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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. eric

    I learned all about Islam i care to know on Sept 11. I do not posses a phobia against Islam I simply Hate them as much as they Hate me.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Surferal

      You are a xenophobic fool

      September 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • eagle80

      The very first post was obviously made by the most ignorant biggot in the history of ignorant biggots... Saying that you learned everything you need to know about Islam on Sept. 11, 2001 is like the Jews, along with the rest of the world, saying they learned everything they needed to know about Christians during the holocaust. Cause let's face it, the Nazi's were Christians. So it's ok to judge someone elses religion by a group of extremist, but you don't want your religion judged by a group of extremist???

      September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  2. Rational Rationale

    We fear something as much as reality shows us we need to fear it. Everyday we see scenes like these attacks on news sites, papers and TV .. It would be irrational to NOT fear this kind of crazy & their reason for it. a phobia is an irrational fear. I fear all theistic religions as much as I need to based on what I see. If we lived during the inquisitions, would it be rational to fear Christianity? Of course it would be!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  3. inkandtears

    This is CNN’s attempt at defining everyone who has a negative view of Islam as a bigot acting out of a phobia. A phobia is an “irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.” No one I know fears Islam. They have made very rational decisions based on the facts: that it oppresses women, oppresses Christianity, encourages violence against Israel, and for a large portion of the Middle East, holds to fundamentalist view of Islam that supports violence and opposes the U.S. These are basic indisputable facts, not a phobia, and these facts are proving themselves time and time again in the activities in the Middle East.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  4. reality1

    All religion is evil. People need to begin respecting each others beliefs. No matter what they are. Man kind as a whole needs humbled too!!!!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • inkandtears

      Why would I respect the belief of someone who wants to kill me? That is like Israel respecting Iran's desire to blow them up, since for Iran it is a cornerstone of their faith.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  5. Jack 3

    After reading these comments i think we have more Christianphobes in the US.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  6. AZIronman

    Mr. McLaren, you are a complete fool.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  7. John

    Islam is the religion of satan. Muhammad was deceived - he thought he was talking to the Angel Gabriel but in truth he was talking the Lucifer!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jack 3

      He never was too smart, he was just good at bull sittng

      September 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Rational Rationale

      Be it Angel or Satan it doesn't matter, having a conversation with any non existent creature is a sign of mental illness.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  8. Robert

    You see I am Christian and I know what I am. Christianity comes with one element – faith. I don't have to go and demonsrate and be violent because somebody said something bad about Jesus. In fact, we have heard about that since Jesus even came into this world. Muslims almost all over the world are demonstrating with so much violence because of some video that was found on the internet. If Muslims start behaving this way, it means they do not even believe what they believe. How can you let somebody control your religion by acting violent? You know, I grew up in Africa and my dad used to tell me that muslims go to their mosques with weapons. What kind of a religion is that? If you don't want anything from the western world then don't even get on the internet. I believe that muslims are violent people and their religion teaches them to be violent.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  9. Cindy

    While I don't agree with any hateful speech by any group.... there is no excuse for Muslims to kill etc... when they feel insulted. If everyone in the world acted this way every time someone said something unkind to them, the world would be chaos. First the U.S. Government or and most Americans don't agree with the video in questions, but the Muslim governments are using it now (as well as in the past), to deflect from the real problems of these societies. U.S. is just the scap goat. The U.S. needs to re-evaluate our foreign policy and support for those governments that use the U.S. as a scapegoat! This list would include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Iran (not that we give them any), Iraq etc.....They need to earn the American tax payer dollars... otherwise we are getting nothing for our support... like throwing good money after bad. Secondly, we can never ever loose or denigrate our ability to have free speech.... even if its speech we dislike and disagree over... it's what makes us civilized and special.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Peik

    Except Christians aren't fire bombing Muslim civilians, are they? No moral equivalence in this situation unless invented.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  11. 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 characters in all of fiction.

