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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. Gene

    There are fringe elements in any group. Maybe most evangelicals are nothing like this article describes. It's safe to say most are pretty good people and should not be defined by the radical element.

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

      Yes, correct.

      Remember to apply the same to Muslims.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Gene

      That was my point Peter.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Rogue

      Sorry, Gene, but those "radical elements" and "fringe" people you speak of are actually doing their best to follow the religion to a more exact and "obedient" sort of lifestyle that also has the added bonus of letting them express their xenophobic schizophrenia more forcefully and effectively (they think) than a "moderate" believer would do.
      "Moderates" are by definition more secular because tolerance of non-believers is not supported by any religious text and so they are, in effect, apostates for not following the religion to the "letter".
      Fundamentalists are always the most likely to be extremists. They subordinate their very minds to follow a contradictory and deliberately va–gue text which cannot be done rationally.
      Thus, their actions become insane due to the delusional and schizophrenic nature of the religion and extreme because they give up all self-control to the cult and the cult's perceived leaders. They become robots of insanity to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual. Perceptual bias will ensure that not many are able to think clearly or escape the cult.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  2. Fred

    How comes there is no acrimony between Islam, or Christianity and other major religious denominations? All this animosity seems to be just between muslims and christians. Could it be both denominations are filled with violent narcissistic pratts? It puzzles me to see people at arms over theories nobody can prove. The fact remains, there is a subconscious need on both sides to prove each other side wrong. My question to all religious nuts is, if you haven't cared about my well-being now, why all the sudden give a bleep about my well-being in the after life?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    What a bunch of paranoid crazies here today. You're a bigger problem and threat than the great majority of Muslims and your inflammatory rhetoric is just making things worse, not better.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  4. Human Being

    I had no idea that many people hate me for just being a muslim!!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Gene

      It's not your religion. Must be something else. : )

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

      I had no idea so many Muslims would be willing to murder me just for being Christian..

      September 16, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  5. FL Jimmy

    Final word on all religions and their hundreds of gods was put forward by the late great Christopher Hitchens and no one has a way to dispute it :

    That which is asserted without proof requires no proof to dismiss.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Gene

      Kinda like the theory of evolution.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Who me?

      @ Gene..There is OVER-WHELMING evidence for evolution.You would have no problem believing it,if it didn't poke holes in your biblical delusions.I will guess that you don't believe in man-made global warming either.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  6. Peter

    Crazy, radical fringe groups exist in every religion.

    Hilarious and astonishing that some people can't (or won't) see this.

    The film was made by a radical Christian who WANTS a holy war for Christian dominance.

    The Islamic extremists go nuts, of course, with their own hatred.

    This is the battle of the fringe groups.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Unafiliated

      Peter,

      I agree with you that there are extremist "fringe" groups in every religion, and every government, and some are violent. However, violence and hate are a lot more mainstream in Islam than outside of Islam. When a US army soldier murdered innocent people in Afghanistan, you didn't see the streets of the US erupt in celebration. Yet, that's exactly what happened in the middle east in celebration of the attacks of September 11.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Peter

      Unaffiliated wrote: "When a US army soldier murdered innocent people in Afghanistan, you didn't see the streets of the US erupt in celebration. Yet, that's exactly what happened in the middle east in celebration of the attacks of September 11."

      No, certain Americans celebrated on the internet with vile posts. We have a more refined society, of course.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  7. 200 TON HAMMER

    Its a simple question too christians what would king david do???????????

    September 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Melvin Painter

      King David is not here, so it doesn't matter.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  8. tony

    Ooh Dem Salem Witch Trials, dem salem witch trials . . .

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

      Few Islamophobes talk about Christianity's dark past.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  9. Mike

    Muslims are just plain freaking weird!!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Melvin Painter

      They are just like liberals, they don't think. They just do what someone else told them.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Peter

      Americans are just plain weird. They make absolutist, blanket statements about people.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  10. Joe2776

    John Mark Ministries
    Thinking maturely about the Christian faith

    Does the Bible teach violence?

    By Rowland Croucher

    Many people have been quoting the Quran out of context in an effort to show that Islam promotes violence. A recent op-ed piece by Cal Thomas is a high profile example.

    This is pure nonsense. Thomas and others doing this are taking selected passages and reading them completely out of context to support whatever argument they wish to make. I can do the same thing with the Bible.

