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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. ant301

    Yes, this exactly the notion I got, along with the caskets of my diplomats…NOT! Talking about the horse behind the carriage!

    September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  2. HenryMiller

    Religions are fundamentally divisive, us-vs-them, and have caused more misery and death than any other factor in human history. They're fundamentally childish, my-god-is-better-than-your-god, and they appeal to the childish instincts of childish people. The human race would be a whole lot better off if all religions, at least the vicious, vindictive, Western ones were, as they ought to be, derided into oblivion.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  3. Bunkie Moon

    I see CNN spreading more hate and Christophobia today .
    Good job CNN .

    September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • mjbrin

      not true, they ate simply placing a mirror in front of us

      September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  4. muslim2012

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZDe9DCx7Wk&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. bibleverse1

    I am against violence.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  6. wassupUSA

    Wow, another left-wing article trying to white wash the problems of Islam, and at the same time, trying to make equate Christians to people that behead "infidel" for "insulting" their prophet.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  7. deb

    Thank you for this article. I agree completely. However, he should have also condemned the killings. It is just insane for people to kill those who had nothing to do with the movie. And forget free speech. Have some common sense folks. It is time to ban all attacks on religion. We are no longer a purely Christian nation – get over it.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  8. Elvis

    Meanwhile, that 'tiny minority' of Muslim Jihadists are attacking the U.S. (yes the embassies are part of the U.S.), killing our citizens, dragging them away and doing who knows what to them. Yeah, there is no valid reason to be concerned.

    Given the means to do so, the Muslim Jihadist would wipe out every U.S. citizen and city. Here is the platform for the Muslim Brotherhood:
    1. Muslims are “masters of the world”
    2. Islamic nation’s “rightful position… the teachers of humanity”
    3. “There is no other option but Jihad for Allah”
    4. Fighting Israel is “Jihad against the criminal, thieving gangs of Zion”5. Has the [Muslim] Brotherhood grown weary of the challenges, thrown down their guns and abandoned Jihad?!! No!”

    From “Jihad is the Way,” by the former leader of the Brotherhood in Egypt
    (until 2002), Mustafa Mashhur:

    September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  9. boomerbob

    Brian

    Very reasonable and astute observations in your article, unfortunately from reading many of the comments it appears it all fell on a lot of ears deafened by extremism and blind nationalism. This all takes me back to the 50s and 60s in the South where; "if you ain't lilly white, you ain't nothing and if you ain't my shade of lilly white, you still ain't nothing."

    Religious extremism and the zealous nationalism in this country is turning the U.S. into a country of ignorant, hate-mongers eager to kill. You can't help but wonder; what would all these zealots do if the U.S. was invaded by another country as we've done for decades in the Arab world? It seems we've grown accustomed to the philosophy that the U.S. is the only country in teh world that has the right to "defend" itself – even when that "defense" is a blowback of our offense.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Rogue

      They don't like our version of a "free market" where the tyranny of the corporations causes our defense industries to fully support any violence whatsoever where they feel a profit can be made.
      I can't say that I like it either. We are projecting force and have always sought the destabilizing of regional threats to our "interests", but we have never sought to put an eventual end to violence in any way.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • boomerbob

      Rogue – absolutely on the mark and sadly, most don't realize, or perhaps prefer to simply cover their eyes and ears to see no eveil and hear no evail, all the while our corporate-owned government perpetrates unspeakable evil around the world.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  10. Reality

    What does Evangelical Christianity have to do with this film? It was produced by a mid-Eastern Coptic Christian in response to the persecution they are enduring. It has nothing to do with Evangelical Christianity. The author obviously has a chip on his shoulder. Typical CNN – what happened to decent and good journalism.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • mjbrin

      my take was that evangelical christians silence about the film spoke volumes. did any condemn it?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • takawalk

      Yes many evangelicals condemned the film. As for myself I tried to watch it but it is so poorly and mockingly made I just gave up. The film is idiotic, it is also a "Red Herring".

      September 25, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  11. FairGame

    Since Brian D. McLaren knows so much about the peaceful Muslims in the Middle East, I think we should send him to Libya as our next US Ambassador. Without any guns.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Elvis

      agreed.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • mjbrin

      when i was looking at all the photos from these reports one big thing stood out
      the majority of "protestors" were MEN
      I wonder what that means?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  12. rh

    A close relative that I do not visit often owns a Christian bookstore. On the shelf with books like "How God Loves You" and "Children's Songs of Christ", there were others like "The Pope is Satan" and "Catholics Created Nazism", as well as "The Dangers of Islam" and "Blacks Want Our Country to be an Islamic State". Some were clearly "locally published".

    When I asked my relative about the books, he said "oh, they just ship me a set of books, I don't ask for them". He did not take them down nor express an opinion on them either way.

    There is a disenfranchisement of folks with long histories in the US, going back to the Revolutionary War and before, but are not the "first-borns" who got any property or money. These folks by all accounts feel that they should be privileged, that their ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, and to them waves and waves of "non-Americans" have been taking away their job opportunities and way of life – first black "slaves", then Irish and Italians, then Eastern Europeans, then Asians, then Hispanics, and now Arabs.

