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. Dennis

    Germany in the 1930's, was not a radical country. A few radical men got in control and easily manipulated the general populace through fear, intimidation and taking over the media. This is how radical Islam works. Most muslims are peaceful but once the few radicals take over, they can completely intimidate the moderate Muslims. Whoever controls the guns, soon controls the populace. "Do what we say or your family dies".

    September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Angie34233

    Islamophobia is a hate word used by radical Muslims who are hateful and intolerant of anyone who is not a Muslim or a worshiper of Islam. No one has to even like Islam. You, the author of this article need to become tolerant and not hateful. You need to tolerate that some people are just not going to like Islam. Intolerance is what is going on in the Islamic world where they are intolerant of those who have different views of Islam then theirs. In the West we can have whatever view of Islam we want. Those crossing the line of decency are those radical Muslims that have been rioting and killing.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  3. mike

    Really dems? CNN with another article about how wonderful muslims are, and they aren't the real terrorist anymore (last week article). Muslims are responsible for 19000+ attacks since 911, that isn't phobia, that is realism. CNN is wrong, dems are wrong and it is okay to think that islam is the problem.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      dems? Generalize much? Get over yourself and grab onto something of substance.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • mike

      you doubt that the majority of dems agree with this article? I bet a dem wrote it, edited it and decided to place it on the front page, do you doubt? CNN runs 80% negative on romney and 70% positive on obozo....

      September 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  4. vernonfueston

    I'm a Mormon and have experienced the same phenomenon that Muslims do when Christian groups spread outright lies in the name of God. Heaven knows, Mormons and Main-Line Christians have plenty of doctrinal disputes to argue over, but it's the lies that get to me. I don't understand somebody who will tell you a lie is a sin, but lies to defend or advance his faith. It's a sad thing to see, and I have seen some pretty egregious examples, both with my own faith and with what little I know about Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • lostisland

      Religion is ALL about believing lies! – Thats the part we atheists are just left stunned and amazed at! – Religion is ALL about the "my lies are the truth, and yours aren't" – I will be 'saved' for believing mine, and you will not be. And from there it's an EASY step for the extremists to latch on to a more violent means of expressing this. If you are wrong, and won't be 'saved' your life is worthless.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  5. Stephanie

    Can you really blame people for being Islamophobic? A 14 minute video (most Americans haven't even watched) made by a small group of people is played and all of a sudden it seems like half of the Eastern Hemisphere is shouting "Death to America!" I am not "Islamophobic" in fact I'm quite disturbed at the fact that that word exists now. But I don't believe we should be looking at people who are afraid, I believe we should be looking at what makes them afraid.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Kathy M

      I understand what you are saying, however, we need to keep in mind that the majority of Muslims are not protesting and reacting in such a volatile manner. The problem with what we view on television is that it does not depict the entire population of a country but a few. Also, many of these people have lived under brutal dictatorships for years, dictators that often we supported in the past. Of course there is going to be anti-American sentiment. We need to be intelligent in our discussions and not jump to easy simple conclusions. Events are rarely black and white. There is much complexity in the Middle East, we need to remember that. Easy soundbites are never going to accurately depict or explain the situation in that region.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • mike

      does 19000+ attacks by muslims since 9/11 mean that MOST muslims are lovely people?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  6. Sun4now222

    Islamophobia is a hate word used by radical Muslims who are hateful and intolerant of anyone who is not a Muslim or a worshiper of Islam. No one has to even like Islam. You, the author of this article need to become tolerant and not hateful. You need to tolerate that some people are just not going to like Islam. Intolerance is what is going on in the Islamic world where they are intolerant of those who have different views of Islam then theirs. In the West we can have whatever view of Islam we want. Those crossing the line of decency are those radical Muslims that have been rioting and killing.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  7. capitalismiskool

    Wow! The movie was written by an Israeli-American, a Jewish one. And now it is all the fault of Christians? God hating liberal media at it AGAIN.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • KJ

      Get your facts straight. It was an Egyptian Coptic Christian immigrant....

      September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Rational

      it was a egyptian american

      September 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Robert

      i'm sorry.. .but the person who made the movie lied about being Jewish. He's also is hiding... Would you agree with me that he is a coward?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  8. S

    Preach on, brother. Couldn't agree more.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  9. KJ

    I'm just not sure why the author singled out Evangelical, maybe cause he grew up in that faith and has some ill will towards it? I'm a christian, but def not evangelical. Islamaphobia is every where, just not with Evangelical. So his message is a semi hate message in itself. For some of you that said he's attacking Christians, thats not true, just Evangelicals. And for those of you who actually have Islamaphobia, I dare to sit down and talk with someone of the Mulsim faith, your view will be changed. If you don't, then just sit in your chair and do nothing but complain about something you know nothing about...

