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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. Kevin B

    1) Loving ones enemies is a fundamental ethic for for those who follow Jesus. We may strongly disagree with others but we never abandon an ethic of love.
    2) Christians and Muslims disagree on some very significant beliefs. In other writings McLaren's expresses the view that "getting it right" does not matter. This is out of line with both Jesus' teachings and Muslim beliefs. Truth matters for both followers of Jesus and Muslims.
    3) Can we love one another and at the same time be honest there are significant disagreements?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • SixDegrees

      I guess that's why evangelicals hate gays, hate Catholics, hate secularism, hate welfare, hate Muslims, and generally hate anyone and everyone that differs even slightly from their own point of view. And it can't be excused by passing it off as "concern" or "pity"; it is pure, unadulterated, blowtorch-heat hatred that pours forth from the pulpit every single day in a torrent of vilification and intolerance.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • HM8432

      99% of Christians don't hate anyone, they just hate the sin that they themselves are also guilty of to various extents. It's that 1% that is the worry, and most of us don't consider them 'real' Christians!

      September 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • takawalk

      HM8432 So true

      September 24, 2012 at 5:57 am |
  2. AvdBerg

    The local media, including CNN and Fox are a very important element of social behavior as society is shaped by what it hears and reads and it is conditioned by the events that influence the mind of every person. You reap what you sow.

    Public opinion is dangerous because most public opinion is the view of the media. If the media do not like something, their bias taints information getting to the public, and this forms public opinion. Public opinion is never based on research and facts. The public uses the media for its sole source of information and for this reason social behavior will continue to deteriorate and wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13).

    For a better understanding of the role of the media we invite you to read the articles ‘Influence of the Media’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    The media does not provide accurate information on ‘Religion’ as it continues to ignore the truth and its history of deceptions (John 14:17). They have created the big chasm that now exists, without offering any solutions to unite people in a peaceful environment..

    Consider the truth about Evangelicals, Christianity and Islam and all the others and ask yourself the following question.
    Are so-called evangelicals and Muslims and all those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of Christianity and Islam and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’ and ‘Clash of Civilizations’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • El Flaco

      I took a look at that website. It is filled with fundamentalist Christian lunacy. It is an example of the craziness of religious fanatics.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • AvdBerg

      El Flaco

      We denounce religion in any form as it is a deception through which this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

      http://WWW.AWORLDDECEIVED.CA

      September 16, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Fernando

      You worship hatred and you do not know Jesus nor does He see you as a Christian. You are going so spend your eternity with the haters who killed our ambassador. Have fun hate-filled, Christian pretender.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  3. Judy75201

    How can anyone see Muslims repeatedly murder others over absurdities and not be Islamophobic? And I am not religious.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  4. Beel

    McLaren = another Muslim apologist who would gladly help the exterminate non-converts when the time comes

    September 16, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  5. Liz M

    Evangelicals can be nutty, but even though they make fools of themselves by blaming hurricanes on gays, they won't kill you if you insult them. Sure, treating all Muslims as though they were carrying an RPG is a bit extreme but it's not even on the same planet of wrong as murdering an innocent ambassador over a YouTube clip.

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

      It is way past time for a Muslim representative....someone who would speak to the attocities that are done by estremist Muslims....to stand up and say 'These extremists do not represent the majority of my bretheran.' We need to hear from them. Instead we have Christians like McLaren doing their speaking for them. They lose more and more credibility by being silent.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • SixDegrees

      They will happily kill you if you're an abortion doctor. And they'll publicly celebrate the death.

      They're really no different at all from Muslim extremists. Their goals are the same; they just use different tactics.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • takawalk

      SixDegrees B.S

      September 24, 2012 at 6:04 am |
  6. DanE

    If a group seeks to force you by terroristic means to submit to its barbaric religious code, then it is not a "phobia" to see this group as a dire, personal threat and to believe that its efforts need to be resisted. When our "peace-loving" Muslim neighbors are polled, they support the imposition of Sharia law by a large majority. Non-Muslims have much to fear from Sharia law, and that fear is not in the least bit irrational. We have become numb to the daily news from throughout the Muslim world of hundreds of people being blown up in car bomb attacks or school girls having their throats cut in retaliation for not submitting to proper Islamic social order as established by a Dark-Ages, war lord prophet. We don't see this from Christians because they are largely harmless since their religion is based on "love thy neighbor," but when they start sanctimoniously preaching "turn the other cheek" while the barbarians are slaughtering their neighbor's family, they become useful idiots and accomplices in the slaughter. I don't worry about fundamentalist Christians who point out the self-evident danger of Islam; I worry about the fundamentalist Christian lemmings who preach that we should love the barbarian even as he slits our throat.

