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. gb

    Is it a "phobia" when you really should be afraid? Minor point, but those who are wary of Islam didn't just make up a new worldview. Stuff happened that actually caused people to think that way. Did some take it too far? Absolutely. But there can be no doubt that there is an Islamic element that has declared war on the United States, has taken up arms against the U.S., and wants to kill Americans. I don't paint all Muslims with that brush, but it would be beyond foolish to ignore that fact in the name of tolerance, or whatever it is that says, "now wait a minute, these folks are just misunderstood" while they're burning our embassies, killing our diplomats, and flying planes into our buildings. I'd rather just call evil what it is, and then try to remember that those people don't represent every single Muslim any more than the Westboro Baptist nutjobs represent all Christians.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  2. Dan, TX

    Thank God I'm an atheist. All believers will burn in hell. I will rest in peace.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • bobjones

      LOL! Good luck with that my friend.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  3. *J. Healy

    Refreshingly Christian in the true sense of what Jesus lived and taught. Thank you.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  4. Andrew

    It is telling that the author just denigrates the opinions of walks shoebat with oh actually stating what they are. Frankly, walks has more authority on the issues of Islam than the author. Blowing your own children up in order to murder an other persons child is very telling. Simply the crux of the Muslim argument is absurd. By pillaging and sowing destruction. These people actually proved the point of the film they hate so much. Any person who actually reads international news knows that throughout the ummah minority religions are persecuted by Muslims. Xtians, Jews, ect have all fallen under the Islamic knife why? Racism and religionism

    September 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  5. Steven R Vogel

    I don't see this as a fear of Muslims. Those stating that their religion is one of love need to police their numbers. The fact that they do not could infer that they are in fear of retribution from their own. These uncompromising crackpots that use any excuse to kill and act out in rage need some street level socializing. We are all speaking out and pondering this problem due to the deaths of four people that knew there could be high risks in their jobs. What about the outrage of a father beheading his own daughter because of "honor". Screw you until you reign in this problem.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. paulm5545

    "We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected."

    OK, fair enough. I admit it. We have our own tiny minority on the edge. Now...show me (in recent history) where they have attacked innocent people, beheaded or mutilated then killed people and then dragged their bodies through the streets of America while others whipped out their cell phones and took pictures. Show me where our civic leaders, mayors, governors, etc., have supported this type of behavior and condemned all those who dare defile the image or name of God. Show me where they have attacked a mosque and killed the occupants. Show me where they had an honor killing in the name of God because their daughter would not marry someone.

    Your attempt to make people who question the religion of Islam feel guilty falls on deaf ears and is insulting when you say we have not done enough to repudiate and reject them. One pastor in Florida threatened to burn the Islam holy book and there was condemnation after condemnation. How dare you compare our "tiny" off the wall extremist to the Islamic extremist. This is not Islamphobia...this is justified indignation and outrage.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • SpartySam

      You, sir, have obviouly watched too much Fox news and not read enough history. And I don't mean what in your young country passes for ancient history i.e. 20th century. You have a powerful military that does your killing for you. That leaves you with the luxury to be indignant and ignorant. Enjoy it while it lasts.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Mental

      Very well said.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  7. rocinante

    "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"

    Excellent point. I wish we would have easier immigration policies with Muslim countries. If there were a few more Muslims on the streets in the US, the myths about each other might be debunked faster in both directions.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • barrie

      If you want to see Muslims, go to Detroit. There are 300,000 living there.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  8. woodofpine

    Assertive fundamentalism works GREAT if you want to point your finger – out. It fails if your purpose to to personally develop the spiritual mores espoused. This applies to all the Abrahamic religions.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  9. Mom

    If you kids can't play nicely with your imaginary superheroes, I'm going to have to step in and put the ALL up on the shelf.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Mom


      September 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  10. TR in ATL

    Christians are not calling for the death of all Muslims, just being clear that evil exists in the world and it's rooted in Shariah, Jihad, and a call to kill all infidels. Christian or not, all Americans are being threatened by Islam. "a more charitable approach"??? Let's all just be friends??? Explain that to the families of the beheaded victims from this maniacal religion. Obama thinks he can apologize for Americans' behavior and everything will be all right. Sounds like the author is just as ignorant as he. We all must educate ourselves and stop this Political Correctness and appeasement.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Don't forget Daniel Pearl


      September 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Steven Smith

      Have ever traveled to a Muslim country? Did they try to cut your head off cause you weren't Muslim?

