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. thade76

    Yea sorry, I think im gonna stay away from people who think its alright to marry 6 yo's.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  2. chi

    I think the number of violent protests around the world regarding this video plays right into what Islamaphobes think. The escalated nature of these protests will just make people feel justified in believing that Muslims are a violent people who want to force their religion on everyone. It's sad, but I can easily see that happening.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  3. sir_ken_g

    Bigots hiding behind a burning cross – all justified in the name of Jezus.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  4. tgregory

    So the battle between who believes in the Tooth Fairy versus believing in the Easter Bunny rages on.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  5. pragwater

    Excellent, excellent article. Thank you!!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. 2/8

    Muslims are human just like the rest of us. Nobody is less important than anyone else. Pull your head out of your rear end America, you guys are really starting to tick the rest of the world off. No wonder you're constantly at odds with other countries.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Le

      Get your head out of your rear end, fool, look who is commiting the violence ALL THE TIME! (MUSLIMS) all the freaking time. You do not see jews, christians, slaughtering people and protesting now- do you

      September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  7. Guest

    You have have a good laugh when some guy sits in his office and writes an opinion piece to make some money and mkes thing up when he decides what the "mojority of americans" think. I'm guess most don't care about Isam at all. It's not the relion in streets it's manipulated and repressed people doing what they are told by their govenments.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  8. David

    At least MSNBC moved it off their homepage altogether, hoping the story just goes away. Unbelievable bias in the media!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  9. Reality Check

    I love all these PC nutjobs that tell us how peaceful and tolerant Islam is.. without ever studying Islamic history or current geopolitical reality.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  10. Jack

    CNN, what are you looking for with your PRO-ISLAM articles lately? Isn't it enough you TOTALLY disrespected America by posting another PRO-ISLAM article on September 11? CNN editor in chief, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  11. awasis

    Judaism, Christianity and Islams are all the problem. Get rid of them and the world will all of the sudden get more peaceful.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • joe User

      Get rid of religion and charities will lose half of their funding. I think you meant to say get rid of Jewish, Christian and Muslim "EXTREMISTS" because it's the lunatic fringe that's intolerant and causing all the uproar. Same can be said for political extremists causing polarization.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Seansa

      Yeah ok. Violence will go away with religion. Riigggghhhht

      September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Chad

      Absolutely. But people tend to be sheep.... sheeple. They want to give their personal responsibility up to a higher power. They are perpetual children seeking their parent. Be it God, Jesus, Mohammed, a Preacher or Obama: they just want someone else to do their thinking for them.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Doug

      I agree... religion, any kind, is the curse of humanity. Period.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • esplanader

      Christ taught to love thy neighbor. No where in his teachings is there anything about hurting or punishing others.

      The Jews follow rituals and are not taught to attack others. Their warrior God long since stopped promoting subjugating others.

      Mohammadans put people to death if they decide to not follow Mohammah any more. Mohammad led armies which killed people. "Covert by the sword" is not made up propaganda against a warrior "prophet."

      Islam has aspects of good in its teaching but its core agrees with the idea of conquering others and killing them if they do not comply. Otherwise, Mecca would not have been conquered by Mohammad.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Comrade

      Oh the peaceful days in communist Soviet Union with no religion.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  12. Dina

    Thank you for a well Written Blog. I wish more people would see your point of view.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  13. timinfla

    so this d bag is going to blame others for the radical views and actions of islamists.
    Islaaaam is a cancer, it is a religion of violence and hate.

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

      I'm with you, but its not just Islam. All religion is a cancer of the mind.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      The same can be said of many organized religions, past and present, particularly where monotheism is involved. Pantheism, however, is not exempt, nor are so-called "godless" religions. One cannot pick and choose – the violence of fundamentalists is all-inclusive.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  14. Chad

    Aren't we missing the point here just a little?

    Islamiphobic Americans sometimes make ignorant comments or have misconceptions that leads to discriminatory practices, mean spirited web videos and book burnings at the worst.
    Ameri-phobic individuals, some of which are Muslim, behead journalists, assassinate ambassadors, kidnap civilians and hijack passenger liners for the purposes of flying them into crowded buildings.

    My question to the author is, why are we even talking about Islamiphobia?

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

      I agree WHY are we even discussing this !

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  15. cnnmembuh

    I am Christian but don't wish to engage in "spiritual warfare" with anyone. I respect diversity and am called by my faith to tell the good news, but also to love and tolerate those with whom I might disagree. That said, it sure would be good for mutual relations if the significant number of extremist elements within the Muslim community would refrain from indiscriminately killing innocents in the name of Allah. Yeah, that might be a positive step in the right direction to foster better relations.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Rabid Roger

      I could not agree more! I don't remember reading where Christian's around the world, in the USA or anyplace for that matter started killing Muslims because they made an offensive video of Jesus, or something. I am sure it has happened but to the same degree? I don't think so. The Crusades happened what over 500 years ago? Are we still not over that? I am over it. It's time to stop acting like little babies and learn to take an insult and move on. BOTH SIDES. Still, no one can do that. There is so much anger and hate on both sides now. It will end in a huge war that is almost inevitable. Sad. really sad.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  16. tkindsm

    Please find a new line CNN because this one is getting old.

