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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. Paul Cantor

    I am not a fanatical Christian. I am, however, a rational being. It's hard to "turn the other cheek" to a faith that says that the only good Christian is a dead Christian. And while Egyptian crucifixions are currently an internet hoax, it is a fact that the newly elected Egyptian government promotes Sharia law which in turn promotes beheading, and stoning. It is not possible to endorse the Islamic world until they evolve out of the Middle Ages mind set and place a higher value on human life, regardless of gender or belief. Islam, as practiced in the Middle East, is a cancer.

    September 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Fin

      You worship a zombie. Don't act like a sane, rational being.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  2. Ronchris

    Here's a headline for this article:

    Brian McLaren – Dhimmi or Quisling?

    September 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Omri Chorath

    And what about Muslims who hate Jews, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Athiests, Baha'is, and Gays? The "religion of peace" will not make peace with anyone who they consider to be infidil.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  4. Clay Houser

    It's amazing to me that the Christian community, as represented here, stand up so firmly against the Christian tenets of loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, etc... What I see here, in a majority of the comments, is a hateful interpretation of the words and work of Christ, and it disgusts me. It looks like there's no more room for real Christians in Christianity. Oh well, the good ones will go to heaven, and the rest will face their judgment.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Richard

      Your last sentence displays a fundamental lack of understanding of Christianity. Salvation is not earned by being "good". It is a gift from God, based on his forgiveness of our sins.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Terry

      For one, Christians can hardly agree what a 'true' Christian is, hence why there is more than 38,000 denominations, some of which hold mutually exclusive or incompatible views on salvation, and other with leaders whom claim there's is the only one true way.

      Which bring me to my next point: Christianity like Islam (though it no longer is of the same caliber) is an engine of intolerance, even the supposed Christ himself as represented in the 4 Gospels. Any religion which preaches to have the one true and only path to the salvation necessarily creates an ingroup-outgroup dilemna in which the outgroup is heretical and harassed and denigrated or even threatened in several ways, as is the case with Islam and Christianity in the form of Hell which the Nazarene himself introduced, the most absurd idea perhaps preached, though the concept is almost self-evidently plagarized from the Hellenistic pantheon and Zoroastrianism among other things.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Rob Poole

      @Richard wrote: "Your last sentence displays a fundamental lack of understanding of Christianity. Salvation is not earned by being 'good.' It is a gift from God, based on his forgiveness of our sins."

      And your comments display a fundamental lack of understanding of True Christianity, which doesn't ignore the teachings of James. You remember James, right? He had some things to say about how empty faith without works is.

      You can't be saved if you don't demonstrate that you heard and understood the Message. Demonstration requires doing those things that Jesus said to do, not just professing faith in Him.

      The Roman Catholic Church of course emphasizes works as being essentially coequal with faith, just as one example. In fact, they have the doctrine of Purgatory, which allows someone to atone for sins posthumously and gain admittance to Heaven. Atonement, in any event, isn't passive.

      Saying that good deeds count for nothing is tantamount to a Calvinist heresy. So... congratulations, you're a Christian heretic. Next time before spouting off about what you think Christianity is, maybe consider the fact that a much larger group that calls itself Christian doesn't agree with something you said — and you don't speak for them.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • morethougts

