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. TheZel

    All we are saying, is give peace a chance..

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  2. junaid

    the trolls and racists have come out to play... i believe this is where the bottom feeders in the u.s. come to hang out, any article where they can spread hatred about others to make themselves feel better.

    as a muslim... i live my life- couldn't really careless what you do with your life. If you want to spend your time hating me for whatever illogical reason you can come up with then go ahead... Im to busy enjoying life to convince you otherwise

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  3. Scholar

    No religion should kill people in the name of that religion.

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

      No religion should kill people for ANY reason.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • AndriconBoy

      That's the beautiful (and by "beautiful," I mean sick and evil) thing about religion – you can make up any crap you want and justify it by calling it a "religion." Worse, is that no matter how terrible those acts are, people still demand 'respect' for their beliefs and become offended when others dare criticise it.

      As has been said many times:
      Good people do good things. Bad people do bad things. For good people to do bad things takes religion.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  4. Truth Teller

    the problem is not "islama-phobes" in the semi-traditional sense of the word, the problem is the phobia the radical islamists have of the rest of the world. they are afraid to embrace a society that treats everyone as equals, they are afraid to embrace a society that encourages indivuality, they are afraid to embrace a society of education (when in fact, much of our knowledge and priniciples of education are founded in the mid-east and particuarly the muslem people).

    these radicals are the "phobes" that continue to prey on the weak in order to "elevate" themselves above all others, even their pedophile prophet.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  5. RichardSRussell

    All religions are crazy, but they're not all violent.
    In fact, even among the ones that condone violence in principle, the number of their adherents who actually COMMIT violence in fact is tiny.
    But the fact remains that all religions are crazy, and the vast numbers of decent religionists are just providing cover and excuses for the tiny minority of their fellow adherents who are more than happy to use religion as their justification for murder and destruction.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  6. AndriconBoy

    "Brian McLaren says U.S. Christians must own up to the reality of evangelical Islamophobia, which often uses downright lies to rail against what it trumpets as the so-called evils of Islam."

    So Xtians use lies to vilify Islam, while they also lie, distort the truth, selectively interpret, and feed the world disinformation on their own small views that they have taken from a sick, twisted book that justifies crimes against humanity. Is anyone at all surprised by this hypocrisy?
    You should not be.

    The religion of Xtianity by itself is just as "evil" and offensive as Islam - the only difference is that at the very least, the believers of Xtianity (for the most part) are juuuuuust not quite as offensive and violent with how they want to force their religion on others. They're much more content with forcefully legislating their views onto others and using social and political subterfuge to rid the world of things like logic and science. I'd bet real money that if they could murder non-believers and not face criminal justice, you'd find an appalling number of people in the North America, Europe, and South America who would do just that.

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

      Absolutely right – just look at the number of posters here who want to nuke all Muslims and let (some) God sort out the good/bad ones.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  7. monroetheindependent

    I accepted God as my creator and Lord, Jesus as my Savior but that's where I stop. There are few men or women on this earth I would follow blindly, regardless of religion. Sure there are religious lunatics in the Middle East but don't think America is immune. Thankful we have a form of govt that remains able to separate State and Church. But believe me, there are those in America who would readily take up arms against our government if some false prophet tells them. Religious zealots should be everyone's worry regardless who religious book they throw at you!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  8. Howard

    This is why CNN ratings are falling. Of course it's all the Christians' fault.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • NotHowardPhew!

      Is that what he said? Do you even bother to read the articles, or just start ranting whenever someone says "Muslim"?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  9. Rosstrex

    So the movie was created by a tiny handful of "Christian" extremists... Now who is lying Pastor McLaren?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  10. nick

    The Christian Right with people like Robertson (who calls for assassinations) are no different than the KKK of the 20' and 30's. Just hate filled people that have no business calling l themselves followers of Christ.Mob sickness

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  11. sickofitall

    "Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors?" I'm curious..how's that working out for the Coptic Christians in Egypt?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  12. JFH67

    That's funny. I don't hear all the Christain anti Muslim gossip. However, everytime I turn on the TV I see a bunch of crazy sand "N" yelling "Allah Akbar" while performing unthinkable crimes.

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

      If their crimes are unthinkable, what would you call the bombing of innocent people in Bahgdad in 2003.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • awaysaway

      "every time you turn on the TV"...You need a new cable provider – your current one sounds awful.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • JFH67AppearsToBeATwit

      Really? Try watching Faux News if you want to hear & see the Islamophobes – can't miss it, a new bunch comes on every hour!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  13. Robert Jones

    By all means try to shift the focus from ignorant irrational Muslim extremist to pin the blame on the Christians... Not going to work this time.... But nice try CNN... You should be ashamed of yourselves...