    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 4:35 pm |
  12. Tom in San Diego

    9/11

    September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Surferal

      9/11 = 0.81....that is your IQ

      September 17, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  13. GardenGrl

    Wrong, this video was produced by about 15 people from the Middle East (Egypt, Pakastan, Turkey, etc...) and the only one we know more than that about is an Egyptian Coptic Christian with a rap sheet who just got out of Federal prison for offenses against our banking system. So no, I can't say that I find your garden variety Evangelical responsible for this mess. Go try to be relevant somewhere else, pal.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  14. JNM 1982

    I look forward to your next article addressing Christian-phobia and richWhiteManPhobia. Oh, yes – it exists. Just read the comments here.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  15. CitizenDaver

    After reading through these vile posts, I'd say McClaren is pretty spot on in his observation.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Eric M

      You have that right. If there was any doubt that american christians lack grace, evidence abounds in the comments here.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  16. mohammad aziz

    Great article. Ridiculing the other side's religion is a sign of weakness and is never acceptable from any side, and you can tell that it is coming from one side. There is a difference between criticism and ridiculing. It should be also known that there is no excuse that justified killing an innocent person or attacking the embassies and diplomatic missions. To all the people that are afraid from Muslim domination and scared from the future, I have to ask: Did you ever ask yourself why Islam is spreading and will dominate the world. Get out of your box and give Islam a closer look.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • JNM 1982

      Coming from one side? Are you elfing serious?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • JNM 1982

      perhaps we should stop criticizing you, and do what you people do... fight back. Is that what you'd like?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  17. founders1791

    It is "NOT a PHOBIA" but " RATIONAL FEAR"
    ------------------
    98% of ALL the international terrorist attacks are committed by MUSLIMS.

    Since the 1972 Olympics ended up with 9 murdered athletes, at the hands of Terrorist Palistinians, it has been 25/7/365 we read about, see on tv, and view on the internet the madness of radical MUSLIMS who want KILL PEOPLE.

    ......JUST SAY NO TO MUSLIMS AND ISLAM

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Eric M

      Uh, there's no way that's a real statistic. Citation needed.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  18. Hiram 3

    Phobia ?? Baloney !! The Muslims have proven how diabolical they are – Christian phobias have nothing to do with it – Ask the victims of 9-11, if you could, if they think that Muslims are really okay, great guys, and are being picked on by these terrible Christian "Islamophobics" !! Apologists for Muslims are hypocrites !!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  19. Tom

    The pathetic state of what passes for "journalism" in this country is exemplified by this offensive and naive article. Once you've finished considering Mr. McLaren's brilliant "insights," you can click on an opinion piece written by the Plagiarist of the Year, CNN's own Fareed Zakaria, for more third-world Islamic apologist pap.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • timinfla

      ha how true

      September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Hiram 3

      Good comment !! Thank you !

      September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • payjturner

      What is pathetic is that people refuse to hear the truth because it conflicts with the brain washing they've had. No one is apologizing for muslim extremists they're just saying don't be an intolerant, ignorant, sheep who refuses to see common sense because its not what your preacher practices.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Tom

      Everyone in our society is afraid to call a spade a spade, which is what five or more decades of being indoctrinated in the many fine points of political correctness will get you. Mr. McLaren is one of the better examples you will find of politically correct American groupthink coupled with an acute inability to think logically about issues that involve race, class, or religion. The idea that evangelical islamophobes have something to do with recent events, as implied by the article, is ridiculous. Radical Muslims have managed to commit murder, mayhem, arson, and other forms of violence recently without any help from other quarters (other than an obscure video trailer on YouTube, which they have the gall to trot out as an excuse for their crimes).

      September 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  20. Muslim John

    If we consider the last century, Christian nations have caused tremendous death and destruction (Colonialism, WW1, WW2, and American imperialism) claiming indiscriminately millions upon millions of lives. Far exceeding death and destruction by any if not all other religions combined.

    Perhaps Christians should really evaluate what led them to the development and use of nuclear weapons to better understand themselves and their faith today. More significant is how nuclear weapons, killing and wars, and the promotion of hate towards Muslims or Jews fit with Christian values and the teachings of Jesus Christ?

    As an American Muslim, who believes in Jesus Christ as a messenger of God, I believe that the hatred in the Christian community towards Muslims today and towards Jews only 50 years ago do not reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ or Christian values.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • timinfla

      so whats your point. your rabid cousins continue to strap bombs to themselves and slit the troats of non beleivers, IN 2012!

      September 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Common Sense

      How can you prove Mohammad is the messenger of God and a true prophet?? How can you take a prophetic word from a man who married an 8 year old girl??

      September 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • timinfla

      ...and to go on about ww2 killing the nazi regime- go lie down you d bag

      September 17, 2012 at 4:41 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.