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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. Tony Nanaia

    Though the teachings of both Christ and Moses have certainly been misused, they, unlike Mohammed, didn't expressly commission assassins.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Rob

      Oh. Well, then I guess your slathering-mouth hatred is okay. I'm sure Jesus would have been all about that. "Yeah, Tony. Hate those people. It's cool. I like it when a person's actions are contrary to my teachings."

      September 21, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • kellyinmn

      Thank you Rob, that needed to be said.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  2. el cid

    We make movies, while the Islamist kill Christians in North Africa. Hmm..... Where were you when the islamist were blowing up churches and killing innocent people? Wake up...Islam is what is – intolerable to other religions. It took my ancestors 800 years to remove that filth from our lands. I am sure Islam was so beautiful back then as well, thats probably why the non believers plotted their expulsion for 800 years instead of converting.

    September 21, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  3. JS

    Just how is, a bioigraphy of a human being that is based on the historical record "hate speech"? Everything in the Innocence of Muslims is part of the historical records, and in fact they are MUSLIM sources. The record may not be accurate, but it is all we have to go on. And scholars and believers can choose to believe what they will, but just because some people worship this individual does not mean the rest of the thinking world has to shut off it's thought process and scholarship to appease their sensitivities. No one has done that for Jesus of Nazareth or Abraham Lincoln, and no one should do it for Mohammed. Mr Mc Laren is indeed an apologist for religious bigotry, the kind that enforces religion on our society.

    September 21, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,.

    September 21, 2012 at 5:40 am |
    • Whoof

      Nothing works like prayer, because prayer works exactly the same way as "nothing" does.
      Pray or don't pray. There's not a shred of credible evidence that it makes the slightest bit of difference.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Rick

      Prayer is the act of doing nothing, but feeling like you have done something.

      Its kind of like baking an American flag cake to protest 9/11.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. Crude

    Check out what Pat Condell has to say about the latest muslim riots. Just BRILLIANT!

    September 21, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • truth be trolled

      Wow – he must just shoot up with coffee before going in front of the camera. lol.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Chimo

      I must say, I rather enjoyed listening to that! While I realize that here in the States there are many muslims that I'm sure are just like the rest of us, the rant so to speak is being said about those rioting filth who have been burning our flag, Israel's flag, and just about any flag that does not bow down to Islamic Jihadism, so I feel that the rant I just heard was actually very refreshing, and i don't consider myself an extremist, but by the same token I hate seeing what those rioters in Islamabad, Beirut, Karachi, and Kabul are doing and saying about our nation, so turnabout is fair play

      September 21, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • twocentop

      Perfect!!

      September 21, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Rob

      @Chimo: Blind to your own position and hatred. I consider you an extremist, and it probably has to do with your cursory dismissal of "filth." Filth – n. 1. a euphemism for the lower classes or castes of humanity; 2. the kind of people Jesus hung out with.

      Also, who give a shekel if they burn our flag and Israel's flag? First, flags are earthly things that currently represent division among humanity, so God surely doesn't care if they burn. Second, the current matchstick appears to have been a video–an exercise of speech, which American principles protect even when Americans disagree with the speech. Same goes for the flags. If they want to burn them in protest, let them.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  6. Crude

    Check out what Pat Condell has to say about the latest muslim riots. Just BRILLIANT!

    youtube.com/watch?v=GCXHPKhRCVg

    September 21, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  7. pitiful subst!tute for ScottCA

    Who needs Jeezus when you can have Eddie Long?

    September 21, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  8. Masud Karim

    What is wrong with people? Why attack a man who was chosen by God as his last messanger as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were chosen by the same God before him. If they want to express their anger they should express it against their God. Mohammad (peace be upon him) simply spreaded the words of God and did what God asked him to do. People (anti-muslim film maker, anti-Mohammad the Prophet cartoon maker), please come to your sense and stop this utterly non-sense work. If they realize what they are doing is actually against their own religion (because they are showing their anger against their own God), the world will be very peaceful. This is not freedom of speech, this is utterly disgusting.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • heresanidea

      You are right
      I agree
      Not only is it disgusting, in USA it is termed hate crimes and hate speech (since it is levied against a specific race, national, or religion, etc.).
      It is also inciting violence.
      It has also caused great suffering, to criminal levels of death and beyond.
      it has caused Eygpt to ask for their heads.
      You guys should ban together and get a legal team and sue the pants off USA if they do not charge this man with these crimes and any others that might apply. Do it!
      i agree
      you are welcome to join in the great USA justice system, where mostly we don't kill people – but sometimes we do – but we have the justice system to complain to about that ...
      so hey, good luck!
      try it (if the USA doesn't do it themselves)
      you could win!
      poetic justice is best

      September 21, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • twocentop

      What do you think is worse, making a film that insults someone, or killing someone in a fit of rage? I think I know your answer because you say nothing about the hideous acts of those who attacked the embassies.

