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. LovingChristian

    I am an Evangelical Christian and like most Evangelicals I know I do not fear or hate Muslims, I disagree with them. Bachmann did not say she feared Muslims, she asked if people that had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist had proper security background checks. She was asking a question, and then Evangelicalphobia caused progressives to freak out and start smearing her.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • midwest rail

      Referencing Michelle Bachmann as a credible source in any discussion is a losing proposition.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • John

      Your name is not representative of being a Talibangelical. That you have problems with being progressive says it all.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  2. Taoufik M.

    I live in Philadelphia P.A.,and I am visiting my patents in Morocco these days. I will not get into the gutter of personal attacks that seem to pervade most responses to Mr. Brian d. Mclaren's article here. As a Moroccan citizen, however, I feel that the protests triggered by this video clip have been greatly exaggerated by the media. While those who took to the streets number in the few hundreds, I would like to speak for the voiceless millions that decided not to take part in these demonstrations. With headlines that describe the situation as "violent protests sweeping the Muslim world" and the airwaves saturated with the same images of violence repeated over and over again, the size and scope of these protests have received undeserved attention and undue significance. Furthermore, an impression that this was how the entire Arab and Muslim world felt was falsely conveyed. While we believe that the movie deserves no more attention than its artistic merits warrant, its content will sadly remain an effective tool in the hands of those intent on inciting violence and spreading hatred for a long time to come.We condemn violence of any kind,however, we strongly oppose these kinds of motion picture productions with sober disapproval and quite but deep indignation. Nothing, no matter how insensitive or insulting to us or to our beliefs can be an excuse for the senseless killing of an innocent, good man. This is the opinion of the majority of people in Morocco and it is, to our chagrin, the other side of an unfortunate story that the media have failed to narrate.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Stan M.

      Nothing you can say can remove the overwhelming violence against innocent people that is written in the Q'uran.

      None of your lies are worth listening to. We have thousands upon thousands of documented and verified evidence that the Muslim world is one that is filled with violence, hatred, ignorance, and madness.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Joseph

      The media always hypes up the stories. I worked in Turkey for years and people in the States just knew I was being beaten and tortured because I am a Christian. Some of the greatest folks I know are Muslim. Most of the so called Christians here have never been outside the states and are just ignorant.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Andrew Broering

      I understand. But why is there not a stronger message from religious leaders condemning the violence? When Christians go crazy and blow up an abortion clinic, church leaders at least act outraged and state those people are not being real Christians. I don't think these latest protestors represent the majority of Muslims, but their religious leaders seem to be primarily focused on this idiotic video rather than the insane response to it. There's a certain complicity in silence. The whole thing is messed up.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Caron

      If I had to choose between being governed by Taoufik M. or Stan M. - I would choose Taoufik M. hands down. Stan M. sounds hateful; Taoufik sounds reasonable and fair.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Brendan

      Thanks for this well written and thoughtful response. You prove that the attackers represented not Islam , not Allah. but rather a fringe...At least you prove it to me..... Perhaps the Solution lies in all religions being able to see thru the blinders thrust on the religions by the fringes... Earlier I alluded to the Coptic angle and I reallly believe everyone is missing this point... The film did not need to be shown.. nor should it have been.... however freedom of speech is the guiding principle that pulled this out... I do not want to go all over the place here but rather praise your welll written well thought out response..... and to say to my Christian brothers and sisters to stop coloring an entire religion with blinders thrust on them by propaganda . However I really do pray that the Islamic people allow voices like yours to also be heard and maybe a more reasoned response will be the fruit that will spring forth... If we don't learn to just allow the differences and coexist welll....this Sept 11 is just a precursor of what will come

      September 16, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • iminim

      Stan M: There is overwhelming violence against the innocent in the Old Testament of the Bible as well. There are passages where God commands genocide, even down to the death of a culture's children, babies, and livestock. Christians have perpetrated their share of violence since Biblical times. The Crusades and the Inquisition are prime examples. There are even some Biblical passages that condone child abuse & murder for disobedience and sleeping with your dead brother's wife. When we Christians attack other religions for their violent pasts we are being extremely hypocritical.

