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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. BP

    Is this article supposed to humor? Love Muslims , what a joke, probably when Hell freezes over. Just another touching story brought to you by CNN.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Realist

      hey, at least the christian jesus looked muslim

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

    Go to hell and suffer great torture for eternity!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • tucsand

      I'm already doing that here on Earth, I live in Tucson in which if I go to hell I'll probably be asking to turn up the heat its freezing down here 🙂 which to the bible is Earth not hell, Did God not through his brother down to Earth?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • oy

      Is this your idea of WWJD?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  3. tucsand

    Has anyone noticed when you see the Evangelicals in their place of worship usually a big stadium all the members appear like they are robots?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Realist

      that's why they call each other sheep.. How funny is that!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Robot is from a Czech word meaning "work".

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • sharkfisher

      Tucsand You make it very clear that you have read NIETHER the Bible or the Quran .Adam and Eve did not eat an apple. They ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Please read both books .

      August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  4. SitOnThis

    It's obvious that all religious people will go to hell!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  5. GDM

    I think muslims should crawl back under the rock from whence they came. They are ignorant barbarians. All they want to do is kill everyone who isn't a muslim. They encroach on countries and commit acts of terrorism to try and gain a "territory" of their own so as to continue to commit acts of terrorism.

    I think it's time that the world rose up against muslims and eradicate them from this earth.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • oy

      Someone is ignorant here. I don't think it's the "barbarians" you speak of.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  6. rayornot

    When Muslims such as Mr. Patel start lecturing Muslims about tolerance of other religions and equality of women in places like Karachi, Riyadh and Cairo, I'll help him lay the cornerstone of the Ground Zero Mosque.

    Ever notice that Muslims preach 'tolerance' in the most tolerant countries where they are minorities who will benefit from it? We hear so much about 'Islamophobia'. Why is there no 'Buddhaphobia, Hinduphobia, Bahiaphobia, etc.? Maybe because these folks aren't actively trying to murder our citizens. It's the Jihad, stupid. Lose that and we'll talk.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • oy

      Remember when that Christian Rightist shot and k.illed an abortion dr. in Amherst, NY? I do.
      There are crazies in EVERY religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • rayornot

      Yup... it's just a matter of number. Tell you what: I'll pass out Korans in Lynchburg Va., and you pass out Bibles in Kabul or Tehran. We'll find out where the crazies are real fast.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  7. Bibletruth

    The love is found in Christ and those that love Him

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • oy

      I have yet to see that.
      Also, there is little to no evidence outside of the bible that he even existed.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  8. Faisal

    Islam is a religion of tolerance I want you to visit Saudi Arabia to tell Abnevskm religion of Islam acknowledged in Wikipedia about the Prophet Muhammad will cry when you hear the story

    August 19, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • sharkfisher

      Will has to be one of those northern pussbags born in ignorancr and raised in muck and mire.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  9. Realist

    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 11:21 am |
  10. Rob

    If evangelicals ever grow to love Muslims will flyover and trailer-trash women start obeying Sharia Law?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  11. peter

    islam is a barbaric ideology that can not integrate with western culture. Its a failed archaic way of life and has no purpise but division.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Realist

      just as christianity. Sad is we have to put up with the freaks here in America.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  12. Will

    The only reason these southern ret ards (before you jump down my throat for generalizing 80% of conservative evangelicals are inbred southern ret ards, just like 70% of birthers are) support the Mormon and Papist is because they believe Obama's a secret Muslim Communist Yankee Athiest Socialist Nazi Antichrist (eg. they can't call him a 'nlgger' outright so they string together every other any ridiculous epithet they can think of), so in their minds *anyone* is better than him.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • oy

      True~!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  13. Rainer Braendlein

    Frederic for president!

    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 11:20 am |
    • tallulah13

      You aren't as enlightened as you like to think. Substi.tutiing one religion for another is simply huddling in the same darkness with a new security blanket.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:31 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 evacuate precociously

      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 11:37 am |
  14. sharkfisher

    when muslims learn to love other religions maybe other religions will learn to love them.Now they try to mask their hatred with tolerence but they can't keep the mask on for long,not even with other muslims.

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

      kinda like christians

      August 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  15. CGS

    CNN: Stop promoting Muslims. Their ideology has ruined their countries and will ruin ours if we let it..

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

      I see. So news orgs should be as bigoted as you are.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  16. whocares

    Islam is a bad joke on humanity and as long as they think that the world has to all be like them them we will have big trouble they are not nice people who enjoy hate

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

      don't end it there, christianity is just as silly, and dangerous.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • oy

      I bet they know how to use punctuation, though.
      Kind of hard to take your opinion seriously when you have the writing skills of a 3rd grader.
      Let me guess: you live in some southern state. It would explain your views AND your lack of education.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  17. tucsand

    If your choice of a religion makes you a better person then that is all that matters isn't it?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • sharkfisher

      tucsand : Islam only makes a muslim a better person toward other muslims of the same sect. If you are an "infidel" or of another sect. You are fair game and should be killed.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • oy

      So people have to belong to a religion to be made better people? Why? That's a weakness in character, to me.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  18. Bibletruth

    Again to tucsand...oh did I forget to mention politics, political debates etc. lol

    August 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • tucsand

      Yeah, I hit the right button this time 🙂 there is nothing worse in my book than religious politics.

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

    what is known,, religions couldn't exist with out creating fear. If you deny that, you have the makings for a terrorist. (How sad religions brainwash their children. That's child abuse.)

    August 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • tucsand

      If you believe in Adam and Eve theory they sinned from the very first moment here having no clothes. What sort of makes that whole thing with Adam and Eve ridiculous is that in that part of the world no apple tree wouldn't have been able to have grown.

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

      True religion ...that is, only true christianty...absolutely does not operate on fear...as Paul said I have decided to make known nothing except the cross...i.e. love of God toward humanity, which includes letting all know the consequences of continuing to race down that road where the bridge has been washed out.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • oy

      Memo to Bibletruth: your religion is not the only "true" religion. Oh, and Paul was a chauvinist.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  20. One one

    It's not about love and tolerance.

    It's about consolidating power and Influence to more effectively dominate everyone else.

    In the southern town where I used to live, all the white Christians went to their churches on the north side and all the black Christians went to their churches on the south side because the Christians all loved each other so much.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Realist

      You think it was the black christians who kept the white ones out? I guess not.

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

      Amen.

      Where's the love? I think it is often found outside 'the church'.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:19 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.