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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. Eileen P

    I'm sure there are FAR less Christian extremists than there are Muslim extremists. Have you ever seen a whole city filled with chanting dancing militants? Only in Muslim countries. This article totally misconstrued 99.9999% of Christians.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Maya

      If Christians lived in a theocracy, they'd behave the same way.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • sybaris

      Christian extremists, like these guys?

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr5Q3ve8hIU&w=640&h=390]

      September 16, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  2. Maya

    To all evangelical Christians and extremist Muslims: Please feel free to kill each other, but leave the rest of us out of it.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. Harold

    While I agree with you about the hate represented in the video, it is freedom of speech. Killing people because of a video, what someone says, or what someone thinks is not tolerable. Your article is justifying the violence and placing the blame for the deaths on the video editors. The video editors are only responsible for their hate message. The killers are responsible for the murders and human rights abuses.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. Laurie

    Can't believe you would publish this in the midst of the uprising against the US and in the shadow of 9/11 anniversary. Are you oblivious or what?

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Shawn

      Seriously. I used to think CNN was unbiased but to publish these idiotic opinion stories as front page stories?? Newsflash CNN, the evangelicals aren't exactly burning down embassies in New York when something doesn't go their way...

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

      CNN, long ago, lost its journalistic integrity... it is now simply a shameless mouthpiece for the Leftists and the Obama-philes....
      It will take a decade to rebuild their credibility... not that they're interested in doing so...

      September 16, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  5. caesarbc

    End intolerance... in any form.
    Once you rid your mind of your own bigotry... the world will become a better place. This goes for everyone.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  6. donna

    The CNN Belief blog NEVER misses a chance to attack Christianity.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • TheMovieFan2

      After reading this piece from beginning to end, I was curious what crap I would read in the comment section particularly from those who either did not read it or have reading comprehension issues.

      Yours was the first.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  7. Heather

    The use of the pejorative term "islamophobia" for a rational, reasoned, intelligent hatred of and contempt for islam and muslim terrorists indicates that the author of this stupid article is just another liberal Western sheep who is too busy pandering to and appeasing the violent and ignorant muslim hordes to comprehend that he and people like him are a major reason why the civilized people of the world are at risk.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Isabel

      Heather, I agree. A phobia is what I have about spiders. The majority of them are harmless, or give a nasty bite but are not deadly. Only a few are deadly. But the Islammic mission is to annihilate Jews, Christians, the United States and England. They have been saying it since the 1980's - that their mission is to bring terror to the Americans. Americans are individuals of different races, creeds, religions, economic background and we, as individuals, enjoy a sense of freedom as we see fit for ourselves. We don't go over to our neighbor and tell them to stop cooking bacon. We tolerate. More and more its just getting evident that the quiet moslems are the obediant moslems - a group of zombies taught to obey through terror and I don't see that for me. Lahore, Pakistan is a modern city but as soon as they get out of line to what their northern brothers, the terrorists, think is right - down from the mountains comes a suicide bomber to set things straight. Its not a phobia, its being able to see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. (Not that islum is an emperor of anything)

      September 16, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Steve

      I think you just proved the author's point quite nicely, Heather.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  8. Christian

    After you die, you don't get to be an atheist any more.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Truth Hurts

      I am so glad to hear this from someone who has been to the afterlife and can tell us all the truths about death!

      September 16, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Taco Fan

      What about the hundreds of thousands of people that died before christianity was even invented? That's right. Many people lived before christianity. Were they automatically sent to hell? Did hell exist before christianity? Was there some sort of cosmic waiting room for these people? Ever ask questions?

      September 16, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Atheist

      Actually, no one truly knows what you get to be after you die, including you. You like to think you know, because it makes you feel better. Much like Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Buddhists have all created their way of dealing with the reality of mortality, so you have adopted Christianity. There is nothing wrong with your choice, so long as you realize that it is no more correct than any other choice.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Christian

      Taco Fan, God chose all those that would be saved before he created the world.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  9. Taco Fan

    The middle east belongs in the middle ages. Sans oil, they offer nothing to modern civilization other than violence, ignorance and offensive body odor. We need electic cars so we don't have to deal with these smelly fvcktards ever again.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  10. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Mormonism is just the silly end of a larger problem, which is that religion itself is a con, and it's a con that you pull on your own mind. It's not unfair to ask serious candidate Mitt Romney if he really believes that Joseph Smith received golden plates from an angel in 1823 and translated them into "scripture" that contains not a single person or place name that has been shown to ever exist. Are you too gullible to be president if you believe in a world full of characters who appear in the historical record exactly as often as leprechauns?

