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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. If we let the religious people have their way, we would still be burning witches

    According to numerous polls, Christians have the highest rate of Islamophobia. They also have the deepest hatred towards atheists. And they support torture and war more than any other demographic. They are more likely to commit major crime than seculars. They have consistenly been the last to quit fighting against equal rights for groups such as women, minorities, and gays.

    And despite all their inferior behavior, they believe that their religion is the source of morality. Right.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • sam stone

      jimmy boy....if you want to watch muslims get slaughtered, join up and go do it yourself. consider how much more fun it would be doing that. of course, they might fight back. sitting on your butt watching it on video is sure safe for you brave, brave keyboard warriors

      September 17, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  2. Nelson

    Bigotry thinly veiled as religion is still prejudice.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  3. Geoff

    I don't need someone such as Brian D. McLaren explaining Christianity to me anymore than I need Hassan Nasrallah trying to limit our right to free speech in the United States. What neither appears to reognize is that faith and/or religion is personal, not some excuse to beat our chests to proclaim our superiority over others or to lower ourselves to the point of resorting to violence. It happens that in the present day world, Islamic people are much more prone to violence and barbaric behavior than people of other religions and faiths. If we are to believe that Islam is a peaceful regligion, then it is up to the Muslims themselves to give us reason to believe that. As it is now, we are foolish to pretend that every single Muslim in the world isn't a potential wacko terrorist. The evidence says every single one of this is ripe for violence, and we must view them that way for our own protection.

    In the meantime I will go watch penguins swimming around in the water and catching fish.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  4. Mike

    The Middle East has an even bigger Islam Americaphobia that needs to be addressed first.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:06 am |
  5. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    hindu dung sog, Allah bright like the light in an explosion. Allah like bang. We help.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  6. Courtley

    When Fred Phelps and James Dobson start inciting the kind of violence against liberals, non-Christians or whoever that we're seeing in the Middle East right now (and have seen in the past and which are present throughout Islam's entire history) then "Islamophobia" will be a legitimate topic of discussion. For now, "Islamophobia" refers to people who speak honestly about the teachings and history of this particular religion and part of the world, and it is a silly and unproductive slur meant to stifle a very, very important discussion about how to have a peaceful global society when the values of one part of the world–freedom of expression in the West–clashes at a fundamental level with values in Muslim, Confucian and other parts.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  7. TopCat

    christian / muslim. both the same thing. blind faith must trample all reason and understanding.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 am |
  8. Reality

    If Israel touches Iran than Israel will go Kaboom and you Nazis can not do any thing about that.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  9. maanaay

    Brian McLaren, you are the man. you just bulls' eyed the topic.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  10. Steve

    Im Christian (but not particularly religious), and if I don’t want to be offended by something, I don’t watch/listen/read it…its that’s simple. Also, I would probably feel more sympathetic for the moral wrongs (insults) committed against moderate Muslims by extremist Christians/westerns if I heard moderate Muslims being more sympathetic for the physical wrongs (murders and bombings) committed by the extremist Muslims. If (in the Muslim world) murder is a just punishment for an insult, then what is a just punishment for murder?!?
    How sadistic can God be than to create 3 religions with so many commonalities (all 3 share and worship the God of Abraham as the common root), establishing that the major difference between all 3 as who is espousing the traditions, providing no proof, and requiring faith that the aforementioned messenger/ prophet is telling the truth. Moreover, whether now or 1200 years ago, this same God suggests/requires his believers to convert (or kill) those who disagree. Of course, the penalty for choosing the wrong one (in this 3-card Monte) is nothing less than your eternal soul.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • MIL

      Moderate Muslims do speak out all the time, we apologize, we say it's not Islamic, religious leaders throughout Saudi, Egypt, Iran etc have condemned violence. Why don't you know this? Is is that the media doesn't make that the story and only tells one side of the story.
      Al Azhar, the leading Islamic centre in Egypt, came out with a strong statement condemning the attack on the Embassy. President Mursi reminded Egyptian Muslims that must protect the foreigners among us (although that wasn't reported on any English news feed as it was said in Arabic) A suit has been filed against the extremist who burned the Bible during the demonstrations. Out of a 90,000,000 population only 89,999,500 heard about the film, saw the demonstration said hmph! and went about their lives. Yet the story isn't in the media.
      I belong to a few internet boards and I try to tell people and post articles where Muslims have condemned acts of violence committed in the name of Islam, And with an exceptional few, the MAJORITY have no interest in hearing about that, they have no interest in listening to what I have to say. All that is said is huge heaps of abuse and I'm called names and accused of lies and somebody will hope that I die for being a "muzzie"
      So Steve if you don't hear Muslims condemn violence, push for better dialogue and defend Christians and Jews (believe it or not) then you're just not listening close enough. It is there, but usually drowned out by the voices of hate and Islamphobia.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  11. Jerry

    It's not a "tiny portion" of Muslims who are violent & hateful.So -called "Islamophobia" is simply a common sense look at reality.Calling Islam a peaceful religion is a farce.A large percentage of Muslims are homicidal maniacs who will use the slightest excuse to go on a murderous rampage.It's time people like Mr. McLaren wake up,& quit making excuses for these people.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  12. Sharif

    Nice article. Lots of truth in it. We need more knowledgeable writers like you to educate the average Americans. The video is a shame. It is done purposefully to incite muslims. Deriding the prophet of the religion now who founded the religion 1400 years ago is like mocking the whole faith of 1.2 billion muslims. These are not free speech, these are hate speech.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  13. Sun4now222

