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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. Marty

    CNN is an anti-truth company who seek only to further lies and misinformation.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • no

      No Marty, you are wrong.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • thomp

      marty – cnn is definitely part of the problem. i agree with you

      September 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  2. Joe Clark

    Global Lou: I agree with you.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  3. DJones

    The term "Islamophobic" is an incorrect term and has little if anything to do with he issue. People aren't "phobic" about Islamist, not in the religious sense or in the way the article lays it out. It isn't fear, it is disgust, or a condemnation, of what they do as a result of their faith. It should disgust people to see men abuse and oppress women, treating them as subhuman. It should disgust people to see streets fill with violence and bloodshed because someone half way around the world has a different view than they do. So the author needs to come up with a new coined phrase that reflects the true feelings that Christians feel for Islamists and then if he wants to discuss the legitimacy of those feelings do so. But to begin ones reasoning using a complete nonsense as a starting point he can't help but end up looking a little silly.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  4. bspurloc

    they use the same rhetoric to bash gays.... and any other group they DISAPPROVE of...
    thus is religion rearing its angry head and why it exists in the first place.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • DJones

      I suppose you haven't noticed the angry heads of atheists and gays that are raised as they bash Christians?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Marty

    It's a shame CNN censors the truth about Islam. I've made a couple comments that are true and they have been censored.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Rational Rationale

    Crazy is as crazy does .... any questions?

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  7. thomp

    Darn right I have Islamaphobia! Are you trying to tell me that's the new norm for behavior? I just don't buy the idea that the "Good Muslims" have had their religion to be highjacked... They hate our culture, they hate our freedom. What would happen to Hollywood if they become the dominate religion in America? What would happen to the press if they became the dominate religion in America? Wait it minute... Go Muslims! Could be a good thing...

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • bspurloc

      and the christian taliban in the USA hate OUR WAY OF LIFE

      September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Alan

    i like the way this shiny headed loon says its just a "tiny minority of muslims" causing all this violence, hate, murder and destruction. Has he been watching the news lately and seen the riots and buildings in flames all over the muslim world? and what a sick excuse, there a several millions of muslims in the world so even a "tiny minority of that is a heck of a lot of mass murderers! Plus how in the world can he somehow twist and turn and make this the fault of evangelical christians having islamophobia?? Im not an evangelical christian but i am a bit scared and lot angry when muslims committ these crimes against humanity in the name of their religioin over and over again, and when CNN comes up with excuse after excuse for them it just makes it worse, ignoring the real problem.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  9. amac

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And then reflect on the fact that ever since Christianity appeared on the face of the earth there has been unspeakable evil done in its name. It's not just my take–it's history.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Jack 3

      you quote the bible then trach christianity after the muslims attcked us. You are a christianphobe

      September 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  10. ja-coffalotte

    Just a really poorly made movie paid for by Karl Rove to try and rabble rouse before the election. The GOP is absolutely desperate and therefore dangerous, they would just as soon throw the whole world under the bus to get their greedy ways.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  11. bill zylot

    NOBODY needs a religious zealot to tell them about the evils of islam. you see it virtually EVERY DAY in the news. don't tell me that it's only a few individuals. this is a world-wide epidemic. we will all be destroyed because of these idiots with their "love" for suicide. the coming war between israel and iran will draw in the entire world and NO ONE Will be safe. you will see that WWIII will be the end of man-kind as we know it.........

    September 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  12. Common Sense

    @ Muslim John:

    We're still waiting for you to prove that Muh.ammad is a true prophet of God. Please entertain us ...... I'll conclude by your silence that you cannot.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • timinfla

      ...he's lying down right now- too much for him

      September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Mike Covert

    I am appalled...no wait, this is cnn.com....okay, I am not suprised at all that cnn.com would use editorial comments by McLaren. This guy is a complete whack job....part of the "emerging church"....which has a platform of basically...if you dont like being a Christian but dont want to go to hell,.,.,,then do the emerging church thing. Seriously....cnn has got to learn to have better taste than this.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  14. rep

    evangelicals resort to hate because they're really no different....just born in different parts of the world with different cultural norms and creature comforts so they have different "buttons to press" before resorting to the same emotions and responses they claim to despise. ....hypocrites too blinded by their own arrogance and sense of self-importance to see what's right in front of their faces.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  15. doug

    "made in his own image" does that include lust jelousy etc? we're all made different speak different right? why wouldn't everyone interprept "god" differently. wouldn't suprise me if most religions worshiped the same god just in different ways and gave him different names. in the end we're all going to the same hell so what does it matter?
    also didn't muslims start this a few years back, you know that forgotten anniversery(not spelled right i know) we just had recenlty? the day we fly 747 into their mudhuts then they can't act we're soooo evil. till then shut up.
    hey obama! this is what happens when you sell out and suck muslim dick for 3 years.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • lankfocl1234

      You DO realize that we've flown far worse than a couple Boeings into their ancient, culturally rich cities mudhuts, don't you?

