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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. TownC

    I agree that Christians should be tolerant of Islam. Most Muslims are good people just trying to live peaceful decent lives. However, to suggest or even hint that Evangelicals are responsible for the riots in the Middle East is misleading and dishonest. I am not an Evangelical, but even I can see that the people responsible for the violence are the radical Muslims in the affected countries and their governments who let them protest violently. Most Muslims in these countries, while certainly offended, stayed home. To blame this movie or Evangelicals is dangerous because it shows an ignorance of the true motives of these people. It also sparks anti Evangelical feelings here in the US and despite what the author says, it is appeasement. Where are the liberals standing up for freedom of expression and freedom of speech?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Moses

      How would you know anything about what's in the mind of a muslim?????

      They will do whatever their imam tells the to do.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Christian

      Who is more intolerant than Muslims? Don't say Christians. You can build a Mosque in the USA, but you can not build a Church at Mecca.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • TownC

      I am not saying that many Muslims and Muslim countries are tolerant of Christians, but is that an excuse for a Christian to be intolerant? We should know better! Tolerance does not mean acceptance. It does not mean that we don't try to battle radical Islam. It does not mean we don't defend freedom of speech, no matter if it offends Muslims.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • mjbrin

      they are not "true Muslims" they are only using the term to justify their actions
      just like Christians, Jews, Ancient Greeks, etc have done........humans can so easily revert back to thiese types of actions.......

      September 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  2. Frank

    Radical christians (evangelicals) feed the poor, build orphanages, and pray for the sick. Radical Muslims strap bombs to themselves and blow up the innocent. Go figure.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  3. Jay

    I'm not sure how this is news. Historically Muslims have been extremely violent. In fact, they are equally violent to this day as they have been historically. This is not news, this isn't even worth publishing. Come up with some real news.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • politicalsleuth

      And it is also known that christians are historically violent as well. The pathetic film was the product of christian extremists and those who believe the way you do are every bit as responsible for those 4 American deaths, as the muslim extremists are.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  4. politicalsleuth

    The christian extremists are every bit as responsible for the 4 American deaths as the muslim extremists. And I too have seen those hate-filled, fear-mongering, ignorant emails. The alarming thing is that so many Americans believe them and pass them on.

    The hate in this country is worse than I can remember in my 57 years. And one has to look no further than the hate in these comments to verify.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  5. ropenti

    Wow, now this is evangelicals' fault! This is one of the most non-sensical opinions. It shows how low our dear friend Brian is plunging and the sad state of the "emergent church". Sad, sad sad state. It went from cool, hip, popular to utterly ridiculous.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • politicalsleuth

      You folks just can't accept responsibility for your own mistakes, can you?

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

    From CNN home page >>>>> "Attackers disguised in U.S. uniforms toted automatic rifles, grenades and suicide vests, NATO said. They killed two Marines and destroyed six jets at the military camp where Prince Harry is based"

    I just can't see why on earth there would be any fear of this group of people. :-/...they play dirty

    September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  7. Gary Rodenburg

    Where is the journalism in matters of religioin? I've read that this film is crude, offensive, etc, which is enough to keep me away, but Is the messenger and his skill what disturbs people, or is it his message? The film's claims caused the offense, but are ignored in reports I've read. Unless lies are exposed and truths acknowledged we're no closer to understanding. Where is the journalism?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  8. reasonnotreligion

    Perhaps it is time the RATIONAL world stops trying to appease those stuck in the dark ages.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  9. Tryingtounderstand

    End days? The battle between 'good' and 'evil.' A seesaw we are living now. The forces of hatred, racism, bigotry, and neo- conservatism are winning.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  10. Luis Wu

    All religions are nothing but ancient mythology. Christianity is just as dumb as any of the others. True, they don't normally go around killing non-believers like Muslim extremists but they did in the past. A lot of commenters here have given their thoughts on Islam. Below are some of my thoughts on Christianity:

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian:

    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children and the murder and enslavement of thousands of women and children in Numbers: 31.
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Silver

      Wrong. Evangelical just disagree with those things.

