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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. Igor

    Phobia – unreasonable fear of ..
    There is nothing unreasonable about the fear of Islamo-fascists. Their behavior speaks for themselves: if they do not like what you are doing – they will kill you, your family, your ambassador. Islam is an ugly religion of fear and submission and no double talk can change it

    September 21, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • eflows

      Translation of the above comment: My bigotry is acceptable because I think I'm right.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Bill Kleinsturn

      @eflows, don't quit your day job. You're not a very good translator.

      "Translation of the above comment: My bigotry is acceptable because I think I'm right."

      Here's a better one: My objective judgment is valid because my premises are based on historical fact.

      Regressive elites like eflow are compelled, as in a mental illness, to tell the rest of us how and what to think. They feel unbounded by what they would call the "narrowness" of other world views that happen to be delimited by fact.

      Good luck with that this November.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • marianna

      'Bill Kleinsturn' wrote:

      ' Regressive elites like eflow are compelled, as in a mental illness, to tell the rest of us how and what to think.'

      Poor Bill.

      February 25, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  2. David

    Well, Brian, it's called 9-11 & numerous other terrorists attacks against us. Go back & hide under your bed we "paranoids" we'll protect you.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  3. Truth N. Freedom

    Look, you imbecile. Your apologies for violence do only one thing: embolden those extremists to kill by justifying their behavior. There is ZERO justification for killing. Islam subjugates people all over the world. Islam violates the basic civil rights of people in every place where it exists. You say we as a free people are not supposed to comment on this? Women and non muslims are treated as second class citizens, beaten, imprisoned falsely and even killed under Sharia law. Your answer is to say nothing and pretend that Islam is a peaceful religion? Shame on you. You would feel differently if it was you, your mother, your sister or your friends murdered or beaten for 'blasphemy' or 'apostasy'.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • gentileinfidel

      try getting beaten up by a muslim doctor or cop or judge, etc. in USA
      you think that doesn't happen?
      or vice versus probably

      September 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  4. Disciple

    Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
    John 18:36

    And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
    Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
    Matthew 26:51-52

    Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.
    Job 19:29

    As Christians, we are to not fight with violence and "the sword." We are taught to forgive and to understand the situation we're in. We are not to fight and use violence to express or protect our faith.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • David

      What part of horse hockey do you not understand?

      September 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • takawalk

      The only thing required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.

      September 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  5. Bert Williams

    I tried to read this blog with an open mind. But I just could not get through it. While there may be those who are radically oppsed to Islam, blaming the film that started all of the violence in the Middle East on Christians is a fantastic stretch. The man who created this movie does not represent Christianity as a whole and obviously has a screw loose so don't elevate him to anything higher than that. Secondly, while the writer calmly and respectfully talks about Islam and its merits as a "religion", followers in numerous Middle Eastern countries are still throwing temper tantrums, destroying property and killing people today, right now. These senseless acts by the followers of Mohammed don't help the writer's argument one little bit. And we won't even start a discussion about their repression of women. Buy a vowel, Mr. McClarin. In light of current antics by Islamic fundamentalists, you sound very silly.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • alex t

      according to the bible Jesus was clear you gentiles are SWINES , join any cult you want, become born again a 1000 times a day , follow any john doe you like , Jesus was not sent to your Slavic or Gaul tribe he was sent to ["was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"] show some self respect and dignity and get your self another religion

      September 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  6. david

    Why must we "choose" ? Why is it "islamaphobia" When these dogs are killing innocents? Could we call it "world-o-phobia" ? Why be anti Christian?

    September 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Disciple

      Not all Muslims believe the same.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • CT Native

      I agree with David. I think we should spend more time trying to understand why your average Muslim is so enraged. One way to do so is to run news segments educating readers/viewers on Mohammed's life story without trying to interpret the religion itself. Hopefully this can be done based upon some neutral hsitoric source. The problem will be that the facts are rather uncompelling when one considers the guile and violence that consumes his life. Also, most news orgaizations would be too scared to run the series (as I assume would be David). Doing nothing while your neighbor hurts himself or someone else is not what Christ would preach.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • nookly

      It is not that all muslims are terrorists, it is that all terrorists are muslims.

      September 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  7. Pegasus

    Finally, a sensible...and sensitive article that truly depicts the philosophy of Christianity. Living a Christ-like existence, tolerant of others' right to their own thoughts, and willing to leave the judgement to God Himself. Thanks, Brian, for your courage and valor in the face of radical "fundamentalist public opinion".