      In reality, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. There are over a million Muslims in the US today, yet we don't have Muslims rioting in the streets. The Muslims who go about their quiet, peaceful daily lives are just as boring as the Christians and atheists who do the same. No news media outlet wants to write about them because boring doesn't make headlines. But a single Koran burning pastor or a Muslim who commits an honor killing makes the news for days. As a result, we get a skewed picture of who Muslims are and what they believe. To someone who has never even met a Muslim, it is easy to look at the news and extrapolate that all Muslims are violent because the only ones they hear about are the violent ones. Likewise, someone unfamiliar with Christianity can watch the news and generalize about Christians in general, Mormans, Catholics, and Baptists based on the skewed reporting.

      The news media needs the sensational and seeks it out. Once they find it, they put it in flashy headlines with emotion packed words to draw in readers & ratings. But the sensational becomes "sensational" because it is the anomaly. It is interesting because of its uniqueness. Trying to learn about a culture from popular news media can lead to very incorrect assumptions. For example: During the Olympics, the US women excelled in their sports and won many metals. If that was the only information a foreign observer had to go on, would he be correct in concluding that all women in the US were superb athletes and extremely fit?

      Don't ever let the popular media define a culture or religion for you. Talk to people in those groups. Ask questions. Avoid the tendency to demonize based on flashy headlines. Find out who they really are & what they really believe. Only then will you get a true undrstanding of who they are.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • takawalk

      That was a well written and reasonable post. It would be nice if more people of your faith would stand up and be counted, and emphasize whatever there is in the Koran that can lead to peaceful coexistence.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  3. Vince

    Very well said. It is not just evangelical christians that are to be blamed though. Our very own government is constantly dropping bombs on their heads. That would drive anybody into violence in return, even senseless and misdirected violence. What would you do, if some drone from some distant land was dropping bombs on your neighborhood? And those of yuo who are anxious ti kill even more in retaliation. Don't forget: you reap what you sow!

    September 16, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Stan M.

      Don't forget that they will also reap what THEY sow! They do not get a free pass just because they are insane.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  4. ahmed

    finally, a christian who respect religion.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  5. !%$!#@@#$

    CNN won't tell the truth about Islam because they don't want to spend the money on security.

    Think about it.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Caron

      The world will begin to tell the truth about Islam, when your world is willing to also hear the ugly truth about Christianity - its intolerance, its wars, its torture through the centuries, its bigotry, its hatred, its mistrust, its foolishness, its dogmatic insidiousness -

      When a word against your religion causes you great upset, your religion is your weakness - not your strength.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  6. aasii


    September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  7. disciple

    I visit the middle east regularly and the first time I was there I was in awe of the land, the way the people live, Actually Jesus came to mind and many of his parables came alive to me because I was able to make connections. Evangelicals hey, the middle east is where Jesus lived and where he will return. YOU who are full of hate and spew it out do not have the rights to the place. Have you forgotten that the jews and muslims are related. Let God be God. YOU ARE NOT HIS POLICING SERVICE.
    Preach the gospel, THE TRUE GOSPEL . But then again, america has its own gospel. It is based on race, money, greed, and privilege.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  8. FG

    The evils of Islam are playing out all around the world now over this ridiculous video! Is it really something to kill people over. Quit bringing up all the other religion X or any religion is bad too. Yes all groups, believers of X and non-believers, have their idiots. But in this specific case, this is an Islamic over reaction that is un-excusable. This is violent censorship of other peoples freedom of speech. And yes it happens, usually to a lesser extent, in other groups too – and it is equally wrong there too.