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

      It is wrong to say that Scientist and Christians are in disagreement. Many Scientist are and were Christians.

      "I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily."– Issac Newton

      No non-Christian has ever contributed as much as Christian Issac Newton.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Danny

      It's funny hour you think you are enlightened yet you still group all Christians into that one category. I'm a Christian who go to Church every Sunday, a 3rd year medical student who did a scientific research on radiation medicine, am fluent in 2 languages – both of which I not only use in everyday life but to read literature as well – and have also spent many years learning Marxist-Leninist politicoeconomics. A good number of my friends are atheists, agnostics, Bhuddists, and Taoists and we never ever have any problem with each others' faiths and believes. How do I fit into your picture of a Christian?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Eastwood

      Good points! You made my day!

      September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  11. jonat

    It's not a "phobia" when it's true...despite what obama and his state media propaganda tells you

    September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  12. Joe in Kalispell

    I think part of the problem is religion, culture and politics is all rolled up into a Muslim. You can't talk about one issue without considering all three. We have a little bit of that here and it can make having a rational discussion difficult. Image the majority of a country like that?!?!

    September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • snowboarder

      joe – thankfully the founders of this country knew well the evils of religion ensconced in goverment and our citizens work tirelessly to keep religion from infiltrating our government and oppressing our citizens.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. a disgrace

    it looks like the taliban just put a end to america's chance of getting oil from libya. one last failure for obama before his disgrace of a presidency ends...

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

    If one looks at some of the nonsense your average evangelical believes, convincing them that there is a Muslim conspiracy against them should be child's play. Such as:

    1. An immortal being, powerful enough to have created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, watches their actions and monitors their thoughts 24 hours a day for the purposes of deciding whether to admit them to live happily ever after in heaven or burn for all eternity in hell.

    2. This same being created the cosmos in the "big bang", waited about 9,000,000,000 years for the sun and Earth to form, another 4,500,000,000 for human beings to evolve, and then sent his "son" to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in Iron Age Judea. Either that, or it was all done in six days about 10,000 years ago – along with a talking snake.

    3. While here, this cosmic visitor did not visit any of the 200 million other people spread throughout the world and was totally unaware of their existence, including all of the Americas, Europe, Asia (including China and Ja.pan – both well developed at the time) India, sub-saharan Africa or Australia. i.e. 99% of the planet.

    4. When one thinks silent thought like "Jesus help me pass my exam tomorrow" this being, or his father, will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to answer the prayer.

    5. It is wrong to question any of the above, as that will make one a "sinner" or a "doubting Thomas". One must accept it at face value and never question it. Accepting such silly claims is a strength, not a weakness.

    6. A person will survive their own physical death and live happily ever after in heaven, provided they never question, doubt or think for themselves – or, if they do, provided they ultimately arrive at the answer that the above nonsense above is true.

    And they are just a few. I could add the silliness of the "soul" "trinity", "original sin" and a host of other clearly supernatural beliefs.

    The only amazing thing to me about this is that so many people still believe it in an age where the first man on the moon has already died and we have the internet to educate ourselves at the touch of a button.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Joe in Kalispell

      On #3, He visited North and South America. Not sure about anywhere else.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • snowboarder

      joe – he visited north and south america? really?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Bulldog2012

      Hey G...explain how a complex fluid requlating cellular membrane, molecular metabolic processing machinery (factory), and working DNA/RNA/MRNA/Etc. all spontaneously put themselves together at the same moment whereby a non-irreducibly complex cellular machine could form so the same impossibly complex machine composed of billions upon billions of atoms could not only use energy and reproduce, but have the proper chemical coding to do so at the same instant all of these items "bumped into each other and formed a cell"....whereby your thoroughly debunked evolutionary theory might have some chance of playing out...and with your answer (which will necessarily be that some intelligent force was responsible for that process if you're truthful with yourself)...then I'll help you further with your other silly questions (if you still need help)...

