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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. Kala

    What a load. Right now in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is crucifying people who oppose them. Whe I actually see a religion of peace from Islam I'd be happy to take another look. People have rejected those same tactics when used by Christians as qwell.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  2. jbrl

    Between Prophet Smith and Prophet Muhammed there are surprising similarities. So if the evangelicals can embrace a Mormon for president it really may be only a matter of time before they embrace a Muslim for president – as long as he is a Republican.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  3. Mohamiss Shafik-Kaddir

    Islam is the perfect way of life .
    Islam is best for human rights , rights for women , civil and economic law , family law, and effective religious practice .
    Only Islam , sumbission to Allah can bring the perfect world , and everlasting peace and prosperity .
    The vile Islamophobia ramapant in America will only hurt America , and the best path for American saftey is total submission to Islam , as a believer or as a Dhimmi . Submit to Islam , and know peace .

    August 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • loisferrari

      This is sarcasm, right?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • loisferrari

      Whoops, sarcasm comment posted to wrong OP. Sorry.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • One one

      Threatening people is not the best way to win them over. But at least we know where you are comming from.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Fred

      Funny...while you worship a pedophile (look it up) who murdered thousands of innocent people...you are a joke. You should learn the true story of who you worship.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Mohamiss: as long as you keep hating GAYS and LESBIANS...and KILLING THEM, your religion is called dangerous to Society.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • William

      @OP: the only way for the islamic world to achieve peace and stability is to stop worshiping the Arabian pagan moon god (allah)

      August 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Which God?

      @mohamissed. Missed again. Your religion is a fake, like your prophet, vile is his name, and illiterate and evil man. Like all religions it is made up fairy tales and worthless. No peace through islam.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  4. Rob

    Muslims attack America, they shall be no love here for them

    August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • J25

      Well, according to Jesus, if you don't love your neighbor and forgive others, God won't forgive you.

      Not many "Christians" who act like Jesus.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  5. Polar Bear

    Not going to happen until Islamists end their pervasive mistreatment of women and do something to weed out the extremists.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • J25

      Racism in America?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  6. Realist

    A bit about humanity.. Hitler, a god loving christian, stated the supreme race had blond hair and blue eyes – yet he didn't. The pope in ruby red shoes, ruby red hat and a dress, says gay is wrong. The christian KKK and christian white supremacist don't like blacks, yet their jesus was black.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  7. Fred

    Who in their right mind could ever support someone who worships a war mongering pedophile like the Muslims do? Mohammed had 11 wives...from 6 six years old up! Sick people...also whose religion states that it is OK to kill someone who doesn't believe the way they do.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • J25

      And how many wives and concubines did Solomon have?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • dr. livingstone

      J25- Solomon didn't decree it God's agenda to convert by the sword. ... not once in the Koran is the God of Islam described as 'loving.'

      August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • The Guy

      600 AD in the Near East is a very different time and place than 2012 America. You can't retroactively apply the values of your day on to peoples from past times and civilizations; to do so is simply fallacious and shows a lack of understanding of human history. Mohammed's marriage practices were the norm for that day; they would look at the things you do and the way you live and consider them outrageous.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • The Guy

      dr livingstone- have you actually read the Quran? Not had somebody tell you the jist of it, but actually sat down, and read the thing cover to cover?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • dr. livingstone

      The Guy-
      Surah enough. .. to pass on the rest that is. Have you read the Bible?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. Passerby

    Half of the people posting comments here against Muslims, have no idea what Islam is about. Stop believing what you see on TV, and pick up a FACTUAL book on Islam.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • J25

      Or, better yet, leave your little enclave and get to know 'your neighbor'.

      Love your neighbors? Love your enemies?

      Apparently, Jesus didn't actually mean anything he said?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Mark

      Just keep passing by. We learned about them on 911 and times after that. They have to stop trying to sell us what we don't want, and constantly the weak like you are helping them. Keep your ideas to yourself. And every day it's, this is what we want you have to recognize us you have to let us do this. You have to leave US alone. People who can think don't want to be constantly bothered by you or your BS religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  9. dr. livingstone

    ..surprising that this article misses the fact that Ryan's role as a Catholic would be secondary to that of Romney, steering the ship as a Mormon.. ..the 'faith' of which I see as nothing short of a cult.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Chelle

      Especially given the fact his grandfather was a fundamentalist Morman. Some of what Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other LDS "prophets" taught is frankly scary. Lying, cheating, and killing in the name of the faith was encouraged. Hmmmmmmmmm sound familiar?