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

    The true meaning of islamophobia – Kissing up to the vile ideology of islam in the hope of avoiding violent islamic retaliation. islam is vile.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • Cynthia Crush

      Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner folks! GREAT POST!!!!!

      September 16, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  8. Thomas

    Boy, nothing is more disheartening than reading opinions that follow columns. Virtually any sense of civility goes out the window.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • John

      Here, here. The level of discourse is a bit embarrassing. Humorous in a "no hope for humanity" kind of way, but funny if you're dark enough.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  9. !%$!#@@#$

    CNN. They report and you decide not to watch.

    But I will be watching the morning after the election. I love it when liberals cry.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  10. fryuujin

    all of the hard core Christians that I know vote only GOP without any thought about what they are doing. need I say any more about how Fed up they are?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  11. laudens

    I keep hearing the phrase Islamaphobia and wondered what I could find in the dictionary. The word is made up from two words, Islam and phobia.

    Islam is defined by Webster’s as “the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet”

    Webster’s defines a phobia as “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation”.

    Islamaphobia would then be defined as an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of Islam or Muslims.

    The people accused of Islamaphobia, fear Islam because of the public statements made in the name of Islam; statements in support of past actions such as 9/11 and calling for future similar actions. People fear Islam and Muslims because of the public actions of far too many Muslims and the public statements of Islamic leaders. Leaders and followers who created the riots across the Muslim world, those same leaders and followers who are celebrating the killing of the American ambassador to Lybia.

    Since the fear has a real basis it’s not a phobia, it’s a rational response to a self-proclaimed threat.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Scott

      Thank you Mr. Spock. And I really mean that. You made so much more sense than article author.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Isabella

      Great post! Thank you. Really, I am an Islamorealist: no phobia, but a realistic fear that Islam is violent and the reason why so many people loose their life around the world.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Del

      @laudens – It is not fair to label all Muslims to be a certain way because of the actions of a fringe few. I am a Muslim and I do not espouse these extremist views you see on TV and also denounce them (but the media doesn't flock to my door to see what I think though) . As a Muslim, I truly respect what Mr. McLauren has written. We may have different religious beliefs, but we can still respect one another. Sometimes as a Muslim, I wish that our fellow Christian friends would just act as Christians–and display that doctrine of love and compassion that is so beautiful about the Christian faith. In my local community, our mosque strives to reach out our neighbors, nearby churches, to break bread and build bridges. In the end, this will go a lot further than fear and hate. Let's actually try to DO something instead of talk, or just watch the media and think we know it all about what Muslims are all about, but never actually go out at meet and shake hand and dialogue and ask questions and just plain communicate civilly with one another. Remember, there are Muslims Americans (me being one, born and bred), who are living in this country and go to work, have families, have aspirations, hopes, dreams, just like any other American. GET TO KNOW THEM. Please. Otherwise, we will stay in this sorry cycle of seeing something on TV or email, or internet, taking it at face value, formulating an opinion sole based on it, and not have taken any real steps to find out the truth. I recommend to you a great DVD called, "What a Billion Muslims Really Think" produced by PBS . The full length should be also on the net to watch. Thanks.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • takawalk

      Del a FRINGE FEW? What we see happen day in and day out, what many Muslim leaders applaud and encourage are not the actions of a fringe few. Maybe not the majority, but quite a bit more than a few.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  12. Calvin

    I'm sorry. But this article is just stupid. Beyond words stupid.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Isabella

      You got that right.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  13. Treblehook66

    I don't even waant to hear the term ISLAMOPHOBIA. A phobia is an IRRATIONAL fear. The fear oof radical Islam is well supported by hard evidence.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  14. government cheese

    This is the trickle down blame that comes from Obama as the president. Muslims riot and kill and it is always somebody else's fault.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • sharkfisher

      government cheese: That is always the way with liberals muslims and Nazis. It's always someone elses fault.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  15. SixDegrees

    I really don't think it was Islamophobia that led to our ambassador being killed or our embassies in several countries attacked. Nor does your thesis hold together when you claim that Islamophobia is rampant in mainstream evangelical thought and preaching, yet at the same time say that all but a tiny handful of evangelicals would find this film repulsive in the extreme.

