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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. x15

    Why so much hate left?

    http://www.zombietime.com/sf_rally_april_10_2004/characters/

    August 19, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Manda

      Maybe because Bush lied to the American people and started a war under false pretenses that destroyed our economy and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people? I don't know, maybe that has something to do with it.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  2. Alicia

    It doesnt matter what kind of person from whatever kind of faith they practice runs for an office... everything is now manipulated by the "club" (NWO).

    Save your vote for locating and hanging the members of that organization.....

    August 19, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  3. tucsand

    Where I live I here in the desert just West of Tucson there are a lot of different faiths and beliefs ranging from Polygamy to Jehovah Witness's with a few dangerous cults as well and I practice witchcraft and yet we all get along fine and respect the others choice.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Timmy

      Sounds like a terrible place with all kinds of superstitious fanatics all around. Are there any rational people out there at all?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      tucsand: well you did not mention islam...just be careful with muslims if there are a lot then they will burn your city/town...remember French !!!! yes...there are many muslims and they burn the city for demonstration.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Rajeev G

    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 11:53 am |
  5. Susan Trigo

    I always wanted to make Ramadan a federal holiday..30 days of time and a half!!!!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Susan: if you know any muslim women wearing NINJA outfit, head and face covering hijab, you have to report it to authorities since in the middle east, lots of woman suicide bombers are wearing ninja outfit to cover their explosive items.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • .

      Don't bother Susan Americans are so uneducated.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Rainer Braendlein

    Forget Islam, forget Catholicism, but resist the current Antichrist.

    I guess that the time of Islam and Catholicism concerning temporal rule is over long ago (since Enlightenment).

    Frederic the Great gave the pope such a terrible blow that he will never recover, and probably Islam will never play the same role like Catholicism in the West.

    The real issue of today in the West is the Wicked who seems to appear gradually.

    More and more everybody is required not to associate faith and virtue in daily life. How do I mean that?

    The current worldwide establishment tells you: "You can actually believe what you want as long as you don't practice your religion at the workplace or in business." At the workplace or in business you have to be an artful fellow denying your ridiculous religion. Of course, at Sunday you are allowed to practice your childish stupidity as long as you work as a perfect human robot during the workweek.

    I guess it is better to die in the wilderness than to submit to the Wicked or Antichrist.

    If you are a Christian, practice your faith in daily life at any rate even on the cost of your workplace or any friendship or any relationship. The most precious good of a true Christian is his faith in Jesus. What should a man give for his soul? Which benefit had a man, if he would gain the whole world? Remember Judgement Day!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • DrewNumberTwo

      Oh, I get it. If everyone isn't forced to pray, then praying is impossible. There's no way that a person could pray privately. Not before work, or during lunch, or in an office, or in a break room, or in a stairwell, or just in their head.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • tallulah13

      Or you can just be a good, decent human being without fearing a cosmic "boogeyman" who will comeback at some amorphous future date to get you if you didn't worship him according to rules set down by a specific group of individuals in the ancient Middle East.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  7. Ramon F. Herrera

    I just saw this in the CNN Website Disclaimer:

    "Anybody who disagrees with the CNN editorial lines or forum policies, can go to Faux themselves:

    http://www.foxnews.com

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

    If you're gay like I was and you want to change, you CAN.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Manda

      You can change to repressed?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Gays need to be aborted before they are born, you duplicious fake! SitOn This!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Judith

      Bigotry or prejudice in any form is more than a problem it is a deep–seated evil within our society.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  9. SitOnThis

    The Atheists are getting bigger in numbers all the time, it won't be long before they gain a critical mass. Reason has always won, but sometimes it takes time. Hopefully, all religions will be history soon.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • RufusVonDufus

      You will be history long before islam is. Small i; no respect at all. The muslims will never quit trying to kill ALL who are not muslim. We need to ship them all back to the muddled east from whence they came. They are useless.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Tom

      Nahhh....the aetheist position is fundamentally illogical. The atheist argues that there is no supreme being, that there is no spiritual realm, and that the world is entirely physical...material. But if you ask an atheist whether he perceives certain things or acts to be "good" or "bad" he will almost certainly acknowledge that this charity or these actions are "good", or that this action is "bad." This is illogical and hypocritical. In a purely material, physical world qualities of "good" or "bad" can not exist. Therefore the atheist's position is illogical and is doomed to always be a marginal point of view.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  10. Tom

    Another slam piece against evangelicals. Funny, I just returned from my evangelical church service where the words "Islam" and "Musliim" were never mentioned, which is true of 99.9% of our services. So who's the real bigot, Patel?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Who me?

      and how many times was the word tolerance used ?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Tom

      Hey, Who. Tell you what, instead of me trying to count words for you, how about you come on in and listen first hand? It might open you eyes instead of getting everything you know about evangelicals off the internet.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  11. Steve

    Muslims are slowly but steadily spreading their beliefs into every country around the world, with the ultimate goal of seeing the world dominated by Islam. They expect to be totally accepted in every society they live in, but they deny the rights of other reigions in many other countries, and force their stone-age Sharia laws on everyone. The Koran says that all non-believers are infidels and dogs, expecially Jews and Christians. Women are second-class slaves of men. Muslims want to see the state of Israel destroyed and the Jews pushed out, and an Islamic society take over. The extreme fundamentalists want to see America and the West destroyed by any means possible, and they will use nuclear and biological weapons if they have them. Bin Laden may be dead, but the threat remains. Islam is definitely something to be feared.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Muslims don't really have the power to overtake by force, and they face too much of a backlash when they try to be too public. No worries.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Dale

      Muslims will not take over the United States by force, they will do it by infiltration and brainwashing little bit at a time.