      My father recently passed away (god rests his beautiful soul). He was and is a very good man, whom I love so much ... i still cry ... but not every day anymore ... maybe 4 of 7 ... i am getting better ...
      My father was also a Christian – who had a very fond wish to enter into the kingdom of god upon his death and lived his life accordingly, and studied the faith to understand more what there was to understand
      – but at the end – he had to struggle to feel this peace of god within him – one – because he was so confused by the Christian religion – because of all the strife and civil changes and politics brought about in the protestant churches at the end of his life that he truly tried to understand – since these changes of course were made due to some wanting to actually have life reflect the tolerance of Christ – but not to follow the strict tenets that the bible professed.
      This confused him – and saddened me greatly to see him not receive the solace and fellowship he so rightly deserved and craved from his religion – due to the changes within the church that conflicted with his earliest and mostly on-going relationship with the religion and the church.
      I felt so very sorry for him because of this. Unbelievably sorry, because i did not know enough to help him as i wanted to – to truly understand – and therefore be at peace.
      As someone learning yoga and meditation – for health reasons – and because in this day and age you can purchase many videos, and even download instructional clips from youtube on how to actually meditate, and practice yoga in ALL its varied forms – so you can learn it if you want – but this was not available to him at an age when his body would have allowed him to participate fully.
      I so wanted to teach him something of this for his relief from his illness and the stress of all things – but i simply and really did not know enough in time – which so truly saddened me – that i couldn't help more.
      And, he, being of an older generation, took time to truly accept that my pursuit of the knowledge of yoga and meditation was not a departure from the christian faith – nor a dishonorment of him and his desires for me to believe in Christ – but eventually, as yoga/meditation became more in the media mainstream (as recently as just the past years), he became more accepting of my goals and desires to learn more past the christian faith – because in older views – yoga and meditation were considered religions – and not well understood in the western cultures.
      So – this is more like human nature type thing – where a parent will want it's child to follow their faith – especially if their faith says they must believe accept Jesus into their life in order to enter heaven – they will want their children to believe so they too can be saved.
      I understood all this – but wanted so badly to be able to know enough to help him to learn meditation and yoga, and peace that comes with shavasana and being truly one with god and the world – as that is the goal i believe.
      So, now, you will see yoga and mediation taught in some christian church programs, and in medical settings.
      This should also be taught in public USA schools as well – as it is the greatest relief from stress and division that i am aware of at this point in time – and is mindful exercise and not pills – and assists in the healing of most major diseases by it's very design.
      If anything i could do to help this older population of Christians, it would be to open their minds to the peace of god through meditation and yoga and prayer. The act of placing your hands together in prayer is a yoga muntra move. Look that up on google – yoga muntras are simply hand movements that work to activate the healing powers of specific parts of the body and brain, and bring one more into the now and the peace of mindful stillness where god can sometimes be better realized, understood, and heard – where one can be one with all.
      I wish i had known this much earlier so i could have helped him more.
      This is for all his friends – and he had many – in Christ and in the community.
      He was a man whom the community respected and he assisted the community greatly
      through his gentle kindness, his knowledge, his service, and his life-long dedication and devotion to god, his country, and his family.
      And he was and is a Christian – may he rest in peace – amen

      September 25, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  5. Michael

    The problem with the recent protests in the Middle East and at other times is it seems that the Muslims that cause all the strife during these difficult times get violent and destroy things around them. They don't seem to focus on the thing they are protesting. They say they are protesting a movie, yet they go after people who didn't even know the video existed. They say the movie was defaming Mohammad, yet they attacked embassy workers who may have never even been to Hollywood. It's completely irrational. Do they think this will change anything? I doubt it. Violence will never solve anything, all it will do is create more violence and hatred.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  6. Randall

    And what of your Evangelicaphobia and Charismatiphobia, or just plain Christianophobia? Did he ever read in scripture that God said,"Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated." Would you sell your own faith for the comfort of not getting your head cut off? Esau sold his birthright for the comfort of a bowl of soup. What would you do if you were a Christian in a Muslim country being given the ultimatum of denying your faith or losing your head? Are you even aware that the Dome of the Rock has a mosaic inside of it deriding Christ and saying God has no son? Their religion is firmly and fundamentally based on intolerance of Christians and Jews. You say we as Christians are to love them. Our religion clearly teaches that we should do that. But with the intention of loving them to win them over to Christ. A Muslim who converts to Christ is then under a death sentence. So should we turn our back on the welfare of their souls so that we might hopefully dwell in peace with those who hate us? Jesus Himself said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you." And again He said, "...but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering God service." Again Jesus said, "This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world , and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." It seems however, that some choose to be blind followers of the blind. Ultimately you will follow the blind leaders into the ditch. Nuff said