    September 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      Christianity is not a philosophy. Its a lifestyle. It's too bad many Christians have forgotten this.

      September 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      Jesus was a radical fundamentalist Himself.

      September 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  8. Don

    "You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate."

    Yes you can if your the Koch Brothers. They will serve anything for a profit, regardless of the human costs

    September 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      Why is it implied hat Christians are responsible for this "film". I don't have anything to do with it. Like most things in this world, I have nothing to do with it. Just because the author is bent against Christians, he can stereotype them. It is politically correct to stereotype Christians today. Jesus had nothing to do with this video, people did. And I as a Christian will never have to answer for them, just myself.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • david

      when you get off your knees in front of Barack, wipe the juice off your mouth

      September 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • nookly

      Your idol withheld funds from a hospital until they gave his wife a high paying job. As soon as she left, so did the job. Your lord is owned by Soros and the unions and he has given away trillions of other peoples' money while at the same time forcing the government agencies to purchase copies his his books, yep, no greed there.

      Bet you think there are 57 states too.

      September 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  9. T in KC

    Mr. McLaren – Thank you for this article. As a Christian, it makes me sad to see how so many other self-proclaimed Christians are so filled with Hate – towards everything (Muslims, Liberals, Obama, Poor, Immigrants, etc.). So much for being the Light of the World.

    I also don't understand how self-proclaimed Christians can blindly support politicians that are compulsive Liars (both candidates for president). The Word of GOD does tell us that in the End Times, even the elect will be deceived, so I can only assume that we must be getting really close. Today you can't tell the Christians from the Non-Christians by their words or actions. Very sad for Christianity.

    JESUS please forgive us, for we know not what we do. Amen.

    September 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  10. Me

    Humanity is doomed if we're still trying to figure out which "tribe's" iron age fairy tales are better.

    September 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Marc

      Agree completely... Differing religious interpretations of books full of fables has caused the deaths of millions of the worlds peoples since the 1st 2 peoples of differing faiths met. Me I have no problem with anybody's faith choice. I am not a believer in any faith and basically see faith in some almighty creator as just a way for most to toss up there hands and say "it's (insert your deity) wish... and give up control of their own destiny.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      When you do not have God, you don't have to answer for your wicked behavior. Do as one might wish, right.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Disciple

      Right, and the fact that the believer believes that all they need to do is ask forgiveness of the invisible magic man and all the bad things they did poof away, and the victim of their bad deeds are just completely screwed out of any kind of recompense.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  11. Jay

    First off, Brian McLaren is not an evangelical. He's gone way too far afield for that.

    This article is simply silly.

    Look at this on the face of it. Muslims are rioting and killing over an idea–a film, a cartoon. Is the greatest problem the fact that Evangelicals are phobic of them?

    The media is phobic. Few media outlets will reprint the recent cartoon in France for fear of having a Fatwa on their heads.

    Evangelicals aren't making up these events. They are real. Christians are horribly persecuted by Muslims worldwide.

    Radical Islam is the danger not islamaphobia on the parts of evangelicals. Iran with the bomb is a danger, not whether evangelicals have ever met a Muslim.

    BTW, as an evangelical, I have had Muslim friends. They were "moderate" if you exclude the repressive way they treated the women in their family. But, my personal experience of them still tells me I'd rather live in America than Saudi Arabia any day.

    Brave Brian! It's cool to insult Christians. Try it next time with Mohammed.

    September 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • PM

      Jay,

      You don't seem to understand. The thought processes of the right-wing evangelicals are the same as these rioting in the middle east. The only difference is they are not acting violently but if given the opportunity and "free pass" on morality they would be doing the same.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Truth N. Freedom

      Haha 'the only difference is they arent acting violently' haha

      Thats a BIG difference ......don't you think?

      September 21, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • nookly

      PM, free pass? Do you mean like John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Alcee Hastings, Ted Kennedy, Charlie Rangle, Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi? All of these people got free passes and have shown just how corrupt they really are.

