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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. muslim2012

    September 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Your Dad

    Son, I don't see Christians calling for a Jihad or Muslims respecting other religious practices in the Middle East. I can show you dozens of sites where Muslims all over the world are cutting heads off people because they are not Muslims. Why don't you take a trip to the Philippines to Mindanao. Just show up in that Muslim area and the evening, let us know if your head is still attached. Have a Muslim come to Christian America and he gets Freedom and public services.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • stephen

      pardon me sir, but even though I am not religious I am familiar with some of the teachings of christ, notably "turn the other cheek". If I may be so bold, I would suggest that that was the authors message. That christians, in fact all americans must not stoop to the same levels as some radical sects of islam. Just my take on it.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Fancy Slug

    Love Rules Everything. And the God who doesn't believe in religion knows so.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. muslim2012

    September 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  5. Charles Darwin

    Classic blame the victim tactic. He dismisses the hate spewed in mosques all around the world, but then turns around and calls christians "islmaophobic". Islam preaches much more hate than evangelical Christians.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      This "they did it first" response is a "offensive, adolescent and puerile" as the film itself. Come on, Chuck, you aren't two years old anymore.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      We don't show the superiority of christianity by criticizing other religions and then emulating their worst characteristics. "They are bad so we should be bad in return" is not the message of the Christ.

      September 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. Allah is my pig pet

    Brian D. Mclaren obviously lost his mind. The "tiny minority of Muslims" did not go into fits of murderous rage when 9/11 happened (they celebrated). But God forbid, someone draws a cartoon of Allah, and they stand ready for murder. We make childish mockery movies, while they make movies of beheadings. Do these belong in the same category?

    September 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • l. sewell

      God bless you for speaking the truth.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • IRA4ever

      I've decided to make 9/11 "Burn a Quoran" day in my household.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      When you reach the age of five or six you will begin to recognize that returning evil for evil is not the definition of "good." At least not according to Jesus Christ.

      September 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  7. Dave Harrris

    Aside from the craziness of believing that a religion which is a tiny minority in the U.S. is a threat here, these people believe all manner of false and ludicrous things. Fear, hate, and self-righteous conceit are their guiding impulses. What other religion does this remind you of? That's right.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. FactoidLover

    I agree with the author about his most fundamental assertion. Continuing to spread lies about your point of view and not condemning violence as a solution to insult is abhorrent. It is why many are reconsidering their faith, regardless of their faith, because at its essence revealed religions have always used untruth, violence, and abhorrence of others as part of their evangelic operation. The very gods each of the Abrahamic faiths endorse, for instance, condemn liars, yet we are witness to an increase in lying by each of these groups, as the author points out.

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

    The depth, breadth, and intensity of the ignorance and fear on display in some of the postings here are breathtaking. I am tempted to say that the Christian and the Muslim extremists deserve each other. But I would have to add that we here in the US who dismally fail to teach children in schools about the religions of the world (and the history and politics, too) are responsible for the voids in the brains of some evangelicals that sit there empty until filled with garbage.

    It is true enough that in many countries with Muslim majorities there is intolerance of other faiths, but that is really a pretty recent and POLITICAL phenomenon. Alexandria in Egypt was no too long ago one third Christian, Jewish and Muslim. During the Ottoman empire, Jews and Christians lived at peace under Muslim government.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  10. g

    yea, watching constant disgusting acts by mu slims justifies calling someone a Phoebe because they happened to notice a violent trend among them. what a pile of sh it article by another apologist.

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

      This "they did it first" response is as "offensive, adolescent and puerile" as the film itself. Come on, g, you aren't two years old anymore.

      A plague on both your houses.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  11. Gimmeabreak!

    PeteH says: 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
    ----------
    YES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Bob Abrahms

      I completely agree. I don't care what religion anyone else is, but when Muslims get upset over a video and shout "Death to America" and start murdering, it really is not an irrational fear. But just like all the other liberal news outlets, Muslim extremists commit terrorist acts so obviously the Christians are to blame.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      I think there should have been a massive strike against skinheads and other right-based hate groups after the Sikh temple killings and mosque burnings. A "strong" Obama would have done that, but he didn't... you know why? He's a better man than you are.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Bob Abrahms

      Chutzpah: That's, just like, your opinion man.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  12. Sal

    Religion is the greatest problem in the world today! 

    September 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. MrsNorris

    I am by no stretch of the imagination an Evangelical nor conservative, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal. So this Liberal agrees wholeheartedly with the Evangelists when it comes to the topic of Islam. No exaggeration it is needed to illustrate how evil, brutal, backwards, and dangerous to the world this religion is. All you need to do is open your eyes, turn on the evening news or read a news paper to see the attrocities these zealots perpetuate day in and day out. For the people that claim all Islamic people are not like that, I say when these "good" muslims stand by with their mouth shuts and aren't busy publicly disavowing the terrorists, or worse, privately agree with their actions – they are no better than the monsters themselves. I truly believe long term it would be in the best interest of the countly to deport every non-native born Muslim, become energy independant, and cut all ties with every Muslim nation. Nothing good will come from our continued contact with these crazy people.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  14. Miles

    Thank you Brian McLaren. What better way to prove your point than to see all responses on here. It's far more convenient for ignorant people to go on believing their preconceptions than to pause and question them.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Nancy

      Joel Rosenberg would beg to differ with Mr. McLaren

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

      I agree wholeheartedly, Miles. Turn the tables and it would be the people here rioting and killing those who disagree with them.

