Brian McLaren’s Troubling Slavery Analogy

I often feel as if I live in a parallel universe from my progressive Christian friends, where they know what they know, and I know what I know, and never the twain shall meet.  Every now and then I come across an instructive moment — a moment of clarity — that illustrates the utter vastness of the divide.  One such moment happened yesterday, courtesy of Brian McLaren.  In an interesting discourse with Patheos’s Tony Jones about the 9/11/12 embassy attacks and the death of Ambassador Stevens, McLaren makes a startling comparison to the era of slavery.  (Go forward to 11:30 in the video below):

Did you catch that?  He calls on us to “humanize the other” as “white American living in the United States” in the context of understanding those who attacked our embassies.  He recalls Uncle Tom’s Cabin as one outstanding example of “humanizing the other.” But who is the “other” than needs humanizing?  McLaren breaks the history of the Middle East into a simplistic paradigm of oppressor (the colonialist West, including the United States) and oppressed (the Muslim world), but the on-the-ground reality of the Middle East is that Muslims oppress other Muslims and other religious minorities every single day.  In other words, jihadists are oppressors.  They may be revolutionaries, but they are not freedom fighters, and their revolt may very well plunge entire countries into medieval darkness.  It is as if McLaren is using abolitionist language to urge Christians to “humanize” the slaveowners. (Interestingly, slaveowners attempted to restrict free speech to protect their own delicate sensibilities in the slavery debate — sound familiar?)

It is simply wrong to use the rioters of September 11, 12, and 13 as stand-ins for Muslims at large.  In fact, we have to understand that empowering jihadists means empowering the oppression of women, the unrelenting persecution of religious minorities, and a campaign of violence against Israel and the West motivated not merely by the colonial era but by a sense of grievance that stretches back hundreds of years to much earlier setbacks in Islam’s wars of conquest (remember Osama bin Laden’s reference to Andalusia?)

But the real energy for McLaren (and other members of the progressive Christian left) isn’t on opposing jihad, it’s mocking and despising evangelical conservatives.  But when Apartheid dominated South Africa, was the evangelical left primarily concerned with making sure that the white minority was treated fairly in the American press?  Why is it so concerned with the sensibilities of racist, misogynist oppressors now?  The jihadist ideology is one that would render Israel judenrein while consigning even Muslim women to silence and ignorance, and the problem he highlights is inaccurate email forwards from evangelicals?  The real problem is evangelical hate of . . . what, exactly?  Jihad?  Guilty as charged.

The prevalence of dictators in the Middle East I fear led many of us to understate the problem of jihadist oppression.  The false promise of the Arab Spring was that if we lifted the heavy hand of dictatorship, then democracy would bring freedom.  Yet we now see that some countries may even have majoritarian jihadist sympathies — with resulting brutal consequences for minorities like Christians and Jews.

American Christians should stand with the oppressed — and against those who chant for a new Holocaust:

  • Annie

    I heard McLaren speak the other night and I got the sense that he just didn’t want to jump in the competition or arguing which religion produces the worst extremists. He just wanted to get Christians to realize that oppression and violence have permeated every religion and that the more Christians deny that, the more other people will be turned off from Jesus’ message. The whole perspective of “Well we’re nowhere near as bad as they are,” doesn’t really serve any good. Jihad may very well be way worse than slavery, but I think Christians have a history of getting really riled up about the things that we may never have personally played a part in and sweeping the things that hit too close to home under the rug.

    And it is my belief that humanizing violent people is not the same as condoning violence. It is simply acknowledging that there are horrible, broken circumstances in the world that can push (not force, but push) people in the direction of horrible, violent acts. Jesus saw humanness in every one, and I think Mr. McClaren would like to see his fellow Christians do the same.

  • David Marshall

    The act would be more convincing if Brian didn’t happen to be criticizing those he disagrees with politically, and showing so little fairness in the process. We conservative Christians all want to go back to the 1950s when Whites were privileged? Give me a break. Typical left-wing nonsense: the Democratic Party invested months in trying to blame opposition to Obama on racism, going so far as to invent racist slogans in front of the Capital Building that only Hearing Ear dogs and Democratic Party hacks could detect. (No one with cell phones could pick them up.) That kind of schtick gives the game away.

    As for Muslims, they have freedom in the US. The same can’t be said for Copts in Egypt, hundreds of whom have been murdered in recent years. In many Muslim countries, death is the normal, accepted penalty for converting out of Islam. Women are kept under virtual permanent house arrest in some Muslim countries. The prophet Mohammed modeled all this and more. I am friendly when I meet Muslims, and have gone out of my way to be kind to them. But I do think Islam is inherently flawed, as were Marxism and Fascism, and I don’t think it’s wrong to say so.

  • Guest

    One of the most troubling thing you hear from conservatives like this poster is a total lack of self criticism. I think Mclaren would be willing to look at his beliefs and see what needed to change: can conservatives do the same? I don’t think so. The reality is that the West has dominated the region and generally people don’t like being ruled by outsiders. I don’t believe in Islam but I think David’s comments equating it with Marxism and Fascism (those words tend to come in rapid succession from conservatives!) is abhorrent. Above all, the original poster simply takes a defensive attitude which is totally on vacation from reality. If I had a dollar for every time I heard about the oppression of the poor rich white man (typically from the South), I’d be a rich white man myself!

  • jsol

    The author of this article needs to stop creating false issues. The whole concept of the other and “humanizing the other” is literary in nature and gives the reader the opportunity to view the world from the point of view of someone who is opposite you. This process doesn’t condone the behavior of the other, rather it gives us a deeper understanding of the other and allows us to see that we, as all humans, are subject to making errors in judgement and in action. It allows us to view the world and those around us from a place of humility where we realize that at our core, and if not for God’s saving grace, we are just as capable of performing the evil we see around us. This type of thinking allows all of us to start from the same place instead of assuming a false moral superiority.

  • Jeremy Forbing

    Following the laudable statement that “It is simply wrong to use the rioters of September 11, 12, and 13 as stand-ins for Muslims at large” by almost immediately using McLaren as a stand-in for the progressive Christian Left at large (whose most energizing motivation is apparently “mocking and despising evangelical conservatives”) is a strangely tone-deaf sort of hypocrisy.

  • Carlos Weinheimer

    There are people that enjoy being oppressed and tortured, hence the popularity of the book “50 Shades of Grey” among women. Go figure.

  • John Haas

    “But the real energy for McLaren (and other members of the progressive Christian left) isn’t on opposing jihad, it’s mocking and despising evangelical conservatives.”

    We need a new organization. “Evangelicals In Opposition to Jihad,” perhaps. That’ll help.