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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. MetheBLKman

    SAD, so many American 'Christian's' are doing everything but WHAT Christ taught. SAD!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Kent

      AMEN!!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • smokeandmirrors

      The primary conflict between Islam and the U.S. is our support of Israel. Israel chose to stand against Islam.
      If they can not defend their country without our help, then it is natural law that they should be left to die on the vine.
      Purging Jerusalem of the infidels so that Jesus may return is no reason send our country into endless debt and lose countless lives. The moment Israel falls we will see a large reduction in terrorism worldwide.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jakob

      Like what exactly?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  2. knucklecheese

    Reality: There's nothing wrong with fearing and avoiding something that has proven itself time and again to be dangerous and destructive. Sure, on PAPER Islam is a peaceful religion with peaceful teachings, but reality is a stubborn thing. When's the last time a group of Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, or Sikhs attacked a foreign embassy, killed the ambassador, and burned the placed to the ground because someone made a movie they didn't like? It's time to accept reality. It's not a phobia if the danger is real.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • knucklecheese

      Oh, sorry, I left out the part where they dragged the Ambassador's body through the streets like animals.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Kent

      Yet, as Christians, we fail to turn the other cheek, we fail to pray for our enemies, and we fail on so many levels as Christians, yet we are so happy to blame the other religions for our problems. As evangelicals, we fail to do what Jesus said to do, and love each other, a pray for the sick, and feed the poor...yet we say the poor are just to lazy to get a job and the poor are to lazy to become rich. Wake up...Jesus was a Socialist! He gave to the poor and helped those who were in need. Most evangelicals are pathetic and one step further..the TEa Party Evangelicals are the worst..they should be pitied and I hope and pray the the Lord will take mercy on them at their time of judgement.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Brian

      How many Muslims have you actually met? 99/100 of them are nice people. Just like those of any other race or religion. You're just a terrible person for judging an entire religion on the actions of a small minority and you bring shame on real Americans.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • KJ

      Thats because if you added up all those religions together, Muslims still outnumber them.... Its like the entire US being blamed for this stupid video this guy from Egypt living here put out there. Its unfair.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Flex

    "Action speaks louder then words"....and that is the bottom line for all religions.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  4. Rick

    This writer is clearly pandering to appear friendly to Muslims. The truth is that they are a reptilian bunch who kill innocence people out of pure emotion. Your "friend" who is a Muslim secretly hates you.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • american muslim

      Probably one of the most immature comments I have ever heard in my life. For those who are uneducated about Islam need to know a thing or two before making a comment like that. There are extremist in all religions but that doesn't mean the religion as a whole is bad.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  5. danny

    Finally, a voice of reason. Unfortunately, there are still so many comments on this board that reflect ignorance.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • knucklecheese

      Ignorance huh? Let me know when YOU get back from living over there for awhile and tell us all how ignorant we are.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • MIke

      Who attacked the World Trade Center? Who killed dozens in an attack at one of our military bases? Who beheaded a Wall Street Journal reporter in cold blood? Who killed our ambassador in Libya? Who blew up the USS Cole? Extremist Muslims.
      So don't pander to this small group of blood thirsty terrorists and tell me it is American Christians that are the problem. The reality is probably most Muslims are peaceful people just like most of Germany in the 1930's were peaceful people but a small minority bent on destruction of a certain segment of society overshadow them.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Kent

      hmmm..American Christians bombed Iraq based on the LIES of the worst SOB in the world W! how many people including americans died because of that LIE! hmmm...Christianity! More hatred and death has been caused in the name of Christianity/religion than anything else in the world. I am a Christian and I'm sad to be connected with the likes!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Dina

      Well Said Danny, sadly it is still easier to follow ignorance. I lived in the middle east for 22 years and I still go periodically. 99 out of every 100 are wonderful people, hospitable, kind, helpful, loving and peaceful. BUT we never hear about them in our media! So sad.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  6. jimbo

    "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." Why? Evangelicals had nothing to do with this film and if they did then they certainly aren't showing the fruit of being a true Christian. That film was so full of profanity it was difficult to watch

    September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  7. Charlie

    Genuinely, God is within.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  8. f hill

    I guess all muslims are peace-loving except the ones who kill and burn embassies. Right?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Mark

    While there is phobia, it does not justify the violence that appears to be more than Islamic extremists when the Muslim faith is offended somehow. As a pretty tolerant guy, they only thing I can't stand is intolerance. This world must respectfully disagree and not rush to violence at any lack of taste or derogatory statement.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • cyberhackster

      They (the 2000 year behind times Muslims) fall out of the womb hating – you are (exist as a infidel) therefore, they hate

      September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • MikeInFC

      When the news shows a college campus riot after winning a game, it looks like Americans are burning down the entire country when watching it on the news. When a few hundred people are chanting and burning an American flag in another country, the news makes it look like the whole country is rioting. It's all perspective. A few hundred people do not represent America, the same way a few hundred people do not represent any other country.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Brian

      I don't think you quite understand how these things work. Christians and Jews are the dhimma and they are to be protected/tolerated. They are not infidels. The infidel talk is a more modern hijacking of Muslim beliefs to accomplish a political agenda. Don't be so ignorant.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. TheMeanGuy

    Part of the reason that Islam gets a bad rap is because some of its followers blow things up and cut peoples heads off with knives. And then post the videos on the internet. While most Muslims don't do things like this, they aren't exactly vocal about condemning these types of activities either.