    Today CNN had an interview with an Afghanistan man who was a security guard working with United States forces that committed a green on blue attack. The man stated clearly that he attacked Americans because they didn't worship the Koran as he does. He was totally intolerant and hateful. I can only say that people such as the completely mentally handicapped author of this article who can not comprehend what is clearly be communicated to nonMuslims by Muslims such as in the interview shouldn't be using hate speech words such as Islamophobe when Muslims such as the one interviewed are clearly stating their hatred and intolerance toward nonMuslims backed up by the ultimate act of hatred: murdering innocent American soldiers only there to help.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • David gate

      What a retarded response. Muslims do not worship the Koran idiot. I'd like a link to that interview. Also those soldiers are not "innocent" if they're soldiers are they? There is a difference between soldier and civilian. Moron.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  14. Dino

    These terrorists are criminals who drew blood because of a movie. There are peaceful Muslims but there are those who use Islam as an excuse to kill. They only speak the language of violence. The extremists have taught us that we just have to kill or capture them like any venomous snake or spider...but terrorists are worse because they blend in with humans like a biological virus and subject to the laws of humanity. At least we have some respect for snakes and spiders.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  15. adnan

    Thanks to Mr. Brian D. McLaren for his brave sincerely assessment. These are truly great qualities in any individual or a Nation.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  16. dywlf

    Cnn should change their name to the home of the anti-christian babblers.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Eric

      So, you think it is ok for Christians to preach hatred against those who follow a different faith? How un-Christian of you.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  17. dywlf

    I was wondering when the mob apologists would show up.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  18. xnay

    This is a prelude to CNN sending out Amonpour to go on another anti-Jewish rant

    September 17, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  19. OriginalPhantom

    Evangelical Christians have many warts in addition to " Islamophobia". Mostly they are a drag on our social progress. And, as to their churches, they are usually little more than social clubs for hypocrites.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  20. C

    We the people of the US need to realize that one of our primary missions (via long-standing policy) as a country is the exportation of democracy and the muslim world does not and will not accept it. These "protests" (even in long-standing democratic countries -Australia) are against one of the pillars of a democratic society – free speech. Muslims will never accept any form of free speech and without this fundamental right, there will never be a true democracy in any of these middle-east countries. Why are we sending our lives and livelihoods to countries that will never accept our way of life or appreciate the values of our democracy.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • Farid

      C.,

      I will pose the question to you that I posed to Mark below and would appreciate an honest answer:

      I agree Freedom of Speech is extremely important, but it is easy to have freedom of speech with those you agree with. What if I as a Muslim, put out a film to Pakistan showing the "heroism" of the 9/11 bombers? Would you be so quick to protecty my freedom of speech or if I made a movie showing that the Holocaust was justified and revised history to show the Nazis as "liberators" of their country? Would you still say I have the right to make such films and show them to un-educated, un-informed Muslims as "the truth"? I am interested to hear your opinion

      September 17, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • C

      Farid,

      I appreciate the response,

      I do not agree with a majority of peoples opinions or views, but as an American I am tolerant of these thoughts. I do not hate muslims or anyone else for that matter. I do understand that when so many of the "uninformed" as you may call them are quick to act irrationally -on both sides. Confusion is the greatest enemy here; however, my point is that muslim countries will not accept the value free speech. If some of the highest authorities in your religion, IE ayatollahs offer bounties to kill anyone around the world for stating an opinion (no matter if right or wrong,) then there cannot be a democracy in any of these countries. The solution to problems is not killing anyone with a dissenting view; otherwise, you would be living in a dictatorship or communist society etc. Americans have the right to be a genius or an idiot and many people have died for that right and I don't think we should be dying for that right in countries that will fundamental never accept our way of life. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • KristaSeddique

      @c: Muslims don't believe in free speech and "will never accept it?" Who told you this? I am Muslim, and I value free speech. I do not like "hate speech." I don't listen to it, but I would not ban it. I think you're way off base, C. Many Muslims are from countries who just threw off years of colonialism and dictators. You can't expect them, overnight, to change their entire culture. I, myself, am Muslim, but I was born here... so don't lump me in with someone who "doesn't get it." And the news feed from other Arab friends, in North Africa–where they were saying that things had got out of hand, informs me others get it too... not just us!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • C

      I could definitely understand if it was just "extremists" as there will always be people that misinterpret religious works that are meant to be peaceful. However, when religious leaders (ayatollahs ++) call for the deaths of average citizens, this crosses the line. Anyone on any side can argue that those are the views and actions of "those" people over there but when your leaders openly call for death it becomes different. Our society accepts questions and criticism and when those values are used freely and it equates to a death sentence abroad, this violates any ideas of a "free society."

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • KristaSeddique

      @C: One common confusion is that Ayatollahs are Shiite. Many Muslims are Sunni. Therefore, we don't follow Ayatollahs–or I don't. And I call the Islamic Republic of Iran the un-Islamic non-republic of Iran, myself... I can't say I disagree, but how is it we can suddenly, in the USA, compare all the Muslims in the world with each other? Is there a single Christian nation where we think all the people must be the same (take Britain and the USA,f or example) just because they are a Christian country, by and large? What about France... do you see any differences between that country and the uSA–even though both are "Christian" largely? I see quite a few differences. By the way, Muslims in foreign countries make the same ignorant mistake–they think all Christian countries are the same. This is why they burned the German Embassy the other day... Unbelievable! What did Germany have to do with the video? Seriously! And what did the American Government have to do with the video? As a Muslim, I have to say that I don't see much difference in them and us! In fact, many Iranians aren't Muslim now, just because they are so turned off of their own crazy extremist government.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:43 am |
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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.