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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. ItSoNlYmE

    People fear what they do not (or choose not to) understand. People used to fear electricity and airplanes. Let's hope people in America will come to see that people are just people. I doubt it's going to happen in my lifetime, but it's something to aspire to. I only wonder how many more people will die because of the fear in the meantime though...

    August 19, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • jamdfh

      Help me unerstand a bomb tied to your chest and running onto a bus? People are people, right?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  2. mitch

    @Rainer, repeat.
    Your hero Fredrick the Great was very tolerant to all the religions of his time and was known as a Calvinist, although his father restricted his early religious education. Protestantism, the great schism from the RCC occured in 1521 with Martin Luther in Germanyr and again in 1534 with Henry VIII in England for a different reason. I find it a bit surprising that Fredrick is one of your heroes as it has been reported that, if not gay, he was a bise*xual and is that not against the dogma of your church?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  3. Joe

    Most Americans don't hate Muslims! Thats a lie and a falsehood perpetuated by radicals of the Muslim faith. In fact most Americans don't hate any relegious groups. What Americans hate are fanatical and radical beliefs that are intolerant, oppressive, and down right dangerous. The Alqaida sect that attacked the United States is one such radical group and they happen to be a Muslim radical group. No my Muslim friends I have no problem with a main stream, modernized and tolerant Muslim faith. My problem is with radicals and fanatics of all faiths. America has always been a tolerant and welcoming nation to all peoples of the world and I see no reason for that to change. My hope is that main stream Islam will weed out the radicals from it's faith and fight against the dangerous and intolerant beliefs of all radical relegions. Good Day, Joe.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Realist

      like christianity, as proven in the USA

      August 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Joe: you are dead wrong and very ignorant !! thousand of Gays and Lesbians have been killed in muslim countries...!! I have no respect with this dangerous religion. Yes, there are also one or two crazy dudes in the US that have killed people. But, not that many...but in muslim countries all of them hate gays and lesbians and even killing them. That is dangerous religion. Forget about their burning churches over there but killing gays for being gays??...that is dangerous..

      August 19, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  4. bill

    Don't hold your breath, Mr. Patel. And by the way........Why do 90% of the Indians who come to the U.S. change their names to "Patel"?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Rajeev G

      Bill, Rarely, Indians do not change their last names. There are a lot of Indian descent people in the US with their last name as Patel.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  5. thebeast

    No,

    We are not going to love Muslims...What's to love? Religion is the scourge of the planet designed to control the masses...Be intelligent people, be God!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • ItSoNlYmE

      Gee, sounds like you're describing "Christianity" to me...

      August 19, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Rajeev G

      I agree with you... Religion was a a necessary evil in the past to make masses to live in a particular way. Priest called the King as descent of Gods and the King gave special powers to the Priests. Together, they controlled people...their minds, thinking, ways of life. They kept them uneducated and used them to produce for the State. If anyone questioned their authority or asked any question about God and religion, they were killed right away. They did not want people to think because thinking citizens are dangerous to the existence of top few.
      I believe it is still happening... businesses and corporations have replaced religion and politicians have taken place of kings. Corporations and politicians still want us to keep us in dark.. football, customized news (fox or cnn), tidbits by politicians, etc. etc.
      We need to think on our own and make our own decisions and align with people who meet our core values.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  6. pastorhank

    Once the top clerics of Islam denounce the killing of those who decide to change faiths (and actually keep that promise), once the Islamic countries actually allow the open practice of other religions, once the leaders of Islamic 'republics' actually allow free speech and offer equal opportunity to women, then I may trust a Muslim politician. until then no way.

