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. rla


    September 16, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • mb72463

      well said..and i'm agnostic.... 🙂

      September 16, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  2. tman

    how come there allowed to build as many mosques in AMERICA as they wish ,but try to build a church in muslim country !NOT GONNA HAPPEN! islam the religion of intolerance......l

    September 16, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  3. Hellskitchen

    Oh I don't know, theyre only responsible for 9/11, two wars, several embassy attacks, and many could argue, world unrest. You are blinded by your simple minded beliefs. Islam has become a violent religigion, and if The Muslims are so convinced otherwise then prove it. But they can't, because not a week will go by without a terrorist attack in Afghanistan, and we all know very well that these locals hide their militants that they "condemn". Grow up CNN, your news is getting just flat out poor.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  4. CombatBob1

    Wow-the author McLaren is so far off base with this article. No wonder Christian book stores are removing his books. I have read 1 of his books and it was scarey. He is the type of teacher we are warned about in the Bible – this guy is a whacko – nice job CNN – once again, your reporting is so one-sided. Please stop spreading your hate. uhg.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • midwest rail

      There is a huge difference between " reporting " and " commentary ".

      September 16, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    The truth is......religion fosters hatred, it fosters violence, and in the Islamic world, it TEACHES that hatred and violence, as a part of the religious doctrine.

    We all see that clearly, by the behaviors of the Islamic people, not just in mob violence, but in their daily lives, and behaviors.

    Religion, all religion, is nothing but a human control device, and in the case of Islam, it is being misused, completely.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  6. The truth

    I am not surprise CNN pointing fingers again, and not surprise to find out it's controlled by Jews either.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  7. Ace

    The naievete of some in the liberal media almost never ceases to amaze me...the mantra seems to be: No matter how violent some sects become in other religions, we can alway bring back the cause to christianity, makes me wonder who's pulling the strings for those in the media...

    September 16, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • mb72463

      if they can't blame Bush.....blame christians....never the mussees

      September 16, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  8. Jerry

    All of the negative, hateful comments thus far more or less confirm the point of the article, of which most of them have missed.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • mb72463

      yup, look at all the mosques burning and mussees being killed. women and little girls being raoed...oh you horrible christians....

      September 16, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  9. gregory oreskovich

    How can one call themselves a Christian and hate anyone? The salvation of Jesus is through love, forgiveness and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Others meaning ALL OTHERS. Intolerant, revenge-minded Christians are themselves the evil they fear.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  10. DIA


    September 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • grafixer

      There are killers in every faith – including Christianity.

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

      Don't be silly. We know he attended Christian church for 14 years. Remember the whole Reverend Wright issue... He was slandered over what his reverend said... then slandered for being a 'muslim' which he is certainly NOT. Get your story straight already.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  11. James

    Thanks McLaren ! I totally agree with you.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  12. digger111

    Get out of the middle east and take our aid dollars with us. We have enough of our own oil if we just stop selling it overseas.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • midwest rail

      And how, exactly, do you propose stopping the oil companies from engaging in the world market ?

      September 16, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • digger111

      Midwest, don't know. That would be up to Congress. They find a way to do everything else.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  13. Annette72

    First, I wonder at the use of a word such as "Islamophobia", which has been coined by the Muslim Brotherhood. Second, why do Americans continue to ignore the political goals of Islam? Do former Muslims also ascribe to "conspiracy theories" concerning Islam and life under it?

    I don't like ridicule of ANY religion. But, I tolerate all the indecencies towards mine! Freedom to do this-you know that all other freedoms we enjoy, hinge on this. I also question "the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence". Where have you been? Almost 20,000 Islamic attacks worldwide since 9/11! Why do we kid ourselves? Have you read the Koran? Have you studied the life of Mohammed?

    We have a responsibility toward our fellow man. To love as Christ does is a tall order. We expect something different from those who profess his name. However, government in free societies do have a responsibility towards it citizens! That is, if they want to continue to remain free.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  14. Murph

    Well said. Thank you...however, I doubt many religious people will have the courage to look in the mirror.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  15. Suzanne

    Interesting CNN never report how main stream media makes fun of Christians Evangelicals in Movies. mock our belief in God and it is open season. We are to turn the other cheek, and do. So the double standard continues.. It is much easier to blame Christians and ignore the atrocities just performed. The author is naive about the persecution that goes on look at what has been going on with blasphemy laws being misused in Pakistan and other countries...

    September 16, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • El Flaco

      Making fun of a religion is merely an exercise of free speech. This video was merely an exercise of free speech. Religious fundamentalists do not like free speech. They do not like anything that contradicts their particular loony theology.

      Religious fundamentalism is a big problem in today's world, surpassed only by Corporatism and Global Climate Change.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  16. El Flaco

    There are hundreds of Christianities. They are not the same religion. It is just coincidence that they all call their gods by the same names: Yahweh, Jehovah, Satan, Christ, Jesus, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, etc. They have few beliefs in common. They each interpret the Catholic Bible – assembled by order of the Emperor Constantine in 330 AD – in radically different ways.

