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. Jeff N

    Where evangelical Christians (and I'm not one) and Muslims have common ground is in people either making fun of or trashing their religious beliefs. Do many Christians have an unrealistic fear of Islam – yes. But think about why. Somebody makes a glorified YouTube video trashing an evangelical Christian group and their response may be to either get into a verbal spitting match with that person or in some rear cases some lone angry not might go off the deep end and commit violence. The Muslim response to the same thing has too often has been for large mobs to find anyone who looks like they are from the same group that produced the video and kill them. That or have their religious leaders put a contract out on them as they did Salman Rushdie.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • Don Camp

      Jeff, I am an evangelical Christian. It isn't hard to find videos, probably hundreds of videos on YouTube trashing Christians – who really cares about that – or Jesus. Hundreds of websites are devoted to that. Yes. I read the comments; some few, usually young angry men, who call themselves Christians react in anger and hate. But I do not see the reaction we see coming from the Middle East. That is simply a fact. So why not?

      The fact is, we evangelical Christians see our Muslim neighbors as needing to make that final step to embrace Jesus as the Savior and not merely a prophet rather than needing to be killed. We pray to that end. We give our money and send our young people to Muslims to do good, to run hospitals, to provide assistance in disaster, to lift up the broken in those societies so that somehow they might see that God loves them. Now, how much of that do you see coming out of the Middle East? I'm just saying.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Ryan

      Is Islam a violent religion? Well if it is, then those practicing Islam in America are a threat. But that is not the case, you have muslims in this country who are law abiding citizens, who are police officers, firefighter, doctors, and other members of society that do contribute to the well-being of citizens. Since they're muslims and practice islam, are they a threat? There are muslims who are using the religion for violence and for the most part those people are more than 3,000 miles away. The Media has been blasting muslims and their faith, all they do is cast negative things. You have to understand, that there is only a certain percentage of muslims that are evil and violent, it Does Not Speak For Every Muslim. When you associate all muslims to violence, then you're simply stereotyping a whole race, when there are innocent muslims. The important thing is for us to unite together and stand together against those that try to harm us, not to be divided and casting hate, we will never get anywhere with Hate.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  2. Mark Yelka

    It's hard not to be biased against people who kill. Now, are you telling us that Islam isn't involved in killings and intolerance? Yup, Islam IS evil.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  3. Jameson

    "Phobia" is an irrational fear. There is noting irrational about fearing Islamic violence, as the events of this week, and this decade, prove.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  4. KJV

    Even a "minority" of Muslims who are radical still translates into MILLIONS.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  5. ironmike

    When Evangelicals start murdering Ambassadors from Islamic countries , when evangelicals start burning their embassies then maybe you have a point.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • david b

      perfectly said...that's all that needs to be said

      September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Grizz

      Amen Iron Mike, Amen

      September 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  6. Matthew

    More apologies for people committing murders in the name of religion by blaming "film" makers. Religion is the problem.. Not a movie. Not a book. Not a story. Not a cartoon. The fact that a huge group of people (stop acting like it's 3 muslims out there killing everyone) could go insane over an amateurish piece of crap is proof positive that religion makes you stupid.

    Religion. Once you accept "Mysterious is his ways" and "Through a glass darkly" you throw away any personal responsibility for your actions. I mean God knows all and puts everything into motion. You are worthless and dirty and wretched. Oh well. I guess we should just go and kill for Jesus.

    Grow up. Islam is the problem. Christianity is the problem. Needing to believe in something beyond this life is the problem. You cloud your desires to fix the world that we live in because "Hey why bother, next planet is going to be awesome and all the people I don't like are going to be burning".

    September 16, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  7. Impeach

    Let's not pin the actions of the Muslims on the Christians. OK Obama?