      September 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Nodack

      So your answer like many others is violence and hatred because that's what Jusus would want. Some of them are violent. Then match their violence with greater violence. And their answer is to match that with greater violence. So tell me how that solves anything? Do you guys ever think these things through or is it just go with the first thought that crosses your mind?

      Kill them all? Jesus would be so proud of you.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • TR in ATL

      @Nodack = Nothing violent or hateful was suggested in my post. May want to reread it.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  11. !!!!!!!!!

    Taken from the book; "Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat" of Dr. Peter Hammond

    As long as the Muslim population remains around or under 2% in any given country, they will for the most part be regarded as a "peace-loving" minority, and not as a threat to other citizens. This is the case in:
    the U.S. — 0.6%; Australia — 1.5%; Canada – 1.9%; China — 1.8%; Italy — 1.5%; Norway — 1.8%.

    At 2% – 5%, they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups, often with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs. This is happening in:
    Denmark — 2%; Germany — 3.7%; the UK — 2.7%; Spain — 4%; Thailand — 4.6%.

    From 5% +, they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population. For example, they will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature halal on their shelves – along with threats for failure to comply. This is occurring in:
    France — 8%;Philippines — 5%; Sweden — 5%; Switzerland — 4.3%;The Netherlands — 5.5%; Trinidad & Tobago — 5.8%.

    At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves (within their ghettos) under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islamists is to establish Sharia law over the entire world.
    When Muslims approach 10% + of the population, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris, we are already seeing car-burnings. Any non-Muslim action offends Islam, and results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam, with opposition to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam. Such tensions are seen daily, particularly in Muslim sections in:
    Guyana — 10%;India — 13.4%;Israel — 16%;Kenya — 10%;Russia — 15%.

    After reaching 20% +, nations can expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings, and the burnings of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, such as in:
    Ethiopia — 32.8%.

    At 40% +, nations experience widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks, and ongoing militia warfare, such as in:
    Bosnia — 40%;Chad — 53.1%;Lebanon — 59.7%.

    From 60% +, nations experience unfettered persecution of non-believers of all other religions (including non-conforming Muslims), sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon, and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels, such as in:
    Albania — 70%;Malaysia — 60.4%;Qatar — 77.5%;Sudan — 70%.

    After 80% +, expect daily intimidation and violent jihad, some State-run ethnic cleansing, and even some genocide, as these nations drive out the infidels, and move toward 100% Muslim, such as has been experienced and in some ways is on-going in:
    Bangladesh — 83%;Egypt — 90%;Gaza — 98.7%;Indonesia — 86.1%;Iran — 98%;Iraq — 97%;Jordan — 92%;Morocco — 98.7%;Pakistan — 97%;Palestine — 99%;Syria — 90%;Tajikistan — 90%;Turkey — 99.8%;UAE — 96%.

    100% will usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ — the Islamic House of Peace. Here there’s supposed to be peace, because everybody is a Muslim, the Madrasses are the only schools, and Quran is the only word, such as in:
    Afghanistan — 100%;Saudi Arabia — 100%;Somalia — 100%;Yemen — 100%.

    Unfortunately, peace is never achieved, as in these 100% Muslim states the most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust by killing less radical Muslims, for a variety of reasons.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Isabella

      This is reality folks. Open your eyes before it is too late in America.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • woodofpine

      Hatred of muslims aside – what's your point? Got one? It seems you could lay out anything you dislike – anywhere – crime rates for instance, and 'faux correlate' them to the presence or lack of presence of various religions to create prejudiced results.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Margaret Swain

      Exactly and well said. Those who deny it are blind.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Steven Smith

    It's good to see something written about this. The evangelicals don't seem to understand that their statements about people they don't know reveal much more about them then they realize. Just like statements made about poor blacks, Jews, Hindus, etc. are not based on any real contact with actual people, but a stereotype.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  13. RBSG

    You can respect people, while not respecting their ideas. That is the problem here. These radicals who do all this violence conflate the two. They do not respect the other people who disagree with them, in the name of not respecting the beliefs. It's faulty thinking on their part. Disagreeing with a religion and presenting disagreement by words or art is not the same as disrespecting people or being "phobic".

    Religions are made up of a little good trying to front for a lot of bad. Criticizing something (religious or secular) for all of the bad within it is not the same thing as a phobia. Additionally, using speech and art to make criticisms is the way it should be done (which is what the man did). Not the use of violence, guns, bombs, war, etc. which is how some of the radical extremists seem to be approaching it, using their dogmatic beliefs as justification.