    Here are some choice passages from the KJV Bible which when read in isolation makes the Bible appear to be a primer for evil:
    1) In Leviticus 25:44-46, the Lord tells the Israelites it’s OK to own slaves, provided they are strangers or heathens.
    2) In Samuel 15:2-3, the Lord orders Saul to kill all the Amalekite men, women and infants.
    3) In Exodus 15:3, the Bible tells us the Lord is a man of war.
    4) In Numbers 31, the Lord tells Moses to kill all the Midianites, sparing only the virgins.
    5) In Deuteronomy 13:6-16, the Lord instructs Israel to kill anyone who worships a different god or who worships the Lord differently.
    6) In Mark 7:9, Jesus is critical of the Jews for not killing their disobedient children as prescribed by Old Testament law.
    7) In Luke 19:22-27, Jesus orders killed anyone who refuses to be ruled by him.

    Context is important, of course, and many of these seeming cruelties disappear when read as such. However, this would not stop a Christian terrorist from interpreting the Bible in a manner necessary to concoct a religious justification for unspeakable horrors, as Pope Urban II did, for example, when he preached the First Crusade in 1095 or as many American preachers did when they used Leviticus to defend slavery.

    Political and religious extremists have abused Islamic, Jewish, or Christian scriptures continuously throughout history. Cal Thomas, a man who claims to be Christian, would do well to learn something of his own faith's scriptures and history before accusing Islam's Quran of promoting violence.

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

      Islam was spread at the point of a sword and that is how many Muslims still feel. That is the problem, regardless of what the religious texts teach.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • ilovethefalcons

      Talk is cheap and I see action from Muslims.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • 21k

      skeets, so they have the same type of history as xtians? yeah, i guess i could understand why they are f'ed up also.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Ben

      I don't think that quoting unpleasant passages from the Bible or the Koran is taking them out of context. Just because a particular passage makes one's religion look bad, this does not mean it is out of context. These books were written by primative people who sometimes made awful statements and sometimes made profoundly wise statements, attributing both to God. It is when fundamentalists from these faiths follow ancient scripture to the letter of the law that is scary. Yes, many Evangelicals are intellectually lazy when they characterize people of other faiths, but come on, the full version of Islam is only a religion of peace IF you are a Muslim. Most Muslims are good people, but this is not because they follow ALL of Islam's teachings, for they are only good to the degree that they ignore the horrible parts of their religion (yes, there are good parts too). I would say that this is equally true about all faiths, but I don't see Christians, Hindus, Buddhists throwing violent temper tantrums everytime someone insults them. The problem is with the texts themselves and with the degree to which followers adhere to them in their entirety.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. Melvin Painter

    Just remember folks, these are the same people that made the hooded trayvon martin look like a 14 year old defenseless kid. They are pathetic and bleeding viewers all the time.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  12. A Woman

    I saw Michele Bachmann on CSpan the other night, "whipping up hatred" towards the Muslims and her crowd of NeoConservatives were soaking it all in. It reminded me of the McCarthy era in the mid 50's, which destroyed the lives of many Americans. To know there are members of Congress in the United States of America, that hate millions of people and yet they think they themselves are "Good Christians", sends a chill down my spine! No wonder we cannot win the hearts and minds of the middle east.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Melvin Painter

      You remind me of all the pathetic liberal clowns who put their head in sand and think apologizing and appeasing is the answer. If you haven't noticed, they hate us even more because of your kenyan clown. They now see us a weak, just like the telepromptering buffoon.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Who me?

      @ MELVIN P...The Kenyan clown will rule for 4 more years.It's in the bag.Enjoy your day-Melvin.Ha!

      September 16, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  13. asis76

    Um i'm sorry what that film was terrible i saw it and it was done so bad i swear doesn't even get a C its like a slam dunk F

    September 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  14. Athiest101.1

    I like to know the morMon that approved to be published. I think the author completely misses the point. The issue here is not how ugly this film is but what is the appropriate response is. The author doesnt mention the violence and killlings that were in response. Sure evangelicals are buffoons and slow in the head...we already know that but I havent seen many of them killing people for things they dont like...sure there is a one guy here and one guy there psychos that we all can do without but I dont think our crazys can hold the handle with theirs...

    September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  15. Terry

    Thank you for finally posting a real look at the Islamaphobia in the Christian evangelical movement here in the US - and for all you who think modern Muslim radicals are the only offenders when it comes to slaughter in the name of faith, learn your Christian history and your Old Testament history. As far as I'm concerned, the tone of all the slaughter was set way back in the semitic roots of Muslim and Jewish history and the male deity they pray to who was big on slaughter and wiping out enemies. Why Christians eventually adopted the same idea of persecuting and slaughtering enemies I don't know, except maybe guys in power can't imagine any other way of dealing with eachother, and it's guys who basically head up Christiantiy. Personally, if all 3 religiions were to disappear from the face of the earth, I'd be jumping with joy - I think, in spite of all the beautiful and lofty thoughts, the amazing art, the wonderful music they've produced, their religions distort spiritual truth in a way that damages psyches; and people everywhere, all over the world now, have suffered the consequences of that distortion as believers keep falling into the grip of the same old same old us versus them and the slaughter just keeps going.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Skeets

      The difference between Christian and Jewish history and Muslim is the latter group still behaves as if it is 1455 and the rest of us have moved on.

