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. John Henry

    I am from N.J. and have lived in Israel for more than 40 years. I work in the construction industry and have known many regular Arabs on a day to day basis. I also went to college where have of the students in my faculty were Israeli Arabs. I would like to point out that the Muslim Arabs really do dislike the Christian Arabs. They don't like their names their music or their religion. The Christian Arabs are being driven out of their traditional homes all over the Middle East

    September 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  2. joe

    your opinion and rambling is that of a buffoon.

    gets some help.

    end of story

    September 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  3. ----D-man----

    –go live over their and try to practice your Christ faith-- almost assurdly you will be killed for it,,, U S = the great satan to them--

    September 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  4. Herman Rutner

    Brian is liberal Christian in name only who neither understands biblical christian teachings nor 13 century old Khoranic teachings, mandating worldwide domination and either subjugation or killing of all infidels. meaning it is a violent religion that historically has used forcible conversion typically with the sword, unlike the voluntary acceptance of Jesus peaceful Biblical teachings, not corrupted versions leading to the evil Crusades, under God given Free Will. Luckily for us infidels, most Muslims are currently lukewarm followers not practicing the 6 Pillars of Faith including jihad.

    September 22, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • IQhigherthanmybeltsize

      "...the voluntary acceptance of Jesus peaceful Biblical teachings"? Please explain to the Muranos in Spain during the Inquistion, those living in Palestine (yes, historically correct for that time) either Moslem or Jewish during the Crusades, or Native Americans that they could have either "voluntarily" accepted Jesus or...? NO OTHER OPTIONS PROVIDED BESIDES TORTURE AND DEATH!

      September 22, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  5. sakara

    another guilt ridden liberal idiot taking the side of a muslim LYNCH MOB.

    September 22, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Joey Navis

      ur right,, the christian lynch mob is the side we should all be on.

      September 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  6. Snod

    Typical blame the victim mentality! There is no such thing as Islamophobia as this liberal crank would like you to believe. Christians have good reason not to trust Muslims when our own troops are being killed by so called friendly policemen in Afghanistan, Christians are murdered in Muslim countries around the wold because they are non-believers, and especially when one of our own U.S. Army chaplains goes on a murderous rampage for Islam. Total bunk and nonsense, where do these people get their ideas and what world do they come from?

    September 22, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  7. Jacob

    This guy is an intellectual lightweight. He rambles on like women at church who don't actually ever learn anything about Christ but love to say things that make themselves feel righteous and enlightened!

    "Secularists are trying to outlaw your religion...but it's your own evil fault that your religion sucks!"

    Sounds like a real scholar of religion!

    September 22, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  8. Blahhh

    Sorry, Muslims are extremist, much more so than Christians whoa re being murdered daily by muslims, yet the liberal news media is too afraid to point it out. In fact, I look at the Liberal News Media, including CNN, and especially this author as reminiscent of France that catered to Nazi oppression, in the hopes they wouldn't get their butts handed to them on a plate during the World War.

    Islam, is truly the religion of the devil.

    September 22, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  9. Buzz

    The Holy scripitures of Yahweh reveal to us His plan of salvation, through His son Yahshua. 1 John 2:4 He that saith, I know Him and keep not his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Are you keeping his commandments? Go to the word and see! start with the seventh day ( sabbath).

    September 22, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  10. Absract Mouse

    These Muslims are trying to have an influence on our government; that's what the core of this fiasco is about. They want to make it where people in a free society can't express an opinion, or make a satire about their religion. They were demanding why the makers of this short film weren't being punished. Because we have the right of freedom of speech, that's why. If this is hate speech, then so is Monty Python's Life of Brian. That made fun of religious people, particularly Christians and Jews....and the Christians were of course trying to ban it when that film came out. Its not so funny when it's them being ridiculed. Religulous is also hate speech, if expressing a satirical opinion about religion qualifies as such. At this point, its like we're poking a stick at the dog known as Islam and laughing when it gets angry. Sure, its childish, but so is their reaction.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • justiceforall

      i think it is a hate crime to purposely incite hateful reactions in a mad dog – don't you?
      even dogs in USA would get more protection than that if right person noticed and got other right people involved.
      Isn't there true legal means for these people to file hate crime charges, so that at least the official USA way to judgement is utilized to decide if this films hate filled reactions inspired by it's intentional malicious incitement of said hate fill reactions should be a basis for outlawing similar hate crimes against this religion.
      if the movie depicts graphically illegal acts against children, then it is against the law in USA to download the movie to begin with. Not the same as Monty Pythons show – it did not provoke hate filled reactions like being seen now because it offended people on same land and culture with access to the same means of peaceful legal protest. Do the muslim/islams have that available to them? Any muslim/Islam can file a complaint in the USA court system if they are citizens of USA. SomeOne should do it – so at least a just decision can be made – and the muslim/islam and the world's concerns about continuing prodding in similar manner for the sake of provoking more violence as entertainment and strategy can be legally and civilly addressed.

      September 22, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Blahhh

      however, little known fact....Christians didn';t try blowing things up and murdering people because of that film. Strange how there seems to be a scale of response....one response "banning the movie", didn't seem to kill anyone, and the other response "blowing oneself and innocents up", way the heck down at the other end.