    Look at what the Muslim Brotherhood is doing in Eqypt, look at Iran, look at Afghanistan, look at Saudi Arabia, there isn't a single ruler in those countries who believe in the rule of the people. And look at how Muslims in America are trying to get Sharia law used, no thank you I prefer my country warts and all to be free of the true religious intolerance practiced by Muslims.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  7. Ed

    The separation of church and state is one of the key foundations upon which our American Republic is built, and is the key bulwark against state sponsored religious intolerance. The Muslim faith, from what I have read by Muslim authors, believes in theocracy, i.e., rule by the priests, imams, mullahs and such. No Muslim candidate who believed in the separation of church and state would be supported by the Muslim clergy and would likely be shunned by most devout Muslims. This is a fundamental philosophical difference that won't be softened by "getting to know each other better." The more I see of Muslim government around the world, the less I like it.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Realist

      we're a bit more discreet about it in America.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      A lot of christians on this blog espouse a theocracy as well. Of course, they already falsely believe that we live in a "christian" country. This is why you see things like the catholic church claiming religious discrimination when catholic-owned businesses are expected to follow the same rules as secular businesses.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  8. Consequence

    the founding fathers saw the wisdom in keeping this nation close to its roots where differences among the population were more manageable, where aspirations and goals were shared against a more common cultural milieu. however kind they may be and important to seek their success, as a group in this country muslims are fractious and divisive. it is the immigration act of 1965, an improbable invention of teddy kennedy, which has propelled tens of millions of muslims, hindus, buddhists, chinese, koreans, mexicans, etc. to our shores forever changing what the founding fathers understood americans to be. their presence in this nation is a constant challenge to the dominant population which, as a demographic, is being systematically reduced to minority status and their native christian roots marginalized. i feel no wrath towards any population, but i am concerned with what it means to fundamentally change the character of a nation and to pursue a culturally self destructive course. if policy planners and camelot idealists ever thought this would be a seemless transition or even a good one – they can say "sayonara" to the house our ancestors built.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • ItSoNlYmE

      How sad for you that you live in such abject fear all the time. You wouldn't recognize the America of 1800, any more than Americans of 1800 would recognize America of 2012. The only constant in life is change. It will happen regardless of whether you are willing to accept and embrace it or not. You can fear it and fight against it all you want to, but all you'll do is make yourself miserable in the process, and the change will still happen anyway. Why not re-jigger your thinking and begin to accept and embrace change as a good thing, and learn to stop fearing everything new. You'll find life is much more peaceful and fulfilling. Or you can just keep beating your head against the wall. It's entirely your choice.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  9. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    Islam is dangerous as the muslims keep hating gays and lesbians AND keep killing them...!! for all of lesbians and gays, members of LGBT, please do not go to any muslim countries. IF you go, be very careful and be ready for being attacked/killed for being gays and lesbians at the wrong place and the wrong time.

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

      Gays need to be aborted before birth. Problem solved!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • tallulah13

      That's even worse than the discrimination gays and lesbians face in the U.S. from christians. The world would be a better place if people kept their religions to themselves.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • ItSoNlYmE

      Funny, I seem to recall a large number of gays being killed by so-called "Christian" white people right here in America. How is that different?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  10. jorge washinsen

    Cnn still believes we read any of these commercials clogging up our computers.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  11. Ari Khazar

    ‎"How Evangelicals Could Grow to Love Muslims," which means, "How Christians Can Reject Their Faith." Once again, it's up to Christians to diminish themselves, that Christ-haters may increase.

    I look forward to the mirror article "How Muslims Could Grow to Love Evangelicals." Something tells me I'll be waiting for a very long time.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  12. Dennis

    All this focus about religion in our politics is scaring the crap out of me. Look around the world at countries dominated by religious zealots and what do you see? There is a reason religion and politics need to be separate, what's good for one is not good for all.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • tallulah13

      I agree. However, I think the focus on religion is simply exaggerated for the sake of the "Belief Blog". If you ask most voters, they are more interested in the economy and jobs than in religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • tucsand

      Dennis, you have a very good point here, most wars are created because of religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Peter

