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. David

    SO we must tolerate Islam, but they don't need to tolerate Christians or Jews, Come on be real, is says in there holy book that they can friend Christians or Jews.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  2. mike johnson

    Western islamophobia is exaggerated ... the real problem is Chrstiaophobia and Americanophobia in the arab world ... they need to change, not us.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  3. Paul

    The article ignores radicla islam and combines it with regular islam and etc.

    Radical islam is in fact evil.... and obviously so.

    I know muslims who privately decry the radical stuff going on... yet cant be public about because they have family in the middle east that would be killed for speaking out.

    I also know other muslims who are secretly christian, and same story, cannot be public with their real faith for the same reasons.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • mike johnson

      Radical Islam is redundant ... islam is readical

      September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  4. Dinesh Sharma

    I think this article is just ridiculous. There is ample evidence that islam is the biggest threat to our way of life and thinking and we should be extremely careful in making sure islamic ideas do not spread in the US..

    However, I do want to say that people here seem to have a very selective memory. They remember all the suicide bombings but do not recall the few 100s of thousands of Iraqis killed by the US in what was called flippantly "shock and awe". The do not remember how the US orchestrated a regime change in Iran to bring the Shah. They do not recall the US support for dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and the Saudi kings that kept them in power against the wishes of their people. The are forgetting that even now, the US Drone strikes that are clearly illegal often end up killing innocent kids and adults – as far as I'm concerned if you cannot kill the right person(s) only, do not shoot. Would we tolerate this in the US if an islamic country killed a bunch of people while trying to achieve their goals?

    Lets be honest and see both sides of the equation. Else a debate here is meaningless. We may as well pick up stones and start pelting.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  5. ORChuck

    The author begins with the word, "Islamophobia." A phobia is an irrational fear.

    Not all fear is bad. Some fear is good. It keeps us alive. We're cautious around swimming pools, for example, because of a healthy and legitimate - a rational - fear of drowning. Fear become a problem, becomes a phobia, only when it becomes irrational.

    So, is our fear of Islam rational or irrational? Given the headlines in the last week, I think that a fear of Islam is legitimate. It's based in fact. It's rational.

    Rational fears are not wrong. Rational fears are healthy and beneficial for us. Such healthy and beneficial fears are healthy and beneficial because they alert us to and encourage us to avoid real dangers. Islam has shown itself in real and current ways to be a real physical danger. It is good for us to be afraid of it. Such a rational and healthy fear is NOT a phobia, not at all.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Dinesh Sharma

      What happened in pakistan to people accused of blasphemy (what kind of country has laws against "blasphemy" that word went out a few hundred years ago) and the intolerance that is shown each day by the laws (not a few loonies) of islamic countries against the freedoms of people of other religions is clearly a reason to fear spread of islam and islamic ideas in the US. I shudder when I hear "sharia". Its the most degenerate set of laws

      September 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  6. LiberalChristianSuicide

    You poor ignorant Liberal Westerners. What may seem like fanaticism to us Westerners is their Mainstream. As a society America weeds out and shuns it's Extremist, in the Muslim World they celebrate and elect their Extremist. So don't you see what makes Fundamentalism in the Muslim World most dangerous is that it really isn't Fundamentalism at all.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  7. 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.
    We need to play a game of "cowboys and muslims." Thus solving a great many of the worlds problems.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • imranmhaq

      Mr. Wilson had something happen to him in the dark in Iraq 🙂 BOOOOOOOO!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Dinesh Sharma

      and ur brain totally got wiped of the memory of the US attacks on Iraq based on lies, that killed 100s of thousands of innocent Iraqis?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Wilson

      @imranwhatever, No, just saw the reality of what muslims are all about.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Wilson

      @danesh,,,innocent iraqis???? Now that is an oxymoron.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Dinesh Sharma

      That just proves you are as extreme as the people protesting the film. You think the smart bombs knew how to guide shrapnel to terrorists only. Man, you are more deluded than the radicals..

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Dinesh Sharma

      So all the Iraqis are terrorists? Even if they are it is none of your business if they dont attack you. You attacked them first..

      September 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • imranmhaq

      Wilson you should listen to Danesh below!!

      September 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Wilson

      Dinesh, you have no knowledge (i.e. no leg to stand on) until you walk in another man's shoes. Thus your opinion has no validity.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Wilson

      @imranwhatever, I read what danesh wrote,,,,it did not assist her case any. She is severely lacking in details that a little research would have cured.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  8. crafo

    There is plenty in the Koran that would turn off Christians w/o lying. Plenty.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  9. raja

    Reading all the comments its, very clear there is so much hatred and mistrust and there is no real understanding how the people live and think in their respective countries.
    Its very strange to read these comments from the people who claim to be part of civil societies.
    The best approach is to leave each other alone and just live our own lives the way we wants to live.
    Mind our own business and let everyone else mind theirs.
    Be happy in your paradise and let them live in their hell.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  10. imranmhaq

    GREAT ARTICLE RIGHT TO THE POINT!!!! BRAVO MR. MCLAREN. This gentelmen knows more about islam then you all do. Thats why he makes great sense of it and can aticulate it the right way.