      September 21, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • SuziSaul

      You just put Jesus at the same level as Mohammed, when he is the son of God, disrespecting the Christian religion, and could be considered blasphemy. Should I start rioting, destroying property, and killing people because you said that? Do you deserve to have your head cut off, or thrown in jail because you just blasphemed against Jesus?

      September 21, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Rob

      @SuziSaul: No, because that's not what your God Jesus taught. Also, this is America. We got rid of the blasphemy laws so that things like the riots wouldn't happen. You see, that is the almost inevitable result of enthroning religion (any religion) in the halls of state. That is why we should continue to retain a separation of church and state in our country.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  9. S. Ahmad

    Mr. McLaren,

    In midst of all the violence, tragedy and sadness, your article comes as a breadth of fresh air. As a Muslim, I applaud your sensitivity and understanding of the matter at hand.

    It is time for greater awareness and a time for all good people to come together as one to defeat the hate.

    May God Bless you.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  10. Mahmooda Rehman

    I am a Muslim and I am really impressed by your honest analysis of the situation. I agree with you, when you said in your article that " Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own".

    I, wholly condemn the violence in Libya & Egypt. There is no excuse that can be used to justify the violence and the killing of the U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. diplomats. I support all diplomatic efforts to bring the situation under control and resolve issues.The anti-Muslim film is clearly intended to provoke Muslims. Muslims must not take the bait but respond with civility. Islam does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy. The Quran instructs Muslims to walk away from those insulting their faith.Islam protects freedom of speech, and the Prophet Muhammad's example proves this, as he never punished those who blasphemed against him or Islam.

    I feel very sad for those who lost their lives while serving their country.

    I thank you for your article. May Allah be with you always.

    LOVE FOR ALL, HATRED FOR NONE

    September 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Rick

      I don't see how you can claim a "minority" of muslims are responsible for the violence when it is flaring up all over the Islamic world. Even islamic governments are participating in the mayhem.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • takawalk

      Another Muslim who stands up. Many things said about my faith are disgusting to me. Please quote scriptures and verses from the Koran that would condemn the killing and violence being done in the name of Islam.

      September 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  11. 2357

    The threat is pan-Arabic nationalism. It's a lot like pan-Arian German nationalism. An effort to revive the defunct Ottoman empire. And they will use Islam to mobilize the simple minions. Mein Jihad ist Mein kampf.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  12. John Bunyan

    I'm an evangelical christian. My best friend in college is a former Muslim and is now an atheists. We regularly have religious discussions and still call each other friends.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • 2357

      Atheism is another word for self worship, the bare essence of open idolatry. Its very popular because the idol of self is not visible to the self. It feels a lot like non-idolatry, or anti-idolatry as a result. But the fruits of that faith are evident when Christ enters the picture. Keep your discussions focused on Christ, not God. Because the testimony of Jesus IS the Spirit of ALL prophesy. They feel they've got God all covered, but with Jesus its always fight, flight or ridicule.

      I have never seen a person be converted through debate and persuasion though. I tried and failed many times. Friendship can be a conduit for testimony, but it can work in both directions. It is probably because faith is more a matter of desire than evidence. Only the Spirit can convert a person to Christ. Give earnest witness by purifying your affection for the Lord and the least of the brethren of his household. By your love of the Lord and His flock, the world will know that God dwells among you.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:37 am |
    • Rob

      @2357: You must not know many atheists if you think they run from discussion about Jesus.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Rick

      Atheism is simple acceptance that when you die, there's nothing more. Its a great incentive to enjoy life right now and be a good person while you still can.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  13. John

    Im guessing you're an evangelical christian, sounds like the spread of hate and violence rings out loud in the Evangelical world and you're pointing your finger at others while you, yourself are spreading hate, lies, propoganda, and deceit

    September 20, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  14. Bob

    What bs Islam is violent doesn't worship the God of the Jews and Christians. What is happening in the Mideast is Islam and Muslims. The teachings are self evident and this guy belongs in the looney bin.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  15. rjkrjky

    Islam is not Democracy, it is Totalitarianism and a Cult because it worships a person . A warning to all freedom

    loving people. Millions of people have died for the "Freedom of speech". Islam is trying to take over the world.

