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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. volsocal

    What's to love about moslems? I think the ball is in their court.

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

      And Bombs are also sent to their court.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  2. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    Common guys...can any of you trust the muslims? I dont....why? because: The muslims hate four things in this world: the US, Jews, Christians and Gays...in every muslim countries, they believe those four are PIGS

    August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • opinion8it

      ...as opposed to the GOP who hate non-christians; non-whites; women & gays? The GOP is the modern day "Taliban".

      August 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Reality

      Only hate I see coming from is Nazis like you.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  3. opinion8it

    Evangelicals are only acceptant of "Cathotholic" or "Mormon" candidates when they can get the "black" man out of office.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  4. Factoid 023949

    Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all based upon lies, misogynistic, murderous, and psychotic. Fact.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • JM

      That pretty much describes the human race and the entire history of mankind.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  5. BHS

    Islam is a deceitful and sinister "religion" They've infiltrated and trouble is on the way.

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

      ?

      Muslims have lived peacefully in this country for decades. They are doctors, engineers, teachers...

      Ah, stupidity...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Ted

      BHS, pretty much the same as Christianity then. Yeah, those religious mind viruses are hard to weed out.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • BHS

      Images of 911 should remind us all... They will do it again.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Reality

      Ignorant people like you are the reason for all the wars in world.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  6. jorge washinsen

    I hope Americans never become so stupid.Remember 9-11 and now Afghanistan

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

      Remember the Crusades, the murder of the Native Americans and slavery.

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

      Muslims can also say ,

      Remember Iraq ? Remember Bosnia ? Remember all the puppets ? Remember land stealing ?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  7. Factoid 023948

    Religious believers are more extreme the less educated they are. Fact.

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

      True dat.

      Thinking would be too difficult. Actually getting to know a Muslim American? That would require leaving the middle of nowhere and going somewhere modern, current, integrated.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • sqeptiq

      JM, the middle of nowhere is located in their heads. It's not a geographic place.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  8. PC3

    The great evils in the world are religion as a whole and the Republican Party.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Davidw0909

      So your voicing your hatred for someone who's believes in something you don't because they hate. Hmmm, don't you find it to be difficult to be a hypocrite?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • PC3

      I didn't voice my hate; that's what separates me from you. I don't hate people. I don't like their belief system. If the planet were full of people like me, who also dislike religion as much as I do, then there would be one less thing to fight about. That would be a beautiful thing.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  9. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    The muslims hate four things in this world: the US, Jews, Christians and Gays...in every muslim countries, they believe those four are PIGS...and how can you trust them? I certainly will not....

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

      Right wing people who call themselves "Christians" hate everyone except themselves. They are modern-day Pharisees.

      Jesus hated no one except the Pharisees.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Reality

      Hindus like you hate every one in world except Hindus.

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

    I think the world would learn to love Muslims a lot more quickly if Muslim-majority societies were to treat non-Muslim minorities with equality and dignity. Instead, the issue is completely ignored, and authors/activists for the Muslim community like Eboo Patel are simply tiptoeing around the 800-lb elephant in the room. People feel unhappy with the way non-Muslims are treated by Islam – specifically by Muslim majorities.

    People are also unhappy with the way the Left act as die-hard apologists for discrimination and oppression meted out to non-Muslim minorities by Islamic majorities.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Yes, as soon as the Muslims have got the majority, the Islam rears its ugly head.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • jbrl

      I agree completely.
      It should be obvious to muslim leaders in the U.S that to improve the image of Islam they need to loudly procalim the rights of nonmuslims in their countries of origin. Writing articles like this is unlikely to help – one has to walk the talk of the "religion of peace". Yet people like Eboo Patel never seem to get it. He seems like an intelligent man and yet....
      Perhaps the inequality of religions is too deep-seated, too central to Islam for them to deal with directly

      August 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  11. Filipino Agnostic

    Christians, whether Evangelicals, Christians, or whatever, try to love Muslims.

    But what everybody hates is what the Muslim believes: the subjugation of women, mixing religion with politics, etc.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Filipino Agnostic

      ...correction "whether Evangelicals, Catholics, or whatever"

      August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      I see no hole that needs filling except ground zero.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  12. Rainer Braendlein

    I never want to see you again dark age of Muhammad and the pope.