      I do not like or trust Muslims, because of their infidel beliefs what they are supposed to do to non-believers people who will not convert to Islam KILL THEM. Their holy book teach this and demand it !

      August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. NorCalMojo

    What a bunch of drivel.

    Pluralism will always involve conflict and resentment. It's just how we operate. Many groups competing for the same set of resources will result in friction and conflict.

    Multi-culturalists point to the light from a few stars and pretend it means the night isn't dark. It's spitting in the face of 1000's of years of human history. The diversity movement is a trend and like all trends, people will tire of it and it will be forgotten. The irony is that it'll be people who consider themselves the most tolerant who will start the new cycle of hate.

    Look how soon once-hated groups like gays and atheists went from being accepted by the mainstream to hating people who don't think like they do. It's just human nature.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • tallulah13

      I agree with much of what you say, but you are painting with a fairly large brush. I would guess that about 90% of conflict is generated by about 10% of the people.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    I know here in the US, there are ALWAYS one or two crazy dudes that have and will kill gays. But, muslims in general whether in the US or overseas are required to hate gays and lesbians just for being gays BECAUSE their holy book Koran says so...it is in their teaching. Therefore, in the US, given the chance, they will kill gays if necessary. But, in muslim countries, they have killed and will kill every gays whether native or foreign persons just for being gays. Now, that is dangerous...Christians will not kill gays and the bible do not incite the followers to do so.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You are delusional.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • David

      The Bible advocates the same beliefs. You might want to read the Bible. The vast majority of Christians and Jews dismiss and ignore passages that condone the murder of infidels, but they are written in the Bible and are part of Biblical law. In addition, your generalizations of Muslims is far from accurate. It is true that many radical regimes impose a draconian version of Qu'ranic Law, but that does not mean that most Muslims wish to adhere to it.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • tallulah13

      Funny how those Americans who have killed gays are usually christian. But I guess they aren't "real" christians, right?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Manda

      "Christians will not kill gays and the bible does not (incite) them to do so."

      ...except when they do, and except where it does.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Tom

      David: As a biblical "expert", with an opinion like yours, you should be able to quote New Testament scripture to back up your claims. Please do so.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  14. tucsand

    Lets not forget everyone, there are decent people from all religious faiths and it is the few radicals that make a whole country or religion appear bad.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Tucsand: you are dead wrong...all muslims in muslim countries have killed thousand gays and will kill again. Not just the radical once, but all muslims in muslim countries will kill gays just for being gays...they will not tolerate difference. AND that is dangerous to society in general.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Tom

      Except that the later writings in the Koran teach that the infidel is to be killed, as opposed to the Bible which teaches "love thy neighbor." In my opinion, this is what makes Islam as a whole appear bad, and it is the "radicals" who choose instead to defy the Koran and live in peace with their neighbors.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Who me?

      Although I thought your post about Tucson was a little creepy,I agree,and subscribe to the theory of-one bad apple...The more people can get to know each other, without the shackles of super-natural beliefs,the better off we will be,one and all.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  15. Brian from DC

    The irony is that the first settlers in America were escaping religious persecution. And what do we have now? Evangelicals vilifying everyone who is not in their fold, everyone who is not white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant. Could Islam be worse? I doubt it.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Tom

      More spew. Hard facts: Who have evangelicals vilified? References?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Chelle

      Not to nitpick but Evangelicals are not Protestants. Protestants are those members of the churches that emerged from the Reformation – Presbyterians, Lutherans etc.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  16. Colin

    Catholics believe really weird things, like

    (i) simple bread and wine becoming flesh and blood because a priest with special magical powers does some hocus pocus over it at mass.

    (ii) dunking a baby's head under water at a baptism and saying magic words will relieve it from the original sin of Adam and Eve – even though anybody with a fifth grade education knows the original sin story was a myth.

    (iii) that whispering your "sins" to a Catholic priest and him saying some magic words will cause god to forgive you from these sins.

    (iv) mindreading or "prayers being heard" as they call it.

    These are grown adults who believe this, by the way, its not just stories for the children.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Who me?

      ..You must have complete faith that this all quite logical -or you will go to the hot place.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  17. Zaperdon

    The day that mainstream Americans embrace a Muslim candidate for office is one day after hell freezes over. The big difference between the Catholic religion and Muslim religion is that one is Christian and one is not. This guy is just dreaming if he thinks that a muslim will ever hold a high office in the USA. Osami Bin Laden ended any chance of that happening in the next two centuries.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  18. ldm1

    Evangelicals always have to have an enemy or a scapegoat, whether it's Russians, Catholics, Gays, Mexicans, Single Moms, Mormons or Muslims. When they stop picking on their current favorite targets-Muslims and Gays, they'll just find someone else to hate. It's in their nature.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Manda

      There's always the nonbelievers. And the growing number of rational people gives them an expanding population to hate!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  19. Tylenol

    Hollajullaa

    August 19, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  20. SitOnThis

    All gays hate all religious people. Eliminate them all!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • SitOn This

      I haven't been gay for 18 months now. You CAN pray the gay away. Jesus helped stop me being gay. Gays are filthy.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • SitOnThis

      Not funny! Sick h o m o here pretending to be me! Notice the gap between On and This!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • YeahRight

      Heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      August 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Tom

      @YR: Doesn't it come down to how you define "normal?" If a small % of a population exists as a subset, one might say that it is "normal" for that subset to exist. However, that does not imply that the behavior of that subset is "normal" for the entire population.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
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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.