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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 • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. suyts

    My goodness, what is it about people like Brian McLaren. Not only are the morally bankrupt, they have to double down on intellectual vacancy as well! That's a beautiful anti-American, anti-Christian strawman you've just created, Brian. Sure, American embassies get stormed, and ambassador and other U.S. citizens are cut down, and we need some introspection?

    The reason why there is Islamaphobia present is because civilized societies don't allow their citizenry to act in such a manner. And, the citizenry doesn't attempt to act in such a manner. You can say "small minority" this or "small minority" that, but the fact remains normal rational societies don't allow their "minority" extremists to act in such a manner.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • the wise one

      ya, they don't allow their citizens to act because they allow their military to storm nations and flatten their population with their bombs.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Mortimer Levy

    Hey guys..........what happened to the oft heard expression,..."the Jews control the media". If the media is trying to muzzle any manifestations of islamaphobia, does that mean that Jews are supporting Islam? C'mon guys,...CNN is owned by Ted Turner, and believe me, he ain't no Zionist. Let's all get our priorities and opinions straightened out. Israel has been and will always be the ONLY friend in the Middle East that Uncle Sam has. Islam & Democracy are incompatible. Ask any Ayatollah!. Top Israeli military brass have taught desert tactics at West Point. Years ago when defeated Arab armies surrendered their Russian top secret military equipment, it arrived on U.S. soil 48 hrs later. M.L. Calif.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  3. Pppa

    Fundamentalism, regardless of whether is is Christian or Muslim or Scientologist, is the absolute enemy of society and progress. Any organization that demands one surrender intelligence and individuality to join is ultimately sinister...

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • MrHanson

      There are fundamental Atheists that can be just as dangerous. The very definition of a 'secular' society is one that does not believe that God is watching them. Once atheism take over, don't be surprised if there are more Jefferey Dahmers, Harrises and Klebolds, Pol Pots, Stalins, and Hitlers.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  4. Elliot Carlin

    "We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected".

    I have to believe he is speaking of those who believe the Scripture is God's Word. McClaren attempts to equate Christianity with other religions and in doing so, denigrates the Truth of the Scriptures. We speak the truth in love. Many times people respond as though they've been offended. McClaren doesn't seem to realize this. In fact if he'd been around, he would have called out our Saviour for using such harsh language against the Pharisees and false prophets.

    CNN, next time can you hire a writer who is orthodox in his Christianity? Thanks.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  5. Informed in Minnesota

    What the Koran says about jihad:

    "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war." (Koran 9:5)

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • the wise one

      under which occasion did this verse come down? why are you generalizing the verse?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  6. Tom

    As an objective atheist, I must say that muslims do a lot more violence in the name of their religion than any other followers do. They are all fairy tales people, I don't care what you say your reason is for the violence, you are all crazy and should be executed for what you do. To try to "understand" why a 13 minute video is any kind of excuse for this violence is ludicrous, it is an acceptance of the violence. I do not accept violence against myself or my country, I have served in the military and I welcome the opportunity to arrange a meeting between extremists of any religious faith and their supposed maker at any time of their choosing.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  7. GonzoG

    I live in an area where there are MANY Muslims. By and large they are great neighbors and business associates. I am sure that 99% of them are peaceful and wouldn't think of doing harm to anyone.

    However, one cannot deny that there are SOME that have committed great atrocities and SAY it is in the name of Islam. Yes, there are many Christians who have (and still do) commit great atrocities in the name of Christianity, but we in the west appear to be dealing with the criminals whereas the Middle East does not. .

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Jack 3

      i spoke to a guy on this site who was like you and had many Islamists neighbors. he said they were alll freindly at first, then as the population grew they became arrogant and even started being mean to the dogs. he said he finally moved.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Bev McMullan

      What's the saying..."a few bad apples spoil the whole lot". I agree with you on a lot of what you have mentioned. I have a Muslim friend and I tell her that she is a Muslim of the 21st century...she is very westernized. She is just the opposite of those we are seeing in the news this past week.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Islam is a progressive religion. Yes they might seem nice at first, but once they are the majority, they will be screeming Shariah law.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  8. Ninos

    Dear Brian McLaren:

    If you haven't lived among a nation, don't understand them, nor know their culture then you have zero knowledge of them. And when you have zero knowledge and you write such an article it only shows your arrogance of wanting to push your opinion onto people and make them look bad. You're pointing a finger basically at Christians in general, yet don't see the planks in your own words and the clear history of crimes of the Muslims prophet.

    I'm sure you can do the research on your own now about Islam, but NOT to sit with a moderate Muslim friend of yours and have him brain wash you the same way he himself is. A moderate Muslim is one of two things.

    1. Either a good person by birth.
    2. Or realized his bad religion teachings and decided to change and only concentrate on the good things.

    But you need to know where these good things in Islam came from? They're just taken from different sources.

