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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. karek40

    Interesting article, I don't see evangelicals blowing themselves/people up when negative things are said about Christ or the new testament. I don't see Jews blowing themselves/people up when anti semitic remarks or literature is published or negative remarks are made about the old testament. I do see this with Islam and the quran. Therefore due to the behavior of muslims and the writings contained in the quran we all have just cause to be islamophobic.

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

      There are many instances of terrorism from Christians and Jews. National terrorism in Israel, which everyone ignores.

      Also, everyone seems to have forgotten about the weekly gunning down of people in churches, schools, public places in the US and Europe. What about Timothy McVeigh!!?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  2. gravis

    I wouldn't blame religion for stupidity and ignorance. If there were absolutely NO religion on the face of the planet, stupid people will still find an excuse to act like these violent extremists. And that goes for extremists in all countries.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Charles Ghisalberti

    Islamophobia is the "fear" of Islam/ The "fear" part is the "phobia" part of the word. Does it make sense to be afraid of people
    who follow the tenets of Islam and cut off people's heads? Hang young Gay people? Stone women for any reason?
    Do you pretend that only a tiny group of people in Islam support and approve of this kind of behavior???/

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  4. Samsdad

    So how many airplanes have we flown into their landmarks...and how many of their embassys have we invaded in order to commit murder?!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  5. Kanageloa

    The so-called evils of islam??? So-called? Are you so dull or blind that you can't see what this empty religion of hate is all about? Islam is for man only. Women and children are no better than livestock. No Brian, you are sorely remiss. There is a lot of evil and hate within islam and apparently you can't see it.

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

      Well done – at least in proving the author's point.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. Jack

    I cannot even believe this piece of garbage is in the front page of CNN.com... Was CNN acquired by the Muslim Brotherhood or another powerful Islamic group? What is with you CNN and your PRO-Muslim/Ok-with-Islamization-of-America/Do-Whatever-You-Want propaganda?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Charles Ghisalberti

      you got it!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • ESK

      Interesting how it's so baadd that CNN has to be objective – sorry they hurt your feelings.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  7. Brad76

    Very odd logic used by CNN the last few days. Muslims around the world are freaking out and hurting people over a movie, yet Christians are the problem?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  8. DarklyDivine

    The film simply outlined the absurdities of the Islam faith and its "prophet", it so happens that the film maker chose to do it in a "puerile" manner. Give respect where respect is due. No need for Islamophobia, there is just simply nothing to respect about Islam or Muhammed, that is just the truth. I am getting tired of this backwards "pluralistic" society, where everything is relative, and nothing is truthful.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  9. jaketinback

    Yeah Im sure Daniel Pearl would agree with the author.

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

    what everyone is really trying to say is, we who have been educated in north america do not know how to think for ourselves nor do we need our freedoms.....what we need is for either an islamist cleric or a christian preacher/priest/soothsayer tellign us how to live our lives everyday...........no thanks I now the difference between right and wrong, and I believe in having the freedom to do what I want to as long as it is legal !!!!!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  11. Samsdad

    So how many airplanes have we flown into their landmarks...and how many of their embassys have we invaded in order to commiy murder?!

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

      I would say millions. not airplanes but their bombs.

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

      Yet the U.S. chooses to kill thousands of innocents in the middle east through an endless and illegal war. How is one better than the other?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  12. ironmike

    I admit to being phobic. I'm very phobic of people who have rocket launchers, blow things up and are willing to kill simply because of a stupid thirteen minute video. BTW what does Evangelical Christians have to do with this entire thing. The person who made the video was Coptic Christians are Middle Eastern. And have been oppressed by their Muslin neighbors for centuries.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  13. cnnsukz

    haha....once again, some idiot justifies Islamic behaviour by making Christians the scapegoat. I am deeply troubled by the fact no one sees this. Islamic militants and extremist act their usual- and it's reported as if our right to free speech does not apply when it deals with them. Let a Christian complain and the media and ACLU drops a lawsuit. I am yet to see bunch of Christians bombing schools, suicide bombings,mass protest and invation of embassies,but they are the bad ones according to the post liberal media. I really don't understand or know the intent of the people behind this, except the decline and annihilation of the USA? I guess for some strange reason, the media is leading the sheep people to a path of self-destruction. Why? Only they know....

