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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. Sam

    I do admit...I have mixed emotions about Muslims...In Indian history many of the Muslim Princes killed or imprisoned their own father or siblings to come to power. Even in the last 30 years any terrorist activities for the most part can be attributed to them. But then again, I personally know so many Muslims who are law obiding family oriented good people. So it is hard to know who is a good guy and who is a bad guy.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jake

      Hi Sam:
      I'm happy that you have those 2 opposite feelings. Normal Muslems are normal people, even if they were Hejab or go to Masjed.
      Killing father or a family member for power happened everywhere and in every age. Look back in the French Monarchy and you will find a lot of this.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      JAKE: are you moron or plain ignorant? in FRANCE, the muslims did a big riot last year and burned thousand of cars...YES, the muslims did it, not other religions....!!! oh, in France, they have the laws to ban Ninja outfit, hijab...wiki it and you will prove that you are dead wrong.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • .

      Another post from the uneducated TROLL JJ....

      August 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  2. ....

    Atheists..... Do you know that if you lived/went to an Islamic country and said you don't believe in Allah... you know that you would have your head cut off?.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • .

      Another post from the uneducated JJ, what a TROLL.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    And is Eboo Patel working for a better world or just trying to get more money to invest? You decide.

    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 12:27 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Reality: you all have to be careful with this eboo patel since he is islam and he will follow Koran to do jihad, suicide bombing....jihad is a way to go straight to heaven. THEN why eboo patel is still in here not in heaven...eboo patel is stupid or koran is wrong about jihad?...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jake

      I don't mind what he paying himself, as long as he promotes love and peace.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  4. Sad but true

    "The problem is not Islam, it's humans"

    – Really? If it didn't say in the Quran to kill those who leave Islam, treat women terrible, 72 virgins, etc. maybe more people would have acted like normal tolerant humans.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      The research shows that the civility doesn't come from god, by Oxytocin – a chemical in the brain. Only mammals have it. The fish and the lizzards don't. It enables us to be concerned about each other, with or without god.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Manda

      Replace 72 virgins with sitting at the foot of the throne and all of that is in the bible as well. Sheesh, people can be stupid.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  5. JustTheFacts

    Religion is just a stupid dogma like Communism or Nazism. It's been around only because people are stupid drug addicts that like their delusions. I'd say mushrooms work better.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Respect Zoroastrianism!

    Respect FSM!

    Respect Rastafari!

    August 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Not!

      August 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      What do you mean "Not"? All religions are on an equal footing since they are all the products of human imagination.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  7. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    Do you guys think that we will have islamic woman suicide bombers here in the US?...how do we prevent it?...here is a thing to consider: Woman suicide bombers in the middle east, they are wearing Ninja outfit, covering head and face hijab...they cover themselves also hide the explosives in their bodies...So, if you see one of them, be very careful...

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

      Another post by an uneducated American.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I follow your logic. I share your fear. Therefore, all women should always go naked in public.
       
      Thanks. Ever since college I've been looking for an excuse to justify my att¡tude.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  8. Sad but true

    Why don't atheists comment here on this article? It seems like they want to attack Christian articles only

    August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      I feel sorry for the atheists since they dont know that islam hates atheists who do not believe in God.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Atheists, agnostics, non-believers and otherwise-hecklers ARE commenting. Just read.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Seth Hill of Topanga, California

      As an atheist, some terrible things that Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims did in the past horrify me. But atheists have also done terrible things. So I guess some religious people are evil, most are probably OK.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bazoing

      Atheists in this country hate Christianity or Judaism more than Islam because their families or caretakers used their religion to assert their supposed right to abuse. In countries these things are done in the name of other religions, including Islam. The atheists there hate appropriately. It is the abuse of religion which turned them from God, not God. To be individuals we must have free choice. Lots of people are using that free choice against the helpless, including children.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I'm an atheist. I had a dozen comments on this article a couple of hours ago before I had to leave to run an errand.
       
      To summarize: ALL religions are bogus brain parasites.
       
      Happy now?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  9. JustTheFacts

    All religions are hate groups. All claim they are the religion of "peace", but are in fact murderous. Nazism, Communism, religion – all substatially hateful dogmas to promote the interest of the groups.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jake

      Right to some extent.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  10. Sad but true

    Muhammad destroyed pegan symbols and killed women who were breastfeeding... what an animal

    August 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  11. Jew

    Thank God only 0.8% of the US population belong to the cult Islam..... They need to be sent home to hell

    August 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • ed

      BUT one of them is already in the White House!

      August 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Tell the truth, ed – you need help spelling your name to log in, right ?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. ISLAM = CULT

    I wish someone burned down that cult mosque

    August 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • David

      If its a cult is it wrong to follow the ways of Jesus? Because the Qu'ran specifically instructs Muslims to follow the ways of Jesus.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jake

      This way of thinking is not going to help either sides. America is the symbol of freedom. Doing such unresponsible acts heart more than help the country.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      All religions are CULTS.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • ....

