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. Lycina

    Both the film and the reaction it provoked are extremist actions. Religion as a whole has done more to further the cause of bigotry, discrimination, genocide, and hate than any other concept mankind ever came up with. God must be weeping and Satan laughing at the mess we've made of this world.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  2. Jack

    The ONLY thing I EVER see of the Islamic faith is their violence and hatred. There are apparently decent Muslims out there, but they NEVER make then news. I associate Muslims with violence, crowds, shouting, rocks, bombed out streets. It is pounded and reinforced into my head every day. I've lived in the United States for 62 years and go to church, I have never met a fringe Christian, though I have read about them and seen some in the news; but I KNOW they are only fringe fanatics because I"ve seen and knows so many normal and good Christians. Somebody please show me a normal good Muslim.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      They don't make the news cycle, anymore than the majority of American citizens who aren't "islamaphobic" do.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • jacobsart

      Visit an open house at a Mosque. You will meet plenty of them.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  3. vernonfueston

    I admire some aspect of Islam and hold no ill will toward Muslims, but the Muslim world has to share some measure of accountability for the phenomenon of Islamophobia. After the 9/11 there was not a lot of sentiment against Muslims in general. Most people were willing to chalk up radical jihadism as coming from a minority of Muslims. But the silence from the Muslim world has been deafening when it comes to condemning this movement. Some Muslims are afraid of endangering the gravy train of money flowing into western mosques from Saudi Arabia. Others are just afraid of the radicals, and with good reason. But people have come to believe, wrongly I think, that Muslims are secretly rooting for Osama and his friends. It doesn't have to be like this.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  4. George

    "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"

    I think that at a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolesncent film, we should begin to own up to the violent nature of Islam.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Childish comment. "He started it" is no excuse. We can't control the behavior or thoughts of others but we can control our own. To say our bad behavior is ok because of their bad behavior is the ultimate in childish excuses.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • George

      You're right, I should just keep my opinion to myself and not dislike Muslims for burning our embassies and murdering our countrymen. As a matter of fact I should feel guilty for being bitter. So childish of me.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  5. Conrad

    Personally, I think it's time for a major world war–not against the radicals in the Muslim community, but against all the fanatics of every stripe. The rest of us really do not care for your extremism, whether you be Islamofascist, Evangelical, Born Again, Baptist, Mormon, Catholic Jewish or whatever. Go kill each other on some island and leave the rest of us alone. Maybe "Hunger Games for Radicals?"

    September 17, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Dan, Boston

      Be sure to include the atheists in that group as well ...

      September 17, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • cedarstrip

      You advocate "a major world war against ... fanatics". What camp does that put you in? Sounds kind of like an oxymoron to me.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  6. Dixie Normous

    Christianity has evolved, for all those that keep bringing up such history as the crusades as justification for what muslims do. Islam has not evolved, they are still stuck in the dark ages with their "vengeful" deity. Looks like the only solution is to play a good game of "cowboys and muslims."

    September 17, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Wilson

      Doubt your nom de plume, but agree with your post.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Can't wait to go shoot someone, huh?

      Great. Just what we need.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  7. Frances French

    I do have Muslim friends and they are wonderful people, very kind and gentle. But the chilling fact is, and I quote," that when Allah " requires me to do anything, I must obey." Both men that I quoted, are professional men.
    I also have a Coptic Christian friend who is a Cardiologist from Egypt. He has stated that the Koran especially the later teachings of Allah are nothing but hatred and intolerance of "The infidel."
    So we have honor killings, such as the one in WNY, where the irate husband cut his wife's head off because she wanted a divorce ( his little children were in the car waiting for their Mother to come out of the building where this took place.) Or the fellow that bashed his 10 year old step sons head in and killed him because the boy was lax in doing his homework. The local students that were arrested for terrorism who had been sent by their parents to Osama's terrorist training camps then came back with plans to kill " The Infidel. " How about those two Dr.s who tried to drive a van into Scotland's airport, failed but kept on trying even though the vehicle was in flames with both of them inside. Or how about that woman who was sentenced to stoning by the Iranian court?
    I have no idea why we are over in the mid east...except for their oil...I don't believe that there are any Muslims who have any love for, "The West." I have been glared at by Muslim women at shopping markets and in the neighborhood when I smiled at them as a friendly gesture. The stores that they own are filthy. I have had roaches crawl out of a sub sandwich purchased at a Muslim deli and why are all their market windows completely covered? The homes that they live in as immigrants are dirty and run down. I do respect my Muslim friends but would not turn my back on them on a dark night
    . And, check out what is happening in the South of France where even emergency personal will not go thru Muslim run communities due to the real possibility of being injured or killed.
    My Dad was an immigrant from Eastern Europe and no one in that portion of my family would even think of disrespecting their host country, " America," and never spoke anything but English when on the street, did not wear their ethnic clothing and respected their host country and embraced the culture. I do not trust any Muslim and this," honoring cultural differences'" is the most stupid thing I ever heard of. They need to start honor ours or go home, as they refer to to it when they die here and are sent "home'" for burial.
    Just imagine immigrating to a Mid Eastern country and demanding that a Christian church be built on their land as they demand Mosques be built across America....not a chance............
    Our Family Courts can't keep up with their supposed cultural ignorance. These people don't understand why they can't have 13 year old wives hid away in some 3rd floor attic, or why one cannot sell their 12 year old daughters, beat or, " Honor Kill," their wives and children and basically sequester themselves from American and Western laws.
    My European family members knew darn well what the laws were in American.
    If Muslims hate us so much why are they coming over here and to other Western countries?
    We are basically a Christian/Judeo culture, Muslims hate both???? Again, why are they here and why is America there?

