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. Ramon F. Herrera

    The GOP has a virtual monopoly on HATRED:


    September 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      Liberals ARE NOT pro-Islam!!


      September 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  2. Drink my Kool-aid


    September 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  3. John Blackadder

    Are bigots actually Christian. Christ said, "Blessed are the meek", and he also said"Turn the other cheek".

    My sense is that the hatred they display (be it against Catholics, Latinos or Muslims) is a manifestation of the Anti-Christ, and their preacher is a false prophet.

    We have no place for this, either in the secular world or in Christianity.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Name*greg

      Catholics are christian. So are most latinos. You make no sense.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • John Blackadder

      Greg here sort of makes my case. The issue is not 'Christians', its 'bigots'. The Catholics have their bigots too. Just mention Opus Dei.
      To spell it out for you, I'm talking about those 'Christians' who place hatred higher than Christ's commandment to 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. They are a minority, but they are noisome, obnoxious, and in the end just as dangerous as Islamic extremists.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  4. I thought it was September...

    Is it April already? The false equivalency that's been foisted upon us after the events of the past few days is amazing. I understand that portions of the Muslim world feels besot upon and I'm not completely unsympathetic to their umbrage. However, part of being a grownup in a pluralistic world is realizing that there are jerks out there - people who gratuitously insult Jews; people who gratuitously insult Christians; people who gratuitously insult pagans and, yes, people who gratuitously insult Islam. Grow up and deal with it.

    To equate violence with ideas betrays a lack of wisdom.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  5. Veritas

    Theist religions are vile and have been, and continue to be, the root of so much evil in this world. I wish people would evolve and embrace more personal "spiritual" philosophies than all these dogmatic cults.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  6. aisha

    Mr. McLaren has been completely taken in (and he's not the only one!!) by the Islamic doctrine of taquiyya (lying to mislead non-Muslims, e.g. that Islam is "a religion of peace"). Instead of blindly believing such propaganda he should observe the world around him (deeds not words) and come to his own conclusions. A religion that forcibly converts (see current news on Sindh province) and kills those who apostasize (leave) cannot be the product of a true God. Muslims today are just following the example of their revered prophet and founder, and more and more people are being educated as to his nature.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Isabella

      I agree with you.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • For Real?

      Aisha, the Christians did exactly the same during the Crusades and slaughtered millions. HAs everone forgotten history?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  7. Muhammad

    I want to thank the author of this article. As a Muslim, who has many Christian friends, I believe that most, in fact almost all, at both ends recognize that we can and should live together. Teachings in both require us to do that. The Quran tells us that the closest to us are Christians. Some claims that violence is only at the Muslim end. Remember that there is a Christian minority who committed mascres in Iraq (like Abu Greeb) and Afghanistan. Some went public, some did not. Remember that both World Ward were among Christians. I think good Muslims and Christians should stand together against extremism.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Mike

      Thank you.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • aisha

      The Quran tries to have it both ways. You report one verse, but there are others like “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). The "friendlier" verses come from Mecca, the less friendly ones from Medina (later). The later verses abrogate (replace!) the earlier ones (as if god need second thoughts). Muhammad is employing deception (taqiyya) as did the founder of Islam.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  8. Orygun Duck

    But the idea that you can blow yourself up to kill other people and be rewarded in Heaven is not something we made up.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  9. Islam is violent


    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Henry


    September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  11. azau

    But it is always the Christians fault,huh brian??

    September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  12. youreyesareweird

    what a disconnected article. How many cartoons, movies, SNL skits, billboards, etc... are out there that mock Christianity?? People poke fun at EVERYTHING. Nothing is exempt. This includes Islam. The problem is those that react violently to someone mocking their belief, are really saying they are insecure with themselves and what they believe. They have no confidence to dismiss it and continue on with their lives. Instead that have to "prove" to you that what they believe is truth.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  13. Ramon F. Herrera

    Which is the party where hatred is most concentrated and distilled?

    The only ones qualified to make a statement are the victims of prejudice, persecution and racism themselves. Let's ask them, shall we?

    Here's their response:

    – Black folks voted for Obama, by a 96% margin.
    – Jewish folks voted for Obama, by a 75% margin.
    – Hispanic folks voted for Obama, by a 66% margin.
    – Asian folks voted for Obama, by a 63% margin.
    – Gay folks voted for Obama, by an unknown margin.

    ps: Oh, I almost forgot the largest minority of all:


    September 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      Isn't it fascinating that every time Conservatives are accused of being racists, their instinctive reaction is to refer to history books (the older, the better)?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      Let's focus on T-O-D-A-Y

      A KKK or Nazi or hard-core racist would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get anywhere nearby the Democratic Party (party of Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Gays)

      Even if they did, the Democratic Party (party of Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Gays) would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever accept them.

