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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. Dino

    All religions make me want to throw up. All religions makes me sick.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  2. tiggerswoodsy

    what is the reason for this article? people can see with their own eyes what the muslim religion professes and promotes and that is islam is the one and only true religion and their god is the one and only true god, anyone who will not believe that or convert can be killed, the religion is about conversion and procreation of more believers who are to go out and convert and who have the right to kill any remaining non believers if they do not convert, hence even in america why are the muslims in certain sections of town then create a mosque then push others out, in many cases by bringing in authorities to weed out the neighbourhoods or fill the neighbourhoods p with ethnicity so as any one left leaves? I love my freedoms and do not want to be told how to live my life by you, by a christian pastor or by a muslim, because what makes you better than me? how is your opinion better than mine or your prayers deserving more of our gods attention than mine? your mentality is the same as a fundamentalist muslims, you are right everyone else is wrong, why is it that you believe that?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  3. J Smith

    There can be no excuse for what we are seeing, but I wonder how much of this penomenon is cultural as opposed to religious. The regions from which the most fanatical Islamic extremists emanate are those where oppression and violence is the social norm. Where a new leader achieves his status by assasinating his predecessor. Where elections (if held at all) are a sham and the only way to change anything is by bloody rebellion. Where free speech is unknown and terrorizing, imprisoning or killing an offensive tongue is the routine.
    We in the West, and particularly in the U.S., have established a pattern of (usually) peaceful dissent and transition.
    Take a few minutes off this blog and Google the Declaration of Independence. The opening lines exhibit a level of educational, philosophical and cultural sophistication that many in the Middle East have never known or seen – and that is how we try to live.
    The words we throw at each other are pretty rough, but most us live a "sticks and stones" existence and find other ways to vent frustration.
    God bless America. I am thankful to be here.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  4. muslim2012

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S_A9ERJWN0&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  5. Altee11

    Can non-Muslims go to Egypt and work to convert Muslims to a different religion without encountering a phobic reaction?
    Can non-Muslims go to Pakistan and work to convert Muslims to a different religion without encountering a phobic reaction?
    Can non-Muslims go to Iran and work to convert Muslims to a different religion without encountering a phobic reaction?
    Can non-Muslims go to Saudi Arabia and work to convert Muslims to a different religion without encountering a phobic reaction?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Christian

      Excellent point

      September 16, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • qanerd

      Never mind phobic, how about dead?

      September 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And? Do you have a point? Who cares what the laws of other countries are concerning Muslims? It has no bearing on our laws at all.

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

      No, they can not. What have you just proved to me? That they are not that different than we are! But is that the way it should be? We should stoop to "their" lowest common denominator? At some point, as a Muslim, I have to ask myself, every day, why people who claim to be Muslim hate Christians! Makes no sense. And I ask myself, every day, why Christians, who were called to love EVEN THEIR ENEMIES, hate Muslims. I am tolerant, and I know others are not in the world, but their actions don't inform of influence me–either one.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  6. jesusbus123

    When will Saudi Arabia allow for religious freedom?

    I have a mosque 2 blocks from my house, God Bless the people who worship there. I am concerned about the great intolerance Islam has for Jews(only 14 million in the world) and other religions. Every country should have religious freedom like America, the greatest country in the world.

    Peace and Love to all!

    The True Christians in America are extremely tolerant, you could burn a bible or the flag in front of them and they would just go on being good and holy, they truly love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. That's what makes Christianity so Powerful and Sanctus.

    They have perspective.

    Islam seems so radical and crazy at times, where are my good Muslim sisters and brothers who need to look beyond this goofy movie and focus on what makes Islam Powerful and Sanctus.

    God Bless the Muslims of good will.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Kris

      I am here, brother. I am Muslim and I can't stand to watch all this violence. These people are not religious. I doubt they opened a Quran in their life–if they did, they missed the point, ignorant people. Burning and rioting over a film is stupid! Honestly. Now, keep in mind, I was born in America, and I am partial to this country, our laws and our life. But I am Muslim and you don't see Muslims in America burning the flag, by golly.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  7. ben

    enough of this dogma and projection of ones experience, acting out. We can only be conscious of ourselves, everything we thing about another human is projection, we know other humans are conscious because they look like us but we must be ok on an individual level/ Remember, nobody cares about the color of rocks on mars. Its time to stop preaching religion everywhere. Find your own path.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  8. Luke

    Everyday Americans are simply disgusted by the barbaric way these simpletons reacted to a stupid film and we have had enough. Quit telling use they don't represent the masses of Islamist because I just saw those masses rioting in the streets of five different countries!

