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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. achepotlex

    They will be a fearful force when the Christina hillbillies and Muslim village dwellers realize their hatred of gays, women and democracy unites them more than their baseball caps and turbans divide them.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  2. Rainer Braendlein

    "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"

    Indeed, this is the evil strategy pursued by Islam and Catholicism still today.

    We need strong enlightened rulers who can protect us against the Islamic and Catholic beasts.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  3. Mike

    This is indeed a "love-fest" for the most vile, desperate, woman-abusing, child abusing pedophilic, murderous, retarded, inbred, mentally deficient people on earth.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Seyedibar

      a descripton that aptly describes both christians AND muslims

      August 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I hear conservatives are planning a new assault on the Muslim world. No, they're not planning to burn the Quran anymore. They're just going to boycott filling their tanks with gas from the Middle East. That is as soom as they figure out how to walk to and from work or how they are goint to travel to that exclusive vacation resort or how they're going to heat their homes in winter or cook on their stove. Right wing racist A/holes.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  5. Bill M.

    If you love America be American and dress like Americans. You left your country for change and a better life. Well than change.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Realist

      but please,, don't become christian.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  6. Karloff

    Well, you can love Muslims...just don't trust them. Never trust totalitarian organizations–especially a totalitarian religion.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • sqeptiq

      You apparently have no idea what totalitarian means.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  7. Jesus

    Um yeah evangelicals reach out to Muslims , lgbt community, Mormons and Jehovah's witness. We are tolerant. We hope to win them to Christ through our love for them in hopes that it will open doors to reason with them that believing in Jesus Christ is the most logical consistent decision one could ever make in life.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • TheBob

      Evangelicals are the Taliban of Christianity. The only reason they don't behead people for not being Christian is that they can't. Not any more. Not under the laws of these United States of America. If they are ever allowed to do what they want, they will be every bit as blood thirsty as the Taliban.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • sqeptiq

      The KKK and Aryan Nations claim to be christian; how is that different from Al-Quaeda's claim to be muslim?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  8. Ahmad

    You know CNN's ratings would be in the toilet it weren't for these controversial articles. Who comes here for actual news anymore??

    August 19, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      CNN sucks and Anderson is gay...

      August 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  9. tucsand

    In our government Church and State is suppose to be separate anyway so what difference does it actually make what religion our president practices, is that not more of personal choice?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Realist

      we were suppose to be protected from these religions. Freedom from religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Ahmad

      It's freedom of religion skippy...

      August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • tucsand

      Realist that's why our country was founded to escape religious persecution.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  10. Michael

    My take-religion is a mental illness.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  11. Realist

    some christian believe they never evolved, I'd have to agree. Wish they would one day and join civilized man.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Ahmad

      What ever you say Ape boy...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Realist

      yes ape=those who never evolved, religionist. Thank you.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Ahmad

      You have more faith than I do.... Amazing life was created over billions of years by a freak accident from nothing and everything evolved so perfect. Hecks yeah, you are a man of great faith!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      @Ahmed

      What were you describing just them? It certainly wasn't any theory put forth by science. People who understand what evolution is believe it just like people who understand what Algebra is believe it. OF course, it's always easier to say that it was done by magic and special incantations of powerful, invisible wizards.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  12. Jimmy

    Interesting... no where is it mentioned that Muslims will eventually grow to 'love' infidels. The politically incorrect but truth is that many if not most Muslims (at least the Muslims that wear the full body gowns) in my neck of the woods, look at white people with disdain. They don't move a budge in shopping aisles or sidewalks forcing others to the side. A few people who work with Muslims I know say they view us as second class animals. Maybe we should hold off our open-arms love fest until we see some hint of reciprocal feelings.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  13. jorge washinsen

    Won't be long until the ones who snuck in here from across our Southern border will be Obama voters and can apply for real jobs citizenship or our military.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • cuervo jones

      many nationalities are in our military actually. you probably had important things (Cheney) to do than enlist yourself. is that why you don't know this?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      Did I say anything about Mexicans? We had a killing at Fort Hood that had nothing to do wiith Mexicans but was a Muslim soldier.Many of the same ones are coming across or Southern Border sneaking into our society and work is not what drives them.They are here to kill Americans just as the Afghans who we trust into the midst of our soldiers.You can not fight a war with half of your force the enemy.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  14. Charmin'

    each time Islam is mentioned, a lot of cowards on here generalize by saying "religion" of "Christians" have also blah blah blah. You'll never truly understand Islam until yo are a non muslim living e lived under Sharia.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      I have to agree with them.Religion and God do not have any connection.Murder of women and children in the name of religion separate the two.Religion was invented by man when one fellow figured if he could convince 10 poeple to give a tenth to his church he would not have to work.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Charmin'

      jorge : it's fine. be ignorant and continue to generalize by condemning folks you don't agree with. I respect any religion that does not preach hate and murder, and if you happen to not believe in God...all the best. end of story. Let's leave each other alone. all this arrogance stemming from hate is unjust.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      To Charmin.There you are putting words into a topic instead of listening.I separated religion and God.Why does all 10,000 recognized religions all agree there is but one God.Why is 10,000 different versions of religion out there? I said nothing about not believing in a higher power,one who would not be a party to the shenanagans going on in the name of religion.Read the history of the damage the Catholics did to South American indians by killing and taking their disease with them in the pursuit of gold.Why does religon need gold?God has no use for it.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • sqeptiq

      You'll never truly understand what christianity ISN'T until you're a Sikh, or a Muslim, or Gay or a nonbeliever living in the US.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Stevo

    Lol how about them loving us?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      They're your enemies. Didn't jesus say to love your enemies? What an idiot.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  16. Realist

    christian/muslim,, all the same.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  17. crawfishsclaw

    Evangelicals, other Christians, and Jews will never accept a muslim candidate as long as the Quran calls for all non-muslims to be converted, enslaved (dhimmitude), or killed.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Realist

      kinda like christian agendas.. Looking through history, I think most are sick and tired of the delusional religions.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Ahmad

      Yes we are sick and tired of the religion of atheism...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • cuervo jones

      doesn;t the Jew testament call for the genocide of every man woman child animal and tree if they want your land? why yes, yes it does.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  18. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    I dont trust the muslim because they hate gays, the US, christians/catholics and jews...!!!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • cuervo jones

      and you hate them so what?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  19. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit... thestarofkaduri.com

    August 19, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  20. tucsand

    Let me see if I have this right, if I don't maybe someone can correct me.

    It seems the Evangelicals are doing the same exact thing the Catholics did in their rise to a religious super power. Evangelicals are just trying to convert everyone to their religion and will not be happy until they do no matter what the extent is they have to do it with.

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

      Well, whatever methods that are used, they are totally out of sync with Jesus if they violate "whosoever will". There is not the slightest element of coercion in true christianity. Satans methods always involve coercion (soft to hard) to abject violence.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • tucsand

      Bibletruth sorry about this but I accidentally clicked on "Report Abuse" on you and I didn't mean to. CNN will see it was an error and nothing was in your post to report an abuse from.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:02 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.