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:

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