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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. kalo

    Christians and Muslims have been going after one another for the Messenger differences instead of the message; which I find funny. If people didn't blow off the old testament or the battles Christianity would be exactly the same, heck there are even rules on how to sell your daughter into slavery in the bible. (Lol religion of peace.) Why would they stop now? The only way the two groups will live (Evangelicals and radical Islam) in 'peace' is in the grave; leaving the moderates and Atheists to rule the world with better reason.

    September 25, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • takawalk

      Christians follow Christ who taught things that threw out much of the old testament ways of thought. A eye for a eye is no longer relevant. This is but one example. The term slave in the Bible sometimes referred to a practice that would be better explained using the term indentured servant. They were not slaves in the we think of it.
      If people didn't blow of the old testament. Wait stop, that is the very point, we did evolve past it, thanks to the teachings of Jesus who is our Christ.

      September 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  2. asia kamal

    Islam is the religion of peace...N our holy Prophet Muhammad(s.a.w) teaches us to respect every religion...n thats we are doing....i love Muhammad(S.A.W)

    September 25, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • yeah

      yeah!
      i am a member of the yeah religion
      and that's what we do
      say ...
      yeah and hooray away

      September 25, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  3. USA involvement

    The USA is involved in improving the lives of many through their outreach programs like the Clinton Global Initiative Program and through various other charities that are funded through the United States citizens private and the government's support and donations – like the Red Cross, and other disaster relief funds and agencies. There are also privately funded through charity donations for personal and corporate tax purposes – that fund various outreach programs in the world.
    Obama has a concern with the last – the one's which are not really governed by the USA government – and that therefore operate as private non-profit organizations – which might not be more limited in their actions unless they are brought under the governance and protection of the federal government to insure protection, and safety, and ethical management and practices for all.
    I see that as a good thing as long as the government actually does this magnificent feat of moral and ethical and sustainable and healthy (not harmful) assistance outreach in the form of true and real avenues for better living conditions, education, nutrition, and civil and legal rights for all – especially women and children – as all men are children before they become men ..
    i think what i am trying to say, is, wouldn't it be foolish to not have these privately and corporately funded charity driven organizations pay into the USA system instead – and truly become a non-profit – so that they can be governed and protected by the USA government? I mean – wouldn't they become like a rogue nation if they did something stupid to harm or be harmed if they were a private non-profit and thus, not governed by the US government?
    just wondering.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  4. John

    I am not religious (those who “know”) I am spiritual (those who don’t know, but have an open mind and willing to see what “is” in the present). As such I do know that folks do tend to live up to ones expectations. What I do know about Jesus message is that you should not kill and you should turn the other cheek. As such most I see who call themselves Christians are not. They should take whatever shots thrown and them, including death and turn the other cheek, in all cases period, or they simply are not following their faiths directives. So if one is a Christian one is not concerned about how others act towards them only concerned about how they act towards others. I sense this is what the author is saying that Christians are not acting per the directives of the master if they return hate, ignorance and bias with…. anger, stereotyping and aggression. To just stand there and take the shots IS a hellish directive but I see no justification for self-defense in Jesus teachings, anyone who practices self-defense is certainly human, just not a Christian. I sense this is what gives practicing Christians the moral high ground. Ironically I suspect everything I just said about Christians can also be said about Buddhist, Muslims, Taoist and maybe every other religion. So in the end there are only 2 religions, those who take the shots, forgive and practice insane amounts of tolerance, (As shown by the likes of Gandhi, MLK etc) and those who hate ( which is all of us at times, we are not the Buddha… yet!!!). Both of these peoples live in every religion, non-religion and the spaces between the two and even more with in each of us. Human nature allows us to craft our truths to fit our needs. If you want to hate and kill, you will see in your religion how to justify this, if you want to forgive and be tolerant, you will see in your religion how to forgive and be tolerant. Those who fight this battle within themselves find the enemy is their own selves and when they master this inner struggle… become the master themselves! Those who see the enemy without.. give up their power and live as victims of conflict. I know Buddha said in life to “do the best you can” and life’s simple purpose was “to grow a big heart”. I also know those who fight the battle with in themselves see unity in what any religions message is, it is only those who enjoy their rage see conflict everywhere, even in the messages of the great masters.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • thoughts

      i think humans that are everything in between are still Christians or whatever.
      their religions teach them how to forgive – and that all are not perfect
      and it helps them learn to be more forgiving or tolerant or how to stand up for themselves to enact desired changes in a peaceful or non peaceful manner, or as needed for self-defense of themselves or others.
      so – while people are learning and practicing all this – if they choose to also believe or be part of whatever religion there is in order to learn and practice whatever there is to learn and practice as they choose for themselves that adheres to their survival within their environment – that they are still part of that religion if the religion allows for imperfection and growth – and supports and nourishes these things in a healthy sustainable fashion for the environment that they must survive in to flourish and to grow. a christian does not have to be perfect to be a christian – it is the premise of the christian teaching of Christ dying for human's sins ... so that human's could learn to forgive and become more humane ... towards their-selves and others

      September 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things...

