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. I'magod

    Every morning I take a leak on the Quoran & then imagine I'm raking a dump one the false Prophet Mohammed

    September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Wilson

      Any muslim that knew of this would declare Jihad on you and the left would call them "justified." Of course if you did it on a bible,,,,,that would be ok with them.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  2. Greg

    Brian.....if you actually READ and USED your Bible – you would learn that Scripture teaches that Islam is simply a false religion.....the only way to heaven is through Jesus......

    September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      The only way to the imaginary kingdom of angels in the sky is by worshiping a first century prophet as though he were a deity. Then presumably learning to hate one's wife, children, brothers, sisters, and parents, in order to follow him into this manufactured paradise.

      Where do I sign up?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  3. Richard

    What troubles me is how lightly the fundamentalist right just simply repeats outright lies (of even makes them up). Seems to me there was commandment against that - a commandment they all pledge to obey. I wonder what kind of moral gymnastics they do to justify it.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  4. Wilson

    Having spent 20 months in Iraq and the middle east, observed that every attack on a military installation in the US and abroad in the last 12 years has been committed by muslims, I fear and distrust all muslims.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  5. T. Veblen

    McLaren is just another American Islamofascist, judging by this slimy little homily delivered from the altar of moral relativism.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  6. Zoby

    Its not just religious people that hate muslims. I'm an athiest and I have NO PROBLEM hating them for their violence and barbarity.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  7. Sirned

    Thank you

    September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  8. Mike the American

    In the last 500 years Christians who were martyred, did their fellow Christians, friends and family go on rampages of killing innocents?

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

      In a word,,,no. And that is the difference the liberals choose to ignore.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Well, it was less than 500 years ago that Christians were barbequeing heretics, and Christians who weren't protestant enough. But we'll let them slide on that one.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  9. HenryC

    I am an evangelical, but do not fear either gays or Muslims. I simply think they are wrong. As for Islam, their is a basic disagreement with their faith and the American 1st amendment. For Muslims changing from Islam to another religion is anathema and is a required death sentence by Islamic law. Furthermore, all secular must be compliant with religious law. This is in direct opposition of Christian theology. Christians were originally call the people of freedom, because they were suppose do be subject to their conscience, not religious law. This change was actually the basis of western civilization and the development of Individual liberties within western civilization. Evangelicals remember this even if most secular thinkers do not. It is this very basic dichotomy between the Islamic societies, and the now mostly secular societies of Western Civilization that is the root cause of the problems in the middle east.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  10. pmurphey

    The fact that the reporters at CNN run an agenda that is more concerned about getting Obama re-elected rather than reporting the news. The stories are all slanted against Romney and against American Interest. No one even bringing up that a US President had a citizen picked up by the Police for Free Speech. Then instead of reporting that Peter hamby sends out a tweet requesting donations for Obama. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. I will no longer watch CNN after the display I've seen over the last couple of weeks. Especially concerning what is happening overseas.

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

      That goes for all MSM. And in reference to this article and the spin that the WH keeps putting out, these uprisings around the world are NOT due to any film. That is complete and utter baloney! And if Obo and Hillary keep up with their apologetic wishy-washy BS you're going to see worse. Get that man OUT of the WH!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

      What you consider slander against your right-wing interests turns out to be a concerted effort by CNN to publish FACTS.
      Of course, your blinded by your zealousness to only see what you want to see. So you're not going to read CNN and make comments on their blogs? I'm sure Fox News will welcome you with open arms and offer you a chance to state your opinions on their news blog. Oh wait, they shut their comments down didn't they? Ooooh... sucks to be you.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Any chance you will stop coming hear to voice your own off-topic agenda?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  11. concernedPeg

    Why is it that folks expect christians (not saying I'm one) to own up to their paranoias?? I would think that their paranoias would be their problems to iron out.... why do so many folks in the US think they should figure out, judge, control, other peoples believes, paranois, or comments..... just my humble opinion...........