      A plague on both your houses.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  15. DC1973

    Mr. McLaren, for what it's worth, I agree with every word you just said. Jesus called us to be better than we are, to be stronger, and to resist the temptation to escalate problems even when directly attacked. Jesus was a pacifist, and it's amazing to me how many people not only forget that, but rise up to claim that their hatred of Muslims is rational and justified. Jesus said there was never a justified reason to hate. Hate is a mortal sin and will condemn your soul to Hell.

    How much better would the world be if more Christians – particularly the so-called "leaders" of it – actually practiced that turn the other cheek thing?

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

      This post is an example of pure ignorance. Maybe people should do HISTORICAL research. In that story with turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, etc., ALL would have got the person in trouble because it broke Roman law or protocol. So people can understand this – Jesus use their own laws against them – it NEVER meant to be meek.

      BTW, what DO you call a man who marries a 6 year old and consummates it at the age of 9? This was NOT the norm during their time period. Again, a lot of research has been done because it IS possible that the ages stated were incorrect. Here is one such reference http://www.muslimhope.com/AishaNine.htm but the conclusion leans towards the child married at 6, consummates at 9.

      I will not watch a movies that is a waste of my time. If the facts are true, then why are people protesting? People need more rational thinking. It is time for ALL people to be equal on this planet with universal human rights.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  16. Rick Laviolette

    The comments demonstrate a lack of understanding from people that were raised and generally educated under a mild environment, that of the United States. Harsh environments exist elsewhere in the workd that instill religion as a discipline and their children are reared to know nothing else but loyalty to Allah, among others. It psychologically means their own death when witnessing their religious beliefs under attack. It is the same for Bible belt thumpers to varying degrees. It is easier for ignorance to tear down than it is for intelligence to understand. We are often viewed as invaders that move into their country, enforce things they do not like and take their things, their land and undermine their value systems.
    How many bible thumpers could handle military incursions into their back yard?

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

      Excellent points, Rick. I often wonder how my coddled countrymen would react if they had to live under the conditions prevalent elsewhere. How in the world do people with such easy lives, with all the advantages, manage to brew up the amount of hate, resentment, and grievances they do? It boggles the mind.

      A plague on both your houses.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Margaret Hendren

    I see the truth in what you say, but the sticking point for me is that I don't hear the voices of the peaceful "majority" of Muslims. You say they are embarrassed by what the radicals are doing. In this world of immediate communication, why do we not hear their condemnations? The majority of Christian society loudly condemns the actions of our Islamophobic radicals and the trouble they cause. (This article is a perfect example.) Why do Muslims, especially those who live among us, not speak out if they are not supportive of these radical actions?

    September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      Well said!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • DC1973

      I agree with you that the majority of Christian society condemns the Islamophobes, but I disagree on the "loudly" part. Whose voices have you been hearing these past few days? Because I've been hearing the "Freedom of Speech!", "The movie's right!", and "Turn it to sand!"

      There are a few who condemn, who say, "But we're not all like that," and "That movie is wrong." I'm one of them. Would you like to guess how many times I've been called a sympathizer, an appeaser, and a fascist in the past four days? The majority of Christians might condemn that movie, but the majority of the people talking loudly about it are definitely defending it.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      That is because the radicals have the power culterally, if we allow evangelicals to have their way we would have the same situation in this country.

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

      My downstairs Muslim neighbors speak out. (My other downstairs neighbor in a minister!) But no one is putting a microphone in front of them!! And, let me add, it is not too hard to find web sites from US Islamic organizations. But also keep in mind that Muslims do not belong to a "church" with a hierarchy. There is nothing among Muslims that corresponds to a bishop who can speak for a denomination.

      Moreover, the point of this article is that informed Christians are not speaking out against the ignorance and inflammatory propaganda here at home. The message here is, physician heal thyself. Can there be an excuse not to do so?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Miles

      Dear Margaret,
      You won't hear the loud voices of Muslim condemnation if you are predisposed not to hear them. Every single Muslim group and organization has condemned all of these attacks, I agree that the condemnations don't get covered as much but there are there for the open-minded to see. Here's just one link among many: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/us/american-muslim-leaders-condemn-attacks.html?smid=fb-share

      September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  18. Yahia

    As a Muslim, I would assure my US friends that those people who committed these attacks are very few compared to the majority of Muslim population who condemned these actions. We need wise people from both sides to lower the voices of hate and need to bring people together. As you know most of the attacks against US embassies occured in countries that are just coming out of a revoultion and so far they have lots of security issues left out from the old regimes. Yesterday, the Egyptian PM announced that some of those protesters are actually THUGS. They have nothing to do with the movie. There is an ongoing investigation to know the motive of those indifiduals. Yesterday the police was able to restore order in the whole Tahrir square for the first time in 18 months (since Februray of 2011) which in my opinion is a good thing and will lead to improvement in security in the coming weeks. It is true that some islamists are shallow minded and just go after any rumor but since the region was under dictatorship regimes for long time it will take some efforts during its democratic transition.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • DC1973

      Yahia, reasonable people know that. And I hope that in return you know that the people screaming for the eradication of Islam are very few compared to the majority of Christians and Americans. I hope that one day, our voices will start drowning out the extremists, on both sides. That would be an amazing day.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • steve

      Thank you, Yahia.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Gibsonsc91

      Thank you so much for this post

      September 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  19. pepsee

    People have truly valid reason to fear islam. 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 12:00 pm |
    • Diane Moyer

      pepsee, have you not heard of The Crusades?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  20. lbpaulina

    I agree 100% with the author, but I would add a couple of considerations.
    Both fundamentalists and evangelical Christians do not make the slightest effort to be loved and understood. Overall they bothered all of us and I agree with Maya, although understanding it is not a very civilized behavior, but it is what we feel for both the currents. Stop with your arrogant superficial belief of being the best human beings, because you are not. You are actually a shameful embarrassment for all of us.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:00 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.