    September 25, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do.... Who You Can Turn to....
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 25, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Kel

      Actually, constricting the world-view of children so that they only adhere to your own beliefs is the truly unhealthy thing to do. If they are open-minded to all religions, and yes, no religion at all, they have the best chance of making their own decision. There are so many myths concerning agnosticism and atheism. The prejudice and discrimination against atheists in America is appallingly ill-informed.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Doing things changes things

      Try it sometime.

      September 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Ignacio

    This author turns the issue on its head. The Islamists attacking embassies and blowing themselves up in the name of their religion are not suffering the effects of Western Islamophobia. The vast majority of Muslims who are either silent or offering extenuations in regard to the atrocities their co-religionist carry out in the name of their religion, are not suffering from the the effects of Western Islamophobia. The primary danger here is not Islamophobia. To the contrary, both Islamists and their apologists are verifying with their actions and words that Islamophobia is not entirely irrational.

    September 25, 2012 at 5:46 am |
  7. JJ

    WWJD? WWMD? You know damn well what they would they would do. They would be outraged at infantile actions and depictions of "their words". You blame, you hate, you kill......shame on all of you. You are not helping, you are just tinder to the fire. Mohammed and Jesus are shaking their heads in shame..........alas...........I guess we have a lot to learn.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  8. John

    McLaren is like a little rebellious teenager who knows more than everybody else, which is why you always find him making outlandish statements that trash Christians (he claims to be one) and give homage every belief under the sun, especially those that are anti Christian and anti American. His has created Jesus in his own image. Heretic.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  9. morethoughts

    i wonder if the USA actually did ban the movie for putting down the Islam, could they also ban the Koran for putting down the Christians and Jewish and all other religions.
    i mean – fair is fair
    justice for all

    September 24, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Kel

      The Bible is just as inflammatory. But most Christians choose to ignore those parts. There is a minority of influential extremists in Islam, but most Muslims are not terrorists, and do not sympathize with their cause. Why do people feel the need to put down other religions anyways? It's so pointless. People always think that their religion or ideas are better than everyone else's. But they don't have any reasonable explanation as to why. Your religion is usually determined by geographic location, cultural influences, and domestic upbringing. Christianity and Islam are actually very similar if anyone takes the time to actually research both religions. Man, it's things like this that make happy I no longer believe in God. I couldn't care less about people's beliefs as long as it doesn't coincide with intolerant behavior or the denial of the validity of scientific theories.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • iagree

      I agree – we (the people) should ban all three of the major Judaic religions, and their bibles and korans and torahs and whatevers – and all their wars over the same – forever
      i mean – leave that stuff at the door – and face the real issues – not your makers (for you)
      whatever
      even if you say a fighting chance is better – both sides different views on that – cuz both want to be the best

      September 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  10. reasonsforeverything

    from what i gather – Muslims blame Christians and the Jewish for most everything, when they aren't blaming and beating their women for that and everything. one of the sad things about this, is you know the muslim women will eventually take for the wrath for this – so they are glad to have the anger directed away from them probably – but you know their not happy campers.
    they are just looking for a reason to go in and slaughter all the Egyptian Coptic Christians from what i can tell so far.
    they are also simply inciting the rebellion for political purposes.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Ignacio

      You have not read neither the Qur'an nor any of the Sunnah. If you have you would not that the answer to WWMD is exactly what the Islamists are doing.

      What you and other apologist like Mr. McLaren fail to understand is that to the degree that there are "moderate" Muslims – or moderate Christians and Jews, for that matter – is that they do not adhere to the more heinous admonitions and requirements of their prophets and "holy" books.

