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My Take: How evangelicals could grow to love Muslims
The Islamic Center of America, a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan.
August 18th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: How evangelicals could grow to love Muslims

Editor's Note: Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. His new book is called "Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America."

By Eboo Patel, Special to CNN

Paul Ryan has set off joyous cheers in the land of conservatives largely because of his fiscal views but also because of his Catholic faith.

He is just the most recent member of his church – think House Speaker John Boehner, Republican runner-ups Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia – to be viewed as a flag-bearer for the conservative cause, a movement whose foot soldiers are largely evangelical Protestants.

The dynamic of evangelicals cheering for Catholics is one of the most stunning shifts in American political history. Just 50 years ago, evangelicals were ringing the alarm about the rising prominence of Catholics in American politics, not falling in line behind them.

“Our freedom, our religious freedom, is at stake if we elect a member of the Roman Catholic order as president of the United States,” Norman Vincent Peale told a conference of evangelical leaders in September 1960.

Materials handed out at the Peale conference claimed ‘Universal Roman Catholicism’ was both a religion and a political force whose doctrines were ultimately incompatible with the American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy.

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And the conference's keynote address alleged that Catholics practiced “mental reservation,” which allowed them to lie about their intentions in order to gain power. And when they succeeded, they would make second-class citizens of everyone else.

Replace “Roman Catholic” with “Muslim” and “Church hierarchy” with “caliphate” in those pronouncements and today we are witnessing a similar energy directed against a different faith community using largely the same categories.

In today’s parlance, Kennedy was part of a stealth jihad meant to replace the U.S. Constitution with sharia law and practicing taqqiyya to mask this dawa offensive.

As they believed about Catholicism then, many evangelicals now view the very nature of Islam as incompatible with American values. Evangelicals rate Muslims lower on a "‘favoribility" scale than any other religious group, according to "American Grace," a book by scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

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Evangelical churches are favorite venues for Islamophobic speakers and prominent evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham regularly call Islam a threat to America.

It is easy to draw a straight line between the evangelical anti-Catholic prejudice of previous generations and the Islamophobia of today, essentially saying that “evangelicals have to hate someone.”

But that’s too cynical a take for me. The more interesting - and certainly more hopeful - storyline is the one about change.

Evangelical attitudes changed markedly towards Catholics in the past generation, and they are changing towards Muslims now.

Without doubt, the evangelical shift on Catholics can be partially explained by the two religion traditions finding common cause on political issues like abortion. But in "American Grace," Putnam and Campbell point to what they believe is a more important reason.

Over the course of the past fifty years, more evangelicals got to meet Catholics and the warmth in those personal relationships became generalized towards the larger community. If your Pal Al is Catholic and a good guy, then by extension Catholics as a group and Catholicism as a religion have some good qualities.

This is precisely the dynamic taking place between evangelicals and Muslims, a story for me best illustrated by a Dallas-based pastor named Bob Roberts. Bob grew up in the 1960s in East Texas and remembers the Pope regularly being referred to as “the Great Whore of Babylon” in his father’s Southern Baptist church.

He absorbed the anti-Catholic prejudice along with everyone else. But when he went on service trips to Southeast Asia as an adult, he discovered that the people doing the most intense, committed development work were inevitably Catholic. At first he admired them from afar. Then he got to know some up close, and they turned out to be not so bad.

After September 11, 2001, the anti-Muslim feeling was open and intense in Bob’s community. Truth be told, Bob felt it himself.

But he was self-aware enough to recognize the similarity between the irrational prejudice he absorbed about Catholics growing up and what he saw happening toward Muslims now.

So he did the same thing with Muslims that he’d done with Catholics: get to know them personally through common projects. Bob has traveled everywhere from Afghanistan to Gaza to do interfaith service projects with Muslims.

And now he is bringing fellow evangelicals along and involving the members of his Dallas mega-church in local interfaith projects. He’s speaking to young evangelical leaders about the importance of building relationships with Muslims as a Christian practice.

I know because in the midst of the opposition to the so-called Ground Zero mosque a couple years ago, a young pastor came to my office and asked me to guest preach about Islam at his evangelical church. He told me that Bob had sent him.

This is how communities change. Evangelicals make up 40% of America – when they change, America changes.

Maybe in 50 years, there will be no surprise when the loudest cheerleaders for Muslim presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices are evangelical Christians.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eboo Patel.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (2,441 Responses)
  1. hog

    muslims don't even like muslims!!!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • edweird69

      Xtians don't like other sects of Xtians either. What's your point?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • SitOnThis

      It's a religious dog-eats-dog world out there. Time for the atheists to prevail once and for all.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  2. Scott

    From the article: The dynamic of evangelicals cheering for Catholics is one of the most stunning shifts in American political history.

    No surprise that the Evangelicals are supporting a Catholic or a Mormon. Unlike the vile raggheadd [sic] terrorist lover in the White Mosque, Catholics and Mormons are Christians.

