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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 • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. jeff

    what a load of crap!!!!! what about islams christrian phobia??? stop willowing in the face of the anti american demonstrations. the film added fire to these protest but this administrations foreign policy or lack there of has caused this. it was planned and there is proof of that but this lame stream media wants you to eat the cake over here so you dont see the real problem over there. islam is detrimental to the peace for the whole world.

    September 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  2. JMysh

    Please do not present Brian D. McLaren as a representative as Evangelical Christianity. The man's teachings/beliefs are not representative of orthodox, historic biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

    September 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Anonymous

      "orthodox, historic biblical Christianity" and "evangelical Christianity" are contradictory.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Andrew Douglas

    And exactly how many Muslims have evangelical Christians murdered in the past 50 years? None?

    September 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  4. David

    Brian McLaren, I am not sure why you have turned what happened in Egypt and Libya into an evangelical issue. That is your axe to grind and your books are full of disdain for evangelicals. I grew up as you, and within the same denominational context so I do understand your criticism as well as your call on all of us to be more tolerant. That is accurate but all political and religious groups have their opinions and have the freedom to choose the way they opine on it. Brian, you should know that when someone who is a true radical evangelical christian will not take the life of another; they may have a skewed perspective but we are dealing with radical Islam which takes great offense at the slightest innuendo that questions Islam. What has happened though in these countries is that people have jumped on a bandwagon to protest against America specifically and their appreciation and championing of freedom of speech. The hysteria that has continued is a cry from the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, that they are dissatisfied with their own situations. The promise of a new day after the Arab Spring has not proved to be what they thought but rather it is more of the same. The issue Brian is man's personal dealing before God with his own personal sin. If each individual dealt with their own personal relationship with God and truly believed God's purpose for our lives, a productive society with its cultural nuances would emerge and life and goals would be determined not by creed or political climate but rather by true understanding of what forgiveness is before God. Hysteria and ignorance is to blame today, not evangelicals, not the USA nor Muslims. A misguided foolish producer is allowed to vent his opinion because freedom is about that. We fundamentally disagree with him, please read David Frum's post on CNN. It is excellent. So Brian, you took an opportunity to attack evangelicals which was foolish on your part. Some of your books and opinions are stellar and I agree but this time I feel you pinned some of the blame and hysteria on the wrong group of people.
    God is gentleman.....God is love.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • I wonder

      David,
      "God is gentleman.....God is love."

      We can tell so much about a person by how he has his imaginary god behave. You sound nice-ish, but I don't think you have read The Bible.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Sean Messer

    I'm an atheist and it does not take a Christian upbringing to come to the conclusion that the nation is Islam fosters hatred and it's leaders do little to stop it.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  6. Fort Worth

    I hope this guy didn't get paid for wrighting this complete garbage. I'd love to see you attempt to have a rational conversation with one of those people on camera and accedently offend one of them. I can't wait to see what they do to you.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      It's all about the moohlah. Follow the moolah trail.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Lindsey

    All religions have their blacknesses.

    Have some so-called Christians forgotten Christianity's ugly and murderous past so soon? Be reminded, then. Read about the Inquisition and the Crusades, when blood flowed like rivers through the streets.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Jack 3

      Does that mean muslims have the right to sow violence now? What's what the Christians did a thousand years ago have to do with what muslims do today?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • getreal

      do you think anyone seriously gives that much concern to religion to really care, other than islams or maybe jewish, i seriously don't know. the usa does not live and breath Christianity like the Muslims worlds do Islam perhaps? maybe that is where the misunderstanding lies the most – that you have such a religious culture threatening such a democratic culture – who happens to have a lot of Christians – as well as many other religions. what a mess.
      starting to thing about things like good 'ol days ... where did they go?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  8. Steve

    Yet Another CNN article on the peacefulness of Muslims, meant to disarm people, and trigger the typican knee jerk reaction of liberals, which is to embrace evil, and try to be friends with it..