    If you are a believer, then God will judge the unjust. God does not need your help! You do not need to appoint yourself judge on God's behalf and take another's life. That thinking is even more ridiculous than the video.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  9. Joe Buick

    Freedom of religion means believe in what you want, Who you want. Just don't kill people that don't share your views.........or kill them if they say anything contrary about your God. Is this so hard to follow? Oh I forgot, it is best not to have one gender be treated like a piece of crap.....

    September 16, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  10. Stan M.

    So then the problem would be to not drop any hats – throwing stones is not needed with these people who follow an openly violent religion.
    It does not matter what you do – you could be meek and mild and they will still murder and abuse their own family members.

    Don't you see how simple-minded you are being?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  11. Jimmy C

    Your article is shortsighted. It assumes that the riots and murders were all about the movie trailer. The real reason is American policy. Weakness. The Arab and Muslim cultures hate weakness. They don't respect it. They also hate indecisiveness. You want to lose their respect? Apologize continuously; especially, if you are a leader, etc. So this is not about a movie trailer. It is about 9/11. It is about revenge. Hidden under the veil of a movie trailer. The author of this story and CNN needs to stop protecting a failed American presidency.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • mooseknuckle

      You're jumping all over the place and not providing any solutions. Perhaps a 'Jump to Conclusions' mat is needed to decipher your rant.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Brendan

      Hey , I really appreciate the fact that the author is trying desperately to implicate evangelicals.. However no where in his article does he even attempt to discuss Coptic Christians. These Christians are a minority in Egypt that have been persecuted regularly since Mubarek was sacked. I define persecution as people sitting in a church to worship and having their worship service barged in on by roving bands of lunatic fringe thugs masquerading as soldiers of their religion.. Yes this happened - regularly.. so .. why blame evangelicials in the us when Coptic Christians as I see it have a legitimate beef against Islam... Is it right to blame Islam NO. Is is right to blame evangelicals in the secular US NO.. How about we dig deeper if we must assign blame which in my view is a waste.... Hey I do not want a theocracy of any stripe Christian Islamic or Jewish or Hindu or any......However blame needs to fall on the responsible... and not some tangential association based on the authors obvious antipathy to Christianity...

      September 16, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Caron

      Leave it to a radical right Christian wacko to make this issue a political campaign talking point. You are as disgusting as the Isamists burning American flags. Barak Obama is a great American president.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Caron

      Brendan: You sound like an Isamist extremist - only your a christian extremist! You people need to be looking in a mirror when you go off on Isam.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • nick

      True.These riots are caused by our foreign policy, but it;s not thru weakness as you claim,but our one sided policy towards the whole middle east.
      The Arab world sees our actions in the UN, everytime a resolution has been called against Israel and we continuously vote no (the only country to do so).They see how we sit by and allow the Israeli's punish and humilitate the Palestinians daily.They see us go in a kill innocent people when bombing Iraq ( a war falsly claiming them to be the culprits of 911)
      With all this going on, how long would you stand by and allow that to happen to YOU.
      All of the above was the cause of 911. I leave you with one thought, Just ask yourself who gains by all this and you;ll have your answer.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Fernando

      Jimmy C: When I travel outside the US, I often find myself apologizing for Americans like you and I will continue to do so as long as I read posts like yours.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  12. Randy Sturgill

    It is a good thing that Salman Rushdie is British and not American. It's also a good thing he wrote "The Satanic Verses" a few years ago and not today. If he did that today, the left wing in America would have him arrested, prosecuted and handed over to the Islamic extremists. At least the British protected their own...

    September 16, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  13. Joe

    Truly incredible.....Yes, as a Christian – I can easily say that movie filth. 100%. That isn't the issue though....not at all. I might ask myself – how would an anti-christian movie made in the Muslim world be received? Would Christians storm embassies around the world and chant "Death to Mohammed?" I dare say - no. And rightly so. But I can tell you that this movie would be celebrated in all 20+ countries where people have committed horrid acts in the name of Allah. No one should allow "being offended" to cause them to incite violence. Period.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Joshua

      Wasn't the IRA all Christian? They certainly used violence to make their point. Many white-power groups also consider themselves Christian Soldiers, and routinely engage in violence. Wasn't it a Christian who shot up the Sihk temple? And a Christian who murdered all those children in Norway?

