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. Dan

    "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Voltaire. This article holds no water. Our country was founded on beliefs and rights that every man has the inherent right to open his mouth and make an idiot out of himself. By you reasoning we should not let our women go to school, or even go out uncovered lest we upset someone in the Sudan. Winston Churchill if alive, would be standing here mouth agape as we struggle to appease someone who will not be appeased until he destroys your way of life. Sound familiar?

    September 16, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • nkrempa

      Who was trying to appease anyone? My take on this article is that the author is exhorting Christian evangelicals to stop blindly hating ALL Muslims and start decrying the ones who actually resort to violence. If that happened, maybe we could live in peace in THIS country, where we supposedly have freedom for all to worship as they see fit.

      The point, I believe, was that NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS – caps lock on to emphasize a point that the majority of posters here seem to be missing.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  2. ed

    I do not wish to have any deaings with the religion of "peace and love"

    You are full of CRUD

    September 16, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  3. Thelma

    American christian evangelicals just can't accept the fact that there are other people on this planet who believe differently than they do. It drives them crazy. As a result, people whose livelihoods depend on hatemongering -Pam Geller, Frank Gaffney, Michele Maklin, Glen Beck, etc...profit from enouraging christian audience hatred. The American Taliban – Santorum, Bachmann, Steve King etc... are no different than the original Taliban in the Muslim world – they both use hate as the base of their agendas. They convince their followers to do the nasty work, then use the death of innocents to claim righteousness. What a sick and pathetic way to go through life. Seems to me it's organized religion behind all the hate & wars over the years. Why do we have to suffer from other people's religous beliefs. They should be kept private, personal & out of our politcal system. The blood of the dead today is on the hands of the christian haters, they should own it and apologize in person to the affected families. But they won't because they believe their religious right to hate trumps our right to live peacefully in our own ways.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • mrbp

      Hey Thelma, wheres louise?? You seem to be a fan of the islamo nut jobs. When was the last time christians went out and beheaded, killed, burned down bldgs. etc.?? islam is no better than any other religion. Their just crazier, and hate anyone who isn't a muslim supporter. If they don't like other religions, they should all move to Africa, and just stay there.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • nkrempa

      Very reasoned stance, and totally contrary to the phobics posting here today. Thanks for offering a voice of reason.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Christian

    The Rich Man and Lazarus

    19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

    22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

    25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

    27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

    29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

    30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

    31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Reality

      Luke 16: 19-31 has been analyzed thoroughly by many contemporary NT scholars. Some have concluded that these passages are not historic but were invented by Luke. e.g. Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 369-370 and pp. 694-695. Please also note that said passages are single attestations i.e. found no where else in scripture making them historically unreliable.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Reality

      With regards to Abraham and Moses:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses.( prob•a•bly
      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.)

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      September 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Christian

      Reality, It is a story told by Jesus in the Bible. How would any scholar know if Jesus said it or not? They have no idea.

      September 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  5. Jack

    So why wasn't the DaVinci Code and Dogmz and Religulous considered hate speech? If Islam appeasers get involved without protecting Catholics, Protestants and Jews from movies and TV productions and comedians, then Islam will have an unfair advantage. It is clear that Islam is different from Catholicsm and Judism whej when Moslems create signs that carry slogans of
    "Death to America" and "Behead Americans".
    Island sees killing it's detractors as the only remedy. The author of this article is clearly just another appeaser of Moslems.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Christian

      Excellent question.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  6. The Groove Merchant

    Muslims have absolutely no sense of humor.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • nkrempa

      Wow, way to generalize almost 2 billion people!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  7. weatherbrain

    And will this writer answer for all of us the age of M first wife as stated in the Koran? And will this author or any author have the guts to tell the stroy of how this profit(sic) actually came to power? No he won't . because to do so would expose the true essence of islam. islam came to power by military might, it established a "kingdom" headed by the pM and built a huge economic military powerhouse. IT has always held onto its power by force adn fear of death. That's why they pray 5 times a day – no tto be aware of god but to be subjugated by the thought of him every min of every day. It is a way of mind control disseminated over the world in the guise of a religion but originating as a mental technique to control the 'faithful".