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

      Oh, really - who is that's armed to the teeth and ready and willing to take down the government here at home - Chrisitan militias. Who is in our armed services because they want to kill Muslims? Christian fundamentalists. Wake up - people in general have moved on, but, whether here or in Israel or in any of the Islamic countries, true believers are encourged in their hatred and used by their leaders to further political aims.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  16. alligator face

    ALL religions are BS......christianity, islam, hinduism, satanism, etc........they are ALL lies meant to control our fellow man.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • whothefami

      Actually, Hinduism and Buddhism are closer to the truth than Islam and Christianity!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  17. realoldguy

    You know, eventually these idiot evangelicals will go back to hating the Jews like they used to.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • yeppers32

      You say that as though it is worse than you hating on the "idiot evangelicals." Hypocrisy at its finest.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  18. whothefami

    I get those Hate Filled (ALL IN CAPS) emails too. Half the time their bashing OBAMA AND THE LIBERALS, and the other half they trash MEXICANS AND MUSLIMS!

    September 16, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  19. fastball

    The fundamentalists have to wake up and see there's a new world out here. They've emerged from the darkness of the cave they've been in for a thousand years...and don't like the bright light of the 21st century. You can keep people in the dark when they have no knowledge of the rest of the world – but now modern technology has changed that. They don't like what they see in North America and Europe and Asia and Africa...NAMELY THE REST OF THE WORLD...and somehow they've taken up some sacred fight to combat what they see as offensive. Good luck with that.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  20. Bill

    It's important to keep in mind that Brian D. McLaren is considered a far-left liberal by the evangelicals to which he ostensibly appeals. Therefore, they are not likely to listen to him.

    So to whom is he speaking in this article?

    His own left-wing supporters. Maybe "moderate" Muslims. Maybe the left-wing powers that be in American politics.

    But he's NOT talking to the angry, murderous mobs who don't just threaten death to infidels...they demonstrate it regularly.

    In short, Brian D. McLaren is a left-wing ideologue, a typical empty chair who pontificates and theorizes and condemns all which he does not know and in which he has no personal experience.

    Questions for Brian D. McLaren: What does Christ say about "honor killings"? How about stoning woman? Whipping women until their backs are bloody...or they're dead? Pouring acid on wonen because they've "dishonored" their husband? Treating women as property to be treated accordingly? What does Christ say about the Muslim Caliphate to conquer the world through any means necessary? What does Christ say about killing and or torturing gays? What does Christ say about strapping bombs to oneself and blowing up innocent people in crowded public squares? What does Christ say to angry mobs waving signs on which is written, "Behead all who dishonor the Prophet"? What does Christ say when His followers are killed, imprisoned, or tortured by those Brian D. McLaren assures them are their friends?

    I think the best way to show Brian D. McLaren what he's talking about is buy him a ticket to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. Let him spout his beliefs on their streets. Better yet, give him a Bible to carry - not read from or preach from. Just carry. If he is allowed to live, or if he finds a "real Muslim friend," he's welcome to come back. Then what he writes will smack of truth, and not hollowness.

    What ideologues like Brian D. McLaren need to learn first and foremost is one of the late Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

    In this case, Brian D. McLaren needs to drop the inflammatory word "Islamophobic" because it immediately demonstrates two things: (1) he hasn't a clue what he's talking about, and (2) he's not interested in a dialogue; he's only interested in belittling the legitimate concerns of others.

    When Brian D. McLaren is ready to do what he asks of others: open one's mind rather than one's mouth...and demonstrate with open arms the compassion and understanding of Christ - not toward those who embrace Islam; rather those who have legitimate concerns about Islam - then his opinions will matter. Until then, he is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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

      Bill,

      You are a follower of a false Christ (Matthew 24:24).

      This is what Christ would say: Ye must repent and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18).

      http://WWW.AWORLDDECEIVED.CA

      September 16, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • majcitizen

      Do you realize that everything that you've stated as being in the Quran is also in the Bible? You and yours always climb up on high to look down on us liberals. Take a look in your own backyard. As to whom he's 'speaking', he's speaking to good and decent Evangelical Christians and Muslims. Of course, you may not believe that such people are out there, do you?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:17 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.