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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. csx

    The Sword against Islam is dull, the users of the sword are weak. The sword is the Bible. Sharper than any two-edged sword, if used properly.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Sonny

      My Batman can beat your Iron Man any day.... neener, neener, neener!

      September 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  2. ACertainflorentine

    So the the fringe of Christians who make asinine videos is worse than the "fringe" of Muslims who pour into the streets and kill people and destroy property over said videos, yep makes perfect sense.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  3. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    Why did the chicken cross the road? She knew she was NEXT.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  4. Danny

    We fear Islamic ignorance and their instability to tolerate other non believers how can you take a group of people seriously when they don't even allow women to get an education. Plenty of people say bad things about the messiah Jesus Christ and you don't see Christian protesting because we understand its a choice to believe and we tolerate all other religions.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Akim

      @Danny: "... they don't even allow women to get an education...." which box/cave do you live-in...fox-box? Thousands of women in Islamic world are doctors, engineers, professors, pilots, etc .... did you export all of them or they got educated in these countries? Please get your facts straight or think/do some real search before you "write".

      September 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Jake

      How can you take any group seriously that believes there's a magical invisible man in the sky who runs the universe?

      It's hilarious seeing Christians denouncing Islam as if Christianity is any less insane. Newsflash: YOU'RE JUST AS CRAZY!

      September 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Akim

      @ Jake: "... magical invisible man.." it's not man who runs the world it is one God Almighty who is running this world and He is the only one who needs to be worshiped and considered to be A Savior. It's Him who sent messengers like Adam, Noha, Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon All of Them) to give message of peace and to worship only one God. It's us humans who are not listing to it but spreading the bloodshed on the earth in name of God and we forgot that one day (day of judgement) we will be appear in-front of Him and we will be asked what we say, do, write, etc....

      September 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Doctor J

      No, they just shoot people from bell towers and bomb buildings. Before you make a statement like this, read about Timothy McVeigh and then rethink your responses. Also, revisit some history books and you will see startling atrocities committed in the name of Christ. None may be recent, but it should temper your too-quick-to-be-informed judgment.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  5. sick of giving excusses to the islam

    IM so sick and tired of CNN giving excuss after excuss for this evil that is conducted on a daily basis by the very islamist countires we constantly try to free from oppression give billions of dollars to help feed cloth and secure their freedoms to have them turn around and spit in our faces.

    I am sick and tired of hearing our soliders die in camps and faciclties that are training their islamist men to protect their new way of life BY THE VERY PEOPLE WE ARE TRAINING INSIDE THE TRAINING CAMPS

    I AM DONE WITH ISLAM AND You should be to.

    MY vote goes for any candidate that will show no more mercy to the people of who onl6y wish us death and bloodshed no matter what our intentions are.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Jake

      Why is this so complicated for some people to understand? There are crazy people who are Muslims and there are crazy people who are Christians. When a Christian commits a terrible act, do you say we should get rid of Christianity? Don't be a hypocrite.

      If you really want to make the world a better place, denounce ALL religions. Anyone who's able to suspend logical thought, regardless of which religion they choose, is obviously much more likely to behave irrationally and violently.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  6. RandyM

    One last thing but I will not be sitting around to read any comments should there be any. We Christians do not announce the threat of Muslims in isolation. This has been predicted since the time of Daniel in the Old Testament, then again in the New Testament in Matthew in Jesus's own words and in Revelations as seen in a vision by John the Apostle. We say this for all to hear that this time was predicted by God himself as long as 2500 years ago. It is a time to take notice for those who will believe and for those who don't believe in God or Jesus Christ then it is really not of any consequence to them in this life.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  7. WeWereOnTheMoon

    Most people watch movies, but only a few go and burn stuff...and 99% of the time those few are Muslims, while most of other Muslims just sit and watch the fire...Islam spreads everyonelsefobia.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  8. JP

    First Obama apologizes for our 1st Amendment rights ...and NOW CNN

    September 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

      Quite a delusional world you live in. You must be religious.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  9. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    Why did the muslim cross the road? He took umbrage at a chicken.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  10. ugh

    dear CNN, I am really bored and actually starting to get sick of your attempts to showcase islam in better light. cut the bull crap, grow some spheres and start reporting events the way they are. doesnt matter which religion it is.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  11. martin

    Way of Christ gentle? Which Christ? "I came to bring a sword not piece, a man's enemies will be of his own house hold"..Both Christianity and Islam are frauds. Islam is anti-democratic and pro religious Sharia law. All the Abrahamic religions need to die off, and die off fast.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

      Lets face it Martin, they've been around too long to die off by themselves. They need a really big push towards extinction.
      Perhaps Atheism should become organized as religions are. Lets have one final Crusade for Truth.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  12. readthequranandrelianceofthetraveller

    I quoted the Quran and now my posts are not allowed.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

      Thats because the book you zealously believe in is a lie, just like all religious books. Your prophet Mohammed (peace all over him), Allah, Jesus, Zeus, Neptune and thousands of others are myths written by those who crave power over you.
      Grow up.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  13. Walter

    Let me know when Saudi Arabia allows the opening of the first Christian church.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Jake

      So you're saying you think it's a good idea to try to be like Saudi Arabia? Might want to think that one through...

      September 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Sanibel

      Let me know when the Vatican allows Mosques inside its midst.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Catherine

      Sanibel, why would there be a mosque inside the Vatican which is a religious enclave. That said, one of the largest mosques in Europe is within a couple of miles of it.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  14. iaviator

    violence begets violence, hate begets hate.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • martin

      The movie has flushed out the Islamic extreemists, now they need to be exterminated. The movie is poorly done, but accurate. Islam sucks.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jake

      Yes it does, and so does Christianity. You're right, we'd be better off without any religions, but I support peoples' right to be believe in fairy tales if they so choose.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  15. WABlue

    CNN: "Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed"

    Really? "Sensitivities"?

    September 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Daniel

    I think you should analyze the phenomenon of the Christian population in the Muslim world decreasing to 5% from 20% since the early 20th century. Then analyze how many (and give me a raw number) Christian churches across planet earth that have been burned by Muslim extremists. Then analyze how many Muslims have been abducted by Christian extremists and had their heads sawed off on film. Then analyze the possibility of Salafi or Wahabi Islam politically dominating Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen. Many thanks. I won't chant "DEATH TO BROADWAY!" after "Jesus Christ Superstar" is remade for the 20th time. Thanks Brian.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • martin

      How about "death to all Theism" and save humanity. The Abrahamic religions are all blood based and evil to the core.

      September 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  17. Ken

    No Dear, they are not crucifiying opponents in Egypt, just bombing churches.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  18. Thomas Murray

    It's sad that CNN's editors chose to paint ALL people with a viewpoint divergent from their own as right-wing nutjobs. The reality of religious hostility is much more complex, and no where near as warm and fuzzy as the author would have you believe.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  19. Chuck

    I do not agree with the author. Many of us at this point do have co-workers, neighbors, doctors etc. that are followers of Islam. ( I live in Southern California )They are fine people. In my case I lived off base in Turkey when I was in the military. It is the ultra conservative Islamic groups like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the strong possibility that the leadership of Iran will get nuclear weapons that concerns us. I believe American's have a legitimate concern about these groups.

    I do believe the film should never have been produced.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      do you believe that the it should be illegal for the film to be produced?

      September 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  20. NorthAmericaTheIncontinentcontinent

    Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to drop dead.

    September 17, 2012 at 6:30 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.