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. Paul Lott

    Yep. That was a pretty pathetic article. Hate speech is still FREE speech, and there is never a reason to go violent. I think we should make a video insulting Mohammad every week until they learn that sticks and stones may break their bones but words can never hurt them. People make fun of Christ, Budha, and just about every other religous figure at some point. But WE don't attack people and burn down houses over it. I say middle eastern Islam teaches people to act like second graders with poor parents... In protest, we should burn a Koran and make a video every day until they have burn everything they can and learn to get over it.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  2. Bill

    lets end this mess by burning all religious material! Religion was created soooooo many years ago to guide people because they were evil. Example, the 10 commandements – these are simply rules. Today we have proof and science that are FACT against religion. Why don't we focus on this and teach a new begining. Lets just all get along!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • jott77

      any of those guys on 9'11 not muslim....wake up. they only resond to fear not to obamas fake smile and talk. An american killed in the streets a week later and still no responce....George bush please come back we are soooo sorry...

      September 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  3. jeery

    Deuteronomy 17
    If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant; 17:3 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; 17:4 And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; 17:5 Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Wilson

      Yes, yes, old testament, we know. Christianity has evolved since then, (though I'm agnostic) but Islam has not. They need to evolve to their "new testament" before we get tired of it and start a game of cowboys and muslims.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Dave

      You do know what the New Covenant is, right?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Justin

    Yes it is Christians who stormed the US consulate in Libya. Hell this guy is a loon. We have a whole army of militant Islamist and it is the big bad Christians that are to blame.

    Give me a break Mr. McClaren. I am not willing to say that all Muslims are evil. Hell the majority of them are not, but many of them sympathize with these monster's actions.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • mary43

      and that is the problem. Most Muslims aren't bad but most also don't speak out against this behavior.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Mei

      Christians are NOT the ones threatening violence around the world over a film. When Christians are insulted, the majority pray for those who offend them and offer up their suffering. Do NOT blame Christians for what is going on in the world. The MAJORITY of goodness and charity in this world comes from Christianity–hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, food pantries, etc. Even the welfare system comes from Christians who wanted to help the poor when the nobility did not. Shame on this author for pointing the finger at Christians.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  5. Rebel Texas Democrat

    I spent 5 years in Saudi Arabia working for the oil companies and had a lot of really awesome Muslim friends (and still do). While living there, I got an email from my mother's pastor in Texas (also with lots of capital letters and exclamation points, as it happens..) warning me that my soul was in grave danger from "living among the infidel Muslims." I still have that email, and it was the turning point for me. I walked away from the ignorance and intolerance of christianity forever because of that email and everything that it said about the ignorance and intolerance and outright hatred embodied by evangelical christians. Granted, Islam has it's own share of fanatics, many of them equally ignorant and intolerant (and just as dangerous as the terrorist evangelical christians...), but at the end of the day the ignorance and intolerance and hate espoused by these so-called "evangelical christians" was too much for me – I couldn't allow myself to be identified with christianity ever again, and never will. Life is too short to be intolerant and hateful of others just because they believe something different than you do. And if you believe (as do 99.999999% of evangelical christians) that someone who believes differently than you is going to hell because they believe differently -- SO WHAT? What business is it of yours? Honestly, I'd rather spend eternity in Hell with my good, honest and hardworking friends (Muslim, christian, Jew, whatever..) than spend half a second in Heaven with a bunch of ignorant bigoted racist evangelical christians.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • joe

      Funny. You act as if you just discovered that Christianity is based on myth and that your denouncing of Christianity is some kind of big deal! Maybe for an ignoramus from the bible belt. You suffer from an obvious lack of education, just going from one ignorant group of Texans to another ignorant group of Muslims.

      Get a clue.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • christophermcne

      That's cool and all, but there aren't any Christians trying to blow me up. There are no Christians flying planes in to buildings, no Christians strapping bombs to themselves and blowing people to pieces in a crowded market place. No Christians cutting peoples heads off and posting videos of it on the internet in the name of Jesus. So you go ahead and hang with your super cool Islamic buddies. The rest of us who live in reality will continue to stand up against the lunacy of this violent and offensive religion.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Allison

      Thank you for this comment.... People need to understand that the crazy muslims DO NOT represent all muslims. and yes there have been christians in the past who rounded people up and killed them, murdered, came to work with a gun, whatever... there are evil people all over the world. not all of them are muslims, and not all muslims are evil.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  6. Dan

    I have two daughters. You're darn right I'm Islamaphobic. I'm also not an evangelical Christian. People like the author of this article are as dangerous as the radical Muslims. CNN is rapidly becoming the propaganda outlet for every anti-American group on the planet. At least with Al Jazeera you know what your getting up front.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Dave

      Unfortunately, this editorial flew right over your head. Sad. What would Jesus do?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • christophermcne

      Awesome, well thought out argument there Dave. I especially like that little zing at the end.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Dave

      It's not an argument, Chris. It's a statement and a question.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Guest

      And I don't understand what your two daughters have to do with your comments???

