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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. James

    The evangelical christians in America are not true christians. Jesus would be appalled at their rhetoric and ways if he was to appear again. Similarly, prophet Mohamed will be very displeased with those who are advocating killings and terror in his name. I am a christian but I do believe the Buddhists have it right. They never claim to have the best religion but ask us all to be the best we can be, christian, jews, moslems, etc. even atheists.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • texcal68

      James, most Americans know very little about their religion and even less about the historical Jewish holy man named Jesus. My point is; uninformed people are easily manipulated. The historical Jesus wouldn't even recognize today's Christianity. Of course, why would he when considering he never intended on starting a new religion. He thought God's world would roll out on the surface of the earth during his lifetime. He was wrong and so are modern day Christians. Like all humankind's religions, Christianity is pure mythology.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  2. Bootyfunk

    "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    - Steven Weinburg

    September 16, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  3. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    love Mohammad and get (_!_)
    or love Jesus and get 8==>

    September 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  4. MagicPanties

    My invisible pink unicorn is the one true god.
    You can't prove she is not.
    Therefore, it must be true.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      there are unicorns in the bible. also satyrs, dragons and c.ockatrice - oh my!

      September 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • rodboy

      Magic, we might have something to talk about if you knew where matter came from the unicorn used. the God we believe in spoke and matter appeared along with the laws of Physics – so that leaves your pink guy out in the cold, try again.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • rodboy

      magic panties interesting, do they come off with slight of hand are just disappear when men walk by.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      rodboy: "we might have something to talk about if you knew where matter came from the unicorn used."

      Hmm. I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".

      September 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  5. Arvoasitis

    The Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not follow a crowd to do evil." (Bertrand Russell said he learned it from his aunt.)

    September 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  6. les

    Ask the people who were on the flights on 911 if they "feared" islam. They will be the downfall of humanity if we let them get away with their prehistoric tactics...No one muslim should be allowed to even visit our countries for a holiday, they are thousands of years behind the rest of us.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • texcal68

      The majority of Muslims aren't a threat to this nation or any other. Excluding over a billion people from entering or living in the U.S. because a tiny percentage of them are radicals is absurd. You need to rethink your comment.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  7. Kirbydog

    Religion is the problem, plain and simple. Religion causes people to make irrational decisions. It is a disease

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • rodboy

      Religion, is always a problem when you born into it, the fakes make thru, plus religious people do not make good rules , however, godly people do a good job sorta like Ole Abe.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  8. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    where is my Mohammad; he was just here a minute ago!
    Mother have you seen my Mohammad?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Mother

      No! I tell you no! I won't have you bringing some young boys in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap, ero . tic fashion of young men with cheap, erot. ic minds!

      September 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  9. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Only by Christianity absurdity of a Christian, Hindu and pagan. Filthy Christian Captain Crunch dog. Filthy pagan Hindu pig dog. Filthy Randy Jackson dog. Filthy hebrew national beef dog. Filthy Ron Jeremy foot-long dog. NO DOGS! Who let them be out? Quran means nothing else but path of triple abdullah absolute quantified. please visit ahmadinebinpaid.com/blog.html and click on word Choice to open file. But turn virus protection off before.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • rodboy

      Your drugs will be there soon – stop with the shrooms and go for the lesser ones.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  10. Mike D

    If you're not islamphobic you aren't paying attention.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  11. Jewish Mom

    All Christians, Jews & Muslims hate each other. Yes, it's true and whoever says no is lying.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • texcal68

      Your comment is ridiculous! Only someone suffering from mental problems would even suggest he or she could speak for millions of people of differing beliefs.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  12. Jim

    The difference is, you moron, people from others faiths don't murder, kill riot etc over an amateur video.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  13. KNERD

    Don't confuse a "phobia" with plain outright disgust with a pathetic "religion"

    September 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • texcal68

      When considering all religions are based on mythological stories, they all fall short in the reasonable thinking department.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  14. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Mother: No! I tell you no! I won't have you bringing some young girl in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap, ero . tic fashion of young men with cheap, erot. ic minds!
    Mohammad: Mother, please...!
    Mother: And then what? After supper? Music? Whispers?
    Mohammad: Mother, she's just a stranger. She's hungry, and it's raining out!
    Mother: mockingly "Mother, she's just a stranger"! As if men don't desire strangers! As if... ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Mohammad

      Shut up! Shut up Mother!

