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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. James

    I cannot disagree more. Just yesterday, I read that a famous Muslim cleric said "... Yahweh, the false god."

    Allah is a pagan god. He does not love us.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • dolazugar

      You are either lying or are very stupid. Allah is not a pagan God. Allah is simply Arabic for GOD. Christian Arabs use the same term.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  2. lefty avenger

    Evangelicals hate everyone who is not them and believe in what they do. Evangelicals hate Muslims, Gays, Latinos, Blacks, Liberals, Socialists, Unions, Buddhists, hippies, punks, stoners and all foreigners. It's utterly amazing how American Evangelicals have turned Jesus message of tolerance and love into a a fascist religious christian hate group. Cnn you are still dreaming!

    August 19, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Huh?

      Sounds like you just defined what it means to be a Christian Taliban. 😉

      August 19, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  3. syzito

    Christians that know the doctrines of the faith will never accept Muslims as anything other than what their religion of Islam is....A 9th century myth and that breeds violence and murder.This low-brow third world legend that believes a murdering pedophile rode a winged horse into the mythical fantasy land of heaven can never be accepted by the Western world.Look at the Middle Eastern countries today....dirt and filth everywhere.The people still dress like they did a 1000 yrs ago.If you refuse to believe their myths..What do they do? They will not debate with you in order to convince you....they kill you...Really? This is their gods message? What a worthless piece of crap to call a god.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • John

      Syzito – you're so wrapped up in your emotions, you're not allowing any logic and reason to peek through. Every religion has its odd traditions; for example, Christians believe a man rose from the dead, move aside a huge stone, walked among the living, and floated up to the sky, to later return with trumpets and angels!

      As far as the "filth" and traditional clothing, many Muslim countries are poor. This has nothing to do with religion. Go to South America, an entirely Christian continent .. they live poor, filthy, and wear the same colorful woolen clothing and headwear they have worn for millennia. Does this make Christianity a backward religion??

      Your bias has blinded you – this will change in time. Articles like this are referring to just the kind of poorly-reasoned bias you display. In time, logic will break through.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • JoetheMaxist

      You know, as a opposed to a first century cult, led by a homeless Rabi, who apparently said he was the son of God and turned water to wine, and somehow walked on water, while preaching a book that has bigoted and chauvinistic rhetoric. By the way Evangelical groups want to put back the country a thousand years. I am referring to policies like abortion, teaching evolution in public school. Hell fifty years ago most these groups supported segregation. If you look past you Orientalist frame of mind you can realize that any religious group have negative as well as positive impact on society. Go to a low income and you'll realize that the West is not all that fresh and dandy and you think it is.

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

    We don't need another biased, narrow-minded religion in this country. An ideology that leaves no room for fresh ideas, a religion that is mired in the 12th century. If you don't believe what I say, I suggest you all examine how Saudi Arabia implements Islam.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. Teebay77`

    Don't get it twisted, Ebbo. Evangelicals and America know the difference between Islam and Christianity, precisely the same way the muslim world view christians as infidels.so unfortunate that Religion is a tool for politics and power, not to serve God.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  6. SPD

    Accepting and trusting Catholics required an alternative bogeyman: Muslims. Muslims have a chance of gaining evangelical approval only if a bigger, badder religious bogeyman can be found. Who would that be? It would be difficult to supplant Muslims in that role given their large numbers, associations with terrorism, and historic conflict with Christianity. I suppose an alien invasion might give Muslims a chance, but it's hard to imagine anything in this world persuading evangelicals to accept a Muslim as POTUS.

    I'm not saying it's right, it's just how it is. I think Evangelicals as a group are incredibly ignorant. Most of them know almost nothing about Christianity, save for a few favorite scriptures they can recite out of context.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  7. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    And is Eboo Patel working for a better world?

    See some added information below:

    Eboo Patel pays himself well ($120,000/yr) from his Interfaith Youth Core "non-profit" group's receipts (donations etc.) which, based on the group's IRS Form 990, appears to be more of a stock holding company ($2,335,960 portfolio in 2008- guidestar.org) for Mr. Patel than it is a non-profit.

    Non-profits do not pay taxes on dividends, interest or capital gains.

    Did Eboo Patel's Interfaith Youth Core work for Obama's election campaign as we see Eboo is not only on a rather recent Chicago Council of Global Affairs' task force but also formerly on Obama's Faith advisory council?

    Did a Faith Initiative grant from the State Department help defray the cost of CCOGA's report and Mr. Patel's task force pay?

    Hmmmm?

