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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. Randy

    Really CNN, really? is all the Evangelicals fault then wow.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  2. MName

    People who are very much alike always fight.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  3. Just_right

    This entire argument that a religion that you do not agree with is obscured. Anyone that would back a person that does not have enough tolerance to understand the other person point of view then they really do not understand religion. This is not for one religion but all. When we simple say that this is the only one then we disregard the teaching of Christ, My take in this is if you have no problem with crating hostility in the religion arena or feel no sympathy for those that are impacted by your speech then the word Christ should no be in your speak and if you support this type of speech then you should really pray more for others and even more so for YOURSELF.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Dan

      While Jesus would not condone violence or hateful speech against anyone, I think he was pretty clear when he said – multiple times – that he is the only way to God, and all other paths lead to destruction. Agree or disagree, but don't change what he said to be culturally acceptable.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  4. Kent

    Why aren't the Muslims here within the U.S. standing up and saying that they condemn what is going on in the Middle East over a single persons release of a bad film. Yet they remain silent...hmmm...no different following 9/11 either. What are they afraid of? For that matter why doesn't CNN go out and ask them how they feel about it?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Irfan M

      If you would take the time to actually look up what you just said, you would see that many Muslim organizations have condemned both events, but this is not covered by mainstream news.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • cbtx67

      The Dallas Muslim society held a candlelight vigil denouncing the acts of the extremists. Perhaps it's happening, but just not at loud as the soap box Christian chatterings. Just cause you don't hear it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Jeff

      For those muslims who do speak out, you are great people. However, please, anyone, direct me to any video/picture of muslims speaking out in half as many numbers as those torching our embassies or chanting "we are Osama".

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

    Unreal. A week of Islamists rampaging against our embassies, rioting and murdering, and you're worried about... Islamophobia? Are we allowed to EVER criticize the barbarism and backwardness of Islamist fanatics without being labeled Islamophobes, bigots, "racists", etc? When did Islam become such a sacred cow? People bash Christians and Christianity in America all the time and you don't see the label "Christophobia" thrown around. At least be honest and just admit that the whole "Islamophobia" label is just a transparent attempt at censorship of any criticism against Islam.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Frank

      Exactly. And the people writing these types of articles are LIBERALS. The worst ENEMIES AMERICA HAS HAD SINCE THE COLD WAR!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Frank

      Hoe ma phobia worked so well for "THAT" group the Muslims took it and ran with it so they could continue building their Mosques and Madrasas and build an army under our noses unabated and label anyone who is on to them PHOBES and lunatics. Its part of their plan to take our nation over, they work on it every day and have already infiltrated the White House, Pentagon, YOU NAME IT. Not like this a secret, Just to Obama and Hilary.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Bill

      Absolutely. If all the world had to worry about was "Islamophobia" we'd all be singing Kumbaya and sharing Cokes with one another. The problem isn't the fear of Islam, it's Islam itself.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  6. Strontium

    Brian – I went to your church in MD for a year or so. This is all very eloquent – and it is clear that Jesus never taught the violent enforcement of Christian beliefs. We are to present our beliefs and if the audience is not receptive, then move on. But it is also clear that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive – and it would be intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. That does not mean that we should kill each other – but it does mean that Islam teaches that Christianity is wrong, and Christianity (as revealed in the Bible, not as presented by misguided liberal intellectual Protestant denominations) teaches that Islam is wrong, and it's followers are lost. Again – we should be able to live together without killing each other – but beyond that – we won't be sending each other Christmas cards.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  7. Pat Jay

    Muslims are slaves to them self's, the ottomans were on the road to world domination in the 12 through 15th century's. then they let a republican mentality set in. all new ideas were bad and I'm born to rule became the way of the ruling elite. the great power that was islam never pulled its self back out of the ditch of conservatism. the rule of law became the rulers well. sadly its the same today! its like islam has a 100 Pope's all fighting the teachings of every other believer on the plant too be God's one and only? Wish I could say America is headed in the right direction its self? but when We have grown men running for the highest office in the world! refuting the basic rules scientific fact on national TV LoL. next time your out at night I want you to too know most of the stars that you can see with the naked eye. were named by Arab scientist then the Godly make them close they're eyes. please don't let it happen in America. Don't vote Romney "Amen"

    September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  8. Frank

    The leaders of the free world should memorize the quote from Winston Churchill. Our leaders should shut ISLAM down NOW but they all sell us out to Political Correctness which will leave the PEOPLE to end up fighting ISLAM in the end.

    "Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves."