    I am astounded by the western press in their refusal to give an accurate portrayal of the origins of this 'religion'.
    To contrast it to the life of Christ and the emergence of a Christian religion is interesting. Christ was dead and buried for 40 years before the first Christians and Jews parted ways, and 100 years before the Christians refused to acknowledge or participate in the pagan rituals of other beliefs – a requirement of the Roman state to encourage tolerance. Christians therefore willingly died as martyrs rather than even bow to any Roman god or others god. For that they eventually persecuted by Diocletian for over 20 years. There is no comparison to the origins of Christianity and Islam. Christians were dying rather than renounce their faith and Islam forced their faith at the pain of death on all around them.

    Nothing has changed.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • AlienShark

      Muhammad and Moses were given similar tasks by the same God. To build a monotheistic nation in a hostile territory controlled by viscous pagans.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • AlienShark

      Both Muhammad and Moses came to their people with the same message, "worship only one God and stop committing injustice." Both had to flee their land due to the persecution and torture at the hands of the pagans they were sent to, and both came back victoriously through similar means. On a side note, when Muhammad conquered mecca in the name of the God of Abraham, he forgave the overwhelming majority of the people there and they accepted Islam because they knew it was the truth, not by the sword.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • AlienShark

      Another interesting side note is that due to the work of Muhammad, the people of Egypt worship the same God that Moses told them to worship 3000 years before.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • AlienShark

      another interesting side note is that Christian teaching is that Jesus was not buried, but he rose up into heaven, I think you need to study your own religion before you diss someone elses religion. Interestingly enough, the concept of the trinity and gods having sons was introduced from Greco-Roman pagan religions and is completely foreign to the religion of the prophets in the line of Abraham. The Romans killed off the original followers fo Jesus (known as the Church of James) and introduced a religion consisting of the names and stories of Abrahamic prophets mixed with pagan rituals and belief systems of Greek mythology, which is why you have pagan holidays and trinities and gods with sons. These are the very pagan rituals and beliefs you were just blasting. I think you should study your history and your own religion.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. jakinak

    It may well be that the "opinion" expressed by this author is more dangerous than the terrorists that have concocted this ridiculous story about a film disparaging Allah as justification for murder. As the author well knows, there are none so blind as he who will not see!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • nkrempa

      Speaks the man whose seeing eye dog wishes you'd stay home more.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  9. pepsee

    This Brian McLaren guy must live in La-La land and blind and deaf and doesn't have ability to correlate incidents. Seeing is believing and connecting the dots.

    1) How many WORLDWIDE riots/attacks sparked by the muslims and how many sparked by all other religions taken together in just last fifteen years? Every religion gets ridiculed in some form but only that religion starts WORLDWIDE destruction and attacks people from all other religions from all other countries (even those who are in some other country.)

    2) The fundamental difference between islam and rest of the world religions lie at the origin. In all other monotheistic religion the main messenger (e.g. Jesus, Buddha) left personal life and desire behind to spread their message and never used violence to accomplish it. We all know mohamed used severe bloody violence to spread his message and exercised his carnal desire. Generally that's exactly what we see among the followers of these respective religions – in today's world.

    3) All other religions left mass violence behind (if there was any in the past) but islam remains generally violent and often barbaric being true to its origin. This is a worldwide phenomenon – just flip through the news everyday to see it.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  10. PAUL

    This is what the World Thinks about A Divine God Above!!


    September 16, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  11. sally

    Islamophobia is not only present among many evangelicals, it is a underlying tenet of the Christian Right which finds its home in the Republican Party. They have been courted and appeased there far too long.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • nkrempa

      Thank you! Definitely the truth!!