      September 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. anon

    I'm loving how EVERYONE in the world is saying the Libyan Embassy attack was 100% indisputable factually backed up a SET UP but in the USA we only hear it's because of that stupid movie. You are being LIED to America, WAKE THE EFF UP.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  8. jott77

    this is insulting to all americans...right after an attack.. we are to feel bad for these animals. obama's made us look so weak...protecting his own people....the muslims. we should drop bombs and use are force. dragging an american through the streets dead unreal if Reagan was in what do you think would happn. obama sucks worst ever and not because of color hed suck if he was yellow oh wait he is coward.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Dave

      Take a deep breath and relax. Now, think. What would Jesus do?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  9. UGottaBKidding

    The writer of this article really needs to have his head examined.

    I have PERSONALLY went on a spiritual quest like Siddhartha and I must say that Islam, the belief system only, is one of peace but the Imams have perverted this religion into one of hate, violence, and destruction.

    Any religious group that sees violent reprisal as a proper response for an idea, no matter how bad or good it is, is one that has been corrupted to the core and needs a proper reboot.

    In the Catholic faith there was Vatican II: a look at it's self to see what needs to be changed, what should be kept, and to how stay in touch with its believers. Other faiths have also made it clear to their followers that violence is not acceptable when dealing with non-believers. However the Islamic community has tuned a blind eye to what is happening and relies on sporadic, sometimes half hearted, attempts to say "We are not like that!".

    I sometimes wonder what the islamic countries would think if their embassies were destroyed every time they fell silent or supported leaders that were insulting to Christianity or Talmitic religions? Would they work harder to quiet the idiotic voices in their masses if they saw their places of worship turned into targets? Would they change direction if they knew their representatives were targets in other countries?

    We need to stop coddling the people who jump first then think, no matter what faith they are, and really deal with the issue at hand: political manipulation of a belief system for social control.

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

      Just like Siddhartha, eh? You may have missed the point of that story, my friend.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Geraldo

    Just think, no Islam, no problems. We would have peace and all the oil we want cheap.............

    September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Wilson

      Let's play cowboys and muslims!!!!! YeeeeeHaaaaaawwwwww!!!!!!!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • JimW

      Wow, that is a very uninformed thing to say. It's very simpleminded and shows you really don't know much about how the world works. I think you need to educate yourself a lot more, instead of making ignorant and naive generalizations. At least you only made this comment online – had you done it in public you would have embarrassed yourself.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  11. wheelz51

    With all that going on in the middle east, why shouldn't we be "islamophobic?" Hell...We have afgani soldiers killing our own. We have islamic terrorists in our own ranks (ft. hood) killing our own troops. this bs must stop. being islamophobic IS A GOOD THING!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • christophermcne


      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • MYB

      I think if US leaves middle east alone there may not be so much anger towards Americans, we keep on meddling in their affairs and when they react we say "told you they were violant". Time to think America!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  12. Justin

    My younger friend is a marine. He is also a strong evangelical christian. He also had his leg blown up (and survived by God's grace) from stepping on an IED in Afghanistan that was planted by islamic extremists.

    Is he also Islamaphobic?

    Tragic that you wouldn't see how many millions of muslims around the world would like nothing more than to see the United States and it's "evangelical Christians" destroyed and killed. Please go spend a week on the front lines in one of these nations and re-write the entire story you posted above.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • MYB

      Ever think, if US hadn't invaded Iraq (on false pretense) so many Americans and innocent Iraqis wouldn't have blown up by IEDs!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  13. gravis

    Dammit! I am so mad at these intolerant muslims that I'm gonna put on my white hood and go find a couple blacks to lynch!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Frank

      Well, people advocating killing of black people re no diference from the terrorist either. My advice, spare my black brothers, many of who are christians. Am black and a Nigerian, and am a christian who respects live and truly admirer living in America. Everyday, these islamists continue to killi and lynch Christians in Northern part of Nigeria, and no one ever bother to report these incidents. I will continue to hate or dislike anything call lslam, or any religion that justifies the killing of the innocents; no one can change that. Only dumb people like this author do think islam is a peaceful religion. NOWAY!. Let me advice you, pls dont kill black people, however if you need to kill, please go to the arabs, find them in their mosques. or go to iraq, egypt etc. To be honest, i will not advice you to kill innocent people – muslim or christians, pagans or whatever. But if you find a terrorist, report them or take them out before they take you out. Good luck!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  14. Don

    How about we sound off about the "evils" of christianity and it's hypocrisy

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Newsflash

      Yes, Don. Go ahead. You have to look at the Christians who go out and help their neighbours, defend the helpless including unborn child, start charities like Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan's Purse, World Vision, Feed the Children, Salvation Army. What great evil they did to the world. You have to consider the Christians who took education, health care and equality to to much of the world – what great evil they did. Today, you cannot find Christians inviolent protest at embassies, mosques or elsewhere because of how you insult them, their faith and their God. They understand, that God has said "vengeance is mine, I will repay."

