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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. JonJ

    This new buzz word "islamophobia" basically implies that if you have a negative opinion about Islam, it is only out of ignorant fear. holding a negative opinion about something does not classify as a "phobia". Nice of you to assume your readers are all uneducated, xenophobic fools who know nothing about islam.

    My negative opinion on Islam is not a "phobia".

    September 21, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • mama kindless

      All religion is fabricated and not worthy to be a serious component of modern thinking – for morals or anything. That's not fear on my part, except for having to deal with all the idiot lemmings of the world who can't behave in a civilized manner just because of their fairy tales. Got it?

      September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • mama kindless

      OK – maybe I misunderstood what you wrote. If you are against Islam because of the built in hate, putting down of women, etc., and are not afraid of religion, then I would agree with you and my rant in previous reply is really directed at the author of the article. But if you are reverent to any kind of religion, then we might have more to bicker about. lol. But sorry for not reading you post as carefully as I should have at first.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • T.J. Fod

      Precisely.

      The C in CNN must stand for Childish.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Victor Chata

      No, your negative opinion on Islam is old-fashioned bigotry. Thanks for clarifying.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • mama kindless

      No Victor:

      religion = bigotry
      islam = bigotry, just like any other religion

      September 21, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • JonJ

      Try to understand my post before bashing it. I was simply stating that my negative opinions about Islam are educated, non-biased opinions that are not based on bigotry or ignorant fear aka "islamophobia". And for the record, I'm an atheist and I abhor all sects of the Abrahamic religions. The sooner they are abolished, the better.

      I don't know where this over-sensitive political correctness came from in our society, where you get called a bigot for holding a negative opinion about a religion, but I don't feel that I need to respect anyone's religious beliefs.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Hezz

      Smart people despise islam.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  2. Bob

    I just want to say again the author of this article is a complete idiot. He flies in the face of truth doesn't have any idea of the subject matter or Islamic religion and yet gets to write this. CNN should pull this in wake of the Murdering of US citizens since this person is trying to elicit sympathy at the cost of lives and truth. The Rolling Stones did Sympathy for the Devil this is exactly what we are seeing here. I think this guy is on his payroll and CNN is following a close second.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Victor Chata

      No, the complete idiots are those who demonize a whole religion based on the action of a few, be they Muslim or Christian. 200 ignorant protestors burning and breaking things reflects little about 1.5 billion Muslims.Similarly, a filim prepared by a few bigots doesn't reflect Chrsitianity as a whole. But this author is right that many "mainstream" Christian organizations are allowing hate speech and ant-Semiticism (Arabs are Semites) to become pervasive. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian should reflect Christ's love to all.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • HJ

      Enlighten your mind my brother!!!

      September 21, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  3. T.J. Fod

    The flaw in the dialogue is really quite simple and best to understand by way of example.

    If Christians lived their faith, their lives would reflect the historic St. Francis of Assisi. A thoroughly tolerant life.
    If Muslims lived their faith, their lives would reflect Mohammed. A thoroughly intolerant life.

    In Christianity forgiveness and free will are requirements as taught by Christ. It is not optional. In Islam conversion by the sword is on the checklist of permissible conduct to non-believers. If you don't believe this analysis, simply do the reading and understand that the author Brian Mclaren can only exist in a civilization that is reflective of of Jesus Christ, and Moses and ultimately St. Francis. Brian can not write these things under Sharia Law.

    Peace on Earth, If not just win.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • emily

      That's one way to think about it.
      Others might be:
      – Which religious group has shown more tolerance to the other over time? (that could be debated for ages with no clear winner)
      – Which group has tolerated the other on its majority territory more successfully over time (clearly Islam is the more tolerant by this measure.)
      – Which group has attacked the other in the other's home territory more over time (again, clearly Islam is the less violent by this measure.)
      There are many measures and Christianity is not the clear winner. Christians need to worry a bit more about the plank in the eye of their community.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  4. Bob

    While I am sure that there are some Muslims that do want to lead a peaceful life they are not actually following their Holy book. There are some peaceful passages in the their holy book but there is also in the last chapter major carnage and destruction. This is the chapter if you are following Islam that you are supposed to follow. Islams holy book says that you are supposed to follow the last chapter written and discard the other books. So those that don't follow the last chapter are they really Islamists or religious. It is really not a self supporting book and makes many references to the Bible also. Followers are taught its ok to lie and terminate life to achieve the goals to spread this throughout the world. So how do we even believe them when their own Holy book tells them to lie to achieve their goals and the reason to is those that don't believe are infidels and can be terminated at will and have no place in the world.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      Bin you are a huge part of the problem that the auther writes about. It would be funny if it were not so sad. You are a hate spreader and a fool...

      September 21, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • HJ

      Just because on read the book does not mean he understood the message. Dr. HJ

      September 21, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • emily

      I don't think Christians should recommend that people judge a population by the acts of its ancestry, the acts of a few of its members or some selected literal words of the common religious text.
      First, it's not Christ-like to do so, second Christians would appear very bad in the same light.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Bob

      So HJ what is not correct?

