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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. bannister

    The article thesis: "U.S. Christians must own up to the reality of evangelical Islamophobia, which often uses downright lies to rail against what it trumpets as the so-called evils of Islam"

    My response: U.S. Liberals must own up to the reality of secular Christophobia, which often uses downright lies to rail against what it trumpets as the so-called evils of Christianity.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • sam

      Oh right...like when christians try to ban gay marriage, stuff like that? Is that what you mean?

      September 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  2. Jeff

    Give me a break CNN!!
    You don't see Christians committing the vial disturbing atrocities that these Isalamic Fundametalist do now do you?
    Wake up! The only good Christian or for that matter good Jew is a dead one when it comes to Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • LOL

      Except when they murder doctors and bomb abortion clinics because they don't fit in with their views...Remember that whole salem witch trial thing, or the spanish inquisition. Extremists are extremists. They come in all flavors.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • WABlue

      Yes, I was just at one of the Salem Witch trials. It was held in a suburb of Boston last week. Terrible thing. The people there were really mad at the who Islam thing and I think one of them even suggested putting some Imams from the local mosque on trial.

      I am sorry I missed the Spanish Inquisition. Was it a game show on ABC last season?

      September 17, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  3. Ty Walsworth

    This article seems misplaced. This weekend I found myself in a public place surrounded by Muslims. I fielded a 'fear' co,ment from my daughter well and used the opportunity to educate. As an evangelical Christian I fully agree with the author's point, 'We can not serve two masters' and this was exactly my paradigm when discussing the matter with my child. Still, after I had calmed her and she allowed Dad to convince her we had not just entered shark-infested waters I became acutely aware of the activity around me. Mothers in full burqas playfully and lovingly ushered their young ones around a children's museum while doting fathers followed closely. Like us they were fully invested in this as a learning experience and spent time in conversation with their children to insure the cost of admission was a well-spent investment.

    There was not a lot of difference in how we interacted. I used this time to reach out. Admittedly it is somewhat intimidating to say hello to a woman in a burqa, but it was an opportunity. There was little-to-no reaction and the most I received was an acknowledging smile only distinguishable by the change in the skin around their eyes. Frustration followed. I wanted to prove to my daughter that these people were just like us and there was nothing to fear. I decided that [possibly it was a cultural issue and that maybe the women were not allowed to talk to men. I addressed the dads. This was worse. A few of them would return the same acknowledging smile, but they would not speak to me. I finally decided to directly ask a question that would demand an answer. I commented 'Your son is so smart. Where does he go to school?" Nothing.

    I may never have the time I need to invest to understand why I was obviously not spoken to by so many muslims. I do not believe any of these families were there for malicious behavior, but it was clear that on the weekend following the anniversary of September 11 they had made a conscious choice to publicly display their religious affiliation and more, they made a point to treat me as not as important. My little girl can not make sense out of adult complexities such as this. She decided to rest easy in her dads original comfort not knowing that my comfort was eventually given way to apprehension.

    I understand the author's point, but it seems ridiculous to place the responsibility on America's shoulders. Why should we be held accountable for the ridiculous prejudice's of Islamic leaders based on a video. I agree that w should press in an not draw judgement, but I can not see the balance in this viewpoint. As much as we should be held accountable for walking in love, radical-Islam should be held accountable for holding us all accountable for the actions of one selfish man who thought little of anyone else save his own agenda. .

    September 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  4. ken

    People say Islam is a religion of peace. All the evidence points against it. You cannot compare radical Christianity to the radical
    terrorists that dominate Islam. There is no peace, or freedom in Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  5. Barry Sanders

    I am so much faster than all of you. You could never tackle me. I'm the greatest running back of all time.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Tim Tebow

      Let's take a shower!!

      September 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Barry Sanders

      No way Tim, you freaking weirdo.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  6. contrariancp

    http://www.religionofpeace.org

    muslims have killed more people since 9/11 than christians have killed in all of history.

    like the other poster, i missed the news reports about the christian suicide bombers and the christians storming american embassies around the world.

    methinks brian mclaren doesn't read the website for which he writes.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  7. Puzzled in Peoria

    Brian McLaren does not represent the evangelical church. He represents the emerging church, which is so tolerant that it says there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees.

    He is correct about Janet Parshall and John Hagee, yet they do not represent average evangelicals, either. Both have agendas, and they are not good. Parshall has also bashed Catholicism on her program.

    Many, but not all, evangelicals have tunnel vision. They always vote Republican because they are adamantly anti-abortion. They don't care that much of conservatism violates the social teachings of Jesus Christ.

    There is much in Islam that cannot be reconciled with Christianity, such as salvation by works. But the key point Mr. McLaren refuses to acknowledge is a quote by Jesus himself: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." (John 14:6).

