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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.

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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. Tim

    What a stupid arguement. The evangelicals are not killing. If its a tiny minority doing it then there should be no worries of a backlash.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  2. teachdiesel

    @Miriam Telling the truth about the lies of islam is not hate speech it is truth and if you can't handle the truth then bury your head back in the sand while they take over the world.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Peteyroo

      SniffDiesel, the Muslims are not taking over the world anymore than the Christians are. The world would be so much better off if religion vanished. It's hard to take religion out of a feeble mind unfortunately.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  3. tommLI

    But God and Hate are not two for many Xtians, they are ONE! Their version of God is a hater. A hater of all things they deem worthy of their derision and prejudices. So too their God. They make God in their image, as all do all believers, and as such he Hates first and loves much later on down the line – if at all.

    American Xtianity is about being right and winning. Its a take no prisoners mentality at this point, about winning various narrow ideological battles – no matter how burdened down with hate and intolerance. American Xtianity is about the bottom-line of profits in business and numbers in the pews.

    American Xtianity has NOTHING to do with personal introspection and spiritual growth and/or a journey. its about buying a package off the shelf of Evangelicalism and putting it on and claiming FULL FAITH and Fellowship and of course guaranteed Salvation. Faith is not something one works at anymore – Faith is a thing you "buy" and wear like any prepacked "look" at any store.

    American Xtianity is about being right, even when all the facts prove you wrong.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  4. Bob

    There is no such thing as islamophobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. There is absolutely nothing irrational about fearing Islam. Period.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Dale

      Unless you're a Christian-hating lib.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Lilith

      If even some are attacking and killing in the name of islam then there IS reason to fear islam .. the same goes for ANY religious violence.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Boob, there's nothing irrational about Christianity either.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Peteyroo

      I left out FEARING Christianity. Nothing irrational about fearing Christianity either.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  5. David Geffeney

    Am I the only person using he real name here? ...... Without the discussion of eschatology (study of end of world beliefs) of both Christian and Muslims, this article has no value. When one studies the characteristics of both, you can see right away that both scenarios play into each other perfectly. EX: the description of the anit-Christ in Judaeo Christian belief, is identical to the messiah of Islam. The Islamic belief that the 12th Imam cannot return until the destruction of both Israel and America, and the JC belief that there must be the battle of armeggedon (at megiddo) play into each other. When you look at dozens more prophecies side by side, you can't walk away and consider it a phobia by either side. These are profound beliefs on both sides, and there can only be one victor. This will affect everyone, you are encouraged to learn more. Calling it Islamaphobia reveals a bias as well.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • tommLI

      great points.

      The Phobia can be and should be seen as valid – as Islamic extremists are a dangerous group/s – its just that the Xtians take the side of Being sinless or absolved of any wrongdoing.

      I often wonder how many Xtian Money/political groups have been given a (behind closed doors) free-pass to create dissent and turmoil in the M.E...? Acting in a Perception Management sort of way...if not outright being given a legal means to intrude in the Regions...? Sort of how in early US history Privateers were given legal authority to disrupt the English and French trade, etc...

      September 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  6. Dale

    Weak diversion at best.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  7. MagicPanties

    Stop believing in fairy tales.
    Stop brainwashing children.
    Start questioning and thinking why you believe what you believe.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  8. areweserious

    Hey McClaren this article is a pile of crap. Islamophobia is not american it has been prevalent in Europe for a long time. We are just catching on. Keep your day job.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • David Geffeney

      I think I said the same thing , but a different way. This is another approach.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Human Being

      I wish you could walk in my shoes for just few days to hear what I hear on Radio, TV and Internet!!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  9. YC

    Brian Mclaren wrote in this article that the Christians in Egypt are in grave danger is untrue, well may be he does not read the news for the past years. Just last Christmas, Muslims has burned churches and killed Coptics Christians in Egypt and so in Iraq, violence against Christians in Egypt is on going events for many years and no outrage expressed by Christians around the world. As to the video, if you read history you will find that many of what have shown is true which is not pleasant as much as what the early Christians did to the jews.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  10. Patriot

    Why is this crap front page CNN? Our people are being murdered and we get a lecture that we are once again the problem. When people try (and succeed) to kill Americans, we tend to get upset. It does not matter what religion they name while doing it. Stop focusing on the victims being the problem. Too much focus on the film being offensive and not enough condemnation of violence from a region where it is near expected as the norm.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  11. Adam

    When you teach fantasy poine people not to think critically, they are more easily able to rationalize violence, which is why in the future the teachings of all religions need to delivered differently. The idea that psychological fantasy construct "A" is better than psychological fantasy construct "B" is absurd. There is no difference at all between Jesus or Mohammed. It is the same thing. I worry about anyone who cannot see this obvious fact.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • takawalk

      Jesus promotes love, Mohammed promotes violence. Isn't this a clear difference?