      September 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  5. Rick

    Islam isn't even at peace with itself! Look at YouTube videos of debates between Shia and Sunni religious leaders, and you will see that they degrade into yelling matches, personal insults and death threats. There are 2 moderate sects of islam and their mosques get regularly bombed and attacked by more radical factions, so they won't last much longer.
    Islam has 21 major sects, and it seems they all hate each other.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • emily

      Majority Christian nations, and even by-law Christian nations have been at war with each other almost continually since the founding of Christianity. Why do Christians so often forget Christ's teaching? Deal with our own sins and problems before we go around condemning others'.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  6. Rick

    The war between Muslims and Christians has been going on for 1,400 Years. Sometimes there are lulls, sometimes there are flare-ups, but its a given that the war isn't going to end anytime soon.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  7. Rick

    You can't have a tolerant society when islam is intolerant. Everybody must participate.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  8. Joe

    If Christians are not suppose to fear (other than God), then why all this continual paranoia over the Muslims and Islam? Our ONLY call is to seek and to convert them. The truth is MOST who call themselves Christian, are too attached to this world, including our lives in THIS world and thus, we're very ineffective. The author here brings up some valid points. When the WTC came down (I live nearby), I asked was a Muslim I knew, what she thought. She said it was terrible!. I bring this up because too few of us are willing to see them as people who need a Savior, just as we do. We're afraid to even dialogue with them, much less even have any burden for their souls. It's much easier to just continue to see ourselves as the victims BECAUSE we belong to Jesus. Wrong! No one is going to come to Christ when they see Christ is not making any real difference in our inner man.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Milton

      perhaps the problem is we are all people and no label can properly identify what we are personally apt to do. Survival requires quick thinking- generalized thinking is safer than specific. Only when we feel relatively safe will we be free to experience the specific. I do not like groups- cannot count on them as they are composed of people with differing thoughts and goals and methods for attaining those goals. Groups are dangerous. I love individuals. They tyically have a single personality and one you can count on once you get to know them. Individuals are more sincere than groups- more predictable and more easily associated with. Yet we seek groups for protection and to gain power in pushing agendas. Groups should be feared- they create the biggest danger. Individuals should be respected.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  9. Darian L. Smith

    Fundamentalism of any ilk is the real enemy. Fundamentalism says "my way is God's way and is the superior way of thinking. Anyone who disagrees is against God." Fundamentalism is fear of cultural and economic domination by any other group that is not yours. It can also be political, or national, racial, or religious. Even atheism can be militantly fundamentalism.
    Hitler was a fundamentalist.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  10. Sabina Alberti

    I say: A little Islamophobia is a good thing! As a non-believer, I rather live here, where we have evangelical Christians, than in any Muslim country! Evangelical Christians will not burn my house down, nor stone me to death, nor press me into a burka. Here, I am able to express my non-belief without being murdered. Christians in the US may be the only group that stems the onslaught of Muslims into this country, and with it Shariah Law, so disastrous for women.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Jim

      Your absolutely correct.

      Why would they even publish this miscreant's drivel???

      September 21, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Fundamentalist

      You got it right – and you should have used ALL CAPS

      September 21, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  11. some guy

    Christ is the only Saviour, and the Bible is the only true Word of God.

    Everything else is false.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Robert Brown

      I agree with your post. A careful study of the word of God also reveals that three groups have been given provision by God. The children of Ishmael = Muslims, The children of Israel = Jews, Gentiles = everyone else.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • labelsarecool

      cool
      so now i'm a gentile infidel
      i can live with that
      (well maybe not in mid-east muslim country – but here in USA – it's a.o.k.)
      I am
      a
      gentile infidel
      i'll have to remember that

      September 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  12. Get Educated

    Islam is the religion of Adam, Mosses, Jesus and Muhammad. It is a universal religion. We just need to Read Quran to Understand.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Jim

      Are you really this stupid?

      September 21, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Rick

      Islam was created long after Judaism. Its prophet is a warrior, not a pacifist.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • HJ

      100%

      September 21, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Sanity Check

    Very Well said Sir.

    If Christians go back to following what their founder taught and lived by and Muslims go back to following what their founder taught and lived by...we would have a lot fewer problems. Mr. McLaren has to be applauded for his moderate voice and being on the side of reason. Thomas Jefferson said: All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

    Mr. McLaren didn't yield to tryanny.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • HJ

      very well said!! you will like the book called The treason of the intellectuals by Julien Benda.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • saywhaaa

      "If Christians go back to following what their founder taught and lived by and Muslims go back to following what their founder taught and lived by (we would be better off)" – Another religious person who has clearly not read the material they claim would leave us better off. Both the bible and koran have a large volume of passages that are no longer adhered to by their followers (and we are better off because of it). If we started adhering to the original texts we would have 10 times as many problems as we do now.

      You know what would really leave us better off?