      September 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  12. jeff

    You call it Islamophobia, but what really is causing the problem, is the lake of educated. They don't want freedom of anything, they don't understand what it means to be free, to have the freedom to choose. Because, it's been how they live for generations; we're not going to change the government with the funds we give either, they're ways are just as ingrained. I would bet my left hand that the majority of those who rioted over this film had little to no education.

    Cutting the money we give to them, yeah it'll make the gov change a few things for a while, maybe... These governments don't want their people to have a voice or a choice. Their kept down for a reason, because if they were educated and had a choice, those in the government would not be there tomorrow. They're in power living the high life and they're not going to let that go! I think if these people had an decent education they could then begin to think for themselves and in time change their ways and their government. We're not going to force them to do anything!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  13. r.thomas

    As an atheist, of course I find all of this religious fanatacism from all corners of faith disturbing. However, what is most bothersome is that Muslims in general around the world do not appear to be doing much to thwart the redical views and activities of terrorists. They tend to place themselves in a defensive mode and try and explain that Islam is not aggressive, rather than actively persue those that use their religion to destroy others. This smacks of hypocricy, if not some kind of unconscious sympathy for the radicals? Why are not Muslims demonstrating in the streets agaist the radicals? Its just not happening, and leads to questions about their sincerity.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • weatherbrain

      Well said, it is the elephant in the room that no one sees and no one talks about. thank you.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • midnitejax

      It's a paradox for many. How do you "pursue" those that perpetrate violence in the name of their religion, without engaging violence against them? Peaceful Muslims who have spoken out, tend to disappear or are beheaded in the night, and their families are put into immediate danger. There are no easy answers.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  14. PAUL

    God Is Here To Stay...


    September 16, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  15. Graham Smith

    These are only a few hundred idiots. Fundamentalism is all forms is the enemy to rational, sentient living.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  16. AlienShark

    History repeats itself. Noah performed miracles but his people lied about him, called him a fraud and conspired against him. Ibrahim performed miracles, but they lied about him, called him a fraud and tried to kill him. Moses performed miracles but his people lied about him, called him a fraud and tried to kill him. Jesus performed miracles, but his people lied about him, called him a fraud and tried to kill him. Muhammad performed miracles, but his people are still lying about him, calling him a fraud and trying to kill him. History repeats itself.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • hjoseph7

      I don't think Christians are attacking Islam in itself they are atacking what comes with it, siucide bombers and terrorism. I's not the Christians who devised this, it is Muslims themselves. Islam is not an exotic religion it is very close to christianity, but it has been misinterpreted and twisted by political ideoligies that have nothing to do with the religion itself. Some might say that it is radicals who give Islam a bad name but take a look at whay happened recently are all those people protesting in the streets and damaging property all radicals ? I mean what exactly do you want Chrisians and others to think when this type of stuff goes unabated ?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  17. jayb18

    Freedom of speech is ok unless you make a muslim unhappy. Too bad, so sad..Hey libs, since your so good at bashing Catholics, why don't you give the Muslims their fair share? Have they not done killed, slaughtered and maimed enough people throughout the world yet in the name of allah?What are you afraid of? Frick'n hypocrites.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • siri

      Could not have said it better myself! Hipocrites!!

      September 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  18. disgustedvet

    Two words: BULL CRAP.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  19. Beautiful Islam

    “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi

    September 16, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • weatherbrain

      well they could start by dropping their AK-47's, their knives to mutilate, the shovels they use to dig holes to bury women to their waste before stoning them, and oh yeah drop the stones to the ground ... that would be a start to removing obstacles wouldn't it?

      / No I guess not – the power of poetry only goes so far.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  20. Lill

    Of course there is Islamophobia. Their culture stones gay people, beats and oppresses females, and kills at the drop of a hat. This piece seems to have been written by a spoiled child with little knowledge of the harsh realities of the world. Surely you can do better.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:46 am |
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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.