    August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Severinus

      So what. An attack on the man doesn't invalidate what he is saying.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • BB62

      The attack, if true, does invalidate everything he says because it proves he is not an honorable man

      August 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • I don't THINK so

      You should know better by now. Ad hominem. *Yawn*

      August 20, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  8. rochdoc

    Dream of world dominance and power under Sharia rule in something that every devout Muslim cherish. We know it already. So what is the purose of this write up? Just to irritate conservatives. The cherry in the pie is that you can actually present both Romney and Ryan as outsiders to Evangelism – a mind game. Move on.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • rose

      Anything (Catholics, Protestants) is better than what we have now

      August 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • John

      The real question is when will Muslims accept Jews, Christians, and even atheists in their societies. They're the ones with some catching up to do, but they'll just call you a bigot and an imperialist for pointing it out.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  9. Morrissey

    Less than 3% of the US population identifies with Islam, and this is the headline story on CNN? Come on.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Frank Talk

      Yes, when today is the most important day of the year... Eid-Ul-Adha.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  10. nottolate

    "The dynamic of evangelicals cheering for Catholics is one of the most stunning shifts in American political history. "

    Authentic Christian are not cheering for Catholics. The guy who wrote this article is clueless.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Severinus

      Catholics are the only authentic Christians. Authentic Catholics would never cheer for Paul Ryan. Charity is the greatest virtue, and his disdain for the poor is un-Catholic.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • BB62

      Actually, Sev...true Catholics believe in charity from individuals, not from government. You know, render unto Caesar's that which is Caesar's...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  11. Not a chance

    There is no comparison in this story. These People will never make an effort to assimilate in the US.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • I don't THINK so

      First the ad hominem; now the "No true Scotsman". *Double yawn*

      August 20, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  12. Matthew

    This article is not necessary. We already have a Muslim President.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • scatheist

      Why do conservative post silly lies al the time? Have you seen the 90 pictures of him drinking different beers. \that aint Muslim chief.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Qev

      Thanks for giving us that revealing snapshot of what's inside of your "brain" case. Are interested in renting any of that space out?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Ezekiel 22:25-30

      Amen.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Matthew

      Christians don't drink either (Proverbs 20:1). So you are at least agreeing with me that the President is not a Christian?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • rose

      True!

      August 19, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • lefty avenger

      Matthew you are an american idiot.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Matthew

      Leftyavenger is turning to hate speech instead of staying on topic.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • edt

      He's not Muslim. Do your research. He wasn't raised with religion at all.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  13. Dean

    No Thanks. The painful memory 3,000 innocent souls lost on 9/11 will prevent me from seeing past this hate-filled cult.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • tallulah13

      We have never killed in the name of religion, Islam is a religion peace and promotes peace among all human beings, As a Muslim we follow the five pillars of our faith that calls for us and as Eboo writes to call people of other faith to treat us with utmost respect and win favor with allah.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Lameness Spotter

      FYI: The regular poster @tallulah13 is NOT a Muslim. That you are trying to ride in here on her reputation of rationality is disgusting.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  14. BOB

    NO ONE WILL EVER TRUST A MUSLIM WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?

    August 19, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Dan586

      Proof simpletons are the problem

      August 19, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Reality

      What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon?

      And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

      The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.

      Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

      Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

      Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere..................................

      August 19, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Dan586

      Bob sorry my other comment was not for you.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  15. janj

    The day there is a muslim vp is the day that the United States will not be the land of the free, but the land of the oppressed.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • tallulah13

      Eboo if sent by Allah to spread the message without Eboo we muslims will never find acceptance.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Lameness Spotter

      FYI: The regular poster @tallulah13 is NOT a Muslim.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. greg

    Perhaps, but I doubt it. Catholics have given up trying to wipe out Evangelicals where they dominate. The same can't be said for Muslims.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Dan586

      And Gun carrying Christians are much better for the world.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  17. Aldo Raine

    Nobody gives a rats ass what any muslim thinks or wants.They pray to a pediphiller.
    Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Bush

      Thats the problem- No one give a rate ass about other, hatefull to others opinion. As long as Pleople like Aldo Raine lives this earth the world will always have a problem. Why not we just be respectfull to each other. Listen other opinion. they might be right too. hate never brought peace only make more enemy.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Elvis H.

      I don't know if some of you really thisnk that islam is a fake or death religion but I know one thing from my studies as well being an yugoslavian Muslim. Allah means GOD as in my country BOG means good every country has its own laguage. You can't just sit there and disrespect a releigion because some exremiest you have them in every religion. Now I served this country right out of High School back in 2003 and respect my country man. I faught against Muslims and will protect this country and my family with my live. Please sitting here and disrespecting someone just because he is muslim is not right and never will be does not make you any better. What happen 9/11 is an memory I will never forget because I as well lost family and friends I was there trying to help and will never forget. I have more nightmares about 9/11 then spending my time in Iraq.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. Dan586

    To bad the minority that knows man made religion is fake has to put up with all these simple minded people. The human race / world would would be like Star Trek right now if we could run the world.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • janj

      Now that was really funny.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • HeavenSent

      They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: [with] flattering lips [and] with a double heart do they speak.

      Psalms 12:2

      Amen.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • edt

      Are you in your parents basement right now? Seriously, that's just ridiculous.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  19. llatpoh

    The challenge is/will be Islam is not just a religion, it is a political/governance system... so, until there is a version of Islam that says Sharia Law is not supreme, but rather the secular law of the land is supreme, it will be hard for Islam to be seen as "just another" faith...

    August 19, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Bursting your bubble here llatpoh, the laws in the USA are from the OT which is the Torah, and our country was founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • JWT

      The western world had to go through a lot of pain to get there – and it is a constant struggle to keep some particular brand of a religious law out of the law of the land. The muslims unfortunately will have to go though the same thing.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  20. Cal

    Eboo Patel is full of horse hocky.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • tallulah13

      Eboo is full of knowledge and wisdom it is morons like you who are so full of it! As Eboo writes, 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.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:03 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.