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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. Pat

    Quote: "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."

    Here is where you lost me. It is clear that the burning of embassies, the killing of American citizenships and the following unrest was not spontaneous, but a planned terrorist attack. Even the White House has finally admitted that. I'm tired of apologies and tired of trying to apease the muslims of the middle East who hate us just for being Americans. They hate the West. They hate our way of our life. They hate our values and anything and everything about us. There is no islamophobia, but there certainly is Americanphobia. We can lay down and die and/or give up everything that makes us Americans, and still they will not be happy.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • T in KC

      Pat says: I'm tired of apologies and tired of trying to apease the muslims of the middle East who hate us just for being Americans. They hate the West. They hate our way of our life. They hate our values and anything and everything about us.

      They don't hate you for being American – they hate you for meddling in their affairs. They hate you for the death and destruction delivered by our military and paid for by our tax $$$. They hate you because you are one of millions of American Narcissistic HYPOCRITES. How many INNOCENT muslims have we killed in Iraq in the last 10 years in a war based on LIES?? Many of us Americans knew they were lies – and you could have too, if you just did a little reasearch. Even the CIA recently admitted all of the hype they used to promote GWBs War of Hate was BS. So, yeah, they probably do hate you – it is human nature to hate those who seek to do you harm. It is in following JESUS that we are supposed to rise above that and Lead by Example by Loving our Enemies.

      It is easy to Claim to be a Christian, it takes real commitment to Act like JESUS would.

      Values? What values? America traded in all of our Values in response to 9/11. Lies, Hate, Torture, Death, Destruction – those are Not values to be proud of. Good luck with explaining those to JESUS, I'm pretty sure HE won't understand.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  2. DeElle

    Thank you for this article. The hateful blog comments from purported Christians that follow only serve to validate the content of the article. Thank you for your courage, Brian McLaren. To those who attempt to justify their hatred behind the cloak of Christianity, take ye first the log out of your own eye. Hypocrites.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  3. connie little

    Thank you for helping we evangelicals see that we have to be careful not to encourage hatred. However, we do need to pray for our Christian sisters and brothers. I teach English as a second language and have had much contact with students from Muslim countries–both Muslims and Christians. It is true that the Christians in Egypt and Sudan have been brutally persecuted. The stories I have heard from victims are horrendous. On the other hand I have had many gentle, polite, kind Muslim students. It is almost impossible for us to really understand the hearts and minds of the people involved in Muslim countries, but we can love and pray for all of them.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  4. bellyoffclub

    The media should really stop publishing this pro-Muslim propaganda. Islam is a violent religion pure and simple. The folks who are causing all of the trouble are often some of the more devout Muslims. They are only following the teachings of their founder, who was himself a marauding warlord, a rapist, a liar, a thief.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  5. Elsy

    Islamaphobia = Fear of Islam, correct? You are wrong, I do not fear Islam, it has demonstrated itself to be a hateful religion, therefore, I hate it.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  6. Mike Foster

    Why still whitewash what has happened and keeps happening? Go and live in the middle of these riots and try reason and hugs. Why try to turn the tables on Christians? The issue is a false view of who God really is by Islam. His love is meant to lead us to repentance and faith in Christ as Savior. Islam teaches to kill infidels and has spread by conquest. So much whitewashing of reality. There are a lot of people who are muslim or christian because that is what their family is. Some don't care about their familys faith... some do. I wish it were a phobia, that would be great, but the reality is people are dying, our people and their own by so called honor killings. Is that the country you want to be in? Then by all means go live in a country under Sharia law.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  7. mauran

    Islam is born in VIOLENCE ...spread by VIOLENCE ...will be destroyed by VIOLENCE. !!!