    September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  9. Jeff

    Instead of pointing out the few exagerations that can be debunked and then using your own unproven statement "a small minority", why not examine the many stories that I do not know how anyone can deny. The videos of crowds that must be close to a thousand chanting "We are all Osama" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TikEcT1DgEU ) or just do a google search of "christians killed" and scroll past page after page of 20 here, 50 there, of christians murdered by muslims. How about the story of Salman Rushdie, is that all a hoax or is that a threat of murder, (and this is the point) accepted as permissible by a majority of people in the middle east? Do a google video search for "islamic punishment" and explain how what you see fits in any civilized society. There is no comparison to these extreems, excepted by such large numbers of a faith, to any sect of christianity, or any other faith for that matter. No resonable person can believe that if such things were going, on here in America, the press would be all over it as something terrible (and I don't see it in the press). Can the average american woman, gay or christian honestly imagine living in lands controled by this faith and not think it would be a nightmare? Answer in your next article why these problems should not be pointed out, urged to be corrected and why good people should not resist its spread by pointing out its flaws. Its good to quell hatred and promote understanding, but you can not ask people to ignore the obvious that is right in front of them.

    One last thing, you CAN say someone is wrong without hate or being phobic. Most reasonable people, certainly parents, can understand this. Unfortunately these words (hate/phobic) are commonly used to simply intimidate, with the threat of scorn, people from disagreeing with you. Unfortunately, it more likely makes the other side feel justified in thier hate and adds energy to the broader circle of hate. Correct things that are false but stop passing judgment on peoples motives.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  10. Children

    Abrahamic religions are contrary to divine and human interest. How can god be exclusionary and universal. Grow up children.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. MichaelTodd

    Islam is not merely a privately held notion of deity and the afterlife, it is an encompassing worldview with social and political goals. Most of us would recoil or laugh if I said that Communism is compatible with free society since we know that they are obviously opposed. Most of us know what Communism is about. Few have taken the time to learn about the worldview called Islam. The Koran is rarely discussed. Instead we form our opinions based on an individual's likeablity.
    As for Brian McLaren:
    2 Peter 2 "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep."
    (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

    September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  12. Peteyroo

    Jimbo, are you advocating stealing the oil fields? Is it OK to steal things from folks you don't like?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  13. anglicanboyrichard

    Reblogged this on anglicanboyrichard and commented:
    I heard Brian McLaren speak and met him just 2 years ago at Gethsemane Episcopal Church. He is fair, intelligent, and kindhearted. You may agree or disagree with his theology–but his logic and warning here is not to be taken lightly.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  14. steveiweevie

    Remember folks, always blame America first!! Then Christianity...then white people...then rich people. In that order.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Well, Christians are usually up to no good. Ain't nothing wrong with rich white people though.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  15. Rational Libertarian

    I urge everybody to be evangelical in their Islamophobia. Mock and insult at every opportunity.

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

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GegRhY9KT-Y&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  17. Altee11

    The author makes sense and his words should apply to people in the Middle East who are watching al Qaeda hijack their religion and turning it into a tool of hate and violence.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  18. jhubers

    Brian: if you needed any more proof that the hatred you expose is a very real part of American Christianity and Judaism in its more conservative expressions, you couldn't have asked for more than what you are getting in the response to your very well considered article. Interesting how eager those who are penning these responses are to prove your point.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • joe

      Nonsense. I understand the point he is trying to make but the blame is clearly on the Christians- who are not the one rioting. Worse movies and cartoons have been aimed at Christians without subsequent burning of cities and murders.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  19. Phyllis

    I'm not a Christian, and not an Islamaphobe either. But I still can't understand the childish, violent behavior of some Muslims over things like cartoons and movies. They seem to have no tolerance for others or other religions. And they treat women terribly.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Rogue

      Isn't it interesting how you just described Christianity, Judaism, and Islam at the same time?

      September 16, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  20. gary

    When the Islamic extremist bash my Jesus Christ(which they do all the time) and burn my sacred book(which they do all the time) I don't kill their people...I pray for them. That's the difference between my real God and their false god!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It's the same god.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • justice4sarah

      Classic examples of members of Organized Religion, you folks don't even realize your worshiping the SAME GOD, just a different messenger(s). Get it together people of religion, the WORLD is over you killing innocent in the Name of your God.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • takawalk

      Rational Libertarian > justice4sarah The two faiths do not worship the same God, and the messengers are polar opposites. I once thought the God of the Bible and the God of the Koran were the same, however they are not.

      September 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
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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.