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. DefinePhobia

    Buildings down, embassies burned, tens of thousands dead...I think we are past the "phobia" stage.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  2. suziecoyote

    Everyone must hurry up and vilify the film and everyone involved. Apologies, chop, chop. BS. The film charges the Muslim prophet was a pedo phile. In our culture, marrying and having relations with a 9 year old? Isn't that pedophilia? Having 1-13 wives? Would that, perhaps, qualify as "womanizing" to some? And the murdering of infidels? Was that not also an initiative? So why all the scooting around on butts with the apologies?

    September 17, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  3. mattski

    I know a lot of Christians and I can count on one hand those who live their lives in a Christian way. The rest espouse Christianity on Sunday and then go back to their hypocritical ways on Monday. Any Christian who calls for any kind of war against Muslims, be it a spiritual war or a drone war, is no Christian at all. Christians witness, they don't fight.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  4. Mark

    Islamophobia???? HAHA! The whole website is full of breaking news about Islamic violence and terrorism because of a movie they didn't particularily enjoy and CNN calls people "Islamophobe"s!
    Get some perspective CNN!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • mattski

      There's a difference between reporting news and making news. See if you can figure it out.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Aimleft

      Get a clue, Mark. You could start by actually reading the article you insist on commenting on.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Mei

      Islamophobia?? I think any non-Muslim who is scared has a healthy dose of reality! It is not "Islamophobia"
      I think American Muslims and this author should be ashamed that they are "yelling" at the peaceful people rather than pointing fingers at those who kill Christians and other non-Muslims. Muslims need to address their own violence within. I see articles like this all the time on CNN and it just shows the lack of perspective in the Muslim world in my opinion.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Mark

      Aimleft Perhaps you should read the artcle again and actuallly think about what it's saying. Don't be brainwashed. For instance the author claims that the video is "hate speech". Now there is a real phobia. There are actually people serving prison sentances in the EU for "Hate Speech".

      September 17, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  5. Patrick

    Brian, do you live in a bubble? This is quote unquote news this morning "In a move that could escalate tensions around the Arab world, the leader of the Hezbollah militant group called for protests against the movie, saying protesters should not only 'express our anger' at U.S. embassies but urge leaders to act." This guys is Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

    So tell me do you have your head in the sand!!! We have all the reason to be fearful!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  6. Sean

    So those Americans who are supposedly Islamophobic do hideous things like pray for their souls after reading falsehoods. And the Islamists react to falsehoods by committing multiple murders. Yet we are the ones you are condemning. What a brilliant point you make.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Aimleft

      Did you even think about reading the article? The author in NO way is condemning anyone. Your mentality is a great example of exactly what is wrong with the world today. GROW A BRAIN.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Mei

      I agree with you Sean. Amazing how there is a HUGE lack of perspective by the Muslim authors on CNN. They continually point the finger at peaceful people and don't look at the sins within their own group.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  7. Small Voice

    Islam and Roman Catholicism are twin enemies of God and man, just as Roman Catholicism and Communism are twin enemies of God and man.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  8. The Annoyed Elephant

    You know Mr. McLaren, you seem to forget that while God did tell us to love others, He also said "you shall have no other gods before me". Paul, while not acquiescing to the demands of ancient Rome to bow to pagan idols, used those same idols to point pagans to Christ.

    Frankly, your attempt to link the protests and murders of Americans to "Islamophobia" is as weak as your theology.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Aimleft

      Another arrogant idiot who didn't bother to read the article, and yet insists on commenting. Pass the BS. (I'll pass.)

      September 17, 2012 at 8:34 am |
      • The Annoyed Elephant

        Sorry. What I meant to say was "Brian McLaren is awesome and I think Christians should ignore the Bible so that we can score political points with a bunch of people who want to destroy our country and our religion in that order. Praise Obama!"

        I certainly didn't mean to imply that Brian McLaren is a borderline apostate who'd rather follow political leanings than the Gospel.

        September 17, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  9. Hummm...

    When he says that only a "small minoriety turn piety into violence", didn't it take a MAJORITY of voters to put the Muslim Brotherhood into power? According to Wikipedia, The Brotherhood's credo was and is, "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations."[9][10] Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is "Islam is the solution."[8]

    That doesn't sound like a peacefull group to me. Doesn't sound like they leave much room for other religions, does it?

    September 17, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Hummm...

      By the way, I misspelled minority so feel free to make fun of my mistake.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Aimleft

      No one needs to make fun of your spelling errors. The emptiness and stupidity in your comment are quite enough.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  10. Jim R

    All religions are equally false because the promote faith over reason. Those that believe in religion belong to the infancy of our species.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • vwickert

      Very funny post! After all it takes great faith to not believe there is a God. Evolution the religion of the non believers takes a tremendous amount of blind faith. It is not scientific -it cannot be observed nor repeated... SO you keep your faith and I will keep mine in an all-powerful creator God of this universe.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • NClaw441

      There are, and have been throughout history, a great number of people more intelligent than you or I who are Christians. While you may not accept their faith, it is not accurate to argue that religion is the refuge of the stupid.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  11. JEF

    ...hear, hear...