    Scott

    August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Who me?

      .tell it to bin Laden...I am not cursed-or blessed-with un-reasoned credulity and was not to be gulled by the fascinating simplicity and ready security that is offered in neat little watertight packages.done up in gaudy ribbons,by religion..FM.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  3. JM

    Fortunately, as the younger generations are more integrated and, as you say, know other kids who are 'different' than they are, they grow up with the understanding that they are more alike (American) than different. The valedictorian at my school was Muslim; he went to Harvard; he was about as American as one can get. Only a moron would 'fear' someone like that rather than being proud of/for him.

    God created everyone (intentionally). Jesus came preaching love. He was angry at the self-righteous religious jerks who (for no apparent reason) thought more highly of themselves than anyone else. HE told them that the people they were haranguing were entering the kingdom of heaven before them.

    Sadly, many "Christians" don't actually read the Bible or have any idea what they are talking about (when they claim to be speaking for God).

    August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  4. mike

    Does anyone in CMM ( mony money has working brain). Just look in history when they got majority what they did to that country and rest of faiths.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  5. SitOnThis

    Although most Americans are religious (which doesn't exactly make them bright), I think they are smart enough not to vote for a Muslim.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • edweird69

      So voting for an "Xtian" is better? The bible is totally pro-murder. It filled with countless stories of senseless killing.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • SitOnThis

      It is better, at least we have Chrsitmas.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  6. Blondie

    Oh puhleeaze. Evangelicals are no more capable of acceptance than the taliban is. What a crock of bs.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • edweird69

      AGREED !

      August 19, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • drumbeg

      right. the clean up crews following Katrina and the Al tornados were just overrun with agnostics and muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • edweird69

      @drumbeg – There were many many other groups there assisting. I made donations myself, and I'm atheist. Xtians do this type of work to prosyletize their religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  7. Robert

    Maybe so, but would have to leave their religion in the bedroom!!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Hang it up in the closet!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  8. Glenn

    Americans, unfortunately, put their religion ahead of their politics... meaning that they'd rather vote for a Christian socialist over a Buddhist capitalist. I can't ever see a non-Christian being voted in as president.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  9. Robert

    So anybody home??

    August 19, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  10. fatal42

    As a christian, I can turn the other cheek, when the mudslimes SAY if they can't convert me it's their duty to kill me , BUT as a father and grandfather I refuse to turn the other cheek when it comes to my children & grandchildren. I will Never accept them !!!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Who me?

      Your true christian feelings-and hatred of anyone not like you-are showing through.I'm sure your be-loved g-children will carry on your family tradition of hate ,and will continue by calling billions of people Mudslimes.Stay classy.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  11. Jim

    Is Barack Obama a Muslim? I say "no," but a lot of people believed (and still believe) he is, and he won the 2008 election by an overwhelming vote. I submit to you that since Americans, including evangelicals, are willing to support a candidate that many believe is a Muslim in disguise, they would also support an open, practicing, and proud Muslim.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  12. CnotPC

    When this religion no longer supports terrorism and roots out terrorists in it ranks. Stops calling for the destruction of entire peoples, then there maybe a chance at dialog.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      Isn't your god going to torture all muslims forever and ever in the eternal fire pit he built and maintains? There's no comparison between their desires and your god's desires; your god's desires are far more horrifying and disgusting.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Scott

      Correct CnotPC! Christianity got over that hundreds of years ago. Until the supposed "Religion of Peace" grows up, they should be treated as the terrorists lovers that they are. Which includes the poser in the White House.

      Scott

      August 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  13. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Never mind religion...seperation of church and state please. So let's talk about state as in state of the economy. With that being said, the last time Paul Ryan put his fiscally conservative budget into play, the GOP controlled both the House and Senate and the Executive branch and the end result was a squandered surplus, record unemployment, high inflation, a housing crisis, a broken banking system and the worst economic crisis in America since the Great Depression. Hey Paul Ryan, you're not the solution. You're the PROBLEM. Please go away.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  14. edweird69

    The act of murder is rampant in the Bible. In much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are laws that command that people be killed for absurd reasons such as working on the Sabbath, being gay, cursing your parents, or not being a virgin on your wedding night. In addition to these crazy and immoral laws, there are plenty of examples of God's irrationality by his direct killing of many people for reasons that defy any rational explanation such as killing children who make fun of bald people, and the killing of a man who tried to keep the ark of God from falling during transport. There are also countless examples of mass murders commanded by God, including the murder of women, infants, and children.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      Don't forget the Great Flood that was supposed to kill EVERYBODY except Noah and his family!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  15. watash60

    there is no way possible for anyone to love/trust a muslim. Just look at what they do to our service people that try to help them and how they even love to blow up their own people. Maybe its possible for a brain dead liberal but for anyone else forget it.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      As an atheist, I think it's stupid as fvck to "love your enemies and to do good to those who spitefully use you," and I'm glad so many christians agree with me instead of the words of their christ.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Really-O?

