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. Sam

    Mr McLaren, you are a delusional moron. I am Coptic (Christian) Egyptian who lives in the US and I invite you to visit Egypt to see the real prosecution of Copts, to listen to Mosques and TV shows insulting Christianity and Christians everyday and calling them names, and openly encouraging people for Jihad.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  2. twotwotango

    WRONG, WRONG WRONG Brian (you absurd apologist). THE CORRECT ANSWER is that moderate Muslims need to step up, denounce extremism, make fun of extremists, and when they are violent throw them in jail and ensure they meet the justice their actions deserve!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Gwen

      I understand Middle Eastern culture a lot better than I want to. I agree that the good Muslims need to police their own. Islamic culture is too closed to depend on police, so to prevent being exterminated, they need to find these nut cases and stop them. I was Muslim for 7 years. It is extremely difficult for a white, American woman who does not speak Arabic to be part of that culture.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Dave

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving the correct answer! Where is the loud public outcry from Muslim leaders telling their brothers in the faith to cease and desist in this criminal activity?? The silence is deafening.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  3. dante

    I guess the way I look at it is (and I am a Roman Catholic) that as a christian I do not go around the world telling people that I want to kill them because I do not believe in mohamad! I also do not know enough about the religion of Islam to say it is good or bad, but if all the Christians protested and killed for Jesus, then there would be an uproar – christians did not start riots over the crap they called art – If they want to kill themselves over Mohamad then so be it, but do not kill us and say it is because a movie and not because of the date – that is stupid!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  4. Kylie Heard

    Thats all fine and good but you are never going to stop people from being critical of any religion. so how do you stop them from reacting with violence?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • O

      Stop making excuse for their violence and face it for what it is; Plain old violence & and respond to it accordingly

      September 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  5. O

    People, you need to wake up an smell the beans, the supposed inflammatory video had been on Youtube for over 3 months, available to everyone, and had been seen by over half a millions people by the beginning of September, & not once had there been any complaints from any Muslim about the video, but coincidentally on the anniversary of September 11 they noticed the video and decided to go kill an ambassador, a man who had risked his life to be there for the people who ended up killing him.
    How many Christians or Mormons or Hindus or whatever member of a religion have we ever seen doing what these people are doing over plain and stupid criticism. The stupid video was not worth $1, let alone the lives and attention it has received. Islam is a violent religion regardless of what any coward blog may say.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  6. wheels

    the world we be so much better off without any religion

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • sickofitall

      foolish... as if people wouldn't find something else to focus on. The defect in society is not the presence of religion; it is the failure of men to understand what most religions try to teach in terms of a way of life. Don't condemn religion because of the shortcomings of men.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  7. Seoras

    What about the 'christianophobia' of the left? The media is full of falsehoods and blatant lies about christians here in the US. For example, the commonly held concept that conservative christians want to bring a theocracy to america is pure fantasy.
    But these and other falsehoods are constantly trumpeted by the media. Most christians are not what the media says they are. And most muslims are not what the media say they are either.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • todd in DC

      So you have no problems with marriage equity, with leaving religious monuments off of public property, with teaching evolution?

      Just checking.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • sam

      You tried.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      Seoras; Feeling a bit put upon?

      Stop trying to codify your religious beliefs to deny other citizens their civil rights

      September 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  8. GrampaSez

    "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."

    ROFL. Agenda much?

    PEOPLE DEMONSTRATING OVER "FILM", is DIFFERENT than attacks on US bases, and an RPG Attack on a CONSULATE that appears to have had the AIM of killing an AMERICAN AMBASSADOR.

    Blame "Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics" – You are EVEN MORE DISHONEST than your buddy, OUR PRESIDENT...

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • sam

      Grampa...time for your meds, old man...

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

    my problem is, that as a methodist, if my preacher was preaching anything but love, tolerance, kindness and to help your fellowman we would throw him out...you can't have that many extremist in almost every country they are in without it coming from religious leaders.or sheep allowing it to happen!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  10. Observer

    The first thing this "author" needs to realise is that the film he mentioned did not cause the attacks. The attacks were going to happen anyway. The film is being used by muslims and muslim lovers as a cover for why the attacks really happened.

    1) Sepetember 11th anniversary.
    2) Radical muslim groups hate the US.
    3) Radical muslim groups hate allies of the US.

    If the film was the reason for the attacks, then why were German and UK embassies attacked, as well?