    And like you say that we can't worship two Gods, which I 100% agree with you, then ask yourself this simple question. How can Mohammad teach good AND bad things? Wasn't he worshiping two Gods?

    Also, yes the film acting is beyond pathetic, I'm with you on that 100%. BUT, not a SINGLE thing said or done in the film is fabricated, but everything in it is said and done by the Muslim prophet Mohammad.

    So again my friend, before lecturing people about this topic, go and LEARN the Muslim culture and faith and THEN come back and write something supporting it.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  9. hellopeople?

    We don't fear Muslims we fear the society the come from – a society where it is considered acceptable to repeatedly execute and threaten anyone who doesn't agree with you. Where are the basic rules of humanityt in these societies. Little girls want to go to school – blow up the school. One person makes fun of your God – hate an enitre country and lynch innocent people. I'm sorry but where is his analysis of the westernphobia of the Islamic nations? I don't see evangelicals lynching the Pakistan consulate because of this – the numerous time they call Jesus and Christianity as a whole fraudlent – but we don't go and kill innocent Muslims in our home country. And killing diplomats of all things? the people that are there to try and improve relations with the rest of the civilised world. Wake up you overly politically correct Liberals – our society as a whole is being attacked and it has nothing to do with Religion. Isn't that the very thing these liberal idiots keep repeating – Islamists that kill Americans really aren't following Islam right? So why does this not apply to North Americans – if we disagree with the actions of the Muslim world we are just being radical Christians. Pure BS

    September 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jack 3

      Good post...nice to see some people in the US still have some common sense.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Well said.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  10. The Truth

    Pope Benedict visited Lebanon all last week bringing a message of the peace from the Gospel. 40% of Lebanon is Coptic Christian, while 60% is some form of Muslim...

    It is “quite demanding” to achieve peace, the Pope told a gathering of political, cultural and religious leaders at the Presidential Palace in the city of Baabda, Sept. 15. Peace involves “rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.”

    He praised Lebanon as a Middle Eastern country where Christianity and Islam “have lived side by side for centuries.” In Lebanon, he said, it is “not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family.” If it is possible to have harmony within the same family, he asked, “why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?"

    September 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jack 3

      they had a civil war in lebanon in the 80's between Christians and Muslims. remember when the terrorists killed 300 US servicemen in a building when reagan was president?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  11. Tatiana Covington

    How about everyone growing up and tossing out all the childish fairy tales?

    September 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  12. JNM 1982

    If evengelicals want the liberal progressives to respect them, they must stop the kidnappings, riots, beheadings, suicide bombings, etc. They should grow thicker skin and not get offended by what some idiot says are what some stupid video shows. Wait a minute, I am making zero sense, aren't I ?

    September 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  13. roccop777

    I agree with you, the film is a cheap, slanderous representation of Mohammed - although most of the events presented in the 13 minute trailer I saw are indeed recorded in the Hadithe (accounts of Mohammed's life) and even referred to in the Qur'an. It was made to mock and that is wrong. However so was life of Brian and the story line of the DaVinci code were made to belittle and mock Jesus - and those were not based on real history at all.
    It was the reactions to such indignities from both sides. Christians were incensed, upset and disgusted, but no indiscriminate killing, bombings and hate tirades in the churches. In contrast the reaction by a large segment of the Muslim world, hate, threats, indiscriminate killing and calls for vengeance - that reveals a whole lot about the underlying system of Islam. Read in the official accounts of Mohammed's life, how the historic Mohammed dealt with people who slighted him, or wrote critical poems against him. Read in the New Testament how the historical Jesus dealt with people who slightet and abused him. What a contrast!
    We have an ex-Muslim who lives in our home and he tells us it was normal after a political sermon and then ritual prayers on Friday, for those present in the mosque to stand up and scream "death to America", "Death to Britian", "Death to Israel" and "Death" to a whole lot of other things. I told him if ever screams for vengeance and death in our church he will be shown the exit immediately. He just chuckles about that!
    I love Muslims and will do my utmost to not unnecessarily anger or offend them - but I strongly disagree with and oppose the system called Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • CDSDAWG

      Well said!

      September 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • MeInSac

      Sounds like your ex-Muslim friend must've lived in a very narrow-minded and uneducated community. I know dozens of Muslims and none of them are so vengeful and narrow-minded. None of the mosques I know of preach violence. Instead, they have seminars on how to be tolerant and loving and caring to th eoverall community.

      Education and patience are very important in such situations. It deoesn't take a lot to incite bigotry or violence when the audience is uneducated and hot-headed, in any culture.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  14. Michael

    I pulled my daughter out of school just 4 days into the session because of problems. I thought it was a good school, although I wish I had done more research on it. I saw lots of girls wearing robes, but where I live in Phoenix there is a somewhat large amount of Eastern and Northern Africans, so I didn't think too much of it, and I actually thought it'd be good for my daughter to learn from other cultures. I found out days later that they teach Islam at this school and they get funding from a couple Middle Eastern countries.