    September 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • canadian

      they are trying to do it The American way. i hope you got my point ;P

      September 24, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  7. takawalk

    Well Jim I thought you were being sarcastic, or hoped you were. Glad that you confirmed what you said was a joke.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  8. Amun Chaudhry

    I am a muslim and being a muslim i am bound to respect to all the prophits and religions, i agree that where there are extreemist muslims present in this world their u all have to agree that extreemist and phenetic christains and jews or any other religious extreem people are present in this world.... so for humanity sake we should respect each other and every ones religion.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Amun Chaudhry

      And one more thing... there is need to have Islam phobia... a true muslim always wished to spread peace and want to serve humanity..... if u have any phibia do let me know ... instead of getting angry, try to resolve it..... hatred has no end....

      September 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  9. Davonskevort

    So to end islam phobia... i should just confront my fears and go to pakistan tribe region and scream at the top of my lungs in the local language "I am not afraid of you islamers, I am a Jewish" and I will be ok.... ya right... I have islam phobia for good reason... them jokers do want to kill me and would have a jolly good time at it. Islam brings the world full of violence... just like the time before the flood.... wonder whats comming next.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • canadian

      wow another ignorant....

      September 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  10. James

    Let's take off the mask and deal with the truth...if there are 2 billion Muslims in the world and 10% hate Christians and Jews, that's a lot of hate filled people in the world. For me there is no fear of any man whether he hates me or not. I am a Christian. The reality is per my research, Muhummed is a false prohet and their Allah is a demon. This is the truth as I see it...not hate speech. In this country the real phobia is displayed by those you fear the truth and cowardly suppress it!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Clay Houser

      The "truth as you see it" can be hate speech as well. Just because you believe in your statement does not mean that your statement is not hate speech, it just means that you believe in hate. Be careful in how you justify your positions, as God judges you based on everything you say, do, and believe. If an erroneous belief leads you to say and do bad things, then you will be judged for the bad things you do, not the belief that led you to do them.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Richard

      It's not hate, Clay – it's just his belief, and is no reflection on the people who believe it. People can disagree and not hate each other!

      September 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Erik

    A phobia is an irrational fear. A fear of someone who is actually trying to kill you is not irrational.

    The term "Islamophobia" was created by members of the Muslim Brotherhood to demonize all who would warn others of their goals.

    Don't be a tool.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • myweightinwords

      The Muslim man who sits three cubes down from me does not desire to kill me, or you. To believe he does, to fear him for his faith, is a phobia.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      what about his cousin from the "old country"

      September 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  12. hisnamejesus

    I got a Muslim friend I tell you he talks to much. He tells me how much he hates Israel and Christians, i haven't told him I'm Christian,I want to see how much he tells me and he tells me a lot he believe a lot like Hitler did. he and his religion are just a bunch of ELITISTS who want to rule the world with Islam.They believe they are a Superior race and every one who dies not convert to Islam is an infidel

    September 24, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • myweightinwords

      So...you judge an entire religion of millions of people on the testimony of a single man?

      Maybe this man is just an asshole. Maybe his reasons for hating Israel and Christians has something to do with how Christians have treated him, how the people of Israel have treated his family.

      Or, maybe we should judge all of Christianity by men like Fred Phelps and Timothy McVeigh?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • derp

      "They believe they are a Superior race and every one who dies not convert to Islam is an infidel"

      Islam is not a race. It's a religion.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Dan

    There is undoubtedly some validity to accusations of evangelical bias against Muslims but the best remedy to that might be for Muslims to stop burning buildings and killing innocents just because of their affiliation with America or Christianity...just brainstorming here.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • myweightinwords

      I believe Jesus teaches that his followers should do good to those who hurt them, to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, tend to the log in your own eye, and not judge others.