    The only real solution is education and diversity. Back when in Europe, Jewish folks wanted to live in a separate area of town so that they could build synagogues there and walk to services, have kosher butchers and send their kids to religious schools. This further created animosity as it decreased integration (with religious reasons from the Jewish point of view). But now we expect that most immigrants are limited to big cities on the coasts, yet some people are smart enough to realize that housing is cheaper in the Midwest and South.

    The idea of "infiltration" is a problem for many who have been disenfranchised for years, from the first time a "white" person lost a job to an Irishman (see the joke in Blazing Saddles, a great movie for racists to watch and learn). I see it in some of my relatives, who are near the poverty line and their answer is to "blame the N-words" or "blame the ragheads".. Lack of education is the problem, and companies paying immigrants less than US citizens is another problem.

    It boils down to the economy more than real hatred of a particular religion. It is easy to say "I don't have a job because an immigrant took it, and *those people* are coming *here* to take *our* jobs and destroy *our* way of life. (same thing in many parts of Europe as well – see Norway shootings, and in Israel – see racist riots against blacks).

    September 16, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Rogue

      There are more ways in which primitive and instinctual xenophobia rears its ugly head in these problems that humanity faces every day.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  13. lewtwo

    The film is truly awful and offensive however there are many things in the world that are offensive to any civilized human being. At the top of the list is a religion that worships a war mongering pedophile. The world needs to free itself from the blight known as Islam.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Blow Hole #34139

      and the blight known as christianity.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • mjbrin

      but the silence from the religious right about the film is defeaning and the indignation of the religious right that "how dare someone judge me" is amazingly pretentious

      September 16, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  14. Christian from Egypt

    Sir, you are not fair, you have no idea what is happening to the Christians in Egypt, you are just another stereo type of repeating or denying what you have no knowledge of. what is your source of information...you read a book..! or heard a story!!
    I appreciate if you write such an essay from your beautiful house of 5 stars hotel rooms, take a trip to Egypt, if you dare, and go see how actually minorities in Egypt are being treated very badly and how their lives are threatened every day by Muslims majority.
    enough said.. just please stop steering the general opinion with philosophical opinions, based on stories you heard.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  15. mikey_tee

    I'll be waiting for your followup article on evangelical Muslims preaching hate against Christians and Jews.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Human Being

      I wonder how you would feel if you are being attacked daily on radio, TV, Internet and even in casual conversations!! Why can't I be left alone to practice whatever I belive in without being attacked??? Does the KKK represent all Christians? Does Timothy Mcveigh represent you??

      September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  16. Mike S

    Perhaps the media should stop preaching Westerners to be more sensitive to Muslims and instead teach Muslims about freedom of speech which is a basic human right. We should not give up our human rights for the sake of appeasing a group of people. It obviously doesn't work. It is a myth.
    By the way, there are plenty of videos and mainstream films that put God and Christians in a bad light. It angers many but we don’t go around killing innocent people for it.

    This article is another example of Yellow Journalism by CNN.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  17. charlie Strater

    Mr. McClaren – American evangelical leaders don't kill Christians, Muslims do.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Blow Hole #34139

      So when Bush started an unjust war because "God told him to" over a pink telephone, that wasn't christians killing Muslims because of Bush's God? Bush is an evangelical, yes?

      Oh, wait, only a crazy person would claim that they spoke to invisible, unprovable beings over a pink telephone, strike that part.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  18. Belarus Marek

    Hmmmm.... Muslims are unstable, rabid dogs. Evangelical Christians are the same way. Gee.... You never hear of pagans committing the atrocities these two groups are famous for.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • John Sharp

      Amen!

      September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Antal

      First, pagans sacrificed huge amounts of people back in the day, second, what attrocities have evangelicals commited?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • John Sharp

      **First pagans sacrificed huge amounts of people"" I love how these religious people make statements with NO facts, and pretend they are facts by the manner in which they say them.
      No amount of atrocities have even come close to those of the Christian faithful, THE CRUSADES ANYONE!!
      btw, I am catholic and educated. Not some idiot that believes that book is actually the word of God.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Rogue

      Many modern Evangelicals openly espouse the destruction of our government and the replacing of it with a theocracy, or haven't you read what they have been saying lately?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  19. Sarah

    Similar to racism, Islamophobia is a word people like to throw out as soon as a person questions any negative impact that Islam has had on our world. The fact of the matter is that Islam is unavoidably incompatible with Western values. To change this would require a radical stripping of most of Islam's core tenets and principles. There will come a time when people will have to stop being nice and assigning equal "goodness" to every set of cultural values. Islam is a backwards religion that does not, will not, and cannot "mesh" with our Western culture. It's not fun to say, but it's true.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Joe in Kalispell

      Very well said

      September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • John

      Thank you. You should not choose your beliefs based on which ones give you the warm fuzzies.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  20. akismet-d1ac97498bd026aa1b01a53c0f92a45b

    "I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America. Now I believe in whatever the liberal media tells me to do." – Brian McLaren

    September 16, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • John Sharp

      Umm, well no if you are an Evangelical Christian than you believe whatever some clown interprets from an archaic horribly written book.
      Wow, you can switch the word Christian and Muslim and both would be the truth.
      But in all fairness the Christian faithful have had to adopt to the world moving forward to stay alive. They don't kill anyone that disagrees that their God is the one true God TODAY!!
      It is sad that even today that we the people have to patronize these religious fools. And I mean both the Muslim and the Christian faithful.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:38 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.