    We have to fight back now!

    September 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Sam Nampuedam

      You are terribly misinformed. I assume the "person" to which you refer is the prophet Mohammed, and in fact they do not worship him. They worship God, or to them, Allah. In fact, Mohammad was so careful about NOT being worshipped as a person that he decreed it blasphemous to portray ANY image of him. Thats right, not a statue, not a painting, not even a stick figure. You might say Christianity is more cult-like in this regard with the plethora of Jesus' you see on churches and bumper stickers alike. This is one of the many reasons Muslims get upset when images of Mohammad are portrayed in any light. . Also, "democracy" and "totalitarianism" refer to government, not a religion. While Islam does impact governments in Arab nations, it is important to make the distinction. Finally, you say, "Islam is trying to take over the world." Where exactly are you getting this info? Just your gut feeling? Or do you just like yelling silly things online because no one can tell you to your face how wrong you are. You are exactly the kind of person this article is calling out – misinformed and full of hateful ignorance. You are scared of what you don't know Read a book. Educate yourself. Then you can have a reasonable debate about international affairs.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • orit elgavi

      In reply to Sam Nampuedam – as far as i know, there actually is a religious Muslim doctrine to take over the world. the world is divided in dar el harb and dar el islam. Dar means place, house, harb comes form the semitic source H-R-B which means sword – the areas to be conquered. there are additional "dars", some of them have to with the conversion of the indigenous people to islam, but I think there is only one peaceful definition of dar, the dar al amn, which Muslim leaders today don't seem to stand by. My sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divisions_of_the_world_in_Islam and an academic course on Islam.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  16. Joey The Bull

    That is the best way to handle it; if they attack us on our free speech-we simply increase that speech and show them that they can't intimidate us. By apologizing, it gives them justification to kill.

    September 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  17. Sasha A.

    Interesting take...

    September 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  18. Paul

    "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." How in the world are we associated with it? Anyone in American? Anyone other than the director and his staff?
    Second, "American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse." Don't the actions of the past few days indicate that at least a little fear is warranted? Good grief, do you want Americans to bury their heads in the sand and pretend these kind of events don't happen? Burn a Bible, no big deal, burn the Koran and expect to pay with your life (within the respective countries where these texts are honored- well, maybe not in American anymore.)
    So, you don't have to be on any email list to get information that scares the heck out of you about the violence in that part of the world- and the hatred there, just watch the evening news, even CNN!

    September 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • justhinking

      so then, why do we arm them with more weapons?
      and teach them how to protect themselves?
      and arm some countries with nukes
      and others without
      seems we are setting them up to produce that which their prophets and leaders and ill informed followers have had bashed into their heads and their souls for how long now? centuries?
      anyway, they seem to seriously have mental issues in the form of
      a. probably a lot of ptsd – since so many wars and so much abuse driven justice
      b.a society based upon delusions would naturally become deluded in many different ways it would seem
      c.being forced to be something you are not by fear and manipulation and lack of reasonable education surely causes mental illness of all kinds.
      so, then, the billions in aid to speed them on their way, eh?

      September 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  19. David Marshall

    I'm a scholar of world religions. Though my primary focus is on Chinese religions and Christianity, I'm also interested in Islam, and have just posted a rebuttal o McLaren's simplistic, indeed rather incoherent, article:

    http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=5071813#editor/target=post;postID=9169407663268520753

    I don't suppose I can hope for a a response from Mr. McLaren himself, but others are welcome to civilly interact.

    September 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Paul

      Can't get to the blog- are restrictions set?

      September 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  20. Robin

    I agree that the evangelical world seems to be captive to fear of Islam, and hatred too. I would disagree when you talk about “the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence”. Those who perpetrate violent acts are a minority but, as someone who lived for 12 years in the Muslim world, I would say that they are supported by a larger minority and have the sympathy of at least half of the Muslims in the Muslim world. Mao Zedong once said that guerillas are like fish that swim in the water of the people. The fish don’t take up much space compared with the water, but without the water (the, at least tacit, support of the community) they could not survive. The same is true for terrorists and those who do violence in the Muslim world. Until the community removes its sympathy from those who respond to words with violence these kinds of things will continue to happen.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.