    September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  9. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    Robbing caravans is offensive.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  10. requiredfield

    "We will defend our prophet until we have blood across our bodies. We will not let anyone insult him," said one protester in the Afghan capital. "Americans will pay for their dishonor."

    ok, i didn't dishonor anyone – and i still don't know anything about this prophet – and i am american – and no – i will not pay for some stupid movie trailer – give me a break please! are these people serious?
    personally, i think the prophet meant to not take it so seriously if someone does dishonor his image, as that is all it is, someone dishonoring his image, not him to people who he means something to or who even know who he is.
    if he didn't do the things in the trailer, than why be bothered by it, and if he did, then what's the big deal? he's been dead for a while now i would imagine – but then again – i seriously have no idea – religion is not taught in noncollege settings – and it wasn't something i had the opportunity to take yet – maybe i should – then perhaps i'll even know something about islam ...

    September 17, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Dan

      The man who produced the movie is Egyptian (Nakoula Basseley Nakoula). What does the movie have to do with America?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  11. motty

    I think the word "Islamophobic" is very misleading. It conjures up a mental image of someone cowering in fear, paralyzed, helpless, defeated. We should be more objective. Christians are not "Islamophobic".
    I know that Mhmd was a false prophet. A non-religious person could come to that conclusion by objectively comparing scriptures and their provenance. His alleged teachings about Jesus were incorrect to the degree that he denied the most basic point of thousands of years of revelation from God: Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins. That's right, Mslms are taught that you have to earn your way to heaven. (God has said you can't.) Killing people who reject the Krn is a way to earn points. So, Islm is objectively very dangerous as is any cult in which "righteousness" is earned by murder. Christians need to recognize and be ready to defend against the false teachings of Mhmd. But they don't have to be afraid.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • ME II

      "That's right, Mslms are taught that you have to earn your way to heaven. (God has said you can't.) Killing people who reject the Krn is a way to earn points."
      I'm no expert, but I don't think that is quite what Muslims believe. However, don't let the facts get in your way.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  12. gaucho420

    My question to the writer is when will you finally admit and realize that something is evil? What does it take? Taking the route of being understanding with these folks is like Premiere Chamberlaine trying to placate the nazis!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Eli Cabelly

      Yes, I have realized that Christianity is evil. What other conclusion can you come to about a people that invented the devil and worship a symbol of torture and execution? I don't try to reason with those people anymore, they simply don't comprehend reality.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Andrew Douglas

      Exactly what I was going to write. The article is Chamberlain – esque.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Ben Jordan

      The Nazi's said the Jews were evil. This is what we are trying to stop. Saying all muslims are evil makes you a bigot.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  13. gaucho420

    Its amazing these ridiculous columns, that ask us to be more understanding, of what is essentially a barbarian way of life. I'm an atheists and I don't like any religion, but one stands hand and shoulders above the rest in utter barbarianism and stupidity and that one is Islam. I don't see how a modern society and free thinkers can ever utter a word of support for that barbaric way of thinking. It belongs in the dust bin of society, along with other hateful ways of life. Religion of peace...get real!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • qqjones

      Pretty much Muslim religion is pressing your head to the east so repeatedly, one has a scar. This means it is more radical than Christianity as they live the words of the quran which is very old testament, living and dying by the sword for the sake of their God. The old testament is very brutal. I think everyone should give it up, both the bible and the quran. None of it has served anyone except the high and mighty taking advantage of the poor. Besides a vision of angel isn't enough (think Mormons and Muslims) and then there is the burning bush (think Christians). We all know men are leaders as well as all the stuff said about Muhammad (think the Kennedys or Clinton). We don't really understand what spiritual is and what makes a prophet...dreams and visions are not enough to save the world (obviously) but we still maintain that idea as what God is to the human being and through a human being. Let's get current. Use your conscience, we are all given one.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  14. Tony

    It's as plain as day, Christians are peaceful just like the religion, Muslims are intolerable and offended by Christians. Musliims view Christians as weak and timid and have no problem violently striking at Christians. Why do people in America blame Christians for the horrible things Muslims do to there people. If people in America cannot see this manipulation in the media and believe it then America is doomed.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Eli Cabelly

      Christians, peaceful? Are you insane?

      How can you possibly think that of a religion whose followers worship a symbol of torture and execution?

