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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. Internationalist

    Censorship! I lived under censorship (former USSR). It has NO place in any democracy. Although the movie is deplorable and not worth the time of day, it does not justify mayhem. Having a difference of opinion justifies debate not intolerance. I dare add no God advocates killing and suicide. That is a human fabrication of the falsly interpreted truths they read in their sacred writings.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  2. John

    Wise and true words for all believers. If fear, however, that those who most need to hear about the LOVE of Jesus will interpret the article as an attack on a belief system that would crumble without the existence of good guys and bad guys. God made all of us in His image.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  3. muslim2012

    The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • MalcomR

      Very nice. So what happened to cause the admittedly advanced muslim society to become the unfortunate scientific and engineering stagnant swamp that it is today? You get one guess.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  4. starman

    Thanks for making the point that all religion needs to be gone across the board. They are all the same... they just chant a different name.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  5. muslim2012

    Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today – liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • MalcomR

      Very nice. So what happened to cause the admittedly advanced muslim society to become the unfortunate scientific and engineering stagnant swamp that it is today? You get one guess.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  6. newmalthus

    More CNN BS . trying to find any excuse other than the Obama Administration.

    "Senior officials are increasingly convinced, however, that the ferocious nature of the Benghazi attack, in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, indicated it was not the result of spontaneous anger due to the video, called Innocence of Muslims.

    Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.

    There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa'ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks."

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  7. Ed

    It's always the Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslins who are to blane and must change. The author is critical of them but ignorees the extreme Muslims, he puts in a throw away line so he can say he mentioned them. Where is the outrage in the Muslim world (and his) over the Christian girl (with Downs) who was framed for burning the Koran. It turns out local Iman tore pages out of the Koran to create an anti-Christain riot to drive the Christians out of town. There were riots demanding her death but why not any demanding his. Where are the non-extremist Muslims? They need to stand up and be counted.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Ben

      Exactly.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • takawalk

      ditto The true Muslims are the radical Muslim who kill folks that don't share the same believe system. Maybe that statement is false. Someone who understands the teachings in the Koran please enlighten me. The only verses that teach tolerance, peace, and love,seem to be an afterthought, not the core of it's teachings.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  8. pateriot

    I am not religious but on this case I am supportive of the effort by Evangelicals to spread the truth about Islam and Islamics.

    The Press doggedly persists in its fantasy that Islam is a religion of peace. I believe that its primary motivation is fear, pure and simple. They are afraid that if they offend the barbarians they will become targets of "the religion of peace"! On the other hand they have no problems whatsoever targeting Catholics, Evangelicals, or any other group of Christians.

    There are two reasons for this. They know that Christians will not target them with violence and also this will endear them with the Islamists who then might be even less likely to attack members of the Press.

    The Press (including CNN) has lost its courage and ability to disseminate the truth and to inform the public of it! It is beyond pathetic that the American people must rely on Evangelical Christians and other alternative sources to hear the truth about Islam, the Islamic threat, and a host of other issues!

    The MSM news is an absolute joke and travesty!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  9. Barry Brindisi

    When Jesus spoke of the "Good Samaritan", I'm quite sure his Jewish listeners were equally outraged. "What the heck are you talking about? A good Samaritan?? They can't be good; nevermind a a good neighbor!" It was shocking. Am I blind to the persecutions that Christians undergo in Islamic countries? I'm quite aware of the persecutions and the potential death threats for sharing the Gospel. Jesus came to save the Arab Muslims, the gays and everyone else.