      This article brings up a good point, but it dances around too much. C'mon out and say it: uneducated American fundamentalist wackos are just as common as uneducated Arabian/Persian fundamentalist wackos. We're just powerful enough to keep the people we don't like out of our country, whereas their governments wouldn't be able to keep out our oil-hungry hands if they had a million years' notice. I wonder how many times an armed force of Arabs could strip resources from the Bible Belt before the residents started a crusade?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  16. norm

    We are not frightened of Islam, but of the maniacal animals who claim to believe it. We would be just as frightened and disgusted by a Christian sect that decided to visit the horrors of the Old Testament upon the country. These religions were spawned in very primitive times and must be tempered by understanding of modern societies.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • ohbehave

      Bingo!
      Amazing. There is a slaughter fest of suicide bombers and police that turn on their own trainers!.... and yet, when we get worried, we are considered "phobic"? Why not say what you want to say, CNN? Go ahead and call us "racists!".

      September 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mike Covert

      I agree...if anyone "hates" muslims....they have a problem. Muslims are not to be hated...nor are Hindus...Buddhists...Prtestants...MEthodists or whatever. Hatred is not necessary. Hating that there is this type of reaction of people is normal. The facts remain that the US govt better open its eyes and start standing for our citizens' rights and values...these hethen peoples around the globe are doing what theyre doing because they fear no reprocussion from the US. That should quickly and decisively change.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  17. Diana Powe

    Matthew 5:43-48

    "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborh and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemiesi and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

    If you say that you believe the Bible and what Jesus said, then it's clear that Mr. McLaren is taking Jesus' words seriously.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • mike

      Jesus did say love your enemy. And he meant that. But, I think he also said its OK to defend yourself from harm and he said the govt is the defender against evil. Look at the 2 sets of passages below. .

      36 Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.
      37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.' For the things concerning Me have an end."
      38 So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough." Luke 22:36-38 (NKJV)

      3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
      4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Romans 13:3-4 (NKJV)

      September 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • coalterrain

      Yes, Diana, but Christians also believe that when Christ declared that He is The Way and The Truth and The Life and that no one comes to the Father by anyone else that he meant it to the exclusion of anyone else. McLaren is clueless.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  18. Jason Frye

    There are some legitimately bad things in Islam. Having stories with headlines with this makes it appear that any legitimate criticism of anything in an Islamic context is "Islamophobic." Should i as a gay man not have a thing or two to say about the repugnant scriptural callings that lead to other gay people murdered by governments run by religious establishments (Iran)? Or should I as an Atheist have nothing to say about many other places in the Muslim world where apostasy and blasphemy are met with extreme prejudice up to and including capitol punishment?

    When the issue of the low-quality youtube video came up, they started talking about the producer's criminal past. What does that have to do with the message of the film? There are legitimately bad things that come out of Islam that merit serious and sophisticated discussion. There are Pakistani and Egyptian clerics who try to redeem the idea of spousal violence, by saying that "you may strike your wife... but only as a last resort."

    And no, most Muslims do not perpetuate these evil and abhorrent things. But by keeping alive these delusions of submitting to non-existent gods, they generate the moral oxygen that permits the bad behavior. And rather than giving the real issues at stake the time and consideration that they need, it is almost as if the other Abrahamists sheepishly step up to the plate to condemn criticism in some sort of inherent guilt for realizing the same stripe in their own extremists.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  19. irishbug

    Wow! Islamic faith followers murdering people in cold blood over a video, and Christians are the problem?......Never fails.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  20. Matt

    As Christians, we are to follow the teaching of Christ. Paramount to that belief is that Jesus is the ONLY way to the God. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians said the spirit of Antichrist was alive in his day. That spirit was any spirit that denied Jesus was the Messiah. So, in that sense, anyone that doesn't believe Christ to be who he claims is evil.

    Now Jesus also taught us to love those who hate us. I agree we should love the Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Etc. But this idea that Islam is a religion of peace is preposterous. Read the Qur'an, Sunnah and Hadith; understand the Muslim Doctrine of Nasik (progressive revelation in which newer prophesies and teachings replace the older). When you are done, you will see that the majority of the Muslim world awaits Muhammad al-Mahdi. While there is disagreement between Sunnis and Shi'ites over whether or not he is alive now, there isn't disagreement over what he will do. He will unit the world as a caliphate in an age of peace in which tolerance will not be practiced. You'll be given a choice to denounce whatever it is you believe and accept Allah or be beheaded by the sword. Saying Islam is a religion of peace and not evil is about the same as saying the German's were just misunderstood in their Final Solution Plan.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • DJ

      Well put Matt

      September 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      Sorry, Matt. But paramount to anything is this: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you."

      No other commandment is more important than that, for if we fail at that, we fail at everything.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Jobwelldone

      Was Hitler better than Muhammed, that is the question? Hitler has problem with one relgion muhammad has problem with everyone.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Matt

      I believe that there are as many religions in the world as there are people. Each of us have a unique set of beliefs on how we approach god. But I believe Jesus is God searching for Man and that by faith, he takes my wickedness (evil) and gives me (or imputes) His righteousness. This is the fee gift of salvation and is based on my faith and not on merit. Christianity is not a checklist of to-do's and to'don'ts.

      So, I believe that man/woman is evil and that only Christ/God is good. Evil isn't in God's nature and is counter to His nature and seeks to overthrow God. For me that means Hitler and Muhammad are evil unless they have/had Christ's righteousness imputed to them.

      Argle Bargle – The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind and the second like it is to love your neighbor as yourself. The commandment was followed with the parable of the good Samaritan. At the end Christ asked which of the travelers was the man's neighbor? The response was the one who showed mercy on him. Go ahead and read Luke 10:25-37.

      Jesus said if you love me, feed my sheep. Read Roman's 9 and the concept of predestination and election.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:31 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.