    September 17, 2012 at 8:55 am |

    If for no other reason... we should shun & fear Islamics for their treatment of women.
    where does NOW stand on Islam ??

    September 17, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  9. Jimstainless

    So the Video I saw of a crucified body was fake and the video of a group stoning a child to death that was fake and the body of our ambassador wasnt draged thu the street pull you head out of the sand

    September 17, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  10. SB1790

    There's a big difference between phobia and rational fear. Islam has a creed that directs it to kill people outside of it's faith as infidels. After what keeps repeatedly getting demonstrated to this effect on the world stage, it's no longer a phobia. It's a rational fear.

    Idealists throughout history get gobbled up by realists. It fails to take into account human nature, which doesn't follow idealism's nice logical outline.

    The human brain perceives a threat and it acts accordingly. The conscious mind really doesn't come to play that much. Your subconscious mind it what kick starts all of the mechanisms needed for a flight or fight response. So no. It's not a phobia since that would imply that it's irrational. It's very rational. And very justified.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  11. captain america

    Do you morons even bother to read? The author isn't blaming Christians. He's calling for reason!

    What is the matter with some of you?

    September 17, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Islamic Police

      Reason would be to condemn the attacks not to claim these were isolated incidents done by a minority.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • freddy

      Actually if you ready it carefully; the author is defending the indefensible and recklessly defending his obvious true messiah in the white house; albeit with CNN's endorsement; nothing new there....

      September 17, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  12. 2357

    Long range media is a dangerous tool in the hands of stupid children. I say we as a nation send this hippie priest and the moron film maker to Libya, one way tickets, no return.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  13. Paul

    According to the author we had it coming because some nutjob decided to make a movie... So forget all the riots the killings it's our fault... yea right

    September 17, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  14. Ilia Grechko

    If Christians reacted the way Egyptian, Libyan, Yemenese, or other muslim's have, the respective country's embassies would have been burned by now. I do not disagrees with some portions of this article; however, the muslim's want an extraordinary amount of respect, but do not mete out that same respect to others. It doesn't work that way.

    I would cut off any and all aid to Egypt, Libya, and every other country where there have been attacks on our embassies. The American people are borrowing, meaning money they don't have, to give aid to 150 different countries around the world. It makes no sense to give one dime of aid to any country hostile to the US.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  15. Martin

    I find it rather unsettling at how much hate in this world is generated by religion alone, hence, one of many reasons why I will have to do with religious mythology of any kind. Perhaps a solution to many of the world's ills, including war and over population, would be for Evangelical Christians and their hate monger leaders along with Islamic Fundamentalists and their hate monger leaders go to a large open desert and duke it out until the last religious fanatic standing. Think of how much killing has gone on regarding religion or using religion as an excuse has gone on since the year 2000, not to mention the year 1 all because of one kind or another "killing in the name of God" fanatic and their blind followers. In regards to slaughter in the name of God, Jews, Christians and Muslims have left their bloody historic trails. Ironic, and all call Abraham a quasi founder of their religions.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  16. NClaw441

    You forgot to turn off your sarcasm button.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  17. wellnow

    Personally, I was like, Muhammad who?
    I think they should be commended for not having depictions of Muhammad, because I still don't know what he supposed to look like, having no interest in watching the movie in question of this fury over said movie. Good job Muslims and Islams. You have listened to your prophet well. Do you truly hate anyone not Islam nor Muslim though? That would seem hard to do if you live in USA or similar.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  18. John

    Wonder Twins powers activate! Form of Mohammed the Prophet!!

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    September 17, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Islamic Police

      Hey you! How dare you?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  19. vwickert

    GET OVER IT ! Quit misusing the term PHOBIA... Evangelicals have NO fear of Islam, we disagree with it. Of course if I were a Christian living in the middle-east at this time,except for Israel, I should fear because the evidence shows that Muslims have no qualms in killing those they disagree with.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • James K.

      Muslim Brotherhood is nothing impressive to me...I know they disavowed all violence since 1970 and claim to be peaceful, but it doesn't represent even a significant minority of Muslims. According to numbers posted, they have 2 million followers or members, that is like what...1 % ?

      The point is that as educated as we Americans claim to be, we seem to not understand anything about numbers, or about how much media coverage can exagerrate anything. Americans think that if they travel the middle east they will be attacked or beheaded. If you go travel the middle east you will see the opposite. It's like someone from Europe being scared to come to the USA thinking everyone walks around with guns.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  20. 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 8:32 am |
    • Andrew

      So then why 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 8:38 am |
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