    Hold said individuals accountable, and by all means continue the criticism of faulty belief systems. Also, stop apologizing for creating cognitive dissonance. Apologizing for challenging beliefs you find illogical only enables the beliefs and by extension, the odious practices in the name of those beliefs. People who behave badly/violently to a mere presentation of disagreement with their ideas (regardless whether it's academic or parodied–as the film clearly was) are the ones clearly in the wrong, even when their bad behavior is the result of their illogical beliefs. And no, "religion" does not get a free pass here.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  14. LWJR

    Forgot, Mr. McLaren, poster boy for LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY (now sees the light, betrays conservative Christianity) should ask everyone to say a LIBERAL Prayer for Salmon Rushdie who obviously is Islamaphobic.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Isabella

      Salmon Rushdie is islamorealist.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  15. i12bphil

    Perhaps the author should reverse the tables, examine his own article under the microscope, then invent another new word – "Christiahobia".

    September 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  16. Wayne Estrada

    "Islam is a Religion of Peace." "We should not hurt the feelings of the Muslims." "Islam is about Tolerence"

    Jesus said, "You shall know them by their fruits."

    If a religion of peace, why do they blow their fellow Muslims up and murder innocent peoples, themselves and 'the 'infidels.'

    If it is a tolerent religion, why is the rest of the world a target? Tolerent? No churches are in Mecca, but their are mosques in Rome and the heart of the Bible belt. The 'feelings' of Muslims? Christians, Jews and the ROTW doesn't call the Arab or Islamic world 'infidels'...we don't protest, kill, or riot when our value systems, religions, or governments are insulted, but somehow it's ok if they do? There is no argument against that kind of behaviour.

    What I am speaking of is not a 'phobia'...I am not *afraid* of Islam, but all of us should be concerned of this behavior...the 'fruits' that blossom, now in the 'Arab Spring' are disturbing, unquestionably violent, and are P.R. disaster for their religion in the eyes of the world. If this is a 'small minority' where are the Godly, devout Muslims (and I am sure there are peaceful loving Muslims) wher are they shouting down these horrible acts of violence around the world? They are no where to be seen in the media...ALL the media. Why??

    What people profess and what they do are often two different things. Jesus is right; "you shall know them by their fruits"...the life they live, not the life they say.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  17. Chose

    Funny, the democrats has to choose God or no God. 3 times they rejected him.

    I have chosen....As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Jerimiah 24

    Murder, mayhem, and violence ...over an insult? The Muslims do nothing to win themselves respect with outrageous behavior like this. The lie is that this is coming from extremist islam. The kind of bahavior across 20+ nations is not extremist.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Veritas

      It was disappointing that the democrats felt compelled to include that god language into their party platform just to pander to the "evangelicals". The better we are at separating religious delusions and the state, the better off we all are, now as 300 years ago.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  18. Ralph

    All religious fanatics are the same, they are intolerant of anyone that does not share their own narrow religious views. It is not Islam we need to fear, it is religious fanatics of all flavors.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • PSB

      Agree. We also have fanatics in this country who do not represent me or the vast majority of Americans. Hopefully no one thinks they do.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  19. juskym

    Great article. Unfortunately, though, I don't think your intended audience will hear it or see themselves in it. It truly is like "throwing pearls before swine." I, too, am a former evangelical with many evangelical relatives who don't even attend church anymore, but think they know God's heart and the hearts of everyone they oppose. The teachings of Jesus have been ditched for the teaching of the Old Testament and they expect everyone to live up to teachings they couldn't begin to live. Truly, many evangelical christians today are like the pharisees and sadducees that Jesus repeatedly rebuked so soundly. Fundamentalism in ANY religion is dangerous. And I worry that fundamentalist Christians are moving closer and closer to the violence of fundamentalist Islamists that they claim to abhhor.

    September 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • i12bphil

      Ohhhhh brother!...

      September 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Chose

      Wow...I'll worry when there are thousands of evangelicals rioting in the street, storming the local mosques, and buring th e islmic flag

      September 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Edohiguma

      Fun fact: almost 20,000 terror attacks by mohammedans since 9/11. Zero terror attacks by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Atheists, Hindus, Sikhs. Even Scientology has a better track record than islam.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • LWJR

      I'm a former LIBERAL who DOES attend Church now. I saw the light of the useless humanism and self centered intellectualism that is actually new age faith. Full of pride, full of pomp, full of self.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  20. ModMus

    Forgot to mention Turkey. A muslim majority country with secular government

    September 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Edohiguma

      Wrong. Not anymore. Turkey was only secular because Kemal Atatürk pushed the clergy away from power. Now with Erdogan that is turning back to the old way of islam being in charge. Kemal Atatürk is rotating in his grave.

      September 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
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