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

      Tim Mcveigh was Catholic, and until the WTC committed the largest and deadliest terrorist act in the USA. The vast majority of terrorist acts committed in this country have been from non-muslims, and Homeland Security has considered home-grown terrorist attacks a much greater threat than from the Mid East. Kind of blows your theory to h3ll.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  14. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    'Caravan robbing can be quite profitable and it has certain tax advantages.', Muhammad.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  15. Zack

    So the fact that the initial video was crude and immature somehow justifies mass riots and murder? It's all the big, bad Christians fault for picking on the poor little Muslims? Is this guy serious?

    Also, while Coptic Christians in Egypt may not be getting crucified, they are most certainly getting shot and their churches burned. Funny how that part wasn't mentioned.

    God bless America, the land where all are free to say the stupidest things they can think of.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Shuffler

    Sounds like this guy needs a dose of islamic buttheads murdering some of his family. It is the islmaic community that constantly murders in the name of their religion. Granted not all of them are brain dead but the cultist seem to be. Whenever you hear of them murdering in the name of their religion you rarely, if ever, see any of the others stand up and decry the murdering trash. This put them in the same boat with the ones who committed the murders in my opinion.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  17. libdumb

    Obama, the quality of your rhetoric confirms that you were made in China.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  18. smeeker

    Not liking something does not mean that someone has a "phobia" of it. I hate Islam because of what they do all the time. I have no fear of a muzzie though. Let one of them try to storm my place and they will see what good, old fashioned, American bravery is. I suppose the people who say that I have a phobia are Hitlerphobes. Now how stupid does that sound?

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

      Dude, looking down the barrel of an AK-47 is real fear and not imagined. Islam is a radical empty religion that doesn't allow you to think. You are to obey all of the koran with no questions asked. A religion full of imams like Jim Jones or David Koresh.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  19. matt

    Seems to me that they (Muslims) are the only ones that get all angry and go on a destruction spree over what they say are slights to their religion. Abu Dabi pics, alleged Koran burnings, editorial cartoons of Mohammed, films they don't like, etc, etc, etc. Need I go on? You don't see Christians running around burning Mosques when the burn the Bible or kill Christians (like in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, etc, etc, etc). I like McLaren, but he is way off base on this one. Islamaphobia is an issue with evangelicals. Still, Islamaphobia should NOT be considered the moral equivolency of what we see in the middle East.

    Let's try this one on for size. Any obvious Muslim, from ANY country, could walk into ANY evangelical church with no fear for safety. I wonder if the reverse were true should I chose to walk into a Mosque (with a crucifix around my neck) in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libiya, Egypt, Tunisia, etc. ? Hmmm.

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

      Excellent Matt. I couldn't have said it better.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  20. ProperVillain

    Islamaphobia is rampant in most evangelical churches. It's really sad to see the misinformation and downright lies used just to get some sort of rise out of the crowd or to "prove" that Christianity is "better" than Islam. It is such a total sham. The preachers pick and choose the most controversial passage of the Qu'ran while conveniently ignoring the more barbaric passages of their own holy books.

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

      Maybe. But Islamaphobia is not the moral equivalent of what they are doing to Christians in the middle East. Look at the Christian populations in Islamic countries. They have ALL declined precipitously in the last decade. Look at the Muslim population in the US in the last decade. They have seen huge increases. Don't speak about that which you don't know.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Jakob

      Dude, spends some real time in Christian churches and you'll see that this sort of thing doesn't really happen. If it does, it's in no way representative of the Body of Christ. Stop spreading lies.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:42 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.