    September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  10. Laurel

    Frankly, I don't see God in any of this.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Robert

      Your right!! Its people who are hiding behind God and religion who do these things

      September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  11. Jaime in Bremerton

    I saw a photo of a 6 to 8 year old child holding up a sign that read " Behead all who insult the Prophet" That is why I dislke Muslims. They teach hate right out of the womb. There is no such thing as a moderate muslim, put them in power and ALL moderation disappears.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • lostisland

      I've seen that same video but wait, isn't that Fred Phelps and his children starring in the video?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  12. zoeyj

    L Shana Tova- Happy New Year.
    As a Jew for Jesus, Gods word states not to judge others and to love one another as we love ourselves. As believers in Christ we must remember how the Catholic Church TORTURED people all in the name of Christ. Even today there are Christian groups who judge, exclude, and impose their idea of Gods word and law on others. They forget the not judging others, loving others as they love themselves, sharing the love of Christ, etc.
    I do not agree with Islam way if dealing with this hateful video, but we as Christians should not throw rocks when living in a house of glass. Our own religion still judges and excludes others. This behavior is not the teaching of Christ.
    Judgement of others is Gods, not any humans on earth.
    When will Christians stop judging, excluding and hating ? When will Christians start loving, giving and sharing the word of God...Welcoming all people to the table of the Lord.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Lisa

      There is no jihaad in the Bible.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  13. lostisland

    Christians telling outright lies? I bet I'm not the first to say this....

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  14. usagainstyou

    It is absolutely ridiculous to say Christianity has anything to do with the modern world's hate of islam. The fruit of these cousin marrying in-breds is shown by their rampant violence throught the world. I guarantee if someone made a film mocking Christianity there is no way Christians around the world would be setting buildings on fire and killing people randomly. Brian, you are just a wimp who is afraid to call a spade a spade. Islam is the biggest and most evil threat to the world today and the morons that follow it will never accomplish anything worthwhile.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • zoeyj

      There are some Christians who judge, hate and exclude others who do not fit their idea of "Gods Word"
      You do not need fire, guns and bricks to hate and destroy others, hate and judgement in your heart is much stronger than any gun or fire. Hate and judgement kills the soul.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  15. government cheese

    Obama: " I am sorry that you killed our ambassador."

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • sensible

      Romney: "i hate all asian people". see.. i can write idiotic statements too...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  16. Guest

    CNN ran an article last week in which Muslims in the US voiced their dissatisfaction with the way they were treated post-9/11. All interviewed felt Islam was a compassionate and peaceful religion that everyone should try and understand. Really? With all the mayhem and bloodshed this week that followed reports of an obscure and tawdry movie, is that expectation rational? I don't know what kind of Islam US Muslims follow, but, if they feel their religion has been hijacked, they need to stand up and denounce the current violence in the strongest voice possible. They need to show their indignation and repugnance. Otherwise, they need to get off their high horses and denounce current Islam for what it is, a godforsaken doctrine. They should then call their brand of Islam something else and practice it in peace. Short of that, it is hypocritical to expect understanding from us.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Lisa

      No current follower of Islam is going to denounce it. They will simply point their finger at another group and claim they are misinterpreting, or aren't devout.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  17. larryb

    if heaven exists the evangelicals will be shocked that so few of them made it there

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • skarphace

      Lol. So true. I will be in hell with the vast majority of them, and I will be laughing my butt off.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • skarphace

      Er .. between screams, that is.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  18. Jeff

    I guess it is a lie that Christians are being put to death in some Muslim countries...for nothing more than being Christian???? I'm pretty sure CNN reported that as well. Shame on you CNN...

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Paul Nay

    A fair sample of what Mr. McLaren was writing against has spewed itself out for all to see in these responses.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • esplanader

      We can pretend that Mohammadism is just a happy go lucky religion that want peace. It's followers are human, and by the teaching of Christ, we know they are as redeemable as any other humans. There is no reason to assume there are any higher percentage of "good" or "bad" people raised in Islam (re: the good Samaritan).

      However, it is known (and reported over and over) that the Mohammadans want peace which subjugates (sp) and, if of ease, kills those who believe otherwise. Mohammad and his armies of "god" believed that and there is very, VERY little argument coming from the "holy" men of Islam.

      There is reason to fear people who want you to be put to death for the act of imaging their Prophet. Very good reason.

      Nothing in this article really calls into question the FACT that the Mohammadans commentators have blamed all of the US as much as the people who are rioting. And what did we do? Let someone express is distaste for the people who oppress his people and the dead man (Yes, Mohammad will not rise again), who promoted their denegration as humans.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  20. Nathan

    "Christianity has nothing in common with Islam."
    Really? Have you spent any time studying the history of both great religons? Try it sometime, it may actually surprise you.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |

      The only thing in common is the mention of Ishmael being disqualified for the original promise by blood lines. His offspring, the Arabs, can still attain the born again birthright through Jesus Christ. They don't seem to want it.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Chad

      @ Have Mud

      That and the fact that they are largely monotheistic dogma originating from the same text, in the same geographic region claiming a collection of man made stories holds the key to all things. Both are fables centered around unprovable and untestable notions. Other than radical Islam is wreaking terror across the globe now and Christianity visited it's torments on the world 500 years ago... I dont see much difference.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • esplanader

      Of course there is a lot in common between Christianity and Islam. Mohammad referenced both Christian and Jewish and pagan ideology when he wrote the Koran. It's not a secret that he had access to all three. The fact that he acknowledged Christ as a teacher does not validate any of his corruptions of Christian tenents.

      (I don't know how much pagan was involved but the part about marching around the idol box in Mecca seems to be pretty pagan to me.)

      September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • John

      Yeah...one would think that since the all worship the same god, the god of Abraham, they wouldn't be such enemies and think each other are infidels. Has human constructs written all over them...along with Juadism.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Lill

      There is one big glaring difference: Turn the other cheek versus Behead the infidels.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
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