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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. turban

    quran is a copy of jewish bible – i think the arab writer was jealous of jewish ascendancy......

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Name*keepit2urself

      And you really believe this? How about just saying they are the same book – just revamped to fit the times as all religion were. No religion is still practiced as revealed. Maybe its time for a new believable religion. Come on comet guglian.....destroy half of mankind and lets start anew ane worship your cleansing of the human species. Freakin dummies...

      September 16, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Swaggy Jimmert

      You clearly know absolutely nothing about the Koran. It is not like the Bible, with a 'Muslim testament' tacked on to an older book. It is an entirely different book with an entirely different structure. Ignorant statements like yours are a product of the bigotry in Christianity today.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Name*keepit2urself

      If you knew anything you would know these three religions share the same fundamental roots that began long before judaism which is not all saving first religion of man. Similar to a tree growing branches they share the same roots. Go do some real research and stop believing what you have been told.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • turban1

      i don't like jewish ascendency either – but they believe they are the chosen race.......how many parts of the old testament are also in the quran – just with an arab twist – cmon – its obvious – arabs were then – as today – living in jewish shadow – west made the mistake of giving the lands back to the jewish people – instead of shared by all –
      its all wrong – handbags at dawn

      September 19, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  2. Dave Shelter

    So the religion of peace decides it is correct to kill people over some name calling? I thought Islam basically taught turn the other cheek? I guess not... This is not over a movie, it's about terrorist using it as an excuse to attack American embassies.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Isabella

      The turning the other cheek thing is a Christian behavior, not a Muslim behavior. Muslim have a supremacist behavior. Wherever they are, other faiths have to give way to Islam. Your hear interfaith notion in USA, because Islam is still in minority, but wait when they become a real power like in Egypt, they will be bold.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  3. DanH

    Wrong. It is time for "moderate" Muslims to choose. Muslims have every right to be angry and offended by this film. That does not give them the right for violent behavior or hurting or killing people.

    I realize that it's the extremists that are taking it to the extreme; however, I'm seeing almost no reaction from "moderate" Muslims with regards to the violence. If "moderate" Muslims put as much effort into condemning the violence as they have condemning this stupid film, I could agree with your argument.

    "Moderate" Muslims need to learn how to isolate and police their extreme elements, as Christians do today. Until this occurs, Islam CANNOT be considered a peace-loving religion.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • midwest rail

      DanH, yours was a thoughtful post, but there is one point I take issue with – just as you don't hear moderate Muslims policing the extremists, neither do I hear moderate Evangelicals policing their extremists.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Isabella

      Midwest trail:
      How can you compare the behavior of evangelical extremists to Muslim extremists? What do they have in common? Are you serious really?

      September 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  4. dw

    Clearly as human beings we are imperfect creatures and all need to improve. However, one can't help but notice how insane the reaction of the islamic world has been to this video. I watched a bit of the clip that has incensed all these groups to violence, it was a pitiful piece of work. Here are the questions that need to be answered. 1. Why are muslims to easy to insight to violence on such a mass scale? 2. What is the islamic community doing about it? Many of these people seem child like in their abilty to be manipulated into murder – it is a sad state of affairs. I presume many are not well educated, and the education they have received has been extremist in nature. I think Islam is in serious need of a reformation.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      Imperfect? Sounds like a minor thing. Nope, Islam is much worse than imperfect.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • dw

      The imperfect was in reference to this article. I think it is outrageous to compare folks who may hold bigoted or uninformed views in this country with murderers in other countries. That's CNN for you.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  5. PlainTruth

    I am an Athiest and I am scared of Muslim but not Christian. Ask our Athiest to see whom we are scared of and why.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  6. Pedro

    Religion = Poison

    September 16, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Paul Levy

      Could not agree more. There is no "God" so religion is a farce. Wake up and stop killing people over your imaginary friend.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • John Miller