    September 17, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  12. crbianb

    Way to go CNN. I see you finally found an alternative to your anti-Christion opinion pieces using pro-Islam opinion articles. In a time when Islam cultures are out the publicly killing Christians in the name of Islam. You go CNN, show your colors some more.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  13. rasko41

    The lesson is that any emails in all caps are to be ignored.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  14. Al Rabi

    I proudly bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammed is his greatest prophet and messenger. I just became Muslim I am sooooooooooooooooo happy. For those who belive in hatered I advise you to come to Islam, the true religion of peace and love. If you want to have a polite debate you may email me: thearab1@hotmail.com:) Regards

    September 17, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Guest

      Assalamu Aalikum my brother/sister in Islam. May Allah always guide you.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Joe

      if becoming a convert to Islam makes you happy so be it.. I really believe that there is so much ignorance on both sides both Christian and Muslim.. Middle East and the West..We are both religions of peace...( although you would never know by the way we act) Hate and violence is not the way of the people of the book.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  15. Dave

    A phobia is an irrational fear. Therefore there is no such thing as Islamophobia.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • sam stone

      there is if you are irrational

      September 17, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  16. rob

    I'm not surprised that someone like Brian McLaren would write such a blind/deaf article at a time when the fruit of Islam is currently on display for the world to see. More out-of-touch he could not be.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  17. James K.

    Good article! And exposing the truth always comes with the noise and criticism you see in all these comments here. The truth is that the majority of Muslims are taking this stand: they are AGAINST the movie, but they understand it is a freedom of speech and therefore they are also AGAINST the violence of a few amongst them. The problem is that in the media we see and hear about the 1% of them that are protesting, and the 0.25% of them that are protesting violently. Yet we think that represents the majority of the 1.5 billion Muslims. Are you kidding me? If the majority of them (or even a signficant minority) was protesting, the world would be turned upside down. And yet, can you tell me about a single protest in the USA, how about in the area where the movie was made? Wouldn't you think the anger would be strongest there? How about in any western country? How about in any English speaking country? Instead, what we hear in these areas are the words of the educated and mainstream Muslims, saying they hate the movie but they hate even more than that the violence which is against their faith. I am seeing dozens and dozens of such statements issued by Muslim leaders, quoting the verses from the Qur'an about repelling evil and ridicule with good–as their religion (and any decent religion) would teach.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • cooper

      The problem is that the 99% of Muslims who disagree with the violence of the 1% do nothing to change it. They stand by and passively condone it.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Hillman

      James, read about the Sydney, Australia protests over the weekend. I think Australia qualifies as western and English speaking doesn't it?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • wondering

      I haven't seen much in the way of educated muslims speaking to the USA public, but maybe I missed it.
      Do you think the educated muslims or islams will be able to enlighten the few who are offended by one who was trying to goad them on, and succeeded?
      Do you think any of this can ever end peacefully?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Guest

      To cooper: Did you protest against the film, which is nothing but a hate crime?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Andrew

      So how is it that Egypt elected through democratic vote the Muslim Brotherhood an extremist party which hasn't condemned the violence? It is not a minority as you claim but a majority that choose Muslim Brotherhood

      September 17, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • cheapinkc

      @cooper, you mean like the Christians who abhor the filth some people put out about Islam yet do little to denounce it?

      I'm a Christian but our hands are far from clean in this mess. Now do Christians react better to criticism of their faith? The reaction is less violent but the language is very similar. Lots of comments about wiping the middle east off the map. The extremists are dictating the agenda on both sides.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  18. Hyden

    Why is CNN running a article with an opinion on religious intolerance towards Islam instead of one critical of the problems with Islamist extremism and violence? The reality is that any other religion can be criticized or even ridiculed publicly, in the U.S. or "free" world with the exception of Islam. Islam is pandered to because of fear of reprisal. That is the true elephant in the room.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  19. ironic

    Indeed, why do we even use the term "islamic terror"?

    Maybe, it is because virtually all terrorist acts in the world are committed by the muslims:-)
    Can you bring me examples of organized terrorist movement among, say, Lutherans? Pentecostals? Buddhists?
    No other religion demands from other people: convert or die.
    No other religion committed mass atrocities all over the World, from Chechnya to Nigeria, from England to the US, from Spain to Israel.
    No other religion advocated and celebrated suicide bombings and murder of women and children, no other soiciety named streets in their cities after mass murderers. No other religion has its spiritual leaders inciting bloodshed.

    Indeed, why do we have such illogical thing as Islamophobia?

    They live in our midst, enjoy our freedoms and use them to threaten us with extinction.
    Perhaps, at some stage of the game it is time to say enough is enough?

    September 17, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Guest

      Contrary to your popular belief, majority of the atrocities are committed by non-muslims. For example, currently, Buddhists in Burma are ethnically cleansing the Rohyngia Muslims. Moaist rebels, who are not muslims, are creating havoc in India. There are many more examples. You just have to open your eys.

      BTW, Islam does not demand people to convert or die. Allah says in Quran that there is no compulsion in religion. It is a Muslim's obligation to invite someone into Islam, and, it is upto Allah who becomes a Muslilm.

      Next time you post something, please substantiate your claim with authentic source.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Lin

      @ Ironic,
      Perhaps your history lesson did not include The Inquisition. No doubt you are not familiar with the heyday of the Irish Republican Army. Surely you view the bombing of the buildings in Oklahoma City as a terrorist act. How about the night rides of the KKK through the south...were those terrorist acts? There are perhaps a billion Muslims in the world with a few hundred fanatics who commit acts of violence. Every group has its bad apples. It is folly to judge the many based on the few.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Guest

      List of 'Christian' terror groups. Your hatred of the Islamic faith disgusts me.

      Also, have you heard of the Troubles?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  20. Jack

    NOBODY else but Muslims blow up themselves and everyone around them. NOBODY else but Muslims take religion to an absurd level of blindness and violence. When Muslims lead by example, stop cutting heads, stop stonning women, and stop trying to blow up planes, buses, trains, etc, etc, etc, we will be more welcoming. In the meantime MUSLIMS ARE NOT WELCOME IN AMERICA.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:52 am |
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