    The invitation to come is FOR ALL WHO ARE WILLING. It's not for an exclusive group.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • takawalk

      Hate the sin not the sinner. Jesus did not condone sin but he did love the sinner.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  10. muslim2012

    Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Barry Brindisi

      I saw your earlier posts and wasn't certain of what you were up to. You were quoting OT Scriptures. I like this one. I didn't know soap came from Arab culture.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  11. Hagia Sophia

    CNN. Why is this your weekend cover story? As a 'belief blog' find a thoughtful opinion from a religious Muslim celebrity author to say something that offers a self-reflective critic regarding events in the Middle East versus McLaren's self affirming monologues about Evangelicals. McLaren has made a name for himself writing, speaking and acting as the polemic of all things Evangelical though I doubt he would anymore describe himself as one. It seems almost amateur to be writing about Evangelicals at this moment as if Evangelicals are the omen of what was, is, and is to come related to a clash of cultures. Though 'offended' I promise not to storm HQ in Atlanta, throw stones, burn buildings or flags, or cause any mortal harm to anyone in Jesus' name.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Ben

      Agree strongly.

      Thought I'd reply to one of these since we're all lost in a SEA of comments – 30 per minute. (see mine below)

      September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  12. James

    More light weight drivel from CNN. Fact – If Muslims would stop killing each other and stop killing others not of their faith then the rest of the world would not fear them. If Islam could handle as a faith and as a group of people the two concepts of freedom of speech and freedom of the individual to live their life as they want, then Islam would not be feared. I would like to ask the author of this piece and ask those CNN big wigs who decided to publish this drivel – Would you want your wives and daughters to live under the Islamic faith? No, on second thought, give that decision to your wives and daughters instead.
    If they were living under Islam they would not be allowed to make those kind of decisions.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  13. John

    It's strange when Muslim's riot over someone discussing their own text. If they believe their text, shouldn't they be happy about it being discussed? Have they even read it? Maybe someone should read it to them, or give them their text to read, show them the verses, maybe then they won't riot over it? People and ignorance, a deadly combination.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Ricky from Virginia

      Have you read a single chapter of Kuran? Have you ever stepped inside a mosque? Ignorance causes society to become paranoid leading to hatred as we see it today between people of different faiths. As my dad used to say-first find weakness in your own religious teachings and strengths in other religions before you judge others. My friend, it's very easy for us to stereotype others to benefit our cause, as our history has shown over years– Blacks vs Whites, untouchables vs Hindu priest class, and now Christians vs Muslims!! Let's ponder!

      September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  14. Ben

    I agree with the article, though I'm stunned – STUNNED – at its placement.

    You mean to tell me that at this time of violence, it's *Christianity* that needs to be examined? Wrong. It's Islam. They're the ones blowing things up.

    Signed,
    A Jew who supports my Christian (and Muslim) brothers.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Dee

      Ben:

      I am not stunned, because Christ said, that if they hated me, they will hate you. America is just beginning to sense the persecution that is a prophetic reality that is to come (or is now here). So the US church had better wake up and get on her knees. In the end, it will be the three faiths, Christianity, Islam, & Judaism! But Christ will win!

      September 16, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  15. LovingChristian

    I see more Evangelicophobia in the article than anything else.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Dee

      Agreed! You wil see much more in the months to come...

      September 16, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  16. Joe

    Christians, or those claiming to be Christians, have killed and blown up plenty. Norway was not that long ago, Mcveigh in ok city ring a bell, Palestinian camp massacre in Lebannon, Pastor Jones knew people would die if he burned the Koran and he did it anyway. Those who commit violence in the name of god are arrogant fools, who are they to believe that God needs defending? what they are doing is defending Man's interpretation of the divine, maybe the world would be better off without religion.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • LovingChristian

      Tim McVeigh said: "Science is my religion." Should we blame science for the bombing now?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • pateriot

      I'm not sure of the religious beliefs of the man who committed the murders in Norway, but McViegh was an atheist and was certainly not religiously motivated. The attack on the Palestinian camp in Lebanon was in response to Muslims staging attacks from there and was not committed by Christians,

      In any case these were attacks by individuals (one person). To equate Islam and the constant and persistent barbaric violence ubiquitous to it with the actions of a few lone nuts on the side of Christianity is not only intellectually lazy; it is absurd! It is motivated by those who lack the courage to call out evil for what it is and face it down!!