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

      YES! It's hard to watch this once important news outlet morph into a collection of irrelevant tripe.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • John

      There you go and still breathing, now go tell a Muslim that same thing about his religion.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  17. Christine

    Christians are, for the most part, an ill-informed, ignorant lot.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • W Kangas

      Can I get an Amen on that?!?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • John

      Not to mentioned closed-minded.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Wayne

      A wise man once said, "Those of us that are as equally informed very seldom, if ever disagree." To make a statement across the board about christians being ignorant displays an immesurable amount of ignorance on your part.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  18. David

    I agree that there is a bit of "Islampohobia" out there, and most of it is unwarranted. But, since the author is so hung up on truth-telling, let's tell truth.

    EVERY terrorist attack and attempted terrorist attack against US interests, both foreign and abroad, in the last 18 years has been by people of Islamic faith.

    The most murderous religion in the world's history is Islam.

    The only religion commanded to KILL those who are not of their faith is Islam.

    I am not an Islamophobe because there really isn't a reason to be. Why? Because, 1, the overhelming majority of them do not condone terror. 2, because those who DO condone terror are chicken and are cowards. If you look them in the eye they will back down. And 3, because fear really is kind of a silly thing, don't you think? Those evangelicals who spread hate about Islam do not apply the faith they profess to have and those who fear Muslims don't understand their own belief system enough to know that fear is pointless

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Reality

      Here is the truth for you
      Every conflict in the world in last 60 years in world includes USA, every puppet government installation in world in last 60 years includes USA, every land and resource stealing from other countries includes USA.

      The terrorists you are talking about were sponsored by USA.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • DN3

      Um, hello? Remember the unibomber? Timothy McVeigh?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • David

      Learn to read, homey. That whole "in the last 18 years" thing kind of comes in to play there. And OK, let's add McVeigh and the Unibomber into the mix, how are those numbers adding up for you. My guess is that the relatively infinitessimal number doesn't even register. And yes, I'm so sure that al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brohterhood, Hamas, and the Nation of Islam are sponsored by the US. You guys are pathetic excuses for lifeforms. I can't beleive whatever creator you beleive in wasted their time on your brain cells

      September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • weezer

      Tim Mcveigh committed the second largest and deadliest terrorist act in US history and he was Catholic, bozo. Homeland Security says the vast majority of terrorist attacks in US are from non-muslims, and considers home-grown terrorists a much greater threat than anyone from Mid East.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      What mosque did The Unabomber and Tim McVey blow up? Did they fly four airliners and crashed them on Saudi Arabia's important buildings on 9/11?
      There are horrible similar crimes also happening in Arab-Muslim countries. Today, the Syrian government is still blowing up not only buildings but complete cities and murdering thousands of their own Muslim/Islamist citizens.
      The Iraqi Muslim Sunnis and Shiites are eternally blowing up each other’s mosques and killing thousands of their own fellow Muslims in the process.
      On top of that abundance of mutual murder, Muslims always boast on how united they claim to be.
      Nevertheless, many Muslims who participate here, often make it sound as if life in a Muslim country were like living in a Utopian Shangri-Lan society.
      On the other hand, we never claimed the USA is an exception to the existence of crime. Tim McVey had a grudge against the government and The Unabomber was against modern technology, that is why they committed their crimes; but Tim McVey and The Unabomber did not commit their crimes in the name of the ideology called Islam neither in the name of any deity nor in the name of any religion. Therefore, it is very thoughtless to imply those two criminals were devout Christians. Such ignorance by Muslims leaves a lot to be desired because it shows they seem to have a limited cognitive power to understand simple concept like the one I just mentioned. It is dangerous to deal with ignorant and closed-minded people and even more dangerous when they are armed.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  19. W Kangas

    Martelrising (and his ilk), dupes of the "Christian" money grubbing machine. Hatred of anyone else is not Cbristlike. Hypocrites. If you go to meet your maker (out yeah, you already have, your parents), IF he exists (doubtful), you're gonna have some 'splaining to do. But don't worry, it's about as likely that you'll meet the Easter bunny as well.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  20. KWS

    I don't think you can really call this a phobia anymore. If you are afraid that if you leave sugar on your picnic blanket that ants might come and ruin your picnic, you aren't really ant-o-phobic, are you?

    It's simply true that if someone distantly connected to you, by race, nationality, religion, whatever, offends their religion, some crazy muslim might jump out and kill you. I feel sorry for all the innocent muslims caught up in this by their crazy, evil, well-publicized bretheran, but it's not an irrational fear or belief at this point; it's REAL.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:15 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.