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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. Monica

    Personally, I could not care less about evangelicals or their views on Islam. All I care about is the fact that you fringe extremists and religious fanatics, are screwing rational normal people over. I don't care if you all collectively decide that only YOUR imaginary man in the sky is the REAL truth. I don't care because I think you're ALL freakin' bat poop crazy! This article is incredibly self-important... I guess if you've all convinced yourselves on the imaginary man business- its makes tons of sense to assume that your views are pondered globally by anyone besides YOU. We'd be a lot better off if you'd keep your gods in your hearts and in your individual choices where he/she/it belongs- rather that obnoxiously flaunting your faith and cheapening it by screaming it from the rooftops and trying to inject it everywhere that it doesn't belong- politics and global affairs being at the top of the list.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  2. Blaise

    "phobia" typically connotes and irrational fear. Distrust of the islamic religion and its practioners is a lesson that has been taught to us repeatedly, in many different countries including our own, and is perfectly rational. So stop feeding us liberal pabulum and let's face facts.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • sybaris

      The fact is we should fear ALL religions and they should be abolished from the face of the earth.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • nkrempa

      Sorry, but it IS irrational to fear ALL Muslims based on the actions of a small segment of their worshippers. Remember there are almost 2 billion who consider themselves Muslim worldwide. Are all 2 billion involved in the violence?? If they were, we'd have far bigger problems than this, wouldn't we?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • pepsee

      Sebaris, How many WORLDWIDE riots/attacks sparked by the muslims and how many sparked by all other religions taken together in just last fifteen years?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • lbpaulina

      And? Yours is not an answer and it shows you are just a little out of touch, because you do not say anything.
      The article puts Evangelicals and Fundamentalists on the same plane in a very explicit way, saying that are both guilty of intolerance. Fact that is true.
      Actually we should call both "fundamentalists": Christian and Muslim Fundamentalists, we could also add some Jewish with them.
      Another idea might be: let's create a new country where to move all of them, far away from all of us. Maybe they might find the way to agree on something. I forgot: they should not have the Internet so they could not communicate with us. Utopia? Yes, unfortunately. Oh, Thomas More, you could have understood me!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Allknowing

    I like how all of the liberal ID iots on here think they are really making a point by saying we're supporting extremism in Christianity by supporting wars etc and that religious extremists kill abortion drs etc. Like they are just so pious when THEY themselves, the ones who believe they are so much better because THEY don't believe in ANY religion, believe in ABORTION.. Yep, you're all just so much better than Christians alright.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • K

      What right do you think you have to call us ID iots? Are you some kind of higher power? Look in the mirror much?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • lbpaulina

      Oh, please, click on it (you r very effective)
      Or copy and paste

      Thank you so much

      September 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  4. 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?
    Believe it or not, bombs are not the answer.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • philliyboy

      well thought out, examples of countries with 100 times the general population, you're really smart

      September 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Matt

      the point is that there are 1.6 BILLION muslims in the world. 1.6 BILLION. If, as you and people like you say they are all evil, hate filled, mindlessly violent animals then why are you drawing breath right now? Why are we not engaged in a full scale, full on world war? All this is, this whole christian vs muslim thing is being fought by the fringes of both societies. But they are both so loud and the media makes so much money off of it, it seems to be a larger conflict than it is. Stop being so scared.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • lbpaulina

      They say that in France there are about 5 million Muslims. It seems that most of them are in the capital. In France there are 66 million people. It means that the Muslims are just the 8% of the total population and I think France is the country who has the biggest Muslim community due to their past colonies (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, etc.)

      September 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  5. muslim2012

    September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Tsh

      Me and lots of other people left Islam. Whats your point?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      Your point?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  6. pepsee

    The fundamental difference between islam and rest of the world religions lie at the origin. In all other monotheistic religion the main messenger (e.g. Jesus, Buddha) left personal life and desire behind to spread their message and never used violence to accomplish it. We all know mohamed used severe bloody violence to spread his message and exercised his carnal desire. Generally that's exactly what we see among the followers of these respective religions – in today's world.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • nkrempa

      That is where your problem lies... "We all know..."