      September 17, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Joe

      The author is right. A true Christian would not act this way. We're bringing this upon ourselves by allowing it to perpetuate. Sure, be outraged at the backlash of the Muslim extremists for resorting to murder and terrorism in response to a slight against their religion but don't condemn the whole faith. It may sound trite but ask yourself, what would Jesus really do ?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • cptdondo

      "No true christian" – ever heard of the "no true Scottsman" fallacy? Let's face it, there's probably a billion peaceful Muslims in the world, with only a handful of violent sects. Unfortunately that's what we hear about. How about Christians slaughtering themselves in Ireland not too long ago? Or, far more brutally, the killings in Rwanda? Rwanda is one of the most Christian nations in Africa and in the world, yet they slaughtered each other by the thousands. But they must not be "true Christians", eh?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • yoyoma

      Chirstians peaceful? Ever heard of the Crusades?

      September 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  15. Rick

    I wonder if the US Ambassador thought it was just a phobia that killed him?

    September 17, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  16. Austin4u

    CNN: Please take this piece of crap down! I am sick of everyone placating the Muslims! If I just say that Mohammed was a drunk and a idiot in Islamabad. That is Blasphemy and a crime punishable by death. Any faith that thinks it is OK to kill people for just words they say, should be feared!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  17. gliese42

    I remember walking in the streets of New York as an immigrant and although there were a few who scorned me but I didn't give a damn as my grandfather says that if you are in America than do what the Americans do. My grandfather smiled when my dad cut of his hair so he could get rid of the turban and be an American. As the saying goes when you are in America do what the American does aren't implied anymore. Truly sad

    September 17, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  18. facefur

    IOf you attack the author for making a point, you are missing his point. The problem could well be Mayan of Klingon extremists vs. Islamists. The principal idea is that in condemning Islam through lies and misstatements is just as bad as the radicals who pervert their religion to suit their selfish purposes. At this particular juncture, it happens to be radical Christians vs. radical Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Daniel Morgan

      True.
      Wouldn't it be great if we could take all the religious fanatics and idiots, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, whatever, and put them all on an island somewhere where they can fight about their religious wackjob nonsense all they want – and maybe the rest of us can have a sane society where we don't suffer the consequences of the religious nutjobs' arguments !

      September 17, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Tina

      I'm sorry, but If the Muslim world doesn't want us to depict Muhammad, then that is exactly what we are going to do. Our freedoms don't end because they have no freedoms. Blasphemy laws are beyond foreign to Americans. They are downright sinister. The stupidity of blasphemy laws have been put on full display in Pakistan recently. Politicians are being killed for suggesting their removal and 10 year olds have had the WITCH finger pointed at them. If the government doesn't kill the 10 year old child, the community will once she has been released. Your God and religion must be built on a house of cards if it needs that much defense.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  19. Etheras

    Islamophobia? Are you kidding me? If anything, the reaction of the Muslim world to this "movie" is confirmation that fear and disgust is justified.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • ME II

      Perhaps, you would like to start your own violent protests?

      September 17, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Evan

      The violent protestors were a small minority of illiterate and unemployed youths. This group does not define the entire Muslim population. If you want to direct your disapproval at someone, direct it toward the Egyptian president who waited 24 hours to address the problem publicly.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Kristene

      Evangelicals have more than one phobia. The censors will not allow me to mention them. Evangelicals should address all of their phobias.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  20. Sm

    Anyone who thinks we should be tolerant of insanity is clearly an idiot.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Andy

      Agreed!

      September 17, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Daniel Morgan

      So right!
      I for one will not be tolerant of the insane islamophobes who undermined national security and got four americans killed in the line of duty.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Karen

      Must we continue to tip toe around Muslims forever? Please turn off their internet. They can not handle much. There is much to be offended by on the internet. Must we watch more violence and destruction with every perceived slight? They are not well equipped to understand the free speech of the western world. Nor do they understand that our government is not involved in film making.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Turn off their internet"? How do you propose to do that?

      September 17, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Primewonk

      I agree! So, what do you recommend we do about these fundiot Christian nutters who want to turn our nation into a theocracy?

      September 17, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Tom

      Here you are again, Daniel, posting things that don't make sense. Filmmakers compromised our national security? Should the US have censored these filmmakers? Seeing as you have read this CNN article, I would highly recommend you also read David Frum's CNN article today, "Don't Blame the Video; Defend Free Speech".

      September 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's evolved Son

      I believe they were being sarcastic...

      September 17, 2012 at 12:19 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.