    September 16, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  8. Uwodo

    Let me get this strait. A poorly produced vulger video critical Islam is posted in a country that guarantees free speech. The video was financed by a Coptic Christian who's people have been brutalized in their home counties by muslim majorities, (somehow this is never mentioned), but in early reports the video is gleefully attributed to an Israeli and 100 jews. US embassies are stormed in Egypt and Libya in planed attacks that have little to do with the video if anything at all... somehow the is all a reason to criticize Evangelical Christians? I am confused.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  9. Bot

    Dr McLaren going to town defending himself on the coments section, calling himself RUSH. LOL. Hilarious.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  10. warsteiner

    Islam has attacked America,Period. We do not allow our people to be killed and go unpunished. They killed one of us and innocent man who had nothing to do with the video. They are attacking US citizen all over the world who had nothing to do with that spoof video. They wanted to find an excuse for holy war and they found one. This violent religion will send its followers to kill over a spoof,When they themselves post videos of there followers beheading innocent journalist. We Americans have been civil and supportive of Muslims and their feeling and beliefs. So I truely hope the US government pulls all its people in danger out and we have nothing to do with these animals.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • maverick

      Yup...all U have to do is ask Daniel Pearl how he liked having Muslim friends. U sheep all do what this writer wants....try to get over your thoughts....and have Alahahaaa as your God. Thats DOG spelled backwards in the Koran.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  11. Bart Jones

    Why the double standard? When "entertainers" write songs about suicide and a teenager kills themselves while putting the song on 'loop,' it is not the artists' or the record label's fault – but if you have someone produce a film about Islam that someone finds offensive it IS their fault for what these people do.

    You obviously have an axe to grind with the religious right. You "were raised" as an evangelical – obviously you turned your back on that upbringing at that point and have become something akin to an ex-smoker and feel the need to evangelize now on the dangers of envangelicalism. You are seeking a way to appease the guilt you feel for ever being an evangelical – or you seek to appease your guilt for turning your back on the values of your upbringing. You need to come to terms with yourself and your God between you and him, not out here in the press.

    Mr. McLaren, it is time for you to choose: Can you tell me a time when it is acceptable to kill someone for something they say, whether in words, in a song or on a film? Ever? Or do you believe in freedom of speech and human will? There should be no internal struggle there.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Bot


      September 16, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Slb1113

      One of the best comments I have read in a long time.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      For the worse

      September 16, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Sighko Sis

      Atheism is the only hope for a rational world. It's the start of seeing your hatred and fears for what they are, and stop using the excuses of "god wants me to do it" or "the devil made me do it".

      September 16, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • trooperchix

      Atheism really scares you that much? Nuts. Clearly ignorance breeds ignorance.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  13. Joyce

    If anyone watches the movie on youtube, you'll realize how s tupid it is. Bad acting, bad writing; it's a farce. How this could anger anyone is beyond me, because it's so obviously a grade C farce.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • Jeff N

      Joyce, Given that these events are occurring in countries where most of the population possesses neither pot nor window, how many people engaged in mayhem have actually seen this video? I would guess that there are damned few that have, yet there they are killing people who might be the 72nd cousin, three times removed from the guy who made the video. In short, they hate us and this was an excuse to act out.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  14. Pam Hill

    Oh PLEASE!!! There is more hate against the Christians and Jews thsn any other religion so I have no sympathy for this muslim thing. They make movies in Hollywood degrading Jesus Christ but I don't see Christians storming the studios and killing people. Call them what they are...murderers no different than any convicted murderer. So what I hear from CNN is bless they muslims little heart that did this but to hell with a Christian who speaks out against these brutal attacks. I say yhe man who made this movie is deplorable but does not give these radical muslims the right to murder.What if the shoe was one the other foot? Hummmm?

    September 16, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Mike

      Really, they make films in Hollywood degrading Jesus Christ? Please name a few examples.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • trooperchix

      You do realize Hollywood is an American aka "Christian" enterprise, right?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  15. Aubrey Jensen

    Nevermind the extreme violence going on, at the end of the day, the media in this country seemingly always finds a way to blame the Christians...unbelievable!!!!

    September 16, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  16. Jesse Pinkman

    Islam is not a religion but a set of rules. The word "islam" translates in English to "submit". Know your enemy. Know the ones trying to kill you.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • trooperchix

      And the Chevy Nova couldn't sell in Mexico because the name translated to "doesn't go" in spanish, yet we recognize it as something different. Direct translations do not always work, as much implied meaning is lost in it's translation. I'm sure the implied meaning of the 10 commandments come off as a laundry list of rules to other religions too. Yet you still do not see your islamaphobia, do you?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  17. Lies

    lies, everybody knows the media is controlled by the jews!