      You generalize that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD "knows" what you *think* you know. Wrong.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  7. 1492 refugee

    Xenophobic hateful people who promote and profit from violence, especially when the attempt is to have "good people" to become "mindless killing machines" give glory to:

    for those who "claim" they are Muslim - Osma Bin Laden

    for those who "claim" they are Christian - CHARLES MANSON

    September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Jeff

      Charles Manson an Christianity? Really! I think this says it all as to how far people have to go to equate the "evils" of Christianity and Islam.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  8. us_1776

    Religion:: is the worst thing to ever happen to the human race.

    .

    September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • philliyboy

      yes it is, more people have died by the sword in the name of god

      September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  9. jeffcoe

    The issue once again is that so many Christians are being mislead by Christian broadcasters, publishing houses, media and are honestly blind to it for they believe that it is all the truth. The church needs to wake up and not just take things blindly but look at them and investigate to see if what is actually being reported is the truth.Yes there are zealots and radicals that want death to America and Israel but how many of them compared to the billions of other Muslims who live besides other people of faith. I bet that most people watching what is going on do not know how the current protest got started and who most of the protesters are. Muslims like Christians have various believes and sometimes they do clash. And Kimo what you said is so typical of a person who has been lead by conspiracy theories and it sounds like you actually want to go to war with others. And that is so biblical, right!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  10. Mike O

    Islamaphobia is what concerns you?? It ain't Christians rioting and killing people of a YouTube video! Most people suffer from insanephobia and deathaphobia; dealt with it.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • nkrempa

      Believe me, Christian evangelicals scare me a LOT more than Muslims. At least my Muslim friends and neighbors aren't out there trying to LEGISLATE every last small detail of my life!!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  11. muslim2012

    September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  12. Naseer

    Vast majority of Muslims do not have any problem with Christians, Jews, Hindus or people of any belief. It is a very tiny minority who want to spread hate. Writer rightfully pointed out that even in Christians you find people who spread hate. In every religion, race and people, you will find some who are extremists. Their objective is to convince the common man that they are right. If someone starts believing that hate will solve the problem, the extremist wins. Unfortunately they find a lot of recruits in illiterate minds and unfortunately literacy rate among Muslims is the lowest. Hence, they are easy targets for this extremist ideology.

    Question is, "Do we want the extremists and terrorists to win". I am sure all sane minds will say "No". Solution in my opinion is what the writer is attempting. Spread a message of love and peace in line with the teachings of Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, Krishna, Gotum Budh and Mohammed. One more important thing is to spread knowledge and literacy. That is how we can fight ignorance and extremism.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • jeffcoe

      Nasser will agree and funny how people respond to posts. And PeterH so tell me with your understanding of culture, religion and the world how should the president be handling the current situation?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Jeff

      The vast majority of muslims do not have any problem with christians, so long as...

      They shut up about thier religion (as if a muslim hears it, they may be accused of trying to convert the muslim: punishment – death)

      Say anything againt Islam (as it would be considered blasphemy: punishment – death)

      Accept to be subject to their religious laws (after all God's law is over everyone, not just those in the Islamic lands: Proof – this stupid video)

      I am so glad they have no problems with those of other faiths!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  13. SBG

    Any religion that justifies killing anyone who may disagree with you is not a religion. Muslims are several
    thousand years behind the times.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. sybaris

    Religion, any religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind

    September 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Ntrain2k

      Obvious agenda is obvious.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • PJL500

      It might be said that the mental construct that is "belief" can be an unhealthy and unsafe device to introduce into a human's being. Afflicted (from childhood unfortunately), an otherwise good human may feel obliged to do *anything (to anyone)* to defend that (by nature) untenable state of mind.
      There is ample evidence now that belief (in *anything* btw) is the primary (if not sole) cause of conflict.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  15. Margaret

    Enough spining, Brian. Tell us why people of other faiths face persecution in ALL Muslim countries.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • sybaris

      Apparently Margaret you missed out on the Sikhs murdered, mosque burned down, protests against muslims and this little gem

      September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • pepsee

      syberis, How many WORLDWIDE riots/attacks sparked by the muslims and how many sparked by all other religions taken together in just last fifteen years? Every religion gets ridiculed in some form but only that religion starts WORLDWIDE destruction and attacks people from all other religions from all other countries (even those who are in some other country.)