    I'm soooo glad I pulled her out of there! Sorry, I want my daughter growing up thinking she's worth more than a dog and that she is not just a baby machine who needs to submit to a man....

    Not in this country....

    September 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Fay

      Hi Michael, i just read your horrible message you wrote. You may email me back if you would like to learn more about islam. You obviously have no knowledge on the religion. Your hateful comments were very uneducated, wrong and very hurtful. Born and raised a muslim woman and even attended islamic classes growing up no where does it teach us that we are worthless and amount to a dog. My father and brothers treated me as a princess. My father spoiled me more than my brothers and has always protected me in every way. Same with all my cousins and muslim friends. God bless you and please dont be so hateful against something that you dont understand.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • MeInSac

      Michael, you're a good example of an uneducated person being hateful. Please for the sake of your children and for the future of this country, please be open-minded and educate yourself. Education and respect for each other are two of the many important things to Muslims. Violence and hatred are not part of their teachings. Unfortunately, a small minority of ignorant and violent people always get the attention.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  15. bobb

    Wow, quoting the words of Jesus Christ to an evangelical is like showing a picture of Mohamed to a muslim!

    If the writer of this article keeps expecting evangelicals to follow the words of Jesus Christ he is going to end up getting his books burned by a pastor in Florida.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Jack 3

      Christianphobe!

      September 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • bobb

      You are so right! Evangelicals are christianphobes. They only believe in revelations and do everything they can to discredit the words of Jesus Christ.

      Jack 3, you are very wise indeed.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Yes, of course. The bible says people will know you are Christian by the live that you show. You cannot force your religion onto somebody which Muslems seem to not get. Unfortunately love doesn't always work. Could WWII been avoided if we showed a little love to Hitler?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  16. Informed in Minnesota

    Here is the goal of Muslims in America in their own words:

    "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."

    1998 speech to Muslims in California by Omar Ahmad, co-founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

    September 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Jack 3

      The Quran sets the agenda and the clerics and imams preach and enforce it. Those nice muslims don't control anything but many also do the enforcing.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Fay

      Hi just wanted to comment on your email that is nothing but far from the truth. Do you know that sharia law teaches muslims they must abide by the laws of the country they live in? As muslims we dont care who becomes muslim and to make America into a muslim country. We want to live in peace just like everyone else. We want to turn the tv on and relax on our couch without hearing the words muslim extremist, muslim terrorist. We dont walk around neighborhoods knocking on doors teaching people the word of the bible like christians do. We dont go to third world non christian countries and try to convert poor people by bribing them with money. We def do not have the money and power that christians do and we are still the fastest growing religion in the world. People fear what they do not understand. If you would like to learn something about islam feel free to email me and ask me. I am a modern muslim american that probably enjoys a lot of the same things you do in life. The difference between you and i besides our religious views is i dont post hateful posts on other religions. As a muslim i could care less if you become muslim but it is my islamic duty to correct and defend my religion when you are spreading lies and hate. God bless you and out your energy towards a positive not negativity and hate.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Catherine

      Yes, Sharia says obey the laws of the land you live in – until you are strong/numerous enough to change them....

      September 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  17. JusticeIsNonexistent

    "Islamophobia" Really? These days – if you disagree with anything it's labled a "phobia." We're not "afraid" of anything. We just don't happend to agree with it. That's not a "phobia." I'm beginning to think liberals are retarded.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • detroit sucs

      hippie liberal bullsheit

      September 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • slobro

      I'm afraid of being blown up or beheaded by muslims. Does that count?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  18. loosewiring

    I thought Jesus said to love your enemies. Did I get that wrong? Did he mean that we just had to love the enemies who are nice to us? I'm confused. Would one of y'all who knows what the exact, certain, complete, total truth is help me sort this out. I mean, I'd like to love'em, but they're just so.......I don't know.....nasty.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  19. Ed Walsh

    I think the article, although a nice approach, is unrealistic. As long as you have people, who advocate violence and hate; they are irreconcilable with Christianity. The current reaction and violence in the Islamist nations is wrong and is a direct reflection on their false faith. It is this "anything you want to believe in is right or acceptable" that has got us in trouble. It is, not only amongst Islamist of Muslims, but people who think that there are many truths, and so let anyone believe what they want to is find; it isn't, but we have the freedom in this country to choose that if we want to. Evangelical, or the good one he wrote, conservative Catholics who take a stand against a false religion and it's hate and violence has nothing to do with their Christianity; there are objective truths and right and wrong! It is the people who are singling out Christian groups and tying to attack and alienate them that is the real problem; this is what the Islamist sense, and they smell the blood and the decay of our attempts to create a secular society like the Nazis and Communist where no God is wanted or needed and anything goes!

    September 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  20. High Way

    As long as the majority of the Islamic people do nothing to subdue the radical elements of their faith, there will be constant danger for societies of other faiths. We are witnessing it in Africa and the middle east.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:09 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.