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • 7Pillars

      IGNORANT STATEMENT ALERT! Thanks for illustrating what he means by 'ignorance indulging hatred' – you have NO IDEA what you are even talking about! Where do you get your information, HANNITY!?! RUSH!?! What a joke –

      THINK FOR YOURSELF! DON'T BE SUCH A "SHEEPLE", believing the idiotic Propaganda – being TOLD what to think about Muslims instead of THINKING FOR YOURSELF! You are ignorant and have no idea what you are talking about...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • 7Pillars


      IGNORANT STATEMENT ALERT! Thanks for illustrating what he means by 'ignorance indulging hatred' – you have NO IDEA what you are even talking about! Where do you get your information, HANNITY!?! RUSH!?! What a joke –

      THINK FOR YOURSELF! DON'T BE SUCH A "SHEEPLE", believing the idiotic Propaganda – being TOLD what to think about Muslims instead of THINKING FOR YOURSELF! You are ignorant and have no idea what you are talking about...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Marc Biron

      7 Pillars,

      I invite you to join me on debate . org. Create a profile, issue a challenge to GenesisCreation, and we'll debate the topic of Muslim extreemism in a public forum with a voting audience.

      See you there...

      September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • RationalMuslim

      In the same way that "not all" Americans are xenophobic twits (no offense), not all Muslims are ignorant and irrational. Factoid for you – when your ancestors were still in caves, they were inventing math. I'm sure that doesn't impress you, but it would if you were familiar with it.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Marc Biron

    I am not afraid of moderate, western Muslims. I am, however, very concerned about third world radical, reformed Muslims who are pushing for a return to old-world Islam. It's not Islamophobia if entire nations are rising up in violent protest against the US.....over one B-rated home video. You simply cannot justify the reaction as normative and then call me an islamophobe.

    I think CNN is afraid of the power that the evangelicals hold in this country, so they'll stop at nothing to get a cheap punch in.

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

      "It's not Islamophobia if entire nations are rising up in violent protest against the US" – if that were the case you'd have a point, however it isn't and you don't.

      "You simply cannot justify the reaction as normative and then call me an islamophobe." Sure I can, watch: Islamophobe! If your argument holds, then Terry Jones represents ALL Americans' views. See how it works?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Elliot Mansfield

    This piece is offensive. How many of these evangelicals are burning down the consulates of muslims states in the United States? How many evengelicals threaten fatwas againsts entire cultures because of a cartoon or work of fiction. Grow up and get your story straight.

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

      Thank you. Finally some rationality on this forum....

      September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  16. Dave

    I wish more church leaders took your stance Brian, but sadly, it isn't so. As you can see by the majority of responses to your article, the mass majority of Americans think that all Islamic followers are as blood crazed as the tiny few that attack others (often themselves).
    The fact is that the mass majority of Islamic followers want the same thing the mass majority of Christians want. To live life, have fun, and not get killed by deranged individuals (of any faith).

    But sadly a few extreme fanatics on our side are constantly attempting to anger a few extreme fanatics on their side to instigate world wide problems. Both populations as a whole are being fed snippits of negative images and being told that they represent the entire other population.

    It would be like watching a youtube clip of the San Fransisco riots after the 2010 world series win and assuming that all people in San Fran, California, or even the US act like this ALL the time. Or after every sporting event. The act of a few individuals can be twisted by the media (to incite emotion and keep people glued to their channel for updates), or by extreme groups (to justify their idiotic and unjustifiable opinions/actions).

    If we, as a whole, showed our trust in other nations, distanced ourselves from our own wackjobs, and actually practised the religious beliefs we constantly talk about, we could possibly start to get them to do the same on their side.

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

      You have no clue about the differences in these belief systems. To basically state that we can all be like one happy family is completely naive. Do you realize these extremists want us dead? They want the US ad Israel to disappear. They want sharia law across the globe and will ALSO kill any non-extremist Muslims who get in their way.

      No one is saying "All Muslims are bad people". But the extreme faction is huge, growing, and far too violent and determined to passively ignore.

      Put the Tinkertoys away and wake up, will you ??

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • muslim

      well said !

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Renita

    Seriously sad the CNN allows such lies and uses Christianity as an excuse for Islamic radicals and unjustified . No me would ever use the same justifications and xcuses if they were Christians killing Muslims. What a joke.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  18. Ph8

    within any significantly large group there are bound to be fringe, if not outright fantical members, and such is true of evangelicals. the far right fanatics who call themselves "Chrsitian" resonate in hate with the fanatical islamists, with most of us left in the target zone, the middle. what world, eh?

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

      Definitely agree. HOWEVER, how many radical Christians do you hear killing innocent people and destroying property and rioting in the streets over a perceived insult to their religion??? No, pretty much none. The radical Islamists are not even in the same league when it comes to the devastation they cause, as well as their single-minded intention to eliminate all those who disagree with them. I'm not justifying the radical Christians or the radical Muslims, but there is really no valid comparison between the severity of the actions of the two, so you really cannot make that case.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  19. Mark

    You tell one religion it should be blamed for the actions of another religion... So much for owning up to ones actions.

    Sounds like its time to rid the world of religion.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Concerned in Cleveland

    Trash article. We get attacked and we're told we're to blame. You sir, are a traitor to your fellow Americans and should be "Put to the Wall".

    September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
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