    September 21, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  8. Kansas here

    OK so we are suppose to accept a violent radical jihad as valid? What they put out against Christains is brutal compared to one video that had nothing to do with this violence. The video is an excuse for violent behavior. The Eyptian Government posted the video. Violence will never stop. Never. Jihad is war and they are at war with anyone who does not buy into Sharia law. And they are even at war with each other over which Sharia law is better.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  9. Marsha Conroy

    It can be difficult to follow Jesus' commandment to love, because it includes lots of people that we may not necessarily like. Loving people does not mean that we agree with them, that we support what they believe and say and do; it just means that we love them. This is impossible to do if Jesus' love is not directing you and filling you. I agree, most people who "hate Muslims" have never spoken to one. How can we love someone we do not know?

    Yes there are radical, violent Muslims. There are also radical, violent Christians as well. They are in the same basket; both espouse death and violence to "nonbelievers", strict enforcement of their religious beliefs, and zero tolerance for anything less. About the only difference seems to be that one group wears a keyffiyeh, the other wears a white shirt & tie.

    We have unofficially "adopted" a Muslim man, his wife and baby, and are eagerly awaiting the birth of our next grandbaby; they are 100% Muslim and we love them completely. They attend our housechurch from time to time and are loved and welcomed by the whole group when they do. We do not agree with their religion, but they are beautiful people, and our lives are enriched by their friendship. They consider us all to be family. I believe this is Jesus' love in action.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  10. Daryl

    I do not hate Muslims. In fact, I have Muslim friends. That does not mean that I must accept the irrational and violent reaction by a large percentage of the Muslim population to an absurd video that somebody posted on YouTube. I do not ridicule other people's faiths. However, the world– and American in particular– should not have to live in constant fear that if somebody says the "wrong" thing or posts the "wrong" image concerning Islam, that all hell will break loose. Mormons are not rioting because of the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," which makes fun of their religion. Jews who were offended by the movie "The Passion of the Christ" did not set fire to buildings and shoot innocent people. Christians are not calling for the arrest and prosecution of TV producer and writer Seth MacFarlane because his Fox Television series "The Family Guy" ridicules Jesus and God. Why does the world have to walk on eggshells, when it comes to Islam? I am tired of it.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  11. antilemming

    It's pretty easy to be "Islamophobic" when you have people killing each other in the streets over a stupid YouTube flick. And no, no matter how much you want me to do so, I'm not going to blame the Crazy Christians, the US, or anyone else for this violent outrage. The blame rests solely on (a) the perpetrators of the violence, (b) all of these so-called "moderate Muslims" we keep hearing about that supposedly deplore the violence but do nothing to stop it, and (c) the rabble rousing governments that condone it and encourage it.

    So yeah, come down on the Crazy Christians for being nuts in themselves, but don't for a second believe that they share any blame for the actions of the Muslim world. They aren't over there holding the guns to folks' heads. Somewhere along the way the Muslim world needs to take responsibility for their own actions...therefore:

    My Take: It's time for moderate Muslims to choose

    September 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • takawalk

      ditto to that

      September 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  12. CharmCity

    I didn't know rational Evangelicals existed anymore.

    Brian McLaren gives me hope that all people may one day live side by side, in peace and without judgment. Then again, may be that's just a pipe dream.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  13. Lucy

    Having been under a rock for several years, I was unfamiliar with Mr. McLaren. My first reaction was that the steel doors of my mind closed. However, the parental influence does not require permission to enter. Hence, Amanda and Rubin David are suddenly present and insisting that being open minded is simple enough. However, I do whine, when Amanda insists on opening the shades. I like this Mr. McLaren.

    Personally, I equate violent radicals of the Islamic religion as mirror images of the radical kkk who believed they were representatives of God (Not). However, I do not believe that tolerance of the kkk was what diminished their power. It was intolerance that created an environment where the radical group could not flourish. Sure, the clowns are still around, but it was intolerance that took the teeth out of the bite. Radicals of either group make their God look pretty stupid and small.

    It is foolish to believe that acts of violence of a particular group will not create misunderstanding and by violent design, cause terror. That is the point. Great courage is required to overcome terror.