    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 10:38 am |
    • Jill

      Rainer, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

      So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

      Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

      Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

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

      Too much Text and blah, blah, blah. Could you sum up your points in 25 words or less, like the rest of us?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Pat

      Too much Text. Could you sum up in 25 words or less, like the rest of us?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • PC3

      Wait...You just said we're out of the dark ages; then you start spouting religion, which is from the dark ages.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  13. Arvoasitis

    It is great to read such a positive and uplifting outlook! There are intolerant people on the fringes of every religion who will try to sabotage the process but, ultimately, it is up to the majority to bring about harmony and acceptance.

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

      Of course religious people are intolerant. Religions are built wholly on inolerance and bigotry against the nonbelievers. They can disguise their beliefs as philosophies of peace, but all they've ever delivered was segregation and war.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  14. Jack

    Muslims have an elict to kill Christians. What's there to like....

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

      Clueless – How much murder have 'white Christians' purported over the centuries?

      By your logic, all white people are then evil. What's there to like?

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

      'perpetrated'

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

      Christian holy books preach to kill witches, gays, cheating wives, misbehaving children, other religions, and people who make interest on money. Both religions are disturbing in what they teach children.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  15. TommyD

    Americans do not need to "love" or respect Muslims in the way the media wants them too....they have rights, if they are american citizens, around freedom of expression and dignity in a civil society. Islam is a warped religion, period. Look at the way they treat woman and gays around the world....thats just an example. Catholics are Christians, period...muslims are not and it is what it is. Radical/progressive Islam is a growing threat, and like the Crusades, it must be dealt with....

    August 19, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Reality

      So here is example of non-Muslims treatement of Muslims
      1. Bosnia – 200000 Muslims dead
      2. Iraq – 1 million Muslims dead
      3. Israel – want to grab whole Muslim land.
      4. Myanmar want to kill all Muslims or kick them out
      5. In India Assamese want to kill all Muslims or kick them out.

      So if these are the example of non-Muslims than Muslims are much tolerant to non-Muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    A true Christian is a believer in the sacred teachings of God, someone who believes in the spiritual santuary of God. A true believer that practices the teachings of God, a faithful person who loves thy neighbor. One who doesn't discriminate against his neighbor, one who doesn't attack people because of the color of their skin, socio-economic class, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliatioN. I'm afraid Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are blatant bigoted racists who do not represent the true meaning of what it means to be a Christian. By the way, why am I talking about religion? These candidates are running for office to screw the American people again so let's forget religion and talk about state, as in state of the economy. 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 and Mitt Romney, you're not the solution, You're the PROBLEM. Please go away.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  17. usagainstyou

    If Americans ever elected a known muslim into Washingtron they would be the absolute stupidest people in the world. I hope it never happens!

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

      The most stupid people in the world elected a muslim from Michigan into congress some time ago.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Pat

      It did... Obama

      August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      I thought they elected Pat's mama.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Seyedibar

      it will never happen. And Obama is a closet atheist pretending to be a christian. not a muslim.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Pat

      No, blah-blah, you are really ignorant and stupid, just like your Mama

      August 19, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Reality

      You are the most stupid

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  18. scarshapedstar1

    Um... yeah, the people who hate Obama because they think he's a Muslim totally love Muslims.

    Granted, those people are lying and really hate him because he's black, but still, this is like a three-crack-rock article.

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

      Hate Obama because he's black? No, dislike Obama because he is the "Do Nothing President" who lies every time he opens his mouth.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  19. Your Panties in Texas

    I don't wanna love those Arabs. Keep America Safe.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  20. nolimits3333

    The 3 great evils in the world are Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Republican Party.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      The four things muslims hate are: the US, gays, jews, christians....

      August 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Pat

      Don't forget the Dumocrats

      August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Bibletruth

      The only evil in the world is sin, for which the bible has only one definition: Sin is the transgression of the law (ten commandments)...some versions translate the same verse as "sin is lawlessness" which is probably closer to the Greek...but both mean exactly the same thing. And if you have broken the least of these (of the ten) commandments you have broken them all. Because, the slightest willful sin (think white lie or whatever comes to mind) is = to murder, and if that seems impossible or weird, or "how can that be", etc. it is only because you do not realize the horror of sin and what it has cost.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:50 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.