      September 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  15. Sue Pearlative

    What has happened in the last few days shows that it's reasonable to have "islamophobia." Christians are being killed every day in Egypt, and this has been going on for a long time. The Copts have suffered for centuries, and they are not free to practice their faith. And – lest you think otherwise – I am not a hater of muslims – I am quite concerned for the well-being of muslims – for example, I was very angered by the US invasion of Iraq, because of the number of needless deaths of Iraqis, mostly muslim.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  16. PaulC

    Yeah. Maybe the muslims can teach us about religious tolerance.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  17. the voice of reason

    Christians hate Muslims almost as much as they hate atheists. If you don't love GeeeSus....you're hated.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • PaulC

      Your voice of reason sucks big time. The muslims can give lessons in religious intolerance.
      Let just look at the fact that muslims can come here, build a mosque, wear their religious garb and worship. Can you do that in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other muslim country?

      September 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  18. Greta

    So tired of this kind of preaching. Evangelical Christians have a mind of their own and a God that guides their path. We don't need people like you telling us what we see isn't what we see.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Ya, they are guided by their GOWD, the belly, like a hindu hungry dog.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  19. eric

    II think the PC thing to think is that it's just a tiny, tiny fraction of Muslims that think like that. That would be nice, and it's easy to think that they're just like us, where we have our own beliefs but believe everyone else's beliefs should be respected.

    Unfortunately it seems their values really are much more extreme than ours. I think most of us thought the "Arab Spring" was a good thing–replacing dictators with democracy should be a good thing and lead them to be more "western" like us. But we need to be careful what we wish for. Of course they're glad dictators are gone, but now watch out for the Islamists who want to establish Islamic rule and persecute the religious minorities. Democracy to them just means majority rules, and free speech would mean granting rights to minorities. They find us all responsible for some obscure video posted on Youtube which insults their religion, yet seem to have no problem with all the fatwas calling for death to Americans.

    II used to also give Muslims the benefit of the doubt and think that of course they don't actually agree with the extremists attacking us. But I've found that the devout ones really are extreme, even here in the U.S. Right after 9/11, one of my coworkers, Sarah Hamad, was a Palestinian Muslim. Another chemist like me, very smart. I assumed that of course she could not sympathize with the terrorists, I didn't even bring up the question of where she stood because that would be offensive, right? Well a few days after we were talking and she said something about how brave they were. I was like, yeah, it's so horrible how those innocent people died. And she corrected me and said it was brave how the hijackers did this and they knew they were going to die–you could tell she really admired them and it was hard to keep from showing how proud she was. She went on to say she is a U.S. citizen but not an American. I was dumbfounded that someone had the balls to come to this country, be welcomed, get an excellent education and job, and still say that to her coworkers. The real ironic thing is that as offensive as that was, she had the complete right to say that, and nothing bad happened to her. If the tables were turned and someone said something like that to people in her homeland, I wouldn't be surprised if they were harmed, or worse.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      eric, it's difficult for an XX to understand an XY.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So one Muslim you worked with said this 11 years ago, and you're judging all of the Arab world's Muslims based on ONE comment?

      September 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Nah, teach, an XX wants to be on top and in control. They can't help themselves. tom, tom, HEY TEACH leave those kids alone!

      September 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  20. Scout

    Excellent Post. I will read the book. No one wants war, but we do want freedom. We will never allow sharia law in this country. If you dont think they will try and take over, go to Dearborn Michigan.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Art

      A bit paranoid? I happen to live in Dearboen and know of no such thing. My guess i the aluminum foil on your tin foil hat is not thick enough. Get another layer on there.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:07 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.