      Taken together, one might assume that he would expect those who are called by his name to love even the radical Muslims.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Clay Houser

      Yes, but the Muslim response would be that our two wars in Muslim nations have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians. It's not fair (or Christian) to judge the Muslim population for their transgressions if we're not willing to admit our own faults as well. I'm pretty sure that Jesus addressed the issues of forgiveness, loving your enemy, and turning the other cheek, and he didn't say anything about retaliation. I'm just brainstorming here.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Richard

      myweightinwords – this is true in the case of someone attacking each of us individually – but would Jesus want me to stand by while others are killed? If there are Muslims who want to kill any who don't believe as they do, would Jesus want us to stop them, or would he want us to stand by and let them?

      September 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  14. prussian11

    You call it a "phobia", but the radical Islamist intent to kill every last one of us is very real. Ignoring that fact would be both naive and dangerous. At best, I would agree the threat should not be generalized to include all Muslims.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  15. eliudthorn

    You cannot serve God and hate, but you can you server God and not hate evil?

    If your point is that Christians should not hate Muslims, then I'm not sure your point calls for so many words. If your point is that Christian opposition to the tenets of Islam is somehow equivalent to the violent actions of some offended Muslims, then not enough words exist to make sense of that position.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  16. hmp49

    The author is comfortable, because Egyptian Copts are merely being massacred, not crucified.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  17. Joshua Lieder

    Mclaren writes "The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge."
    Mr. Mclaren, our Lord is the Lion of Judah and not JUST the gentle stay above the fray soul you seem to be discribing. I see you as leaning so far into the "we shouldn't be doing this" crowd that you seem to be taking the muscle and vigor out of an active Christan faith that stands in the gap crying "no more...combining Island and Christianity." I don't appove of the video that caused the controversy, but I also do not disapprove of stemming Jihad in this world. Jesus must and will reign supreme!

    September 24, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Joshua Lieder

      "no more...combining Islam and Christianity." is what it should read. I did not type Island. Odd that your editor put it in there.

      September 24, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  18. ProudToBeIslamphobic

    Brian D. McLaren is not a Christian. He is a impostor, a pretender of Jesus's faith. He is an atheist. No man of true Christian faith would ever talk and think like Brian D. McLaren. He is an insult to Americans and he does not belong in this country.

    It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose? I choose Jesus and down with Islam. There can only be one faith that God accepts. I am proud to be Islamophobic cause I can only choose Jesus.

    Just like Muslims are Christianphobic or Judaistphobic.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • ProudToBeIslamphobic

      To author Brian...................I CHOOSE JESUS!

      September 24, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • OneOrdinaryCitizen

      I think the Author needs to go to an Islamic country in the Middle East and start a Christian Church. So called Islamophobic Envangelicals in the US allow people to worship as they please. We would be reading the Author's obituary if he were to go to Iran, openly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, try to win converts to Christianity, and refuse to stop when the Government ordered him to do so.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  19. been there

    A few years ago, taking tech classes at my local community college, I tried making friends with shia students... they keep things always, at arms length. I watch Little Mosque, and can laugh and appreciate the show, but it is not what I have experienced. Hindi are more open. In both cases, you must express enthusiastic interest in their culture... they seem to be less interested in the one they have relocated to. If people come because they want to be free, why hang onto the trappings of burquas and extreme coverings, not just hajab, for women... seen continually at the stores... Yes, people may hang onto some old familiar ways, but so many that I see, are unwilling to accept from on their side.

    September 24, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  20. whatareyoutalkingabout

    Here is a good site for earthquakes:

    http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/

    At the present time, if you look real closely, there are all these real little earthquakes going off around the British V. Isles.
    In addition, there are current earthquakes all along mideast boundaries.
    this seriously can't be happening if it is cuz ... not fair ... it is just a fairy tale ... damnit

    September 24, 2012 at 7:58 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.