      September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • PJL500

      @pepsee How many? Where to start? Let's take the installation of the brutal dictatorship of the Shah in Iran by the US to guarantee the flow of oil. That "spark" gave Ayatollah's a platform to create an ideological conflict with the West. The US backing of Saddam in the Iran/Iraq conflict "sparked" the oppression of Iraq's Iran-aligned Shiites by power-mad (Sunni) Saddam. His power in the oil such state led to (Christian) US killing and causing the deaths of many tens of thousands of citizens there. If you care to look you'll find that this is only scratching the surface of the answer to your question.

      September 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  16. NotaPhobia

    "Phobia:a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational."

    Can we really say that the rejection of Islam is irrational or disproportionate to the actual danger? I don't think so

    September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • nkrempa

      When you consider that almost 2 billion people consider themselves Muslim, and the small number of Muslims that perpetrate violence, yes, I consider your irrational fear of Muslims to be phobic.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Bob

    I generally agree with the author , with some exceptions. I"ve always been apalled at the few christian tv ministers,that hava a broad audience and preach a christianity that is afar from the bible. Health, richness, and of course making any claim about anything muslem persicution or any subject that is based on emotional tyrants rather than truth. But, the author says."the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence" . Tiny? really, I hope so. I know there are moderate muslems, but I think its a reach with all we've seen this week to assume that the extremeist are "tiny". You call hundreds to thousands protesting and burning flags in many countries tiny? And think of those who support them who stayed home. I agree that some Christians mix hate in their retoric. But I believe its a "tiny" amount compared to those who dont. And I have to agree there seems to be allot of apologizing going on. That video that started this is crap and most people know it. But this is called "freedome of Speech". Something the muslem world will never embrace under their laws. So why are we pouring millions into there goveremnts? Lets get out.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • pepsee

      How many WORLDWIDE riots/attacks sparked by the muslims and how many sparked by all other religions taken together in just last fifteen years? Every religion gets ridiculed in some form but only that religion starts WORLDWIDE destruction and attacks people from all other religions from all other countries.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  18. katu

    Jesus would not be a "Christian"

    September 16, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Bob

      Thats just stupid. Wheter you hate religion or whatever, he started christianity. And he did exist. He was either insane or the son God, he can't be both.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • DC1973

      Jesus never was a Christian, and he didn't start it, either.

      He was a Jew, and St. Paul founded Christianity.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Orygun Duck

      You can find scripture references to Jesus calling the religious authorities of his day 'hypocrites.' So your point has some validity. The reason he was killed had more to do with his challenge to the beliefs of the day.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  19. PeteH

    The definition of a phobia is "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something." I don't think an aversion to the people who are committing the terrorist acts as of late are extreme or irrational. What's extreme is the nature of the terrorist acts in proportion to ridiculous film the Muslims blame them on. What's irrational is the way the Obama administration is handling the situation.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • nkrempa

      Being averse to the people who are perpetrating the violence is rational. Being irrationally afraid of ALL people who consider themselves Muslim is not.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  20. Santos

    Christians in America are a mutant. A mix between Old Testament Judaism and the American dream. Take a look at the Sermon of the Mount, those words of Christ not so close to AMERICAN VALUES!!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Reality

      You might want to "google" or "bing" or "yahoo" , The Beat-itudes in today's society.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Christian

      What do you mean American values? What do you think they are and how do they differ from the Sermon on the Mount?

      September 16, 2012 at 1:37 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.