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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. Jim

    Evangelicals love Muslims because that's Christianity, even though right know like in Kenya Muslims killed17 Christians and the persecution on Iran is deadly.
    Muslims cannot kill the spirit, they can the body but not the spirit.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  2. Peter Grenader

    To the Evangelicals making comments about the evil of the Muslim religion:

    goto: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scandals_involving_evangelical_Christians

    August 19, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Ahmad

      When is the last time a Christian Evangelical beheaded a person? Threw acid on them? Put a suicide vest on them and walked into a crowded store? Wake up buddy...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Albert

      Yeah but look up the inquisitions.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  3. Ahmad

    LOL! We already have a Muslim president. Pretty sure Barack Hussein Obama isn't a catholic name...

    August 19, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Stop lying.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Ahmad

      Oh, so is it a Hindu name??

      August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      Right, because once your parents a'ssign you a name, that's it.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Ahmad

      "In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school ... I studied the Koran."
      "The person who made me proudest of all, though, was [half brother] Roy. He converted to Islam."
      "Lolo (Obama's step father) followed a brand of Islam ... I looked to Lolo for guidance."

      August 19, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Albert

      Pretty sure Ahmad isn't your real name.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  4. Mark Yelka

    Islam is a grossly intolerant religion. It is not possible to be "friends" with Islam. The same holds true with devout Muslims. For those Muslims who don't entirely follow Islam, there is the possibility of friendship. Don't be fooled: Islam recognizes only their supremacy.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Blondie

      You sound like any number of white fundamental born again christian male church leaders.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  5. josh

    so no addresses for the jizya checks? come on guys

    August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Tariq

      Amazingly it is Christians who have killed more people than any one. Bombing of Hiroshima , Nagasaki, world war 1 and two are few examples.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Ahmad

      Funny I don't remember Christians starting WWII. Seems like it was the Nazis and the atheist nation Soviet Union...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Bess

      Tariq and Ahmad, those are non sequiturs as far as the veracity of what the religions claim goes. But atheism isn't a religion and doesn't itself mandate killing per se the way Christianity and Islam do clearly in their holy books.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Who me?

      Hitler was guided by divine providence and his legions swore an oath to god.He then embarked on a mission to control the world and eliminate an entire religion which was un-like his own.Hardly an atheist...and if you care to look at facts...the secular nation of the USSR was invaded 2 years after the war started,and were instrumental in defeating the evil of Nazism

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  6. SitOnThis

    Are we arguing which stupidity is better?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  7. citizenKK

    I know....if the Muslims would just...

    stop blowing themselves up
    stop cutting off the heads of Christians
    stop throwing acid on women and girls
    stop flying planes into buildings
    just stop being....period.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • SitOnThis

      They need re-education.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Blondie

      If Christians would:
      Stop getting mullets
      Stop shopping at Walmart
      Stop eating at Chick Filet
      Stop weighing over 300 lbs
      Stop dropping out of high school
      Stop having babies

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      I'm glad that so many christians disagree with Christ–you know, loving your enemies and doing good to those that spitefully use you bullsh!t.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Tariq

      Ok now ask the Christians to do the same please. World war 1, 2 and hitler are the examples of Christian blood thirsty goons

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  8. labandme

    Muslims have ruined every country they've taken over and now they've moved here. Get ready....

    August 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Oh, the fear mongering.......

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Tariq

      I think you mean Christian west which colonized muslims and then gave and supported leaders like Mubarak and bassar ul Assad.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  9. Joe in Kalispell

    There is never going to be peace between Islam and Western civilization.Their values are opposite of everything we hold dear. Every country where Islam is ascendant becomes a theocracy and other religions are banned and/or persecuted.

    They claim to preach peace and tolerance but their long history of religious conquest and violence shows that to be false.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Completely unlike the conquest and murder of the Catholic faith?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  10. Scott

    What's the matter edweird69? Have a hard time typing the word "Christian"? Or are you just yet another who "thiniks" that spelling it "Xtain" is somehow an insult to us Christians. To use a flaming liberalism, let me "educate" you. The "X" that you use is in reality the Greek letter Chi. Chi is the first letter in the word "Christ" when spelled in Greek. Therefore, no insult implied 🙂

    Have a nice day,
    Scott

    August 19, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  11. Karma

    all BS !!

    Muslims are taught to dis-respect other religions. Allah says they will go to HELL if they dont worship him.
    Which other religion says so, which God has such an ego other than humankind ?

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

      Muslims disrespect other religions? Aren't ALL religions, particularly Christianity, commanded to convert others, as in your religion is wrong, but mine is right?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Scott

      Actually Christianity states that those that have not accepted Christ will go to Hell. HOWEVER, unlike the pedophile (Mohammad) Christ never EVER told believers to go out and slaughter the non-Christians. True, a bunch did, but they were NOT following the teachings of Jesus. On the other had, the child molester (Mohammad) DID tell its followers to go out an murder non-muslims.