      August 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  10. DonnerParty

    What are you,kidding?
    Who writes this stuff.?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    Damned Islam and Catholicism!

    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 11:12 am |
    • Mark

      STOP pushing religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  12. jay

    Lets just disregard most muslim countries are hostile to the US and have killed thousands of americans in terrorist attacks in the last decade or so. Dumb article.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Realist

      or that christians murdered innocent muslim women and children through oils wars.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • J25

      Or that the history of this country is based on murder and slavery.

      Just white wash it all.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • The Guy

      That's like saying all Christians and Europeans murder Jews because the Nazis did it in the 40's.

      Didn't Jesus say something like "No man shall bear the burden of another."?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Mark

      Realist........so 400 years later you want them to get even?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  13. ankenyman

    As soon as they stop beating and killing and throwing acid on their wives and daughters – killing our soldiers, supporting and threatening to destroy the USA and Israel – stoning adulterers and gays – just some minor little things like that – we will love them like Catholics. Only 90 percent of Muslim wives report physical abuse, and the other 10 percent are probably too intimated to report it..

    August 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • ankenyman

      correction to my post: intimidated, not intimated.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Aaron Smith

      Blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is like blaming all Christians for the actions of a select few. There are over a billion Muslims on this planet. I happen to know a few dozen, and every one is a good person. I believe they are more representative of 99% of Muslims worldwide than the few who commit such horrendous acts. Think of it this way: almost all the victims of Muslim violence are fellow Muslims and most live in nations with terrible oppressive governments. If anything they should have your love and sympathy, not be the target of your prejudice and hate.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • The Guy

      You blame the crimes of 1% of fundamentalists on the 99% of normal people. How Christian of you....

      August 19, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

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

    A threat to America? No, a threat to the whole world.

    Islam has reared its ugly head so many times in history through aggressive war and bloodshed that it is discredited for ever and ever.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • J25

      One would think that Jesus told his followers to hate everyone.

      Thankfully, we can read the Bible, because if we ever acted the way a lot of "Christians" today tell us to act, we'd be jumping on the devil's hate bandwagon.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Chelle

      Ummmmmmmmmmmm when?? Name one outright war STARTED by an Islamic nation against a Christian nation. Not 9/11, an actual war declared.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Rainer

      One could replace Christian for Islam in your post, and it would be more accurate.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  15. Joe John Jedi

    Love Muslims?
    Christians do blow people up. Thus it is possible to love Christians or Hindus or Jews or Bhuddists.
    But Muslims? Muslims_are_worse than animals.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Realist

      christian/muslim, all the same.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • The Guy

      1/4 of all humans are "animals"? I pity you.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  16. Realist

    time we treated religions as the businesses they are. And stop giving them our tax dollar, grant money. Make these freeloaders pay all taxes, including property tax. It's against my consti-tutional rights to support these delusional. Today, all Americans are carrying the tax burden for religions. That is wrong.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Bibletruth

      Probably every taxpayer in the United Sates would wretch if they reviewed the U.S. federal budget in detail and saw what they were paying for/suppoerting. LOL

      August 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  17. gabbo

    When they start actively rooting out their worst, I will begin to believe you. Until then, they are a band of cowards.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  18. eroteme

    I see no problem in having a Muslim vice president or president so long as that Muslim has not murdered his daughter/s for becoming too Westernized.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  19. Chuck

    We could learn to love them when they stop murdering Christians

    August 19, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Aaron Smith

      On the whole I believe it is accurate to say that "Christians" or rather the west has killed far more Muslims (civilians I'm speaking of, not armed insurgents) than vice-versa over the past dozen years. In aggregate, the number on innocents killed by western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the number of "Christians" killed by terrorist acts and soldiers killed combined. I say "Christians" because thankfully ours is a pluralistic society so our forces abroad and victims domestically (in the U.S.,Great Britain etc) include athiests, buddhists, christians, jews, and muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  20. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm still agog at how "mainstream Christians", including evangelicals, have suddenly embraced Mormons. It's hard to think of things to compare it with. It wasn't a wedding. More like they met, ran up to a motel room and still haven't come down yet.

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

      Its a new group where if they can convert them it is a lot of money for the organization. What my concern is, is what gives one group the right to try and convert someone from their own personal beliefs

      August 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Really-O?

      "My Hatfield bride sure is ugly, but at least she's not a McCoy" Priceless. Disingenuous.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Bibletruth

      to tucsand: thats too funny...for you I guess its out with the courts, teachers, parents, every salesman, etc. etc. lol

      August 19, 2012 at 11:16 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.