    Other religions and even the nutty Evangelists have nothing to do with this, it is only about Islam and their twisted upbringing under the Koran mixed with their uneducated and ignorant society. It's like looking in to a window to 1000 years ago whenever I see them in those countries.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • DeeDee

      Well said!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • neversink

      Excellent post.

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

      Oh, I disagree. THe Christian Extremists who produced the video want you to hate Muslims and think they are "simpletons." and your comment tells me you're on board, but you're wrong. Muslims in AMerica are NOT simpletons, and we have to live with the fact that people from other countries have blasphemy laws, and we don't... and don't want them either, I might add. Listen, if you hate a Muslim this morning, you've only played into the Extreme Muslim and Extreme Christian agenda. Did you know their agenda is the same? Muslims + Christians = hate.... that is their equation, and if you fail to realize how many good muslims there are (you don't doubt how many good Christians, even though in the other part of the world, they DOUBT) then you do yourself and your society an injustice. WAKE UP. YOu are falling for their agenda. Don't fall. STAND UP STRONG.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  9. guaraya

    Well said! Mr. McLaren, I would like to 'second' that!!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  10. Rich in TX

    "Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked,"

    No, not really. But if you consider that "thoroughly debunked", that's your choice to be an apologist and forget ALL the bombings, burning, beheadings, and perhaps, even crucifixions. You can't dismiss them all in any rational mindset.

    http://www.raymondibrahim.com/12226/crucifixions-not-fictions

    Even the article you quote states, "Islamist mobs have staged countless murderous attacks on Copt “infidels” in recent years — and a crucifixion would hardly be a more barbarous tactic than truck bombs and beheadings."

    So the "thoroughly debunked part apparently involves WHERE the alleged crucifixions took place – whether they were in front of the Presidential Palace (which is highly doubtful) or somewhere else.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  11. Dino

    You people just don't get it. The protests you see overseas will be here when the number of muslims in this country gets high enough. Muslims will not stop until they violently assimilate all living people to Islam at the threat of death. Mark my words. Those who aren't violent are sympothetic. Wake Up! They aren't here to sing Kum Buy Yaw with you.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  12. womra001

    Everyone should be judged individually. When I meet Muslims (or anyone for that matter), I don't automatically stereotype them based on the people that take their beliefs to the extreme. Like anyone else in your lives, you talk to them personally and then make a judgement as to if this is someone you want to befriend. I have Muslim friends and I've seen how "Islamaphobia" (aka. racism) has developed against them over the last few years, especially here in the states. It really upsets me when my friends, all whom are well educated, hard working, good Americans, and even their children whom are born here and are as "Americanized" as can be, have to deal with people giving the crap for being Muslims...even when they speak out against the extremists. And what's even worse is that these well-meaning Americans are being given a hard time because of the decisions of uneducated, brainwashed idiots on the other side of the world.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • neversink

      Tell that to the Lost Boys of Sudan who watched as their Muslim "friends" that they traded with came through the villages of Sudan raping, murdering, burning and then robbing what was left. Be careful who you call your friends.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • womra001

      neversink, I couldn't care less about Sudan or Muslims around the world. All I care about is that Americans are given the chance to live their lives respectfully here in America. All I'm saying is that I've seen good Muslims, Muslims whom have lived here for 20+ years peacefully (and their children whom have lived here their whole lives), being given crap for their religion based off idiots who live thousands of miles and an ocean away. Will you find bad apples in the American-Muslim communities? Absolutely, but it's the same in any community really (whether religious or not). In reality, the difference between American-Muslims and Muslims around the world seems is probably education, but that's probably for a different discussion/debate.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Kris