      We all live in a religiously dominate world, religion effects everything, whether you like that or not. From a Christian point of view, this is to be expected because God exists. It has always been that way and always will, so rather be scared about it, maybe explore it and become educated, Most people when they graduate public high school are so religiously illiterate that religion does scare them because they know nothing about it, except a few sound bites. Even the Boston professor Steven Prothero has said that American are religiously illiterate, and this is why they have no clue about stories like this one. When people are uneducated they are scared. However, the writer of this article is also illiterate about the differences of Christianity and Islam. Christian know that Jesus is the truth, not Islam, which came over 600 years later after Christ. From a Christian view Islam is historically inaccurate and morally insufficient. Therefore, no one who is a Christian with conviction can accept a leader who advocates Islam because we do not believe it to be wholly true. Islam is a spin off from Judeo Christianity. And anyone that says the religions are all the same are showing their illiterate once again. Only an illierate would say such a thing.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  13. oy

    Oh, PLEASE. Catholics love this disciple of Ayn Rand? CNN, please stop trying to sell us all a load of bs. Faith and charitable works are the tenants of the Catholic faith...yet you are somehow trying to convince us that they are swooning over this guy who would leave grandma and grandpa out on the street w. his policies? Sorry. Not buying it. This is almost as bad as HuffPo trying to sell him as a "s.ex symbol". What gives?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Realist

      67% of tax payer dollars goes to catholic charities. End ALL grants to religions and organizations they run NOW!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  14. jorge washinsen

    How are the big religiions going to explain the abuse of young boys , and in some cases young girls,when the time comes? It will be interesting to be at the Pearly Gates when a suicide bomber comes up to the gate dragging what is left of his victims wanting his just rewards for his good work.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Ari Khazar

      Does that include the rampant pedophilia of Orthodox Judaism?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  15. jamdfh

    As long as there is a derogatory word for non-believers, "infidels", and a belief that they are less than believers, the Muslim faith will never hold court at that level. Has anyone noticed that Islamic and most Catholic countries are still stuck in the third world malaise?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Believers are the dumb ones.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      Everyone knows right from wrong,stupid is no excuse.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Realist

      ever notice the high levels of pedophilia in catholic countries?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Ari Khazar

      Ever notice the stratospheric level of pedophilia in Judaism?

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

    Muslims and Christians – go to hell. Did I make myself clear?

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

      sad is they brainwash their children, child abuse.. They keep the cycle going.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • SitOnThis

      My sister in law told her daughter that she will go to hell. Now, this kid was brought up religious, and actually believes it! That's religion for you. Makes me puke!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Salty Nutz

      You first troll

      August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  17. Pinkflam

    "One day, evangelicals will feel similarly positive toward a Muslim vice-presidential contender, says Muslim author Eboo Patel."
    Yeah, when they learn to take a regular shower and leave my goats alone, they'll be right up there on the list of people I can do without. As they are, they don't even make the list.

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

      Pinkflam wrote: "Yeah, when they learn to take a regular shower and leave my goats alone, they'll be right up there on the list of people I can do without. As they are, they don't even make the list."

      What the hell are you babbling about? Are you trying to be funny with this kids stuff? How many American citizen Muslims to you know?

      Ignorant fool.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  18. Stewie

    Why is that woman wearing a rag over her head?

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

      To keep the lice from escaping!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Realist

      ever notice catholic's treat woman as 2nd class too.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Seyedibar

      because she's ashamed of having thoughts of liberty.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Many don' realize that Catholic women in this country were forced to wear veils until around 40 years ago.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • SitOnThis

      To hide her fat face!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Ed

      Hey Seyedibar...I don't know what country you are referring to, but in my country I was around 40 years ago and don't recall ever seeing any Catholic women wearing veils. Maybe you are referring to a middle east country where the Muslims majority made the Catholic women wear veils?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Chelle

      No traditionally Christian women covered their heads unless in the presence of close family members. Until the 50s, women wore hats as a version of this custom.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  19. SitOnThis

    Hell is the place for all religious numbnuts!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  20. Timmy

    Evangelicals will jump in bed with anyone who hates all the same people they do. The enemy of their enemy is their friend. If Satan himself said he hated gays, equal rights for others and was pro choice, evangelicals would choose him over a hated liberal.

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

      You know what they say, be close to your friends but even closer to your enemies 🙂

      August 19, 2012 at 11:31 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.