    I agree that Christians should be nice towards Muslims. But lets first focus on reducing violence in the Muslim world, or at least convince Muslims to condemn it. Then lets move on to determining whether or not Christians like Muslims.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  11. MawcDrums

    I have no respect for ANY religion. Christians and Muslims worship the SAME GOD. Yahweh.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  12. dean

    Phobia implies a fear that does not exists. Christians and Muslims share one thing in common. As a christian, the God I serve is not tolerant of other gods. Muslims believe the same about theirs. In this country christians are ridiculed for not being tolerant of other gods. Do you honestly believe true Muslims are tolerant of any god but theirs.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dina

      Dean, as a Christian that grew up in the Moslem world, I can honestly tell you that Christians, Moslems and Jews all believe in the same God. They disagree on which is the best way to reach our God, Allah or Yahweh, but it is the one and the same God.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • karek40

      They are not the same God, there are many differences, one cannot lie, the other is the great deceiver. One says love your enemies, the other to strike them on the neck with your sword. One has a son, the other says he does not. One says love your wife, the other beat her. I could go on and on. Why to you think muslims call us the great satan? They recognize one of us worships god the other satan. We need to recognize that fact also, I leave it to you to make the decision as to who worships God and who worships satan.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Dina

      Please get a Koran and a Torah and read them. Do not read the books that the people added later on, but the actual Torah and Koran. I think you will be surprised at what you find.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • twoinchtammy

      I would love to see a christian being ridiculed.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  13. John Smith

    There is no PHOBIA of muslims. The biography of Muhammad CLEARLY shows him to be a butcher and letcher. The movie "innocence of muslims" is pure sarcasm, not to mention not the best movie. Clearly, like contemporary muslim thought, their founder was primarily interested in financial and material gain, destroying anyone that spoke against him and "having" as many women as he possibly could. Clearly, he was nuts.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Obama2012

      Clearly, you are uneducated about Islam or any other religion for that matter. CLEARLY.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  14. Chris33

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  15. LiberalChristianSuicide

    Is this Idiot smoking the whacky tabacky? We are a Progressive society that tolerates and shows compassion to all. I know I am a minority immigrant who has felt nothing but warmth and welcoming to America. Islam is a religion of intolerance against women, Jews, Gays, Christians, Hindus, Communist, Europeans, Americans, Atheist, and so on. This man McClaren needs to apologize to all the victims of September 11 for espousing this ignorant notion that America deserve September 11 because of the way we treat Muslims. Mr. McClaren I would spit at your feet if I came across you on the street.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • c. glen

      God Bless America! You are exactly right on!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  16. Paul

    "Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own". Agreed. The much larger problem is the vast majority of muslims who fail to absolutely condemn these acts of violence! So much for the peaceful Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  17. Boomer in Mo

    Moderate muslims must get control of their religion. A majority of Americans now believe that muslims are taught the only way they will get into heaven is to be a murderer. Not true, but that does not matter to the majority of Americans. As long as a highly visible bunch of muslims act like murderous children throwing tantrums every time they don't like something, the muslim religion will be despised by those of other faiths.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • karek40

      Moderate muslims cannot control their religion, the true believers will kill moderate muslims if they interfere. Try reading the quran.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Brian

      That's not the issue. The issue is that the violence is more newsworthy than nonviolence. 99% of Muslims live nonviolent lives, but they aren't the ones on the news all of the time. Half of us Americans just like to believe anything that we see on the television and accept it as a blanket representation of all Muslims. It's disgustingly ignorant.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  18. s~

    "Brian McLaren says U.S. Christians must own up..."

    You mean "CNN says U.S. Christians must own up..."

    September 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      You mean "s~ says that CNN says Christians must own up"

      September 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Adam

      You mean you don't make sense

      September 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  19. mike hunt

    So let me get this straight, Christians make stupid silly videos criticizing Islam. Muslims kill christians and jews just for being christians and jews. But we are told its the Christians that need to change and be more sensitive? this kind of idiot thinking is what is going to lead to the end of America, christians, jews, and any other non-islam relegion.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Adam

      Good job, you got figured out... What would we do without you?!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  20. Cthulhu

    Of course they're Islamaphobic. Islamist kill people for no reason and have a tendency to blow stuff up. They're ignorant animals and need to be slaughtered like animals.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Jeff

      You realize you basically just committed a felony threat? I am guessing you probably do not realize that...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:10 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.