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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. Mark Yelka

    CNN should be ashamed to give credibility to this author. It is not a phobia to fear things that are really happening. Islam does inspire murder, or haven't you noticed that?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  2. Economystic Extraordinaire

    islama phobia my ass!! These people cause more trouble across the globe that any 10 other groups. They are jerks. the diparage they feel is far less than due them. Islamaphobe-try maniacs, bulliies, psychopaths, who wouldn't dislike that?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  3. scott

    HOLY CRAP people how many times do we have to remind you, religious material like the quaran and bible are NOT valid sources. Stop quoting them to support that noise coming from your mouth.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Chad

      Obviously, for an audience who believes in these sacred texts, they are the most valid source. To dismiss people's faith as noise is as offensive as the Anti-muslim film that allegedly sparked these protests (or gave people an excuse to throw a big fit complete with rockets and murder).

      September 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • truth be told

      @scott
      You are wrong, the Bible is an excellent source although the koran is not. The koran is as relevant as any gnostic or false gospel and uses the names of actual people in some places. The Bible is proven true more and more as archaeology makes more discoveries. To ignore the most important text of all time is the hallmark of a fool.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  4. some guy in New Hampshire

    So much blaming and intolerance in response to this article mourning intolerance passing itself as religion. "Muslims did this terrible thing 1,500 years ago, therefore let's hate their descendants now." "Lying Christian extremists are blameless in all of this; only Muslims ever do anything wrong." I'm not religious but at least I know when fear and prejudice are parading themselves as faith. Many commenters here miss not only McLaren's point but also the teachings of Jesus.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • takawalk

      ditto

      September 24, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  5. Tom

    What you fail to mention is the HUNDREDS of millions of Muslims seen on TV following 9-11 celebrating the deaths of 3000 people. Or the TV images of the Muslim crowds attacking embassies worldwide. You compare evangelical Christians to radical Muslims but you give no examples of current wholesale attacks on Muslims by evangelicals. Have Christians stormed the embassies of Muslim countries here? Did I miss that? Jesus is denigrated in the most disgusting ways in the name of "art". Where is the violence? Your claims are so much blather. And I say this NOT asan evangelical, but as an agnostic. It's just that I haven't bought into the hypocrisy of blaming EVERY bad thing that happens on Christian America while conveniently ignoring the good that has been done.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  6. IndMind

    I can see both the athiest and the fundy trolls are out in force. Serving hate by poking a stick at followers of another religion does nothing to spread truth, but it does foster more hatred. Those who become insurgents were not born with hate, they learned it as much from Evangelicals as they did from Imams. Appealing to Christians to act like Christians has nothing to do with liberal propaganda. It even has nothing to do with right wing propaganda. Although I can see from the perspective of a trailer park where you shut off knowledge that opposes your prejudices - where it might seem that way. There are a few on these message boards serving the master of hatred. If it bothers you that much than get up from behind your keyboard, go to Afghanistan and serve. It takes courage to confront your fear. It takes more than spreading hate from your living room.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Tom

      Referring to those with whom you disagree as residents of "trailer parks" make you as guilty of prejudice as anyone on this board. Funny I never see you disparage public housing residents, who DON'T pay their own way. Blue collar workers that keep you comfortable and don't make the big bucks are fair game though. Lumping people together as seems to be your style is the worst kind of bigotry. And you fail to see in yourself that which you find contemptible in others.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  7. JerPell

    Hmmm.......http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=tCAffMSWSzY#t=28

    September 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  8. Abou ali

    Yes , evangelist are the enemy of the Christianity .

    September 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  9. jo public

    hi, any thoughts on madam secretary clinton's recent speech on religion?

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

      It was a good speech.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  10. sirnny

    People say ugly things all the time about every religion in the world, however only one religion reacts by storming embassies and killing people. These people are the ones who can't control their violent reactions to deplorable, yet free speech. It kind of proves the point, doesn't it?
    No other religion discriminates against women and people of other races as much as Islam and we're not allowed to have an actual discussion about it because it might hurt their feelings and send them into a rage.

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

      ....the Crusades.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • takawalk

      jhon read history the crusade although evil were in response to 300 years of jihad

      September 24, 2012 at 5:28 am |
  11. Hal

    I appreciate what McClaren is getting at, but to say that the video clip will put evangelical Christians over the edge (tipping point) assumes most evangelicals are too dumb to see how "tawdry, pathetic" the video really is. That's a slam to our intelligence. Yes, we need to love Muslims and engage them. At the same time, Muslim leaders around the world have to do their part to stop fostering an environment in which it's acceptable for Muslims to trash some basics of civilized society (like storming diplomatic property and waging violent protest that usually end up killing far more Muslims than the targets of their rage).

    September 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  12. Vickie

    Are you kidding me? Whether or not we agree with this movie, two wrong never amount to a right.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  13. Really

    First, this guy could hardly be called an evangelical. He refutes about as much concerning Christianity as Dawkins does. He is closer to atheists than believers. Second, notice his outrage against free speech but he could care less to critique the ACTIONS of Muslim murders. So, learn the lesson of this wise deist/Christian/emergent. If free speech isn't to your liking blame all conservative christians for killing their religion (even if they didn't make he video) but if Muslims kill people and you show concern, well you are just a bigot who needs to grow up and be mature like Mclaren. Step 1: reject most of the Bible then masquerade as a true Christian.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • We have a winner!