    It wasn't the film, it was Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  11. What is the difference between Athiests and children

    Children have adult supervision.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  12. TJ

    Whoa dude, don't let fox news and the evangelical right get a hold of this blatant heresy against the kind, loving and rational christians.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  13. Lola

    This article is trash. If you are a woman, you have every right to be "islamaphobic". At the Jumah that was held before the DNC, the definition of islamaphobia was extended to people who are anti-shariah law. Under shariah law, at best I couldn't own property (as a single female) and at worst, I would be dead. For all the progressives screaming about not getting free birth control and abortions, just realize that in the Middle East you would have no liberties at all.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • B1ased

      This article is so typical of the random liberal BS we are suppose to believe- People around the middle east rioting and killing because a stupid video made them mad – and I am suppose to understand thier \"hurt feelings\" cause after all it\'s really America\'s fault. Get real. I don\'t need to be tolerant of stupidity. I have no sympathy. My 5th grader acts better than this. \"they said something I don\'t like so now I am going to kill people\" Absurdity. It makes me want to burn the Quran on youtube just out of spite. You want to know what really causes \"Islamophobia\" – having to watch a small number of extremist do stupid things, and then hearing thier leaders SAY NOTHING, Random lip service about how violence is bad, but over and over again not focusing on horrible violence and instead continuing to act horribly wounded by a stupid 3rd grade video. We have people say stupid things in the US all the time, but the difference is the majority of people and our leaders immediately stand up and say how wrong it is. As long as the 99% of peaceful Muslims around the world continue to let thier religion be defined by radical zealots, Islamophobia will continue to rise. True muslims need to take a stand against these ridulous displays of violence and when that happens they will see the world stand up against stupid videos

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • flux

      You have the right to fear whatever you want, sure. Although I'm not sure how that fits into the whole "If God is for us, who can be against us?" paradigm. Continue to spend your life in fear if you like, you're right, it's your own choice.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • wheelz51

      Totally agree!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Ryansdad

    Wow this writer is a true idiot. Islamaphobia, I rank that right up ther with Ebonics as one of the most idiotic words an educated person has ever made up. I assume this story was written purely for the reaction it will get, otherwise this guy is really sad.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  15. tj

    Christians are creepy....always trying to convert people. [Jews and Muslims don't do that. Neither does any other group.] They are also great big hypocrites. They attack others....but when they are attacked, they whine that they are "persecuted."

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Hateful Christians carry their nails in their pockets just for the opportunity to nail themselves up.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • etnwx

      Muslims don't ask you to convert? No, they force you to, otherwise 'you dead'!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Boodrow Malone

      If you live in an Islamic country you will convert or die.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Our secular American government keeps the hateful Christians from executing violence and murder.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Jon

      Christians attack people? When was the last time a group of Christians stormed an embassy and killed a government official because they felt offended?

      Muslims don't convert people? How do you think the religion spread through the entire Middle East/Southeast Asia?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      I witnessed a murder in Atlanta Georgia as the person screamed Levitus! The, unfortunately, is an example of the expression of Christian violence and hatred I have witness in my long years. Yes Christians attack.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mike

      TJ you are all wet. Of course all religions think their religions are "right". Christisns may try to convince you verbally to join them, but Muslims do this with great violance. I have a friend who emigrated from Egypt, and is a Coptic Christian. He was afraid for his life, and the life of his wife while in Egypt. This doesn't sound like a peaceful situation.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  16. strangways

    and who gave Evangelicals so much influence and power in OUR government? As if the economy, financial meltdown and disastrous Iraq war weren't enough – this is yet another gift from Rove, Bush and co. Thanks, Guys.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  17. etnwx

    We are not afraid of Islam. Most of us see Islam as a violent and oppressive religion were the moderates will not condemn the extremists. For the most part, Americans are tired of our involvement in the Middle East. If it were up to us (and the idiots in Washington would listen for once in their lives), we would end all aide, recall our diplomatic missions, and contain the disease of Islam to the middle east to keep it from spreading like the cancer it is. Besides, we have too many problems here at home that need working on.

    We should be energy independent, and keep all oil and natural gas we produce for our consumption only so that we lessen our involvement with the Middle East even more.

    We are not afraid of Islam... in fact there are plenty of us that are willing to fight to protect our country from it.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • KenCam

      Etnwx; I totally agree with you. We have spent extremely too many resources on these yahoo's in the middle east. I was there and find absolutely nothing of any value to me there. They are backward, opressive, ignorant people and has contributed essentially nothing to this world aside to be of good fortune to have fossil fuels laying under ground. I say develop our own and let them drink theirs.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  18. Bill

    Maybe if they'd stop blowing up buses and planes full of innocent people, those people wouldn't be afraid of them.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  19. kt

    Many people, both Islamophobes and Muslims involved in the mob attacks, don't even know what they're talking about, and that the film came from an Egyptian. Everyone are like sheep, following two fuming preachers, imams, and religious leaders.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Christians would not kill because they were insulted. Christians would not incite others to volience. Christians would not gossip, lie and and use people. Christians would not make a movie like that the "Inoccence of Muslims." The people who do these thing can call themselves whatever they want, but they are not disciples of Jesus.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • cybercmdr

      Ah, the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
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