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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 • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. bb69

    I always thought "phobia" means "fear." Just because some people disagree or dislike a culture and religion that is, for whatever reasons, primarily about backwardness, endlessly throwing rocks and running away, intolerance, hatred of women, children, Jews and anyone else that doesn't look like them, doesn't mean they "fear" Islam.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  2. Christian

    How come atheist are so much better at killing? Mao killed 70 million people. No theist ever killed that many.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • One one

      That is, except for god. Read your bible.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • lukos58

      Thirty Years War between Catholics & Protestants – high est. 11,500,000. The French Religious Wars between Catholics & Huguenot Protestants – est. 4,000,000. All Crusades – est. 3,000,000 (including over 30,000 in the Children's Crusade & over 300,000 est. Jews killed on the marches to the Middle East). And let's not forget the non-Christian wars fought in the name of religion, such as the Sunni-Sh'ite wars, the Mayans & Aztecs killing & sacrificing in the name of their gods, the many Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Sumerian wars specifically against other religions daring to challenge their power and gods. There are always wars and always "justifications," but don't make it out to seem secular interests fight and kill anymore than religious zelots do. It's always more complicated and multi-interest than your simplistic "fact" you are trying to point out.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Chris

      Well, Atheists certainly don't respect Islam, they believe that is the "poison" of everything. This author blames Christians for Islamophobic , but just look at some atheists on the web, their mocking disrespect for Islam is freewheeling (but they usually save their "aggression" for Christianity). But you are not going to see a CNN "My Take" on that any time soon.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Chris

      lukos58 – Furthering Atheist states has resulted in millions upon millions of deaths. No need to complicate that. It's true.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  3. burlf

    McClaren needs to go unarmed and alone to Tahrir square and hold up a sign saying 'I don't believe the teachings of the Koran" or something to that effect for 1 hour. Only after he has done this, can he lecture others about 'Islamophobia'.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  4. Matt

    A Christian makes a film, thousands of Muslims protest by destorying property and killing innocents and you write an article critical of Christians? And CNN publishes the article? Nice.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  5. total nonsense

    It whould so simple to remove the problem at it's root: ISLAM. destroy Islam and make it a capitabl crime to be a muslim. PROBLEM SOLVED

    September 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  6. Chris

    Author's Idea of "bad" Muslims

    "the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence"

    Author's Idea of "bad" Christians

    "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."

    Really, are you serious?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  7. Jack

    Give the Marines live rounds, shoot the buggers as they top the wall of our embassy's. I bet we can make a few billion bullets faster than they can climb the walls. Religion of hateful extremes needs to be treated just like it reacts.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • UncleM

      Pot, meet kettle.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  8. Dennis

    Muslim

    I am not going to try to argue everyone in this room. However, I do have a request for all the people who hate muslims. Just once in your life time try to make a muslim friend and get to know them.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:16 am
    -----------------------–
    I don't know anyone who hates Muslims, yet.
    I have friends and family members, by marriage that are Muslims. We worked in the same office they used to visit, until the Muslim attacks began. We're only close to two Families now. Some even moved back to Saudi Arabia. But, what does that matter? If our families have a fight, and my Brothers promise you that they're going to kill you, are you going to trust your life to me? Or, are you going to be careful, practical, and take measures to protect "your" life? That's the position that I see America, the West, and ALL Nom-Muslims in, right now. What does it matter, that it's only ten percent of the Muslim Population that's bellegierent, threatening, and dangerous? I don't know of anyone, who's "not"Muslim, that will kill himself, in order to kill you, and your family. Do you?
    Dennis

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  9. brewer

    when every news cycle of the American media is full of images and stories of radical Muslims rioting, attacking, burning, killing and spewing hate-filled slogans, not to mention blowing up people, buildings, and themselves, all in the name of Islam, what else would people who do not normally interact with the majority of Muslims that are just normal folks mostly concerned with their daily lives, to think???

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • One one

      That Islam is a religion of peace, of course :)

      September 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  10. Sumballo

    Disconnect.
    Conservatives point out that Islam has doctrines that direct them to attack and kill anyone who does not accept Islam.
    Attacks happen. "Infidels" have been targeted, killed and bombed for decades now. Thousands killed.
    And the opinion author wants to suggest that the problem is with the people who are calling Islam a threat?
    In some terms, it is people who think like this author who are the threat to America philosophically, culturally and from a faith perspective. We need to learn how to recognize the deception in what people like this write.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  11. Brian

    Throwing out the proverbial "hate speech" is like the claim of racism nowadays. It has lost any meaning in our overly sensitive society.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  12. muslim2012

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr2giR8klSk&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  13. eric

    Why do they refer to it as islamophobia???? We're not afraid of those idiots....we just hate the way they go around killing innocent people so we want their horrible religion to go away forever!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Roman

      Christianity's message is one of love and any action that excludes this principal ingredient degrades the religion you profess to love. Hatred for those who wish you harm is the complete opposite of this message:

      "God, forgive them for they know not what they do."