    And in the end, you miss the point entirely. Islamophobia and the hatred it entails is not the problem with modern-day evangelism. Rather, the problem is that the entire movement is driven from its very core by hatred – hatred of science, hatred of gays, hatred of art, hatred of Catholics, hatred of anything and everything that differs even slightly from the rigid, intolerant creed of evangelism. Hatred of Muslims flows easily from such a doctrine, but it is merely a sideshow; the real truth is that the entire movement is founded on and driven by hatred at its core.

    Satanism has never caught on as a religion – it's a bad choice of name, for one thing – but its precepts have flourished under the name of evangelism. Walk by any evangelical gathering, and you can hear the rustle of leathery wings and get a good whiff of sulfur.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • JoeMac

      I agree with you, although your last paragraph seems a bit over the top.

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

      Maybe so. But it strikes me that the all the evils enumerated for Satanism find full flower in the modern evangelical movement.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • takawalk

      Uniformed kool-Aid drinking b.s.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. NYOMD

    Why can't people choose level-headed reason over blind faith? Why must they always make the same mistakes?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • snowdogg

      Belief in the "God myth" is the at heart of the problem.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  17. Skeeve

    "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."

    While I completely agree with the author here I would like to ask a question here. How many of these Americans proceed attacking embassies of say Saudi Arabia? This is where we have a problem: all people, religion notwithstanding, have some or other stereotypes. What's different is how different groups of people act on these stereotypes NOW. Muslims apparently prefer close and personal, evangelicals prefer cruise missiles. The end results is unfortunately the same – people get killed in the name of God.

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

      You make the author's point well, if that really was your intent. I am not sure it was.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  18. Ed Smith

    I agree that the way of Christ is the way. However, you are incorrect to think that Muslims will simply let you follow the path of Christ. They will not and cannot live peaceably beside Christians – look up Dhimmitude. Neville Chamberlain praobably thought he was following the way of Christ when he appeased Hitler. Only later did he realize that you can not live peaceably with people who wish to destroy you as soon as possible, at any cost. The sad truth is that turning the other cheek to the dangers of Islam will get your face blown off.

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

      Each time you acknowledge something and follow it with "but" you have negated anything you said before the "but".

      September 16, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  19. Barry Brindisi

    Let's see, if I got this straight. About five years ago, "September Dawn" aired and presented an unflattering view of Mormonism. The film was about a violent chapter in the history of the Latter Day Saints. Yet, I don't recall Mormons rioting in the streets. The DeVinci Code aired and no riots by Catholics. The same could be said of Protestants and Jews.

    Now, a total amateur comes along and insults Muslims. Something is not right, both spiritually and logistically. I didn't see the film and have no intention of watching it. The obvious purpose of the film is to inspire hate and fear. As Christian, I want no part of it. I'm actually shocked that CNN would embrace this idea that all Christians think like this. FALSE.

    I don't agree with the religion of Islam and find its tendency towards violence, quite disturbing. Yet, there are Muslim who are more inclined to not embrace Islam's violent side. Yes, I am aware of Christian history and know of the prideful ambitions to rebuild Jerusalem before its appointed time.

    I will ask this fun question. If I, a Christian, am so hateful of Islam then why would I write a modernized version of "The Parable of the Good Samaritan"? It's called "The Good Muslim" and it's found on my blog.

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

      If, each time, someone suggests that evangelicals may want to consider what and how they think, the reaction is to screech and howl about muslims, then the author has made his point rather well, don't you think. If you reaction is to imply that muslims are beyond help because of their "over the top" reactions, then nothing will change and you will remain non-Christ like in your thoughts. Shame on all of us Christians when we are pulled along by the actions of a few.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  20. Francis

    How come nobody at CNN wants to talk about Christianophobia?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • !%$!#@@#$

      Because Christians are an obstacle to CNN's pro-gay pro-abortion agenda and they want to bring Muslims into the dumb, dependent and Democrat voting block.

      But for now, they're willing to ignore what Muslims do to gays and abortionists when they catch them - as long as they'll vote for Obama.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Aaron Nail

      Because "Christianophobia" doesn't exist. America is dominated by people who call themselves Christians, and they bend and twist everything around them to mold it into the form they desire. Whether it be gay marriage, abortion or any other "moral" issue. Modern Christianity is to a point now where Jesus wouldn't recognize it, and that's what is scary. It's a religion led by greed and power and they further themselves by pretending to be oppressed.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Z

      It is more like a Evangelical-phobia. People are sick with all kinds of phobias these days...

      September 16, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • HenryB

      @Aaron Nail – You speak the truth; a truth the evangelicals do not want to hear because it does not fit their narrative. Their intent is not to be like Christ. They are a political party operating under the guise of Christ, love, and charity. They are none of that.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:08 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.