    The likes of timothy mcveigh nor eric rudolph speak for my religion. Intellectually, I know these violent radicals do not speak for most Muslims. Talking with and asking questions of Muslims decreases my fear and is helpful. I cannot say I agree with or understand the faith, but as someone long ago said to me “God comes in skin.” It isn’t necessary for me to agree with Mr. McLaren’s beliefs for his poignant article to tug at my fearful heart.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  14. Tom Medina

    My take is the Muslims need to stop acting like little school girls every time they hear something they don't like. We in the West will NEVER be subservient to you!

    September 21, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Lynne

      If only they DID act like little school girls, the world would be a much better place! Little school girls don't kill people, start wars, and blow people up with suicide bombs. They don't exclude women from the leadership of their church, try to deny them access to contraception, or treat them as second class citizens. Those are all things that religious, adult MALES do. So let me correct your statement, it should read: "My take is the Muslims need to stop acting like grown men every time they hear something they don't like."

      September 21, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  15. abbydelabbey

    What purpose does hate serve? Lies? If we cannot lead by example how can we as Christians claim to be following Him?

    September 21, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  16. Phil Esteen

    It shouldn't be too difficult to predict the vilification of Brian McLaren after this rational and especially compassionate article and it shouldn't be too difficult to establish that this selfsame vilification will come from many mouths that espouse and supposedly support Christ's explict teaching to 'love thine enemy.'

    Christ's love was, is and will always be all encompassing, as Mr. McLaren would be first to attest, and if it does not provide you with the necessary tools to understand, address and love Muslims, then you don't know the slightest thing about Christ and you are certainly no Christian.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Alan

      No need to look for McLaren's vilification. He has already been rejected by a wide swath of "Christians", along with every other religious leader who reads the words of Jesus and doesn't see a call to the Republican party...

      September 21, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • takawalk

      The dude does make good points, very good in fact. But I see a sheep and smell a wolf.

      September 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  17. molinyc

    Another liberal, hand wringing and apologizing to fanatical religious fanatics. After 9/11 I'm sure he while not justifying the attacks, went out of his to explain the causes for them.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • kellyinmn

      What an igornorant stance to act as if we shouldn't look at why things happened. As if that's somehow justifying the act. I reject radicals of all religions and have no problem will all my wonderful Muslim neighbors. You can continue to stick your head and the sand while assuming your bum won't get sunburn.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  18. jase

    "Religionophobia" is what i have, As die hard 'religious' people of 'faiths' are nutters.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  19. HJ

    This guy got guts!!!! Most of us who are so called educated do not have the nerves to speak up!!!!

    September 21, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  20. Theobroimine

    The people that were killed had nothing to do with the film. I had no more to do with the film than I do an episode of "South Park". So its crude, rude and demeaning. I don't watch such stuff, but those that want to make and distribute it are free to do so under our laws. The reaction to this film tells us more than any other evidence that intolerant Muslims are dangerous, violent, homicidal and not a group I would like to meet or join. Yes, I am a Christian and had a very close Muslim friend for many years. She was the antipathy of those murderers. I now have Muslims in my extended family through marriage, and they are the antipathy of those murderers. Religion is not the excuse they are looking for – this was done for political reasons alone. Some muslims hide behind religion to accomplish purely political goals and they should be outed as terrorists for they ly in wait of an excuse to do their violent acts and confuse the masses by claiming freedom of religion. They do not believe in freedom of anything – especially thought. It's their way or die. And they can kill anyone they want and pin the offense on ALL of an entire country – not even the offender. Notice the word country – that association proves it is political not religious. They did not kill a random Christian from their town because they assume a Christian made the film. I believe, without seeing it, that it must have been made by an atheist that has no respect for anyone or anything. We do not kill those people in our land. We ignore them. They are harmless idiots.Do not tell us to kill them or silence them. Its against our law. Get over it and grow up. I never heard of a more juvenile terrorist tantrum than this killing. The murderers must be caught and jailed for this crime. We believe they should have a trial with a jury too. Not a lynch mob. They're lucky.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:19 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.