      Dear Pedro,

      If religion is poison, just don't drink it. But, since it's something the majority of people around the world find pretty important, you will wind up having more friends if you keep comments like that to yourself. Unless, of course, you wish to shout it from the rooftops of Bengazi where I am sure the locals (led by Brian D. McLaren) will rejoice in the glory of your coming as they cast off the yoke of their present religion in order to establish Pedrolicism (I'm allowed to do that since Brian is allowed to use "Islamaphobe".) with you as the founder of their faith. You should know, however, that religious leaders such as yourself, have historically fared very poorly. You probably will want to hang out with Brian in the U.S. Embassy compound. It's sovereign U.S. soil so there's no way anything could go wrong, especially with you and Brian in charge. Just sayin. No need to thank me.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • queball2012

      Quote Jehovah's Witnesses 1938 "Religion is a snare and a racket" To date no one has proven them wrong. Show me ANY religion I will show you blood on their hands. Least we forget the Catholic sponsored WWII and Hitler's alliance with the Pope?
      ALL religion is wicked and should be wiped off the earth....Then there will be peace

      September 16, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  7. l am happy

    Let me tell you where the problem starts: Muslims believe and respect all prophets includind Adam, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. You will never see a Muslim person offending any one of these prophets. The question is, if you guys do not want to take the teachings of lslam then why not stop spreading hate between those two communities? I always have this verse in my mind: ”Allah is the one who created among you as believers( of Islam ) and nonbelievers.”

    September 16, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • magnum12

      The Koran teaches that it is a Muslim's duty to kill infidels(non-believers). Muslim violence around the world only supports what evangelicals believe and gives credence to the U-tube film.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  8. Steve

    hmm so only certain comments are being posted... CNN Censorship at its finest.. I remember when CNN used to be the "source for news". Now they want to be Entertainment Tonight.. This article is pathetic and the censorship goes to show the length CNN will use to propigate their agenda

    September 16, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  9. Tim

    Religious extremists storm an embassy and kill several American diplomats over a satirical expression of free speech and evangelical islamophobia is the problem? Fortunately, I think rational people see sharply biased editorials like this one for what they are – the angry ramblings of a naive, fringe left, anti-American fool.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • bobc4d

      oh, just like right wing christian extremist hidding behind the 1st Amendment for the freedom to protest at American Service Members funerals to say they are glad they died because of America's stance on gays?

      just like right wing christian extremist pushing ID as science in a public school system science class when in fact it is ONLY based on religion without a shread of scienctific theorems? Evolution and Big Bang might not be perfect but it does have scientificc basis.

      religions are just a mind messing perpetrated on humanity to control the weak minded and exploit them

      September 16, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  10. Matt

    What a joke. He never once addresses the claims made by the filmmakers. That Muhammad was in fact a pedophile. That Muhammad was in fact a warlord. That he was a thief. A bunch of nonsense defending Islam. This "author" ought to be ashamed of himself. So it's done in bad taste? So what? Grow up Brian McLaren, and instead of parroting the good ole "Islam is peace" nonsense, why not do some critical analysis of facts presented by the film, however classless the film may be.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Isabella

      Agree with you Matt.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • bobc4d

      Just what proof do you have? NONE, you just regurgitate evangelical dogma

      September 16, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • Nicole

      If anyone is pathetic is the author of the story, he knows nothing of islam and danger it presents. Well the idiot author seems to miss a small fact that islamphobia is a myth created by media lefties like himself. For head start he needs to read the Bukhari Hadith from the Quran and rest assures once he had read one sura he will wish he never published this ridiculous and worthless article,

      Loser article and unworthy of reading, surprisingly this garbage make a headline at CNN?

      September 16, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Isabella

      Nicole:
      Well said.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Joderito

      He doesn't need to address it because that wasn't his point at all.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  11. paul

    thanks for a well prepared logically sound self searching article.
    people who kill in the name of God or religion are pathetic creatures; however even more pathetic are the criminals who spread hatred (again in name of God and religion) for personal gain/ego. they are there in al religions and political parties like locally brewed tea party trash bags.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • Scott

      "Hate is bad", but then the tea party is likened to trash. You speak with forked tounge.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Nicole

      I couldn't disagree

      September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • astarus

      Wait, so people who hold a certain idea are worse than murders? Ha Ha tied it to the Teas Party also. It's funny how liberal panty wastes are more scared of the Tea party than a religion that cuts the heads off people who disagree with them...