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

      If you think that their paranoia is only their problem you must not understand how this works. Their paranoia had fox pundits counting the word God for a week. Instead of working to make things better or reporting on actual events taking place they chose the path of fear and hate...and then broadcast it to tens of millions of people who are so paranoid they just ate it up.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  12. Louis

    Brian, I understand you are trying to sell books and you claim you were raised in Christain? Are you SAVED? Brian please accept OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR SAVIOR. One claiming to be raised in a Christain family and yet when you speak says different. Remember in the Bible please read there is only One Faith Ephesian 4:5 and please read John 3:16 and finally 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Brian even the demons and devil believe, please accept OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST INTO YOUR LIFE AND REPENT OF YOUR SINS.

    P.S. I will pray that you get Saved

    September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Happy Jack

      Don't read the bible to prove that the bible is true. Keep using your mind instead.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

      Yeah.... you're wrong. No Jesus. No god. No talking burning bush. No six-hundred-year-old man. The virgin birth? Stolen from a previous religion (see Horus). No talking snake. How did Noah get the hantavirus onto the ark? He didn't... there was no ark. Grow the phuck up you small minded fear ridden zealot.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Louis, nice circular logic that starts and ends with a load of BULL! The Bible does NOT prove the existence of anything other than itself. The biggest trick the devil every played? Teaching Christians that Faith is the end-all be-all, teaching them to ignore what they see with their own eyes for the lies and deceit recorded in the Bible. Teaching them to abandon free-will and free-thought that GOD blessed us with; in fact, teaching us NOT to use the tools imbued in us from the All-Mighty. Now that is truly a very sad sin indeed!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  13. N'oreaster

    Why must I own up to what? None of my circle of peers & friends is an Islamophobic? However we have an aversion to terrorist in whatever form whether Moslems or IRA or Aryan nation or whoever. Stop trying to lay the blame where it doesn't belong. Another expert who of course wrote a book, explain everything and nothing

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • zp

      Totally agree with you ! There is no phobia ! We will not tolerate our flags and embassies being burned, and our honorable citizens murdered ! Luke 10 in the bible: "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. "

      September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Oh because you looked out your window and didn't see Islamaphobia it must not be happening. Wow, truly observant you both are. Now I suppose you are going to tell me climate change isn't real because it isn't hot where you live. Priceless!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  14. Dev

    How about they grow some skin and simply look the other way. Thrun their cheek.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  15. Lisa

    People fear the violent Muslims who move among the moderate Muslims and you can't tell the difference by looking at them, NOT evangelism of Islam. Strawman argument.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • J

      and just what does a Muslim look like? There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world, and they are certainly not a monolith. Using the word "them" sets us back about 60 years to the McCarthy era. You can't just say "you can't tell an extremist Muslim from a non-extremist by looking at them", spreading fear of everyone in a long beard or headscarf, when the most violent extremists can look like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Atta

      September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Smith

    This is actually a great story, but the problem is not only on this side of the fense, its also on the other side. For every evangalist, preaching anti Islam with missleading information there are at least two so called muslim mula's preaching the ther other way around with faulse information. The reason we have not reacted as much as those guys, is due to the education level, when we are attacked we can go google information and know who it was, when they are attacked they have only what the leaders tell them, which in most case is set of bias generalized infromation of good vs evil.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  17. Mark

    It's not confined to Muslims. Evangelicals preach against Catholics and Jews as well. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories preached from pulpits about the Vatican.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Bill Stevens

      But the difference is, Evangelicals don't encourage their brothers to assault innocent Catholics or Jews, burn out their businesses, or kill other Evangelicals who decide to convert to either of the other religions. In many Islamic countries the death sentence for apostasy from Islam is still enforced by the national governments. There is no comparison whatsoever between the two.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  18. sickofitall

    why is this pathetic excuse for an opinion piece given such prominent positioning by CNN? Evangelicals are the problem? not the guys that cut people's heads off with dull knives? Or stone their women to death? I'm an agnostic on a good day but this is beyond the pale...insane would too kind a description.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  19. open400

    We never had this problem until Bush took us back to the 7th century – Christandom vs. Islam. There is actually a silent majority of Muslims that want no part of this violence. We here in America do not realize this Muslim silent majority lives in fear.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  20. Conrad Tamea

    It's uncanny to me how articles of this sort argue the behavior of a few Muslim extremists, as uncharacteristic of the Muslim Faith, But have no qualm citing the idiocy of a few fundamentalists as a ubiquitous representatives of the Christian Faith (Islamophobic)

    September 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
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