      September 16, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Caron

      Christians in this country actually think they are "persecuted!" Ha Ha Ha. And yes, christians do "go off" every time their religion is insulted. They don't burn flags - they put on hoods and kill people in the dark of night. They loudly and obnoxiously protest at funerals of fallen soldiers, they tie gay men to fences and leave them to die, they loudly proclaim every natural and man-made disaster in the U.S. on blacks, gays, atheists, they burn Qurans, they make false and ugly C movies the religion of others. They are as offensive and disgusting as the Islamic extremists.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  14. JohnnyV

    “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.”
    Quran, Chapter 8, Verse 12

    There is no ambiguity in this verse. Mohammed calls upon his followers to kill those who refuse to submit to Islam. The fact that "infidels" fear muslims is normal. Calling them "Islamaphobic" is like calling Jews "Naziphobic" or Blacks "KKKphobic".

    September 16, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • ishaquei

      Brother Johnny,

      Here is the complete verse:

      [Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, "I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip."

      This verse was revealed to prophet when 313 of his companion were fighting for their survival at Battle of Badr, where opposite party were trying to annihilate them.....and God sent the Angels to help with these words.

      May Allah guide you to right path...

      September 16, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Tom

      "For God has not given us a spirit of FEAR, but of power, love, and of a sound mind" – 2 Timothy 1:7

      I usually don't respond to these, but I think that you just missed the WHOLE point of the article. Father God, I pray that every person who reads this article would overcome fear, anxiety and nihilistic propaganda with true love and be sober minded and compsssionate to everyoone that crosses their path, no matter how different from us they are, even those who would try to do us harm for whatever reason. And I pray for YOU sir/ma'am (and I) that we would use our gifts, intellect and wisdom to not infect the world with fear and despair, but to understand, and encourage others to understand, what it truly means to love others as we love ouselves...In Jesus name, AMEN

      September 16, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  15. common_sense

    The author of the movie in question is a Copt – Egyptian Christian Arab. Christian Arabs is one of most prosecuted community in Egypt. Muslim majority set fires to their churches and private houses, raping women, killing men. Please note, though Copts are Arabs, there is no Copt terrorism or suicide bombers. Actually, (talking about phobias) I never heard lately about any kind of Christian suicide bomber – have you?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  16. Oldwhiteman

    150yrs ago or so...good Christian Americans were killing witches, holding slaves, killing Mormons, and marching Cherokee Indians off to die in droves to Oklahoma. Islam and Christianity aren't that far apart. Religions do as much or more damage than good.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  17. wackyjabber

    This is the first time term "evangelical" is used to describe a religious group other than some Protestant Christians. Brian D. McLaren is lucky real Evangelicals are not going to storm his house and shoot him and his family like Muslims (which he now calls evangelical). So what would Brian D. McLaren call a group of Muslims planning to attack innocent people? An evangelical meeting?

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  18. Asaph

    Um .. the secular American is the prime objector to ALL religion, and militant Islam WINS the prize for most objectionable. Only inasmuch as the church has turned into a political tribe (which has happened for sure) is there a special level of Islamophobia.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  19. Earthling

    Religion will be the end of civilization. Until people can put reality ahead of religious fantasy, they will continue to kill each other in a vain attempt to satisfy themselves that their fantasy has validity while someone else's does not.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Raz

      Well said 🙂

      September 16, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  20. David

    Brian, once you discover exactly what it is you believe about Christianity, come back and enlighten us.

    Sure will be glad when this emerging nonsense takes its place on the shelf with the other theological fads of the day..

    September 16, 2012 at 8:21 am |
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