      September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • colin

      Bulldog, abiogenesis and evolution. Now answer his points, please.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Bulldog2012

      Abiogenesis doesn't begin to answer my questions Colin....or if we're answering complex questions with snarky oneword "duh" type statements as you did, then I'll answer his question like you answered mine...... : God! Duh!!!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  15. TJ

    If only the world was more tolerant and accommodating to Hitler and the Nazis, the world would have been safer, too, right?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Joe in Kalispell

      Appeasement, ROFL

      September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Silver

      Good point.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Robert

      If only hate, ignorance and intolerance hadn't produced and enabled Hitler and the Nazis in the first place...

      September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  16. Bulldog2012

    The author might better have suggested it's time for muslims to "own-up" to their own islamic Christo-phobia! Muslims routinely make a habit of breeding the same metaphorical mosquitos they claim infinge on their religious practice rights and safety, and then swat the same with atomic weaponry. Always easier to blame the victim...

    September 16, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  17. glorydays

    It's a reasonable concern, as is a fear of the radical developing Christian population as seen by the provocative behavior of the Christian film makers. Two groups of children with war tools. Damned scary.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  18. aginghippy

    I'm so tired of the notion that we must be respectful to the delusions of the religious. The film maker who started all of the recent violence has every right to criticize and mock Islam, just as I have the absolute right to criticize Christianity or any other religion.
    This article decries the impolite expression of an opinion, as if it practically excuses the violence it caused. The fact is that even if no Muslim extremist ever committed an act of violence in the name of Allah, no thinking, rational human being should feel compelled to treat the nonsense of Islam with anything other than contempt. No thinking, rational human being should be put in the position to be afraid of criticizing any religion, lest he or she be seen as insensitive or uncouth.
    If I were to proclaim that I believe there is an invisible pink unicorn guding my path (which many atheists sarcastically do), would I have the right to expect people to treat such nonsense with respect? Would I be justified in claiming to be the victim of religious bigotry and persecution when some honest and rational human being suggests that I seek psychiatric treatment?
    Think about it. We can openly criticize an individual's political affiliation, we can criticize a person's taste in music, or their wardrobe or their eating habits, and we are just exercising free speech. But if you criticize any person's religion, you are seen as some kind of antisocial monster.
    I find the belief that Mohammed rode a horse to heaven to be no more or less juvenile and preposterous than the notion that Jesus had a virgin for a mother. How is it that the religious get to make these absurd claims, which taken out of the context of religion would be open to ridicule, and I am supposed to stay quiet so as not to offend the delusional and brainwashed believer?
    Only when people abandon the fear, not only the fear of offending the religious of the world, but the fear of death and eternal hellfire, which has propagated religious belief for centuries, can we ever hope to see peace, reason and advancement as a species.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  19. Lily

    Look at the menacing faces, hate and threats of violence and murder coming from these people!

    You will be stupid not to be afraid (phobia) of Islam.

    Evangelical or otherwise, sane people SHOULD be afraid of Islam. Why our leaders and media are not stating the obvious and protecting our values? Why are they on board with all that Islam stands for?

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

      "Look at the menacing faces, hate and threats of violence and murder coming from these people!"

      Oh. I thought you were talking about evangelicals. Their entire doctrine is based on hatred – hatred of gays, hatred of Catholics, hatred of liberals, hatred of science, hatred of anything and everything that doesn't conform to their own narrow beliefs. It spews from their pulpits in a daily torrent, a blowtorch-hot stream of pure hatred.

      The only difference between the evangelicals and the islamists is their tactics. But given a different environment, the evangelists would happily be torching embassies, mosques and non-believers with gleeful abandon.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  20. sdsdfs

    Really CN N? This guy defending sand ni gg ers is the front page story? Get real.

    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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.