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your comments, which are thoughtful, and based on real experiences, with real people–not with a picture on one's TV or with comments in the paper. The fact is, my kids are 5 and 7 and so proud to be Muslim. They have no idea any of this is going on. My son comes home with stories of the American Revolution and he's so proud to be American... What will his life be like when he discovers that most of AMerica hates him–over the actions of foreigners??? Your message is true, if I ever knew it. We must get together and stop this, friend. Our country is on the line over this. I know Muslims that have already moved away from the USA after 9/11, so fearful for their lives. 19 people hijacked planes on 9/11. 19 killed the ambassador the other day. A few hundred nuts have shown up at embassies and burned them for the world to see. And we all get "credit" for it! This is nutter anti-American people who have forsaken God. If God were in their vocabulary you wouldn't see them burn a single tree, let alone an embassy. The climb the poles and burn our buildings like fanatics over a video. Come ON. It's wrong. But calling all Muslims "ignorant" "stupid" "simpletons" –bashing their religion and bashing them as "backward" is intolerance and it's not what America was founded on–religious freedom. The America I want to live in, friend, is YOUR America. The one you see. Thank you for your comments and your friendship. I will always remember rare posts like this if it ever comes down to another Holocaust...

      September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  13. Brian is a Dolt

    Brian is a Dolt – Look up the Treaty of Hodaibya to understand Islam and Mohammed. They will stab you in the back. Brian received a handsome donation from Saudi Arabia to spew this piece of trash. Brian is an apostle of the Mahdi.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • tiggerswoodsy

      you could be right BECAUSE it is ok for a muslim to pretend he is not a muslim to further the muslim cause, also a good muslim cannot work for a non muslim unless there are no other options and a good muslim MUST NOT employ a non muslim, do not forget many people have converted to islam for economic purpose hence they also do not have to tell anyone they have converted, muslims do not believe in borders because if everyone is muslim there are no borders anyways hence the issues of violence are directed to ones they want removed from the societies they are in, the spanish figured this out and ran them out after that only the ottoman empire remained strong for some time but their siding with the evil ones only because of the anti- jewish sentiment destroyed their power for many years after WW2, free USA aid has meant those backwaters have procreated to huge population sizes in the last 30 years but that will bring their own problems as they will have issues with food if we do not supply it

      September 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Kris

      @BrianTheDolt: You've been reading too many stories... stop reading the paper. Go meet a Muslim, please, and ask them their faith. You will not find a single one, I doubt, that says it's OK to lie for their faith. This is just another line of anti-Islamic nonsense.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  14. Rogue

    Evangelicals need meds and therapy and a quiet place to live where they cannot commit crimes against others as they are slowly de-programmed out of their schizophrenic cult.
    And the same for every religious believer, too. I am an equal-rights troll, not a bigot.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Kris

      As a Muslim, I would say that radical Muslims need the same. A quiet room... far, far away from their lands, where they can deprogram! I am with ya there. I am not keen on people who burn and pillage, and kill... I am so sad that people think American muslims have some kind of "unstated" allegiance with people from other lands to murder and burn. It's simply nonsense. We do not. and never have. And never will.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Unafiliated

    I get that not all Muslims are violent. I get that most are, in fact, not violent. The problem is that when terrorists kill in the name of Islam, the majority of Muslims stay silent, and those that DO speak, usually only offer excuses and rationale for extremism. Where is the Muslim protest against extremism???

    September 16, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  16. Joe2776

    Thank you for this enlightening article. It's easy to allow emotions to take over; articles such as the one you wrote makes us realize we can't give in to emotions. I realize there are good people and bad people in every faith, culture, and nation in the world; the media (naturally) loves to show all of us the juicy stuff as opposed to the good things that are also happening. I hope your article will make us realize we need to become more open minded and accepting to people of all faiths, and take what the media gives us with a grain of salt. Thank you Brian!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Rich in TX

      "we can't give in to emotions"

      But we must yield to facts and logic.

      "we need to become more open minded and accepting to people of all faiths"

      We're holding Islam accountable for its actions and inactions. We do not and should not tolerate evil – that is not what "tolerance" is about. We're not attacking Buddhism, Hinduism or any other religion – because they are not patently evil ideologies, like Islam. It is a whole different beast entirely.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  17. neversink

    Only the Mulsims burn and riot when their god is defamed.
    Fundamental Islamists need to grow up and learn to accept criticism, even if that criticism demeans their scriptures and prophets. No other religion riots and murders others when they are spat upon. Christians don't kill when Chrst is mocked in a movie or a book or a cartoon or when a church is burnt down. Jews don't destroy ancient art when the Torah is burned (and everyone seems to hate the Jews unfortunately.) Buddhists don't riot and bomb when their ancient art is destroyed by intolerant Muslims. Only the Islamists when they are insulted threaten people's lives, murder, riot and bomb. Christians and Jews rebuild. Buddhists and Hindus turn the other cheek.