      Start calling a spade a spade, and quit trying to dance around the issue of that horrible islam religion that murders

      September 22, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • justiceforall

      if i truly called a spade a spade i don't think my posts would get through

      September 22, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Absract Mouse

      @ justiceforall

      As I said, its childish on both sides, but the extremists need to learn to tolerate differing opinions. Punishing the film makers for their childish act is rewarding the extremists' behavior. After all, killing and destroying is much worse than poking fun at someone, or something.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  11. justwondering

    I am just wondering if the P. Muhammand pbuh warned his people that when they see his image being held in such a way as the offending movie has, that this will mean that times are nearest, and they must prepare for the end, and/or war? I mean, maybe he had a visionary nightmare and tried to warn them. Is that what He was doing?
    I still think it's earthquakes and a hell of a lot of manic and psychotic fear being displayed – in a highly illogical manner.
    But maybe, the P. Muhammand had observed previous times such as these, and tried to warn people – although of course his warnings seem irrational or illogical from differing time perspectives, only because they were, but not necessarily incorrect for other times.
    just wondering
    i guess only time will tell

    September 22, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Blahhh

      actually, the P Mohammed was more than likely suffering from some form of mental illness, perhaps as a result of his molesting children, who knows? But back then he "heard a chime" before seeing his visions....sounds like mental illness to me.

      September 22, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  12. Iftheshoefits

    The one problem at the core of all this is faith-based belief itself. As long as humans continue to believe in things based on something they read in books written by other men simply because father-figures or mother-figures in a church told them to we will have the sort of belief-fueled intolerance described in this article. It's not just limited to "phobia" of one religion by members of another, either. They're all guilty of it–including this article's author–simply by virtue of their exclusionary belief system itself.

    September 22, 2012 at 6:37 am |
    • nope


      September 22, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 22, 2012 at 5:04 am |
    • Absract Mouse

      Except when it doesn't

      September 22, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Iftheshoefits

      Actually it's religion that isn't healthy for anything, living or non. Religious belief is the biggest source of strife, intolerance, hatred, and violence that plague humanity and has been from the very beginning. The sooner people stop believing in ridiculous fairy tales the better off we'll all be.

      September 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  14. Millennium3

    No need for enmity and wars in the name of (any) Religion anymore;
    Come to friendship and peace in the name of one and only true GOD
    who created His book of Universe and book of Religion
    based on same 19 coded most magnificent and superb Mathematical Language,
    as prophesied by prophet Jesus, David and Muhammad,
    clearly and unmistakably witness it now and come to absolute Peace
    all Christians, Jews, Arabs, and Atheists, Agnostics and all others here now:


    September 22, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • whatever

      gtfa and pbuhaahfsf

      September 22, 2012 at 4:45 am |
  15. Angela

    YOU WROTE: " 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."


    I could be wrong - but it seems you are making an impassioned plea to a small group of zealots that - regardless of logic or compelling rheotoric - will not listen. Meanwhile, you minimize the violent overreaction of a small faction of islamists that seem to have the capability of spinning the middle east (and perhap the world) into utter kaos.

    To date, I have not seen Libyans, Egyptians or muslims of the world rioting in the streets for all the Syrians being murdered daily.

    Wrong is wrong...and if calm voices only serve to appease the irrational among us (in this case rioting islamists) by masking as much in a call for tolerance - you only impower them.

    If it is true - violent extremists are the minority - then it is the absolute duty of the sane majority to speak up, stand up - do something to let the few reeking havok know the rest of us will not cower to violence or submit to extreme idealogy.

    We may be saving more than ourselves in the processs. We can restore sanity and ensure its inevitability. We teach our children the value of having values, dignity and decency. We could, if we would - shut the madness down.

    If you have the power to pen a plea - pen that one.

    September 22, 2012 at 4:20 am |
  16. stillthinking

    after much thought and analysis
    i have finally been brought
    into enlightenment
    that I probably would not want to pay to become a second hand citizen or be killed
    i mean
    i probably would NOT want to be considered a gentile infidel in my own land.
    or treated like one by the great santa in the sky because i am not one of the hundred percent
    i can not believe the repubs are actually trying to convince USA to do this when 9-11 happened on their watch
    this is rather insane do you not think?
    do they truly believe the ninety nine are that stupid and ignorant?
    what is their plan this time?
    this sucks

    September 22, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • stillthinking

      what really sucks, is irregardless, they still have all the power and control
      and the ninety nine have been paying to be gentile infidels in their own land
      for quite some time now
      there is not much choice
      they are the 100th percent

      September 22, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • stillthinking2

      dear friend stillthinking,
      i think i am just amazed that i am being asked to choose between pure evil, and pure evil diluted in the form of help and responsibility and we the many bow down and accept this too. And the pure evil is more than happy to oblige, having more of an access to spread the evil through dilution. The diluted evil plan.

      September 22, 2012 at 3:34 am |
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  19. Jan #3-1 from Lethbridge A B.

    it is almost of the blind leading the many commentators have their own ax to grind,nou i ask you since you have been led around the gardenpath by a moslim,and your debtload is crushing ,the neighbors to the south of us,now i am wondering is a mormon that more risky for the next 4years how much is to much???

    September 22, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  20. Edwin Rivera

    It is courageous of you to try to bring some understanding of those that are different – a different religion- and try to bring some understanding of our own limitations as christians. To have peace in our hearrts and in the world, we must understand and accept our own limitations and accept others with different beliefs. as they are. (this is the beginning of learning to love our nehibor.) Only then we can be part of the solution.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:23 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.