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Randy

      Christians die as martyrs spreading the LOVE of Christ by feeding the poor, providing medical care and clothing to the fatherless and widows. Working for organizations that educate and save countless lives of children across the globe. Your narrow view of a few televangelist or self righteous westernized Christians is clouding the FACT, YES FACT, that id the Christians were removed from the earth...You would not like the world you would see.

      It would resemble what a crime filled city would look like if you removed all the police. This nation and this word could not survive without The Church. If you cant see that you are woefully blind and purposefully ignorant to the word around you.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • christophermcne

      Because this article has nothing to do with Christianity, although I can see you're foaming at the mouth to knock it around a little. Until Christians start blowing themselves up in crowded market places or crashing planes in to buildings, I don't think your platform is going to catch on quite as well as I'm sure you'd like it to.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  15. NotSoFast

    As an atheist, I have no respect or reverence for any religion: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. I do, however, have respect for a large number of individuals who are religious, for reasons other than their religion.

    The contradictions in all of the religous holy books allow people to look to their religion to justify both great good and great evil. Islam has no monopoly on religiously inspired atrocities, even in recent history.

    The war against Iraq by the United States was primarily a "crusade" (the Christian word for Jihad). The "president" that started the war called it that repeatedly (until his handlers suggested that maybe it wasn't the best word to use when looking for allies in the Muslim world.) This Christian Jihad directly caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis of all faiths, and indirectly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands by destroying the infrastructure.

    The Orthodox Christian Serbs massacred thousands of innocent Muslim Bosnians.

    Lynch mobs in the "Old South" lead by Baptist and other Christian preachers murdered huge numbers of blacks and "outside agitators" of all races.

    Anyone who knows anything about history knows the bloody trail of Christian missionaries/martyrs followed by Christian armies of occupation all over the world. The endless sectarian Christian on Christian violence in Europe lasted up into the 21st century.

    Not all Christians are violent extremists, nor are all Muslims violent extremists. However, any discussion of the excesses of Muslim extremism needs to include a similar discussion of violence inspired by Christianity and other religions.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • tankette

      How mnay aitheists have killed people? You thoughtfully left them out of your judgements...

      September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      It's not only about Christians, it's about people like me, an atheist, who have religionophobia, or something like that. It's not fear of religion, it's complete lack of respect for all of them because they perpetuate the myth of supernatural power in some kind of control of everything.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Copper

      Wow. Well put, but incredibly off base. The war in Iraq was as simple as a President son doing the job of what he believed his President father (& Chaney) should have completed years before. It had NOTHING to do with Christianity. Nice try.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Geraldo

      You are only half right about your rhetoric. They did not do it because they were muslims, they did it because in Bosnia they wanted sharia and started the war. Iraq was NOT jihad...Man, grasping at straws shows your uneducated arguments. The bible does NOT say to kill whoever does not believe anywhere in the book.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • ToleranceIsKey

      You hit the nail on the head. Nothing worse than hypocrites who hide behind religion as an excuse to cause harm and spread hate and fear. Well said!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Concernedhistorian

      The history of Christianity that you refer too took place hundreds of years ago. Christianity today is different because it has gone through the same changes that society has also gone through. Islam as a whole has not changed in that time period. It is still a violent religion that is stuck in the middle ages. Where is the outcry from the Islamic world whenever there are violence acts towards the west? Islam needs to grow as a religion and needs to abandon the violent aspects at its core.
      Read some text on shariah law and post again about the subject.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  16. lostisland

    The bottom line is religious conflict has resulted in, and still is causing, uncountable deaths. Religion kills. It's toxic even in its mildest forms. It will take thousands of years to work this mental conflict out. The next great evolution of humanity will be the mental changes that happen in the 'post-religious' phase that occurs after this current 'religious phase'.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Closet Atheist

      Prediction: 1000 years from now, it'll be the same sh_t. May be different religions, but it will be the same lunacy. Religious conflict will be the catalyst that ultimately leads to the end of humanity.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  17. ug

    Another liberal zombie puppet story that is not an issue...

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • lostisland

      Tell that to the Libyan ambassadors family....

      September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • humankind

      Another response from a person that doesn't care about lives being lost. F'cking typical American! Ohhh, you're safe in America. Wait until the war is at your door.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Timber

    ....and when can we expect a rebuttal given the same prominence and stature as this article....?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  19. mike

    Christians didn't fly planes into occupied buildings, Jews didn't blow up Pizza restaurants, Hindus didn't blow up hotels and a Chabad Center in Mumbai. When more people start to realize that there is ONLY ONE RELIGION that dictates to their adherents to KILL THE UNBELIEVERS, we will get nowhere on this issue.

    We have to stop the silly Political Correctness that is killing us.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Joel

      Well said. Thank you.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Don Quixote

      You forgot to mention the Atlanta Bombings, the European White Supremacist (sure he was just a white supremacist) killings, the Waco, Texas cult massacre, amongst other acts of "Domestic" terrorism that are conveniently labeled Domestic.

      Why can't we all call them Christian terrorism? We dont because we are are smart enough to know not all Christians are like that. Muslims are the second largest religion denomination in the world right now. If they were all terrorists, the world would have been destroyed centuries ago.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  20. SJM

    Right on the mark.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.