    It's like knowing a hundred men named John Smith.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  17. Mrs John Green

    Dear friends of Christ–Do not be hatefull to any. Love them that persecute you for His name. Do good to them and pray for them. This is Christ's way and His way for those who follow him. It is so sad when even the followers of Christ are part of the problem. You followers of Christ–you say you know Him–but remember He MUST KNOW you. The most heart breaking words in the whole Bible are when the Lord looks right at you, in the way He looked at Peter, and says " I never knew you (Matt. 7:22-23)." Are you known by Him for doing things His way or your own way ?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  18. banlarson

    My Mother forwarded me many of the emails the author depicts. Of course at first glance they appear to be shocking and really invoke a strong response, as is their intent. However, I simply did a little fact checking and have found every one to be inaccurate. I then tell my Mother not to believe everything she reads. Over time she realized the false information in them and has stopped reading them and has let others in her church know the truth. There is so much miss-information circulating on the internet you really have to learn to fact check. While I don't approve of the reactions by some Muslims in the Middle East, I do pray for them as they have been lead down a path by their leaders who are miss-interpreting the teachings of Islam; to some extent in the same way as some "evangelical leaders" here in America.

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

      Yes I have an uncle that sends out all that b.s from the far right. and yes I agree that there is much out there that is mainly composed of distortions or lies about many things, but mainly Muslims and Obama. However because people refuse to give Obama credit for some of the things he has done right, and constantly speak trash about him does not mean he has been a good president. And whatever distortions and misinformation is being put out there about Muslims, does not change the fact that radical Muslims are killing a whole lot of people of every faith and nationality.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  19. Quinn

    Why won't CNN post my comments? I've said nothing with epithets or threats. I do not promote violence – but CNN won't post my comments ! WHY?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • CNN posting tips

      people visiting here to comment will need to know about the automatic word filter that has yet to be updated to filter out only bad words.

      For instance, ho.mose.xuality is considered two bad words by the filter. "ho.mo" and "se.x" – a period, dash, space or other character can be used to break up the letter combinations.
      "gay" is not considered a bad word by the filter.

      These bad letter combinations also apply to your "Name" and your "email address" so please keep this in mind.

      In addition, there are many G-rated words that fall afoul of this outdated and badly-written filter used by this blog.

      Here is the list with the "bad" letter combination, followed by the G-rated words that will trip the filter and cause your post to get automatically deleted.
      The "etc" means to keep a lookout for other possibilities if your post gets deleted.
      The list, which includes actual "bad" words:
      ar-se.....as in spa-rse, pa-rse, ar-senic, etc.
      ass-hole.....yet ass is okay.
      cia-lis...as in Cia-lis(a drug), socia-lism, socia-list, specia-list, etc. (note: this only happens in combination with some email addresses uknown as to why)
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cucu-mber, etc.
      ef-fing...as in this ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      fu-ck......everyone's favorite!
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      hoo-ters...hoot, hootie, and hooter is okay. More than one hooter is bad.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      po-on.....as in spo-on, po-ontang, harpo-on, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      strip-per..but strip, stripe are okay.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, anti-thesis (any anti-"t" word),beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe or break it up somehow!

      The phrase "wo-nderful us" has been found to trip the filter as well for some strange reason.

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      On the other hand, there are words you might expect to trip the filter, yet do not do so, a few examples:
      raping (ra-pe is not ok)
      shat (sh-@t is not ok)
      If you want to bypass the filter, it can be done using html tags if necessary. But the list of banned letters/words should be enough for most visitors here.

      CNN also has a list of tips on posting comments at: cnn.com/terms/comment_policy.html

      September 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Quinn

      I have reviewed CNN Posting tips in detail regarding objectionable language – and I did NOT violate any language CNN objects to. Yet still CNN has refused to post my comments. WHY?

      September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  20. a dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • banlarson

      Clearly your parents were over-bearing Catholics and were shocked when you came out and you have been dealing with that ever since. You have a lot of hatred. Yes, if you look objectively at any religion you will find things that make absolutely no sense in terms of the reality we live in. However, what religions do give us is hope, common purpose, sense of belonging, genuine good works towards others, and internal peace. Hating on those that have religious faith is about as mis-guided as your negative depiction of those of faith. It was the pursuit of regleous freedom that founded America and helped shape the greatest nation this planet has ever had. Are all religious practices (introduced by Man) scientifically sound, absolutely not, but to hate so unequivicably against those of faith becuase of your own personal frustrations is not productive. I'd suggest some councelling and a religious concept called forgiveness.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • phillip allred

      Great reply wish more people could see this truth

      September 16, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Banlarson, Please refute with facts one thing I posted, otherwise your OPINION is meaningless.Relgion gives hope to delusional people. You ARE clearly delusional. Try reading a science book instead of the BUYBULL for once.I'd suggest you get your head out of the sand

      September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • banlarson

      Living your life with so much hatred and anger is not only unhealthy, but nobody really cares to hear it. At some point in your life you are going to have to get over it. My uncle is gay, he's fought the same fight his whole life, my Grandfather was Methodist minister, its a tough road, but he doesn't have anger, he's the most caring person I know. He's a role model and helped me understand his difficulties. Spewing hatred and accusations is not the answer "a dose of reality". Choose a different path, people might take you seriously for once.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Banlarson, Living your life with so much delusion must be difficult. I did not spew hate, I posted facts. Do you have any facts to refute my post? Or will you just keep saying I'm being hatefull for telling the truth about religion? Maybe you should choose a different path for once. Why not try reality for a change?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • takawalk

      You have some good points lol but I have to ask. Where your parents overbearing Catholics? just wondering if banlarson nailed it.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:12 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.