      September 25, 2012 at 5:51 am |
    • reasonsforeverything

      you are right, i have not read those books as i am not islam.
      and i may believe in christ and one god – but not in truly being judged by another – only god – cuz that's what i was taught – in the christian faith ...
      i have simply been enlightened ...
      i did not feel like be an extreme apologist nor much like turning the other cheek ...
      sorry

      September 25, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  11. tim

    I am not a Christian nor at all religious. However, I am going to back Christians on this one. Yes both Christians and Muslims have their nutjobs. But Christian nutjobs send stupid emails and commit very isolated incidents of petty crime and assaults. Muslim nutjobs murder people, suicide bomb cafes and attack our embassies over a dumb video. I know they are sensitive to it but damn, they should have to control themselves. When masses of Christians take to the streets, burn a mosque, destroy foreign embassies and murder foreign leaders, your article may have some validity.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Dave

    Magnificently written, Mr. McLaren, and absolutely spot on! Thank you for this.All of us need to be reminded from time to time what it is to live a higher level–a truly Christian life.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • tom

      Wow, this column is such an apology for Islam that I doubt the sanity of the author. He is like a man that sees his neighbor beating the neighbor's wife, and says that she had it coming because she kept a messy house. He would have fit in very well apologizing for Nazis and blaming the Jews for bring the holocaust on themselves.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  13. Skywolf

    Crucifixion remains a permissible action in the Our'an for those who "..wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischeif in the land..." ".. they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned." That statement isn't an irrational fear of Islam or 'Islamaphobia" – it's a fact, or have you not read the Qur'an?

    September 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  14. natman

    Nice article. I cannot say that I agree with being charitable to a violent culture and religion, but you are spot on about churches tearing themselves apart from within.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Kel

      You must not know many Muslims. Most of them are no more violent than you or I. There is a radical extremist minority. Every religion has it. The religion itself is quite similar to Christianity, if you ever take the time to understand it and study it.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  15. john

    Islamaphobic? New label for someone who will not accept anything?

    September 24, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  16. bob nursall

    The US is very aggressive about the seperation of church and state. Yet Christianity is blamed for the actions of that same government.???????????

    September 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  17. Fred

    It's simple really. Per the tenets of Islam, Christianity is a false religion. Per the tenets of Christianity, Islam is a false religion. That does not mean that one should denigrate or insult the other. But it is not necessary to whitewash the reality that both religions are fundamentally contrary in their doctrine and to pretend that pointing out such differences is equivalent to hatred or any kind of phobia...

    September 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  18. flower1

    Egyptian Copts survive by their sheer number (close to 20mill) surrounded by about 60 mill. Muslims. And there is a lot of killings going on and to dismiss it so lightly is really scary. But this is what was done in Europe about 20 years ago. The same rats like the author of this article, made sure to brainwash people not to dare to speak against Islam. There are millions of ultra religious Muslims in Europe, so why do they come the west that they hate so much? Of course what they understood is that West is way ahead in technology, in military so the only way is to spread and breed to conquer. Lets see, Clinton handed down to Muslim Albanians Kosovo on a silver platter but US was attacked soon after even though US was obviously kissing Muslim ass as they do now with Turkey. They can't even accept Armenian genocide because Turkey might fart and stink about it. No need to be afraid of them. We (all non-muslims including all Asian religions, Jews etc) have the best art, we are ahead in science, we are flying to Mars. What do they have? Oil is the only thing they have, if we don't buy it they will die of hunger.

    September 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Scott

    Religion in all forms is problematic. Moderates provide cover for extremists in Christianity and Islam. Let's work towards being more friendly by not have diametrically opposed religious views – or even better – no religious views. That would help out a lot. Then we could hate each other over money instead, which seems like a much more managable problem.

    September 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  20. Richard

    Anywhere there are Muslims there are big problems. PERIOD. Once Muslims are about 20% of the population the country starts to have major problems. Look at any country that have at least that many Muslims and you will see a country in turmoil .
    This is not just an opinion , it's a proven fact.
    We Americans believe in freedoms , Muslims believe that one should not exists if your are unfaithful and all in the name of Allah. They also believe in having mutable wife's that can be beaten like dogs if the male should see fit. AGAIN this things are not just an option but a reoccurring way of life in every country that is of a Muslim faith.
    The only answer to the problem, let them stay where they are and let them keep their faith to their own. BUT WE AMERICANS ARE TOO STUPID! This is why we are in such a mess that we are in now. We are to blame.

    September 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • BGreene

      you might want to read the Quran buddy.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Paul(BosFanInCHgo)

      Have you seen the Sofi muslim wife of the group who wants to build the center in NY near ground zero? She is well-spoken, independent by all appearances, as well as not beaten. She speaks as a leader. To my knowledge Sunni, Shia, Sofi, Walhabi(?) are the major sects of Islam, similar to the divisions in the Protestant religion. Perhaps you should learn a little more about each .before condeming all Muslims. As an AF-AM Christian who believes in the Living Word, my belief is the way to God is through accepting Jesus the Christ as my personal saviour. I can not condemn those who do not hold this against any reliogn, for we are urged to ask all to come to see Christ as the way to the Kingdom. Those who chose another way are still the children of God who wants everyone to chose his side in the battle versus Satan.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:42 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.