      Scott

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Well, in the 1950s, that was exactly what I, as a young catholic, was taught. Only catholics could be saved and all the other so-called christians were doomed. Anybody remember that the church would not allow a mixed marriage unless the non-catholic partner signed a paper saying any children must be raised catholic? How times have changed.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • GrampaSez

      Don't know if you were being serious, or have the capacity for honesty. But the answer is "pretty much all of them". The atheists and anti-theists, and many agnostics say every but them is hurt by all religion. Catholics say you have to be catholic. Mormons say you have to be mormon. Protestant Christians say you have to be protestant christian. Most from the islamic or judeo-christian (AND atheist faiths) say you HAVE to believe like "they do" to be saved.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Who me?

      .@ Scott..you play fast and loose with the phrase,child molester.I would think that a christian would be more hesitant when bringing up that subject, as the RCC has harboured pedophiles for hundreds of years.Just sayin'..

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  12. josh

    I just want to know where i can send my 'jizya' check to, any addresses for the collections?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  13. jcvet33

    How much longer can CNN survive? They call this a news site? I always have to go anywhere else to get the real news.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Why are you here? Just trolling?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  14. maestra730

    Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim, and he got elected. However, as it is now clear that his primary goal as President has been to completely destroy the United States, it would be in every American's best interest not to elect another Muslim ever again. He has only contempt and hatred for this country, as most Muslims do.

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

      Clearly you are reetarded and mentally deficient. Your bleateing nonesense is NOT interesting to ANYONE.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • AJW3

      Cue in the theme song from 'The Twilight Zone'.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • JOE

      blondie- obama is muslim.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Joe: No, he isn't.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • genijus104212

      hes not muslim idoit look it up retard stop saying random things

      August 19, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • JAGGAR

      Absolutely agreed. It is not a stupid statement at all. If people would open their eyes, they would see he has done nothing but put us in bankrupcy and required businesses and NASA to jire more Muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Delusions are treatable if you get professional help. But first, stay away from infectious organisms like hate talk radio.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  15. DJ Reality

    I am a Catholic and I don't think all Muslims are bad. Hey I even like some Protestants

    August 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • cuervo jones

      a much better catholic than i sir. frankly though i prefer Muslims over heretics. at least they pick a way and stick to it. lol the way Protestants go "church shopping." the more preaching and least actually praying the better for some i guess

      August 19, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Who me?

      @ these 2 catholics.You were both born atheists.Your religion was chosen for you by your parents.Have you tried to explore the possibility that perhaps you were meant to worship differently-or not at all?I think not.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  16. Skippy

    Tell Muslims to stop killing people all over the world for "religious" reasons and then we can talk about accepting them.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Tariq

      Muslims are the ones being killed in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan and mosques have been attacked in USA as well.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  17. free101

    There is nothing to love about Muslims. IT is tyranical rule of Mullahs over people. Any good Muslim will leave that religion. But because they are really bad, they stuck together to harass other innocent in the world and they turn around and ask for our love. Do not be fooled by these kind of authors, comedians, actors. They are all a part of the plot.
    If you do not trust me, study the ethnic cleansing going on in Middle East and Pakistan, Bangladesh. Those poor people have no voice.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  18. mojoquasi

    If you really want to know about Muslims and Islam there is a site you can go to which is totally factual. And it is appropriately: thereligionofpeace.com

    Whether it changes your opinion or not, at least you will have some knowledge of what they're all about.

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

      Perhaps what is more important than a website describing a religion is how are nonbelievers treated within the religion.
      Eboo may want to ask himself how nonmuslims are treated in nonmuslim countries ?
      Has Eboo expressed concern about what has happened to the Christians of Iraq ? How are nonmuslims, including Ahmediyas, faring in places like Pakistan or the Bahais in Iran? Perhaps the writer needs to shift his focus to supporting the rights of nonmuslims in such places. That is actually the key to decreasing bias against muslims in the U.S. After that people may be willing to take a website called "religionofpeace" more seriously

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  19. Johny Utah

    Muslims do not like gays. It is in the Koran and lots of them follow what their holy book says. As a result, lots of gays becoming victims egen gotten killed in the muslim countries.

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

      Nobody likes gays.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Who me?

      @ Sitonthis...SITONWHAT ?..time to clean out your closet-get rid of all that sticky underwear- and stuff.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  20. Seyedibar

    Of course it should be easy for evangelicals to love Muslims Their hogwash religions are nearly identical. But they'll never make peace because the entire point of religion is to promote bigotry and exclude as many as possible from the small group that thinks only they will find heaven. It's all preposterous, and I'm not likely to show any compassion toward either group.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:25 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.