      September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  12. kevin

    I'm pretty sure that the guy who made the film wasn't Christian. And secondly the film in question was pretty much unheard of by the American populace until the middle east blew up over this– so why exactly is he blaming this on the Christian right?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  13. Benjamin Martin

    Regardless how you paint this picture it still doesnt give people the right to murder Americans or attack our consulates or embassies overseas!!!!!!!!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  14. BB

    Religion... Saving thousands, killing millions.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  15. Mark Taylor

    The response should be "how can anyone get their nose bent out of joint by a film as stupidly written, poorly made and pathetically acted as this?"

    September 16, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  16. Carlos

    Why should we accept Islam or Sharia Law anywhere? If they want to practice that religion that's fine but they want the whole world to do it too. If a person doesn't accept Islam they should be put to death. That's what they believe in. I haven't heard of Christians or any other religion being that extreme or evil today.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Stephen

      Really? Tell that to the Jehovah Witnesses who clamor at my door like zombies every weekend.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Isabella

      Agree with you.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Scott

      I'm a Christian but I don't convert by obnoxiousness like JW or force like Islamists; I don't convert anyone, as a matter of fact. If people don't want to follow my beliefs, that's their decision. I don't consider it my duty to burn down the offices of The Onion when they show a picture of Jesus, Moses and Buddah having s3x with some Hindu dual-genitaled diety. It's just a picture – Jesus obviously wouldn't engage in something like that and I think He understands the point The Onion was trying to make: No One Died because of this picture. I also don't believe for one second that "Islamophobia" is a huge problem, or even exists in mainstream Christianity. The truth is while there are some muslims who genuinely want peace and just want to take care of their families, the koran commands believers to give infidels a choice: either convert or pay a tax, or die. Some muslims do not subscribe to this command, but if one is to follow the Koran, that's what's in there.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • takawalk

      I am not a Jehovah witness fan. but when you told them to stop disturbing your peace and shove it, did they come back and cut off your head?

      September 24, 2012 at 4:44 am |
  17. John Miller

    I like this Brian D. McLaren guy. He makes me feel smart. He reminds me that sometimes it's okay to make up silly words like Islamaphobe that insinuate there is something wrong with me for taking offense to what's gone on in the Middle East for the past 5 days (or 5 decades). I don't think I'm an Islamaphobe. I don't feel like one, whatever that may feel like. But I'm pretty sure I'm a full-fledged McLaraphobe. Nope. On second thought I really do like this guy. In fact, I'm a McLaraphile. So much so, that I nominate him to immediately replace the diplomat murdered in Bengazi. It would be offensive to the local Islamic populace for Brian D. McLaren to be accompanied by any type of security force since may further incite the peace-loving locals to new heights of "righteous" behavior. So, we better send Brian D. alone and let him patch things up with our good friends. I think we can all agree there is no one better suited for the job, and from the sound of Brian's very patriotic article he should be thrilled to go.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • keef

      Amen. Brilliant idea.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Isabella

      Very interesting comment!

      September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • takawalk

      lol ditto

      September 24, 2012 at 4:46 am |
  18. Michael Burton

    I watched the film and agree that it's garbage. However, it is a mistake to apologize for free speech. It's a bigger mistake to go after the filmmaker and to ask YouTube to pull it. The US has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Why? Because you encourage terrorism in doing so. The violence is getting worse because we are reacting by going after the filmmaker and apologizing for hurting the feelings of Muslims. We're trying to appease like Neville Chamberlain, which only amplifies the problem and emboldens our enemies. There is no excuse for killing an ambassador.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  19. G-D

    You read the wrong two books and missed the first edition.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  20. Mark Taylor

    How comes no comment on what is now common place on Western television and movies – bashing the Christian faith and belief in God from every angle. Seems like nearly every script writer out there has an axe to grind about faith. Nobody should be bashing anybody's faith period.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • saywhaaa

      No idea, creed, person or thing has the right to be free of critisism, even if the critisism is invalid.

      You sound jealous of the muslims ability to take offense (probably because you harbor unanswered doubts about your own faith).

      September 21, 2012 at 4:28 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.