      It is real simple.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • youreyesareweird

      dang man...you so full of yourself that you are replying on your own posts, all by yourself??
      I would like to point out one thing with your numbers: Black people voted for Obama because he is black. That IS racism itself. (Look up the definition). Blacks, browns, Asians are all racist. Every race is racist. It's simple. Every race believes their race to be the better race. That's human nature. It's like believing a member of your family is better than someone you don't know.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  14. Austin4u

    Where should I start tearing apart this pile of garbage? Islamophobia exists not because of Christians, but because of Muslims! I do not recall ever hearing the word before 9/11. Like most Phobias there are valid reason for there existence. Fear of Spiders, Snakes, Rats, Water, Fire ect...People have a hard wired fear of lots of things, even tho they have never been bitten by a snake, they still fear it, and for good reason (IT CAN KILL YOU)! Your kind and gentle view of Muslims is a damn lie and you know it! If I am in Pakistan, and I say "Mohammad was just a nut that crawled out of cave and sold you illiterate fools a bill of goods". That is Blasphemy, and punishable by beheading. If I can not express my opinion with fear of death, then I would think some Phobia was justified. Stop blaming the victims, and call it what it is. It is not Islamophobia, but Deathophobia!

    September 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You are living in a country in which freedom of expression is not a right. In the US, it is. There is no reason to compare the two governments and expect that you should have the same freedoms in Pakistan as you would here.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. Davalio

    Don't radical U.S. Christians kill too...they shoot abortion clinic doctors, blow up federal buildings and the like...We have no more control over our radicals then the peaceful loving majority of Muslims have over their radicals.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Mike

      thanks you. Well-said.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • youreyesareweird

      it's time for the peaceful and loving Muslims to speak out against those who make them look bad. Are they doing that?

      September 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  16. Islam is violent

    So when Muslims post videos of beheadinsg and stonings, should we go burning down their embassies?

    September 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Mike

      We did worse. We had 2 world wars, and occupied most of the World, killing many and stole their wealth for centuries. whoever did not commit a sin, let he through the stone.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • mick

      The U.S. has already retaliated with more than enough violence to the middle east culture, by bombing and killing thousands of innocents and destroying buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan. American culture is violent.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  17. objectivist5

    Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.

    SIGMUND FREUD, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalys

    September 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. Rodrigo


    If you want to challenge the evangelical church, why do you go to he CNN blog to do it? Probably because so few evangelicals actually listen to you anymore.

    This is just a sad article. We need to do "good" and love our brothers and sisters in Christ first. It appears that this is the last thing on your mind because you make your living simply criticizing evangelical and conservative brethren.

    Where is your love for the evangelical church?

    You are a brilliant guy, you can do better.

    This is not about a film. You and I both know that. You know real persecution of Christian occurs in the middle east.


    September 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • John

      To suggest that persecution of Christians is overplayed in the middle east is just moronic. I work in missions and can tell you that missionaries overseas face very real threats daily.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • DC1973

      Could you please tell me when and where Jesus said that we are required to love Christians first? When He said that we were required to love Christians more than other faiths? When He said that we were required to love the evangelical church? He never did. There is no hierarchy of who "deserves" love, respect, and tolerance in Christ's eyes. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God.

      The fact that the evangelicals refuse to listen to this man – who is doing nothing but speaking the truth as Christ Himself stated it – says all I need to know about him, and them.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • John

      "do good, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."

      Also Romans 12:13 indicates we show hospitality to the family of believers first.

      Read your bible, unless you are a universalist. If so, you are in good company it's the author.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  19. bravodicus

    So just what is Islamophobia? Its interesting this writer defines it within the evangelical community. I dont believe most Christians wish them ill. When you have a religon that defines non-believers as infedels you better keep your eyes open. The extremist culture is a danger. They are foolish, ignorant people and to murder means a heavenly reward. To lift up Islam as some great religion seems strange to many. Women are so devalued in this religonm that it really amazes me so many people so readily embrace and proclaim it.I don't think evangelicals are "phobic" about Islam but more untrusttng. We don't see the condemnation of murder coming from the Islamic preisthood. We don't see the people of these countries demand justice for the innoceent victims (many their own countrymen). So while Christian have their own ugly past actions todays islamist acts or lack there of say a great deal about who they rrally are and what they really believe. 9/11 was a Islamic terrorist act. What evangelical terrorist act can you tell me about?

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

    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.)

    September 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • stephen

      please check my reply to the poster "your dad". its just a few spots under yours.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:24 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.