    September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • newuser55555

      Brian McLaren is a fool. He is not a Christian. He is a false teacher. 'nuff said.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Jeff B

    DId Jesus die for Muslims? Does God love Muslims? Does God want Muslims to turn to him in repentance and faith? Yes, yes and yes! God also wants middle class materialistic Americans to turn to him in repentance and faith. All souls are of equal value in His eyes.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  9. Phil

    Kristina Wallace comment below is a really great comment. I second it.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  10. Fresh

    Brian, thank you for writing this article. It is refreshing to read another perspective asides from ignorant hate which only fuels hate. All teachings from religions wither Christians, Muslims, Jews all teach love. I am sad to see what kind of world we leave for our children. If the adults display hatred, ignorance, lack of acceptance of race or religion then I am not sure where our children will end up. I've been to nations who are poor, lack education, food or shelter but they display more love and acceptance then the educated one from the states. Keep this in mind, if you were to spend an ounce of your energy on love, tolerance and acceptance of others then the US wouldn't be in the situation it is now.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Abdullahi

    Ignorance people will always hate others for no reason other than they look different or practice different faith; the so-called civilized world is the worst. Education is the greatest weapon, but as they say you can lead a horse to the river, but you can't make him drink the water.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. acutabove

    It takes no more than their own scriptures to sham this commentary and see the difference between Jesus's "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." and the following from Muhammad:

    "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (koran 9:29)

    With exceptions certainly, the people of both faiths are attempting to emulate their prophets. Is it 'islamophobia' to quote their scripture even in context?

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • dreamcatcher123

      It's funny that you mention context seeing as your comment was so clearly devoid of it.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • acutabove

      It is in context. Look at the life of Muhammad who spread his religion by war and destruction, raping, torturing and murdering as he went. He was not speaking of a single event or peoples here. He is giving orders against all 'those who believe not..'

      September 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  13. The Groove Merchant

    My Take: It's time for all religious fvcktards to grow up. You do not "know" god. No human has or ever will. You do not understand what happens when you die. No human has or ever will. I respect the fact that you religious folks want to build strong communities and pass godd morals to your children, but why all the archaic mysticism. Focus on life on earth.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  14. T. Philip

    This Brian is out of touch with the reality. I am a Christian raised in India amoung muslims. The only agenda of Muslims is to destroy non-muslims that includes Americans. So wise and wake up America.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Jack 3

      I've been posting that because putting two and two together I can see down the road. keep posting, maybe you can get thru to these politically correct liberals.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Akim

      T.Philip: Ghandhi was killed by his Hindu extremist fellow.. right? Thousands of Muslims have been killed in Kashmir by Indian Army (95% Hindu) since 1947? Stop spreading lies and hates.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Catherine

      Akim and, no doubt, Hindus would point out all of the Hindus killed by Muslims.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  15. Jim

    So it's irrational to be concerned about a group that consistently produces an endless flow of crazies? Might someone that is not concerned about this be labeled as being in denial?

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  16. You can't ALL be right - which means that you're ALL WRONG

    How can ANY religion claim to "respect" another religion, when every religion out there claims to be "THE ONE AND ONLY"?

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  17. Barry Sanders

    I am so much faster than all of you. You could never tackle me. I'm the greatest running back of all time.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  18. Guest

    Look, McLaren: there probably ARE a bunch of stupid emails going around you and your friends' inboxes about Muslims right now, I grant that. But you're probably also getting email forwards about a rich guy in Zimbabwe who just needs your bank account #, some pills that will make your wife more satisfied, etc. So the fact that lies and idiots exist doesn't prove anything. There are "Islamaphobes" in every corner of our society, so singling out one faction of one faith....? You're either stupidly myopic, or you're an... (wait for it)... Evangelaphobe! Yes, that's right... McLaren, you need to repent of your blind hatred and hate speech towards Evangelicals. :) There is fear, distrust, racism, and hatred coming at Muslims from every demographic and spiritual group in any western country right now. Why single-out evangelicals? I'm an evalgelical, and I DO have friends who are Muslim, have read the Quran, support other Christian friends who love and serve Muslims in North Africa, etc. And in OUR evanglical church this past sunday... we had a 4 hour seminar on better understanding the basic tenets of Islam... by a former Muslim... for the expressed purpose of better undertsanding them to love them... seing them how God sees them, not hating them. I realize racism and hate speech generates a lot of buzz, but people like you need to stop stirring the pot and creating problems where they don't exist. Try writing some quality stuff and people will read you for that... you won't have to resort to using inflamatory, Jerry-Springer-like journalism like this.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  19. ron

    It's tough trying to intellectualize with a Muslim about to chop on your head...

    September 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  20. common sense

    The word choice here is terrible. There is no such thing as "Islamophobia". It is used to marginalize people who would legitimately criticize religious terrorists. CNN should not have printed this.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:25 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.