    The real iimperialists in today's world is al Qaeda and their sharia law that demeans women and allows for no tolerance of other ideas, beliefs or art. They keep their people in poverty and use money to blow up everything and then they blame Israel for all their problems... In the meantime Israel offers the world breakthroughs in medicine, technology, agriculture and education. The Islamist nations spend their money on military and bombs and keeping their fiefdoms or theocracies wealthy and secure while teaching and exporting hatred and intolerance against others.

    Its time for the US to stop training the Afghans and others how to fight. They will only turn it back on the west and use the training to attack more embassies. The muslim governments have driven out, or killed off, the population of non-Muslime throughout the muslim world. But no one seems to scream about the abuse to women and others that occur throughout the Islamic world.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Gil

      Christians once did their full share of "burning", of people. Do take the time to look up "inquisitions" and certain events in Salem. If you have the guts to look at your own religion, that is.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Matthew

      Only the Muslims burn or riot? Perhaps you forgot about the Buddhists monks who set themselves on fire as a form of protest.

      Perhaps you forgot about the murders of George Tiller and Matthew Shepherd. Or the Crusades. Or the Salem Witch Trials. Or the Spanish Inquisition.

      I can keep going if you would like.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • neversink

      @ Gil
      We are not talking about the past hundreds of years ago. We are talking about the modern 21st Century. With your reasoning, everyone in North and South America except for native Americans should leave the continents

      September 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • neversink

      @ Matthew.
      Yes, those were terrible things Your argument stupidly states that because there were past atrocities committed by others, we should turn the other cheek and be silent when Muslims are committing atrocities and practicing intolerance throughout the world. The muslims have no respect for other people ideas or cultures.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Kris

      @neversink: Perhaps you forgot about Northern Ireland, where Protestants and Catholics kill each other to this very day.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Suzanne

      to his friend Hamza:"Hamza, you're the smart one. You take our money and go get soinehmtg with it that we both can use!"Mohammad nods, takes the small wad of cash and enters the shop. An hour later he emerges with a paper bag showing a rectangular shape inside. They both hustle around the corner and Mohammad excitedly asks Hamza to show him what he bought.Hamza dramatically yanks out the item from the brown sack. It is a box of kotex.Mohammad is uncertain what that is, and looks expectantly at Hamza to explain.Hamza grins and says:"Look, Mo!" as he turns the box over, and expounds, gushingly: "With this we can go horseback riding, biking, water-skiing, sailing..."

      October 8, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  18. deb

    Muslim2012 – thank you for your posts. I think our problems are caused by ignorance and intolerance on both sides.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • timinfla

      ofcourse, but in 2012 do you see christians, jews etc salivating like a rabid dog ready to slit your throat?

      September 16, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Kris

      @timinfla: Yes, I lived in Britain for 11 years, and yes, you do see people in Norther Ireland, who "claim" to be Christian, blowing each other kids up. Sadly to say, Christians did the same thing they are doing now to Jews during the Holocaust. I read a history book, given to me by a British High-Schooler, and Christians in Europe are now taking responsibility (according to their version of WWII) for the hostility towards Jews. There were, of course, rare stories of those who came forward and hid Jews, but the vast majority stood silent. You can be silent and be just as evil and hateful as those who are rabid. Oh, and don't forget that a Mosque in Tennesee was just set on fire and many more before that. When I lived in Florida, someone set on our our Mosque's attendee's houses on fire. Do you people forget that fast what happens right here?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  19. mcp123

    "That is a dreaded disease and very contagious. Most libs suffer from this disease."

    LOL dreaded to whom? You... of course we think (actually know) that your nuts. You believe in a magical sky being that supposedly cares about humanity yet people die in horrible ways every day. You make up excuses for a being which is supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient...

    It really all is just a system of control... a system of indoctrination. The world is changing...there are more people who believe like me everyday.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • qanerd

      You know about my nuts???

      September 16, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  20. Rick Rosio

    As a rational thinking person I can only come to the conclusion that this is about MONEY. The Tea Party Taliban types in the US push the hate speach to the limits of any concept of decency and then when their hate filled positions cause other Zealots to react they stand by and collect millions of dollars from our own domestic idots who support this crap. I am tired at those that lie and cause hate getting a free pass on their responsibilities for their actions. How about they be brought into a court of law and held criminally liable for their actions and words. This is not about free speach this is about hate speach and the destruciton it causes.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:38 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.