      September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  17. Wayne

    Hey CNN, if you think Christianity is bad and a threat to your precious socialist agenda, just wait until you embrace Islam. I don't exactly think the two of you are going to see eye to eye. In fact, after you get a taste of that, you'll be for Christianity to come back.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Luis Wu

      ALL religions are ignorant nonsense.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • MalcomR

      All religion is evil.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • LovingChristian

      Luis Wu, How do you know that God does not exist?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • LovingChristian

      MalcomR, Where are you getting your definition of evil?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • MalcomR

      My definition of evil? From my own highly evolved social sense of right and wrong. The exact same one you use to cherry-pick the "good" parts of the bible from the "bad" parts (or whatever book you "follow"). Stoning for picking up sticks on the wrong day? Right...

      September 16, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • MalcomR

      Plus, LovingXian, the better question is "how do you know he does?". And blah, blah, blah, the bible says, or I just have faith, or the universe proclaims the glory of... please have a little respect for your own evolved intellect.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • LovingChristian

      MalcomR, So you are guessing what is right and wrong. Got it. Are you ever wrong about anything ever? Because if you are wrong about this your eternal destiny will be affected. I suggest admitting you do not know and leave it at that for now.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • MalcomR

      I live it when xians get owned and the start putting words in other peoples mouths. Guessing? NO!. I SAID, I follow my highly evolve sense of social behavior. No guessing, and you are just sad. So exactly why do you not follow ALL of the commandments of your lord thy god, creator of the cosmos? Do you just "guess" at what he wants? Because your book is oh, so clear on everything. So clear that it take an army of clerics to "interpret" it for you (sheeple) and you still end up with thousands of sects. When I was younger, I found it hilarious. Now I find it to be tragically frightening.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  18. Name*Andrew Owen

    Remember that the freedoms enjoyed in America are the fruits of those liberties which were planted – many because of Christian ideas.
    The Bible does not condone every lifestyle, economy, and religion. However it does teach those claiming to be Christians "to live peaceably with all men".

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • MalcomR

      "christian ideas"? Wrong, wrong. So wrong, yet so... wrong.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • LovingChristian

      I agree. The founding fathers wrote about their faith.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • MalcomR

      Yes, they wrote about their faith. And then they deliberately did NOT mention god ONCE in the const.i.t.ution, and in fact banned legal recognition of religion. Does that tell you something? Can you see a pattern here?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  19. Steve Campbell

    I also tried to watch the vido but could not get past the first couple of minutes. I would agree it is a sorry attempt at film production but I would also agree that any time this happens certain elements in the Islamic world go bonkers. They need to understand that Christianity and all Christians oppose their faith and that every Sunday worship service, every baptism, every partaking of the Lord's table and every prayer to the Triune God in the name of his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ is an offence to their faith. They also need to realize that Christianity was thriving when Mohommed came along and that he rejected Christ and went about developing his own religious system using elements from the Christain religion he rejected and Judaism but that in the end, because Islam errs from the bibical revelation of the one true God, Mohammed is a false prophet and the way of Islam can and never will lead to eternal life. In the end all religions are essentially at "war" with each other however we are told that the Kingdom of God does not come by physical acts of violence so Christians who truly understand the sovereignty of God would never take up arms in the name of Christ but what we would like to see is our government asserting it's rightful place and defending our American way of life against Islamic terrorism.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  20. MalcomR

    Well lets see. Ban faith? Not at all. Just keep it out of public life. Our const.i.t.ution already bans the government from legally recognizing any religion. Does that bother you? Too bad. I would 100% support an amendment forbidding even the mention of religion by government officials. Religion is divisive and corrosive to an society.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • MalcomR

      Fricken' refresh and reply syndrome. This was to Ken down the page.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Exactly, if people want to wallow in their fantasy world, fine. Just keep it out of the government and don't try and force your fairytales on everyone else.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:16 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.