      Forgive yourselves for if you hate another man or woman, even if they wish you harm, you know not what you do.

      By the way, for every crazed, militant Muslim, there are millions of moderate, peace loving, hard working Muslims and you need to concentrate on their existence before expressing wishes of a hate filled Holocaust that makes you no better than those who kill in the name of another God.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  14. delia

    I wish I could convey the thought to Muslims that all books, people and movies eventually get destroyed somehow. They, themselves, are not sacred or holy. While we can worship and pray to Mohammed or Jesus or Buddha and hold them in our hearts as sacred and holy, the physical emblems of our worship are not sacred. We might be sad if an antique Bible or Koran was destroyed or lost, or if some ignorant person in another country makes irreverent movies or jokes about our Holy Spiritual Leaders or Saviors, we must not waste our good energy on those people. Show them the reverence and serenity we get from Mohammed or Jesus, etc. Freedom of Religion goes hand -in-hand with Freedom of Speech in the U.S.A. and many other countries. If you want to freely worship and speak freely, then anyone can speak freely and worship as he wishes. Even though we would like to make some of those stupid people shut up, we just do not listen to them or give them a moment of our time! We just do not react to them at all.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  15. mickthemick

    This article embodies the same kind of hysteria it claims to denounce. I know a lot of practicing, religious Christians. I have never heard any of them cast disparaging remarks about Muslims or their faith. In fact, a few of them are outspoken against the War on Terror. None of them have ever displayed the type of anti-Islam paranoia this writer describes. This article is nothing but anti-Christian propaganda, which itself will feed fanatical bigots with an anti-religion agenda.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • JMM

      I could not agree more. How this trailer could promote Islamophobia on the part of evangelicals or anybody else is a mystery to me. A film portraying Islam as a religion of hate and violence could do that, but not this lightweight, unserious and poorly done piece. "Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend". Right. It's equally true that many sincere and good-hearted muslims have never yet had a real Christian friend. The writer's point escapes me.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  16. pct

    IS he kidding??!!!!

    "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."

    And to borrow the point of another reader......... who said that the film maker was an Evangelical Christian? Why isn't the author calling upon the Muslim world to join the 21st century and recognize the right of free speech, or at the VERY LEAST the right to peaceful demonstration instead of sodomy.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Dennis

      pct

      IS he kidding??!!!!

      "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."

      And to borrow the point of another reader......... who said that the film maker was an Evangelical Christian? Why isn't the author calling upon the Muslim world to join the 21st century and recognize the right of free speech, or at the VERY LEAST the right to peaceful demonstration instead of sodomy.
      -------------------------------------
      WHO says the Filmmaker is an Evangelical Christian?
      Sam Bacile, the reputed Filmmaker has not been seen, filmed, or heard, by anyone. Does he really exist?
      I think it"s all a planned farce, designed for exactly the result that it's caused.
      It gave the Militants a reason, to attack.
      Dennis

      September 16, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. CHRIS

    CNN ..YOU ARE A DISGRACE. THIS IS THE LAST "LESSON" THAT DESERVES A HEADLINE THIS WEEK. BRIAN MCLAREN IS A BITTER PERSON BECAUSE HE LOST HIS POWER AND RESPECT AS A THEOLOGICAL LEADER.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • lukos58

      hey! could you not use all caps? makes you sound like a tool and your message gets lost in the tooliness. besides, it's usually the one who is yelling that has the indefensible position in an argument. ah, forget it. you're just a tool anyway because of your blind hatred for anyone who doesn't believe like you do. just go back to your tool shed and continue being a tool, okay? don't want to move you out of your comfort zone. *** yes, typed in lower case on purpose you idiot. ***

      September 16, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  18. SUPERIOR MOST EDUCATED PURVEYOR OF ALL TRUTH AND KNOWLEDGE SWAMI-TYPE DUDE OF THE BETTER ILK

    Everyone can stop commenting now.
    WHAT I said earlier covers everything that need be known or said.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  19. One one

    Obama is trying to get YouTube to remove the film. So much for protecting free speech .

    He is still claiming this is about the film. Leaders in Lybia have just confirmed it was a planned assination. So much for truth.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  20. Jmark

    Arab Spring? Let me think – murders of Americans, burned United States flag, no religious liberty unless you are Muslim, ranting militants marching in the streets trashing everything in sight, the degradation of women, corruption everywhere. Only tyrannical dictators can control these fanatics. Sounds like the Arab Winter is here.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:06 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.