 3

      islam attacks us and you attack Christianity. I guess you'd be the first to seel out to them

      September 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  5. ROMNEY 2012: OBOZO HATES AMERICA AND FREEDOM

    Obama loves Hitler

    Obama is a muslim terrorist

    September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • blahblahblah

      You're gonna have to do better than that, troll.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  6. Jon

    So as Muslims around the world terrorize others, cut people's heads off, execute diplomats, burn flags, and generally act like animals...CNN decides to support Islam and accuses American Christians of Islamophobia. You know what? Stupid liberals, you will be in the basket with them.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  7. Christine

    On a recent visit to Missouri, I was asked if it was true that Dearborn, MI is under sharia law. I actually laughed at the gentleman asking, because I couldn't believe that people are so misinformed. And no Dearborn, MI is not under sharia law, no matter what is being preached to you.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  8. magnum12

    .....contain lots of downright lies. What lies? Do you mean lies like be-headings, stone-ings, honor killings, killing or maiming little girls for going to school or is it the killing of Christians and burning their churches.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • timinfla

      islaaaam is a cancer- it is a religion ov violence and hate

      September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  9. Chewbacca

    The problem is both Muslims and Christians in general.

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

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

    The only reason why people believe in such garbage is because they were told it was "true" as children.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  10. annabelle

    Apologise if this is in twice, lost my thread !!! At this time when Muslims are rioting around the world and killing an ambassador, you would think CNN would be doing some in depth journalism of Islam, but no of course, it is a time to run a derogatory article on Christians. What are you thinking??
    It is offensive to me as a Christian. No wonder your ratings are so low. Do we have to stoop to the kind of barbarism that is practised in the name of Allah to get some respect from you? Get back to the truth of what is happening around the muslim world if you dare!

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

      Exactly right! I am thinking liberals are in the lot with THEM and they are just as much the enemy.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  11. Rebekah

    This was well written and I agree. I'd also like to add that what probably resonated with me most is this:

    "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."

    How else will we bring the gospel to them?
    May the peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ cover you.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  12. Don

    It is funny that the press is focusing so much attention to the moving. It seems our foreign policy is to not defend free speech but to say every time someone publishes a cartoon, or video or book that upsets Muslims then we can expect to have our embassies torched and an ambassador killed. CNN has really failed the public here. If the only way to stop these attacks is to limit our freedom of speech then CNN should be the first to be shut down.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  13. Charles

    I can't agree more with the first few commenters above. McClaren has turned into a blowhard apologist. No doubt he speaks a tiny bit of truth in this column, but comparing a tiny minority of Christians who happen to simply think differently than Mclaren does, to the "tiny minority" (see also: "MILLIONS") of Muslims who are willing to strap a bomb to themselves, pregnant women, or Downs-Syndromed persons and explode it in a crowded room of innocent people of any faith, I find this disgusting.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Dan Halen

    Right-wing religious zealots, both Christian and Muslim, never let the truth get in the way of their hatred.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  15. Mark

    Where did they dig this apologist up from? Let's hug it out crap! What a joke! Get a pair and then write something!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  16. yneemee

    You can lecture Christians after Muslims stop outlawing conversion to any faith other than Islam, stop killing Christians and Jews,stop having pogroms against Coptic Chrisitans, otherwise media and news organizations and so-called comedians need to check their selves – they are the true ISLAMOPHOBES – leave ALL people of faith alone – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Amish, Scientologists and Mormons included !!!!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  17. larry5

    This article is nonsense. Being afraid of Muslims is like being afraid of putting one's hand in a running wood chipper. Some fears serve us well and help us navigate through life.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Akim

      Larry, where in the article did u read the suggestion to be afraid of Muslims. The only suggestion is to stop spreading lies, haters and try to understand each other. Looks like you read the article having tea-bags on your eyes and mid.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  18. mavleslie

    Thank you for this article. It is appreciated.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • AmericanLiberal

      by all anti-american haters around the world.

      Let's get the light off us and on someone else whiles we plan our next big one, yee-haw

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

      I stopped reading this article as soon as it blamed the violence on a video more than 3 months old. This guy is obviously a troll for the administration. When muslims learn how to behave like normal rational people instead of blood thirsty crazed lunatics maybe then our opinion of them will change. It will take the muslim supposed peace loving majority to show us different. Until then they are all wacko nut jobs in my book and need to be eradicated from the face of the earth before they do it to anyone who does not believe in there faith. This is not a Christian problem this is an anyone other than them problem.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  19. Joe

    What a dope.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  20. NotAFriend

    I didn't hate islam or arab nations until now. America was on their side when they needed help. The people here applauded the move to seek freedom. We were going to send them aide and help rebuilt their country so that their people could be free too. But what did they do? As soon as they got what they wanted they turned on us. They killed one of our guys that was trying to help them. They curse us after we tried to get the word out that we were there is they needed us. They are animals that are set on dominating every single civilization. They don't have any loyalty to their friend. The only friend they have is another muslim. I learned a lesson this month you can't trust a arab muslim. If they need soldier to destroy this curse on humanity. I'm in. I'll show them we Americans don't take attacks on our citizen's lightly. You just woke a sleeping giant Islam. The humanity's hateful eye is upon you.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:22 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.