    HATERS and those UNEDUCATED will always be HATER / UNEDUCATED and have phobias!! 🙂

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • T. Veblen

      See, folks? According to Imranmhaq, if you don't agree with McLaren, you are a "hater". This is the kind of thinking that is the basis for Islamofascism.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  11. Simon Peter

    Actually the guy who did thie film was Jewish, so I don't know where this guy got his information, but we must have gone to the darkside

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Real Deal

      Simon Peter,

      Check your "facts", please.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Yes, Simon Peter, what is your verified evidence that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is Jewish?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |

    I propose a raid on muhammand's tent for a TP'ing party. Bring plenty.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  13. PJ

    I am not an Evangelical; however, I am not comfortable with Islam and believe they should all be monitored by the Government. While Evangelicals are almost as dangerous, for the most part they only hate. They don't do physical damage.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Allison

    There are people that practice Islam all over the world. Of those people, many of them live in the middle east. Of THOSE muslims, a small percentage interpret the qua'an in a way that makes them believe violence is the answer and that they should wage holy war on all christians.
    Islam is not the problem. Islam is not a religion of violence. These crazy terrorists in the middle east are the problem, yes they are Muslims and yes they are doing this in the name of Isalm, but they do not represent all Muslims. not even close. Yes, they are over reacting to a stupid movie that a crazy American made... but they probably dont know that it represents the opinions of one crazy American and his tiny group of followers. They probably think that all Americans are of this same opinion, just like we are assuming all muslims are of the same sect as Al Qaeda. They're not.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • LiberalChristianSuicide

      You poor ignorant Liberal Westerner. What may seem like fanaticism to us Westerners is their Mainstream. As a society America weeds out and shuns it's Extremist, in the Muslim World they celebrate and elect their Extremist. So don't you see what makes Fundamentalism in the Muslim World most dangerous is that it really isn't Fundamentalism at all.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  15. Zoby

    Typical liberal CNN,

    Blame everyone except those responsible.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  16. Patrick

    Once again the silence from the leaders of Islam speaking out against the rioting speaks volumes.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Tony Montana

      Radical Islam is a threat to all non muslims. They kill for some stupid video and don't want to understand or respect freedom of speach. Islam kills and is evil

      September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • darth vader

      here's a whole list for you.


      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  17. JD

    Ok, I get the jist of the point your trying to make except your missing a very important and fundamental point. In todays world it is ISAM that is used to justify the most horrendous acts in our modern day. It is islamicists attacking and killing hundreds of thousand s for lack of belief, or Jihad. HOW MANY CHRISTANS KILL OVER BAD VIEWS OF JESUS? As an agnostic completely opposed to all organized religion I look at the Muslims and see a threat to my life, I look at christian as just ignorant red necks...

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  18. Alex Campbell

    A red-headed guy comes the street towards you. As he passes you, he whacks you on the side of the head. The next day another guy with red-hair jumps out of the bushes and kicks you in the groin. On the way to work, as you stop at a red light, a guy with red-hair shoots at you, hitting you in the shoulder. After a few attacks from red-headed guys, would you not begin to fear guys with red-hair when they approach. Re-headed guys didn't knock down the WTC. Muslim extremists did. Muslim extremists attacked our embassies and killed an ambassador. A Muslim extremist shot and killed in Texas. Muslim extremists have vowed to destroy us.

    Christians are beheaded and tortured in Eqypt and other Mid East countries by, not red-heads...Muslim Extremists, yet McLaren attacks Christians because they fear Muslims. What twisted logic! When you are attacked by any identifiable group, it is natural to begin to fear that group...even violent redheads. Anyone who denies this is a politically correct pretender.

    I am sick of the attacks on Christians in this country. Christians haven't beheaded anyone in defense of their faith in a few hundred years. When Muslims who love their enemy instead of hate, stand up to defeat the extremists in their midst, will we not fear. So far, silence.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      By your line of "reasoning", we should all fear men.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Marc Biron

      @ Richard.......what????

      September 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Alex's idea is that SOME red-headed people are observed to be violent, therefore we should fear ALL red-headed people.
      In point of fact, virtually all acts of violence committed in the name of religion are done by men, therefore by Alex's "reasoning", all men are potentially dangerous and should be feared.
      My comment was meant to show the ridiculousness of this line of reasoning, not to actually incite fear of men (which, technically, should be known as "ho-mo-pho-bi-a" by the normal rules of lexical construction, but that one's already in use).

      September 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  19. Tylenol

    There use to be a United States of America now its the JewNited Snakes of America , Good Article

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  20. Rhubarb

    My Savior, Jesus Christ, was a peaceful person. Yes, the Prince of Peace actually forgave his murderers as he hung from the cross, having been beaten to a pulp by them, and then nailed like garbage to a piece of wood for hours to die naked in front of everyone. I love Him and endeavor to be like Him everyday. I also fail everyday. Thank God for grace and mercy.

    Conversely, Mohammed is historically linked to oppressive violence, murder, plundering and pedophilia (one of his wives was 9 years old) as he spread Islam. As he went across Europe, if you resisted his teaching you were simply murdered by the throngs that obeyed him.

    Jesus said, "Love they neighbor as they self". The apostle Paul said, "...Live peaceably with all men...do not avenge yourselves...". In no case whatsoever, does the New Testament tell anyone to kill anyone who resists the Gospel message. Jesus told His apostles to kick the dust off their shoes and simply move on. No debates, no arguments. Certainly no violence. Any so-called "Christian" group that has acted otherwise in history (Crusades, etc.) is NOT Christian. They have deceived themselves. There is no excuse for hatred of any person at any time by a Christian. PLEASE NOTE that objection to certain behavior or conduct does not automatically mean "hatred" of the person doing it.

    Contrast this with "Kill the Infidel where he stands", and the historic accounts of cold-blooded murder as Islam spread, plus recent violent events in Egypt and Libya.

    Christianity – true Christianity – is not the problem.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
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