    September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  11. Realpolitik

    Christians should learn to turn the other cheek when Muslims act so irresponsibly, because that's what Jesus would do. Did Jesus smite the Romans when they decided to crucify him? Did he condemn Pontious Pilot for his cruelty? Or Judas Iscariot for his betrayal? No he did not. Jesus Christ ask God to forgive these sinners "for they know not what they do". And we as Christians must strive to live our lives as Christ did.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Rich in TX

      Yes, but Christ didn't tolerate evil. He spoke out against it.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Christian

      We refuse to ignore a real threat and we refuse to be silenced. We are not the ones that are freaking out and killing people in an irrational way.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  12. pat

    This guy is a fool.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  13. Music Executive

    This article shows he colors of CNN very well. It is one thing to put is in the opinion section and quite another putting it in the front page of the website. It is an insult to Christians by CNN and no doubt intentionally so. The web-editor ought to be fired!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  14. Dave

    Amen Bro – Mclaren – Seems a lot of responses on here proove your point.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  15. Don Camp

    I am an evangelical Christian. I have Muslim friends. Yet I and they can both see that some Muslim's are terrorists. My Muslim friends cringe at the acts of those who do such things. But that does not make the terrorists less lethal. Such behavior should be both feared and fought by any clear thinking person, Christian of not. That is not Islamophobia.

    In fact, according to the New Testament God ordained governments to maintain order and protect citizens and gave them the authority to do so even to using the sword.

    McLaren is right. Hate ill-befits a Christian. And anyone nosing around the Internet will run into plenty of hate coming from people who think of themselves as Christians – whether they actually are is God's call. But that does not change the fact that Muslim terrorists are a real and present danger to us, the world, and ultimately to their own people. McLaren is foolish to think otherwise.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • steve

      You suggest that the author denies that there are terrorists who are or say they are motivated by Islam. But he doe not deny that.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  16. jungleee1964

    CNN always have soft corner for muslims. On average you have one article every other day in favor of muslims. Why don't you have atleast one article a month on what happens to minorities in muslim majority places. Or there is no religious freedom in middle east country. Why not you explain why it is easy for Building Mosque t in any non Muslim countries . But harder to built Church. Temple, in any Islamic Country. Pl your job is to give news as is not the way you want people to see it.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • meteorite

      There are many non-muslim places of worship in non-muslim countries, and not all muslim countries are the same. You would have a different view if you were actually living there, don't assume stuff.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  17. TB

    "Sincere and good-hearted evangelicals" (Christian) Now those are words that should NEVER be used in the same sentence.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • sybaris

      Yeah, like Hinn, Osteen, Couch, the Bakers, White, Swaggart, Meyer etc., etc.

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riZ812-tPwE&w=640&h=390]

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

      God loves you.
      Treat others the way you want to be treated.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Music Executive

      You sir are a Christian hater, no different than the other haters on the left who hate anyone with a differing view.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  18. dave

    So some person makes a film this author doesn't like and because of it I should change MY behavior?

    1. Why should I watch the film?
    2. Why should I change my behavoir or beliefs?

    This is just a simplistic attempt to justify the images we see in the Middle East. Its more of the same convoluted "I'm not really responsible for my actions" BS that has and is damaging our society. We've seen this before. Someone publishes something or says something and its an excuse to go out and burn and kill and destroy and show how much you hate America.

    To say that I'm somehow responsible for what some idiot did in California or to say I should share the blame for the actions of the rioters is simply pathetic. This clown is a Muslim apologist and I'd encourage him to head over to Cairo to join his brothers in arms.

    I say its time we bomb Sudan – support the Christians in South Sudan militarily. And quite frankly its time we change our immigration policy to make it virtually impossible for any more muslims to come into the USA.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  19. weatherbrain

    This is just another author who is blinded by reality...under duress to place no blame or fault whatsoever on Islam and its followers he is at great pains to pull any kind of real comparison to the EC and murdering muslims. To resolve this dilemma of argument, he just shuts his eyes and his mind to the centuries of murdered Christians and Coptic Christians in Asia the ME and Africa. There is no and I repeat NO valid comparison between EC or any Christian for that matter and the mindless bewildering acts of islamists. And excuse me but I wil lNOT capitalize the name of the false "religion" or its so called messenger. In fact if I could make this world a world of moral atheists in return for ridding ourselves of the islalmic mindset (which is there is to kill, kill, kill) then I would. Believe me we would be infinitely improved.

    This man is an idiot who has witnessed the true hateful rage of islam.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Matt

      China has more Muslims than Syria.

      Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon.

      And Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya put together.

      So... Who are we bombing next. Because thats what Jesus would do right?

      September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  20. Sig

    The comments on here only prove the writer's point.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • bob

      wow sig, what a pearl of wisdom, did you think of it all by yourself? Perhaps you might elaborate of your comment and shed enlighten all of us with your wisdom?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:13 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.