    September 16, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • Top_News

      No. Not everyone.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • trooperchix

      I love snark.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  18. WilliamTells

    This Writer has been proclaiming for years the fact Islam is an ideology first and a religion, second while recognizing any ideology is set to yield, over the passage of time, to the arrival of a superior ideology or idea.

    Examples: Marxism. Nazism. Communism

    Since Islam is not purely ideological, it resists fitting into the foregoing-identified comparative mold hence foreign-and-unlikely seems the notion of democracy's eventual domination and/or supplanting of Islam as it has done with other, pure ideologies.

    Absent realization of its Koranic-ordained domination of the rest of the world with its "infidels" and similarly, absent Islam's ability to usurp any of the world's great religions, notably including Christianity, certain pregnant questions loom: What is its purpose and what is its destination?

    Can Islam possibly be the Party of the Second Part to impending Armageddon?

    An increasing many think so hence is answered, however inadequately and imprecisely, the question re Islam's ultimate purpose and destination.

    Past decades have seen a similar question posed about Communism and yes, even the Catholic church but those parties lacked Islam's two-part structure, i.e., one part ideological and the other part religion hence by definition neither of those parties qualified for participation as the Party of the Second Part to Armageddon.

    This much is certain: If Islam is destined to thus participate there is nothing any other nation, party, ideology or religion can do to redirect, dissuade or stop its foreordained participation since the die is, indeed, long-since cast. (Revelation 16:16)

    That said, biblical argument can be made for the possibility of a different purpose and destination other than the one heretofore described--

    Through it all, this reality stands fast: You and I are half-brother of those inarguably-hostile Islamists wrecking havoc across the globe and increasingly-likely, also half-brother of those living next door (Genesis 16:12) since Islam is one of the three (3) religions/people groups inclusively deriving of the seed of Abraham, to wit: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    This question, then, presents: Is the compassionate God of the Jew and of the Christian, being the same God Who having rescued Islam's biblical Father (Ishmael) from certain death (Genesis 21:17,18) apt to engineer the demise of that "great nation" (Arabs, including Islam) He promised to raise up out of Ishmael resulting from that great and final battle set to occur in the coming, Armageddon-associated, end-times' slaughter set to occur near Megiddo?

    Or . . . with Divine compassion prevailing, is He more likely to provide the means and opportunity for their rescue from a life of supernaturally-foreordained hostility (Genesis 16:12)?

    The following is submitted as the answer: With Romans 9:22 replicating, ex post facto, Genesis' 16:12 prophetic passages hence description of the life and foreordained plight of Ishmael's descendants, ("What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction . . . ") how else are Romans 9:23 & 24 to be interpreted ("...that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy whom He had afore prepared unto glory . . . Even us whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?") . . .

    . . . posing the operative question: "What power is to be made "known"?

    Before you answer it, you may want to become acquainted with exactly Who is The Person described in Philippians 3:10 as being that "Power" God is so intent upon making "known" (Romans 9:22) . . .

    . . . and when you have done that, then you will have identified the only "idea" whose inherent superiority is capable of taking the number of the idea-of-Islam and as such also identified the only non AK47-predicated answer to the continuing emergence of militant Islam.

    A word to the wise . . . notably including that found in Isaiah 55:11 ("...My Word shall not return void but it shall accomplish that which I please...")

    September 16, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  19. polycarp pio

    Dear fellow Christians dont allow CNN or any other media outlet to suck you into their foolishness. They put up something offensive and divisive every week to get you all stirred up and keep their blog sites like this going, so they can show their advertisers how many hit they receive and collect their revenue. ITS ALL ABOUT RATINGS AND MONEY, just say no to participating in this goofyness. PP

    September 16, 2012 at 6:57 am |
  20. Pete

    The problem is not Muslims or Evangelicals, because neither of the groups has a monopoly on hatred. Both of go around claiming that they are the chosen ones. The real problem is nut jobs and religion seems to be the perfect source to breed nut jobs.

    Im confident that the Creator is getting fairly tired of Man's religions.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:57 am |
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