      September 26, 2012 at 4:18 am |
  12. Z_2K

    When Christ entered the temple to deal with the money-changers, he didn't enter with an olive branch in one hand and a dove in the other. Nor did he try to negotiate with them, and tap-dance around the matter. There is a time for peace, and a time for war. Make no mistake about it, the Western World is not at war with militant Islam....militant Islam is at war with the Western World, and the USA and it's allies in particular. And the war is not going to end through diplomatic means, because it is a war in the hearts of the masses who don't give a whack about diplomacy. It is a war based on jealosy, frustration, and religious fanaticism and empowerment. Jealousy and frustration because the youth of Islam , through modern communications, now know what they don't have and may never have beacuse of the oppressive religious societies in which they live.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      We need to defend ourselves ... we just can't attack with religious fanaticism of our own. Religion needs to stay out of the defense! Then we can work on peacefully getting rid of religion altogether.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  13. Al

    There is an unwarranted attack on a U.S. embassy and this guy's response is, "America, don't be hatin'." Hey McLaren, go "Fk" yourself.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  14. not stoked

    Author has some valid points...but why is it that when violence erupts in the middle east, pious Americans try to focus any kind of attention on the misconceptions of islam in America? Its not our fault that people in the middle east are killing each other as well as Americans. People forward all kinds of ignorant emails about all kinds of things but its not excuse to go on a killing spree.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  15. jhubers

    Bravo to Rev. McClaren for hitting all the right nails on the head. What we are witnessing in conservative Christian circles is the rise of an Islamophobia that is becoming uncomfortably reminiscent of the anti Semitic literature that led German Christians to turn their heads when their Jewish neighbors were being led to the gas chambers. It has all the same marks of irrational conspiracy theory paranoia. I just hope this article gets wide circulation among the Christians who are being sucked into this hatred of neighbor that has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Z_2K

      Was it a phobia in the 50's to be concerned about Communist Russia, when Nakita Kruschev took off his shoe at the United Nations, banged it on the table, and announced to the Western World "WE WILL BURY YOU" ? Elements of Islam, maybe not the general mainstream Muslim but perhaps supported by him/her, have announced to the Western World that Islam and Sharia Law will eventually prevail over our society. Iran's agenda is to restore the Caliphate of the 12th Imam, a myth to us but a truth to them, which will bring vitory for Islam and destruction to Israel and the West. WE see attempts now to get elements of Islam and Sharia law accepted into our society as the 'norm'. Businesses are told they need to allow paid time away from their work to allow Muslims to pray during work hours. Cab drivers in Minnesota refuse to pick up fares if they have any alcohol in their possesion or on their breath. Halal food must be on menu's. Etc. etc. etc. So, is it wrong to be concerned ...is it a phobia ?

      September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  16. angeson

    THAT is the truth. We have taught the world that nukes are only a scarecrow and only by using them will there be living memories of how far the free world can be pushed. I've heard all I care to hear from Islam. They need to be shut up.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  17. John

    For the author of this article, think of a student in a class making a film about science theories, and the fellow students jump out of their chairs and start a riot, killing people nearby and then wanting to kill the student making the film. You, the author of this article, then claim Christians are afraid of people attacking and killing others, over science being discussed. How insane would that be, that science students, attack and kill others over science being discussed... very insane. Now replace "science" with "Islam" in this example paragraph, and tell me your article still makes sense.

    Muslims killing others, because Islam's text is discussed? How insane is that anyway?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  18. LetsStopTheLies

    It is amazing to read these responses and how some even ridiculed this Author. Yet, most of us failed to take the TRUE message he is trying to convey; which
    "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."
    and this "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."
    and finally this punch-line "The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge"
    And I think everyone knows, deep within, why such harsh reactions to this article which is preaching nothing but non-violence. However, since it is trying to be impartial and has not SOLELY blamed ALL the Muslims, most of us have disliked it and put forward our own hate mongering. It is very difficult to understand fairness/justice/patience. It is EXTREMELY difficult to practice it. We are prejudiced by our own views of the world.

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

      If theieir reaction was something other than calling for the death of the offender, then maybe i wouldn't call it extreme.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  19. muslim2012

    September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  20. Mariam

    Thank you for your moral courage, Mr, Mclaren, to speak truth to the (mainstream) power. Christian should do some soul searching as in "what would Jesus do?" while flagging the planks in the eye as the flag for piety.
    Hat speech is not the excercise of freedom of speech.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • pct

      Well, until libs made it illegal, "hate" speech is freedom of speech. YOu'll be clinging to the edge of the slippery slope soon enough.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:15 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.