      If BOTH cultures threw BOTH religions in the trash bin.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  14. 1 Eyed Jackanapes

    I saw a man in the street interview with a Pakistani gentleman the other evening on the Lehrer Newshour that disturbed me. The man said he was declaring war on Christianity. He was and is certainly free to express his beliefs but I don't think that sort of interview leads to a more positive view of the situation. Tolerance is a two way street.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  15. Jacquin Mull

    It amazes me why the Islamic population in this country (USA) does not go out into the streets of America and demonstrate against murders that killed our Embassy staff in Libya. It would go a long way to better relations with all Americans

    September 21, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • kellyinmn

      We have a large Muslim Somali population in Minnesota and they have come out in public forums in large numbers outraged at the violence in the Middle East. People who don't see this are choosing not to see it because they have already made up their mind about Muslims.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • takawalk

      kellyinmn It would be so cool if the media was less biased.

      September 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  16. acitizenwithconcerns

    I think people in USA who may be directly harmed by any backlash in this country to this film and it's ensuing rage filled response and mirrored perceived hatred for the USA because on the actions of this one man and his crew (maybe five people, not an entire nation, nor even most people of any nation) that has spewed his truth in an obviously and knowingly hateful way to cause all this mirrored hate to an entire nation and the world, would also have cause for concern and a suit against the USA if they do not make it clear through the justice system that this type thing will not be tolerated under hate crime and inciting violence laws, regardless of freedom of speech.
    It is a crime for the USA government to not take this more seriously in terms of those whom are actually responsible and prevent further harm to citizens who are innocent.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • saywhaaa

      Um, no.

      Disgusting free speech is still free speech, there is no combination of words in any language that can ever justify physical violence. Sacrificing our most important right so that we can avoid provoking extremists is a terrible, terrible, terrible, stupid, and cowardly idea.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • thoughts

      why is is a terrible idea to apply justice fairly to all religions when it comes to how laws against hate crimes are applied and enforced in USA. You are not going to see a major corporation cause this much negative reaction by something they produce – because they know they will get sued and possibly lose lots and lots of money and financial standing.
      The muslim/islam world will learn there is peaceful justice and the USA does take them seriously as people with a religion that truly guides all aspects of their lives – including government. What better way to let them know there is a better way to peace? How can we go in and support democracy in other countries, when we do not apply it equally to other countries when they ask us explicitly to do so. I would sue for criminal neglect as well if i were negatively effected from this without the government taking control of the due legal recourse for addressing and judging and penalizing these hateful acts against this religion. two wrongs do not make a right – and everyone really needs the USA to do what is truly right in the situation – in a peaceful and just and nondiscriminatory fashion.
      the only reason they are not is because of the elections, and no one wants to inflame the passions of those in the USA who are stil,l and will be forever apparently, smarting from the 9-11fallout that has been levied against the USA by the USA government. Nothing like feeling like a suspect gentile infidel in your own country because of your own governments policies, procedures, and practices. I am seriously not in agreement with not upholding the law in the situation for all people, not just for the muslim/islams, as all are being affected by it. I can exercise my rights as a US citizen to not be subjected to this abuse by proxy as much as any other US citizen – but like all others in USA – it must be done peacefully through the legal justice system in order to really work – cuz violence only produces more ignorance – and the USA cannot BE SO STUPID AS TO F*** WITH THESE ISSUES IN IGNORANT MANNERS ANY MORE. You would probably feel differently if you had a father or brother or son or daughter or sister of mother, etc. stationed in the mideast trying to get the peaceful hell out of there ... and now this ... yeah RIGHT!

      September 22, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • takawalk

      We can disagree with what is spoken, we can agree with what is said but disagree in the stupid, insulting, and bulling childish way it was said, but ( sigh) it is still free speech

      September 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  17. JS BOEGL

    Brian, This is little more than a rant. The one thing that you fail to lay out is a definition of what the distinction is between Islamaphobia and maintaining a fidelity to the distinctives of our own faith in Jesus Christ. This'd be most helpful. Without that – it's just a visceral visit to the wood-shed. Care to elucidate? JSB

    September 21, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  18. Dolmance

    The thing that concerns me is, why are so many Evangelicals so susceptible to believing outrageous lies, no matter what the subject matter, be it Islam or just the frauds they regularly vote for? What is it about this part of America's population that makes them so credulous and naive, perfect fodder for any crook who comes along pushing disinformation? Why?

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

      You are talking about Obama right?

      September 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  19. Be Of Service

    It seems that most of you didn't follow Mr. McLaren's logic. You may want to read the column again and think a little more this time. Its not about whether radical Muslims behave worse than radical Christians, it is about the evil and hate infecting Christianity, and what that means to the future of the religion and the future of the United States.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • george diaz

      Funny how youy liberal bloggers ignore the murder of christians in Muslim countries..grow up

      September 21, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Kathy

      I can handle a person hating me however, stoning me to death, cutting my head off or blowing me up, well.......not so much. Sticks and stones dontcha know.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  20. Millennium3

    There is only one way to end the Evangelical Muslimphobia,
    and to end the Islamist Christianphobia,

    and that is to find the true Jesus and Muhammed
    right here, in the beginning of this most critical Last Day (Millennium) now!

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    September 21, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Be Of Service

      I've got to say that is an incredibly useless comment. The people inclined to do that already do, and those who are not believers are certainly not going to be persuaded by your (lack of) logic.

      September 21, 2012 at 8:02 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.