      Bingo!

      September 16, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Chad

      Yes, you've done a fine job of explaining the adolescent and simple minded points of McClaren. Unfortunately, people like this writer are dangerous since they appease those who commit violence and call for a lessening of liberty in response to such tyranny.

      September 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  14. clarinet

    I am not an evangelical christian. I am not a muslim. 99% of the religion-based acts of violence are created and maintained by muslims, not evangelicals. The author's unbelievably twisted reality is useful for CNN, somehow, but not for the real world. Also, there is a media-based assumption that all evangelicals are right-wing lunatics. Where I live there are many left-wing lunatic Obama worshipers who are evangelical christians. Consider why they are never mentioned by the main stream media.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  15. Sal Voce

    Islamaphobia? Not wanting to be attacked by some radical religious nut is a phobia? Not wanting sharia law imposed on me is a phobia? I have no "phobia" about these nuts! Like a cancer, they need to be removed. This is something that the Jews were supposed to do MANY MANY centuries ago, yet they failed, and now we're stuck with yet another problem caused by the jews!

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Al

      I think you just made the authors point!

      September 16, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  16. DT Williams

    Unfortunately, it is this school of thought – a denial-based world view – that is quite similar to the views that most of the world shared leading up to the era of World War II. We all agree that we desire to see the best in our brothers and sisters around the globe in differing faiths, but actions taken by many in the Muslim religion over the past twenty years have proven that it is NOT simply a "tiny minority" who harbor ill-will and even hatred toward Christians and Jews. Trends should never be ignored, and anyone with access to CNN or any other news source can clearly see the trend is toward MORE violence and vitriol, not less. A fundmental change in the Islamic teachings will be required for this trend line to change, and even that change would not exhibit itself in behavior for ten to twenty years – the time it would take for younger, more progressive minds to move into positions of authority. Until then, we must accept that Islamic fundamentals taught in schools and mosques will not allow international hatred and violence to subside. Unfortunately, if Christians simply "turn the other cheek" eventually there will be no Christians remaining to take that passive action.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • takawalk

      I agree

      September 24, 2012 at 5:40 am |
  17. Dave

    Wow, CNN! Such an odd piece to run at this time on your front-page. When an irrational fear begins to turn rational it's no time to target the people who are afraid. The video was ignored until the media in these countries began to play it on TV and the muslim leaders encouraged retribution. They are at fault. Rational people ignore stupid attempts to malign their sacred beliefs.

    If they are so opposed to us we should close each embassy and get out (and take our aid money with us).

    September 16, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Sal Voce

      I would LOVE to see us cut all our financial aid to these nuts, AND to Israel as well! BUT, if we do and we totally pull out of any presence in the regions over there, guess who will come in, set up shop and be as ruthless as we SHOULD be? Unfortunately we have the liberal press condemning every military action that frankly needs to be made. How about if we pull the liberal press out for a few months and then just clean house?

      Perhaps we should make it clear to islam – you bomb our embassies, we bomb your masques?? Frankly, if dealing force with force is all these biggoted idiots understand, then, perhaps, however unfortunately, it is what we have to respond with.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  18. Mark Yelka

    It is okay to hate Islam. Hating Islam is the same as hating oppression of women, gays, and those who want to believe in other things than a conquest-driven religion.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Sal Voce

      Agreed.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • some guy in New Hampshire

      For shame. Giving people permission to hate a religion? And then, of course, it's OK to hate the people who believe in that religion. Let's all take a trip back to the 14th century. Enlightened people, especially Christians, don't hate. They're bigger and smarter than that.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  19. Isabella

    I feel nazism is back. The world needs a new leader like Winston Churchill.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  20. countrymom

    Opinions are just that, opinions...but this article does not reflect what I see in my church world, which would probably be labeled evangelical. Educated people of any stripe resist writings that include all capitals, for one thing.

    The last two churches that have been our church home have supported missionaries in several Islamic countries, including medical missionaries in Pakistan. In all cases, when these missionaries have spoken, they have displayed great sensitivity to their Islamic friends in these countries, spoken of their host people with great love. This is the picture we have of Islamic people: people mostly like us, who believe differently. There are fanatics and the mentally ill among them just as there are in any group.

    After 9/11/01, our pastor invited the Imam of our local mosque to speak to our church about Islam and their beliefs during the Sunday School hour. We also invited him to stay for our worship service, which he courteously declined.

    I believe (and my opinion is as valid as anyone's) that the main impetus for the Muslim extremists is political, and is only cloaked in religion, as so many other incursions have been throughout history.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Sal Voce

      Of course he declined. He would never deign to worship with you, even though Christians, Jews AND Muslims ALL worship the same God...

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

      Your views are tragically quite rare. I have seldom heard views as level headed, intelligent and compassionate as yours from evangelical Christians, at least from those who label themselves as such.

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

      Sal Voice That is a common misconception

      September 24, 2012 at 5:50 am |
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