      September 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  12. Kevin

    My thoughts exactly. The evangelical right can't see how they are similar to the radical islamists.Specifically in the belief that an external boogeyman is responsible for all their woes. In our country it was jews, then catholics, then secularists, liberals, communists and now islam. Never take a look at yourself or our cultures basic assumptions about wealth and power, just keep hating whoever is different from you. Good thing God doesn't take that approach toward us.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Steve

      Right on Kevin!!!
      From a bio-psychological standpoint, when people make up bogeymen to be afraid of, they are behaving psychotically. They are in the full grips of a survival anxiety that is the hallmark of a dysfunctional brain. The cause of this is the morally indefensible violence done to far right christian children by their parents. Corporal punishment is nothing short of assault on a defenseless child. The resulting outcome, a self hatred and deep insecurity (why would a parent that LOVES it's child BEAT IT!) There is no sane answer to that question. And the bizarre acting out on the right will continue until society brands corporal punishment of children to be illegal.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      love your enemy, do good to those who hate you. it is quite a concept isn't it.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  13. Armand Winter

    Why do the Evangelicals want to put an anti-christ into the white house?

    The mormons claim to be Jews... every one is a Jew in happy mormon theology, Mormons descended from Ephraim, Native Americans from Manasseh, everybody except maybe black people.

    I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan. – Revelations 2:9

    September 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Elijah

      Armand, your ignorant religious discriminating racist mind does not contribute for the well being of our society. We work for peaceful coexistence but you instill your corrupt ideas to promote divisiveness. All faith have varying beliefs, even among Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Mormons, Catholics, etc. People will vote or will not vote for Romney because of his Mormon faith. But because of his platform in how he's going to lead the country economically, politically, foreign policy, etc. I have known many Mormons and they are the most honest persons I met in my life. I do not share the same faith, nor intent to entertain their belief. For many, you'll find them boring. You can't take them in binge drinking or be in strip clubs. But they are my friends and fellow Americans.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Disciple

      Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
      John 18:36

      And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
      Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
      Matthew 26:51-52

      Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.
      Job 19:29

      As Christians, we are to not fight with violence and "the sword." We are taught to forgive and to understand the situation we're in. We are not to fight and use violence to express or protect our faith.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  14. max

    wonderful and intelligent article. Hope to read more of this kind of articles.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  15. whatreligionareyou

    I went to a hospital for an appointment many years ago right after 9-11
    the check-in lady type person was like:
    what's your religion
    I said: none (it was after 9-11 – and the question struck me as funny)
    but then she gave me a dirty stern look
    and impatiently asked me again what my religion was
    I seriously couldn't think of one that I wanted to be, and I was going to ask for the choices
    but she gave me another dirty look
    so
    i just said none again
    i don't remember what happened after that with her, but i have always remembered that none was not a good enough answer perhaps for some
    now I have the perfect answer
    I'm a gentile infidel
    I wonder if this will make a difference of any kind vs. none
    maybe I should stick with none
    i wonder if it's even on the list of choices
    i wonder if gentile infidel is
    i mean – if you have religion phobia – then would you start to worry what religion the person asking was – or the doctor, etc.?

    September 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • seattle progressive

      hey gentle infidel – what do you think those gentle muslims in pakistan, afghanistan, or iran would do to you ?

      September 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • gentileinfidel

      well ... i'm not planning on ever being over that way actually
      it's a big ocean
      but, i am concerned about the next person(s) that ask me what religion i am
      especially if being a gentile infidel might be an issue to someone whom I might really need to not take that into consideration when they provide me with services that could end badly for any personal negative reasons they unwittingly and purposely project upon me

      September 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • gthompson78

      Seattle Progressive: it's Gentile, not gentle. There's a big difference.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • worldtraveler

      They are required to ask what religion you profess because if you died they could call the right preist, pastor, mulla ets.
      Think of what would happen if a muslem died and the wrong religious leader came.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  16. Kaiser Waziri

    Awesome article!
    Brian represents the majority in the US.
    It is that mindless, radical fringe who thrive on hate and conspiracy theories whom we need to bring into the mainstream.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Disciple of Jesus

      Your speaking of the violent Islamist extremist of course.

      September 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  17. Stan Saniewski

    When will we fact teh real issue, that ANYTHING that makes you hate some one you've never met is intrinsically evil. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and chiefly Christianity are not going to lead us tpo the "promised land". They'll lead us to our doom.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  18. Muslim

    Brian D. McLaren,

    I am a Muslim. Your support for Muslims shows you have broad way of thinking which majority lack. I would take a bullet for you if I had to.

    Thank you for your support!

    September 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  19. AtheistBob

    Skycake!!!!

    September 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  20. Rosey

    John.16

    [1] These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.
    [2] They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
    [3] And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
    [4] But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them…..

    September 21, 2012 at 12:13 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.