      I have a couple of comments here –

      @watash60 – nice job sowing the seeds of ignorance, tribalism, and prejudice that are the roots of human conflict for the last 100,000+ years.

      @Moby Schtick – I'm a bit surprised this came from you. That said, when "love thine enemy" is taken as a commandment, it is, indeed, objectionable and nonsensical; however, when viewed as a tool of mental hygiene to be used for one's own benefit, it's value becomes more clear. Anger, as long as it does not result in violence, is only damaging to the one who is angry. It is also a waste of time and energy that could be put to better use. Thoughts?

      ...one "preemptive strike"...I'm not a pacifistic, so we don't need to argue about defense, either personal or military. I'm referring to psychological well-being.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Really-O?

      ...and, once again, an example of my shoddy proof-reading..."pacifistic" should, of course, be "pacifist".

      August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  16. Rainer Braendlein

    Middle ages are over, we live after Enlightenment. Don't allow the Islamic and Catholic beast to take over rule again. We need politicians like Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia, who was a lover of virtue, grace and righteousness.

    "The dynamic of evangelicals cheering for Catholics is one of the most stunning shifts in American political history. Just 50 years ago, evangelicals were ringing the alarm about the rising prominence of Catholics in American politics, not falling in line behind them.", Mr. Patel said.

    This is a real problem. The Catholic Church is not only a church, but also a state which wants to increase its influence. If too many members of the administration of a secular country are Catholic, there is high danger that the pope gets too much influence. The pope and his clergy was never in history concerned about the soul's health of the Catholics or anybody else, but only about increasing their temporal power, honor and riches. In fact, the pope is the most cunning criminal which lives on earth. He uses religion as a smokescreen for his malice.

    One of the greatest leaders of Enlightenment was Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia (peace be upon him). He himself was a Protestant, but kept it somewhat secret. In Pruzzia there was religious freedom, although Frederic was convinced of the progressiveness of Protestantism. Frederic knew exactly that wolves in sheep's clothing could even affect Protestant Churches, and abuse them, in order to reach their selfish aims. Frederic did not want to promote any religious group, because he did not want to promote any wolves in sheep's clothing, nevertheless Frederic was a lover of genuine Christianity according to Jesus Christ's intentions.

    Yet, basically true (ideal) Protestantism doesn't aspire for temporal rule, power, honor and wealth, and is thus the most advanced religion. True Protestantism according to Jesus intentions, is merely concerned about the soul's health of the Christians or all human beings.

    Islam and Catholicism always aspire for temporal rule, honor and riches. This belongs to their core tenets, and in so far they are dangerous. The dark age was dark simply because the evil popes and the evil successors of Muhammad ruled the world. In Europe Frederic the Great finished the rule of the pope, and thus the dark age around 1742 a. D. (peace and honor to Frederic).

    Let us love our ordinary Muslim and Catholic neighbours, but let us be on the alert when they want to take over rule. Only a few Muslims and Catholics should be allowed to hold public offices.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    Jesus is the only one who can cure our souls. Ask him, and he will give you eternal health.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • edweird69

      Ask him? He's all-knowing, doesn't he already "know" I desire eternal health? Do you make your children "ask" for everything Rainer, or do you just know when they need their bfast, lunch, dinner? What drivel you post!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @edweird69

      If you really would desire eternal health, you would be my brother, and appreciate my post. Obviously, you are a liar, and you desire nothing.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • edweird69

      @Rainer – there's no such thing as eternal health...total fantasy

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  17. DTEXUS

    NO. THANK YOU. HONESTLY IT IS THE RELIGION I HATE MOST IN THIS WORLD........

    August 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      And that's why they hate you and your religion. Can't blame them, can you?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  18. Benny Blanco

    Muslims and Evangelicals are equally ignorant and are living in a past where religion explains the mysteries of life. And as long as we have psychos of these calibers running countries, we are all in trouble.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    Materials handed out at the Peale conference claimed ‘Universal Roman Catholicism’ was both a religion and a political force whose doctrines were ultimately incompatible with the American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy.

    This is still valid today, nothing to add on.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  20. Eugene

    How could muslims be Ok if their religion, the core of their philosophical view of life, is a barbaric throwback to ancient pre-history. Despite what individual muslims say, their religion preaches and supports hate against anyone who does not follow it to the letter.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Prufert

      You are correct.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Bibletruth

      "barbaric throwback"?????????where have you been living...friendly LOL....Have you never seen the news in the last (your age) years??????? What has changed except names and places every day. There is absolutely no change in human nature. The most dangerous individual on the planet...in the universe...is the individual that does not know or believe what the bible says about the fallen nature of man.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
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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.