      Muslims deny what is said and taught about Jesus in the Bible.... they deny his words.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • David

      You wrote: "Muslims deny what is said and taught about Jesus in the Bible.... they deny his words." What evidence do you have for that since it specifically says in the Qu'ran that Jesus is the word of God, the Messiah, was born of the Virgin Mary, is the right path to follow, will come back on judgement day, and performed miracles. Muslims do deny Jesus is God or was a God, so you are correct there, but so do Jews, and many early Christians did not believe in the Divinity of Jesus. The Bible is contradictory in the Issue.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  13. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    Just a reminder and friendly warning: Woman suicide bombers in the middle east, they are wearing Ninja outfit, covering head and face hijab...they cover themselves also hide the explosives in their bodies...So, if you see one of them, be very careful...

    August 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • .

      An uneducated American TROLL.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jake

      Wearing Hejab has nothing to do with suicide bombers. It also has nothing to do with being extreme, many liberal women wear Hejab because it became part of the culture. Can you tell me how many women suicide bombers did hear of out of billion of Muslems?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      The put explosive inplants in their boobs!

      August 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • ed

      "An uneducated American TROLL."

      WHY? He's absolutely right. For get religion for a moment. Who wears a mask, Who covers their face in our society? CRIMINALS! You cover your face and go out in public, see what happens.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • .

      "Who wears a mask, Who covers their face in our society? CRIMINALS! You cover your face and go out in public, see what happens."

      Another example of an uneducated American.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  14. lloyd roberts

    Sorry. As hard as I try and as much of humanity I can muster, I still despise Islam and will never, ever, ever accept them into my world. The world would be a better place without Islam, sorry

    August 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • !

      If they abolished their cult sharia law then maybe they will be treated like humans

      August 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Lliyd Roberts: here is a reminder for you: Woman suicide bombers in the middle east, they are wearing Ninja outfit, covering head and face hijab...they cover themselves also hide the explosives in their bodies...So, if you see one of them, be very careful...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • .

      JJ is an uneducated American TROLL.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • The Guy

      The problem isn't Islam; the problem is fundamentalism, intolerance, fear and hatred from humans from EVERY religion. Your words are a perfect example.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  15. LittleHero

    So much ignorance, bigotry and hate on this blog today. My representatives in congress are a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim – and I voted for each one of them. Guess what – we are all Americans.

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

      Muslims will never be considered Americans.... they are animals who belongs to the zoo.

      Islamic nations BANS any non-Muslim being politician and kill them

      August 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • J25

      Fortunately, you are intelligent and have common sense.

      Unfortunately, many people are not/do not.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  16. David

    Tom: Read the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus specifically says in Matthew 5-18 that nothing in the Old Law will Change until all has come to pass. So if you are implying that the New Testament somehow gives permission to ignore the Old Testament then you need to present your case. And no, I'm not a Biblical expert, I just read it and do my best to use reason to justify my beliefs. Obviously I often fail and make mistakes, but at least I try.

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

      "All has come to pass" meaning when He has been crucified. The crucifixion and resurrection ended the Age of Law (as described in the Old Testament) and ushered in the Age of Grace, which is the state in which we exist now.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • David

      In that case, are you saying the Ten Commandments are no longer valid? They are part of the Law and part of the Old Testament. Or are you just cherry picking?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Without going into detail about the significance of the 10C, they remain the only aspects of OT law that were not changed by the resurrection. The 10C describe in broad terms how to create a social order and don't get into specific details of everyday life.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • David

      Please cite a Biblical passage to support your case. You are simply asserting your case, not supporting it with evidence. why should I believe your interpretations and assertions? Cmon mate, I'm giving you the chance to convince me.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  17. Louis

    Have you heard any Christians killing anyone leaving their Christian faith? No.

    Christians pray for those leave their faith while Muslims kill and torture those who leave Islam :/

    August 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • J25

      Have you heard of "Christians" killing people? Yep. That's pretty much been the history of Christianity.

      The real Christians are people like Mother Teresa or Corrie ten Boom who go where God sends them, loves everyone and tells them the Good News that God loves us (all).

      Unfortunately, what we seem to 'hear' in America are the loud, vociferous, hateful voices of people who purport to be Christians but sound nothing like Christ.

      Jesus addressed all of this. Non-Christians should read Jesus' teaching; it sounds nothing like the American far right (who are so, so wrong...and crazy).

      August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • JM

      White "Christians" are the ones who massacred the native Americans, enslaved thousands, treated them like animals.

      Reality.

      Fortunately, the slaves became better Christians than their 'masters'.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • JM

      And, Muslims have been living in this country for decades working their rear ends off in school, the workplace. Contributing to society. Not screaming about 'white people'.

      These people are not 'killing' anyone.

      Get a grip. Get to know people before you paint them all with the same brush.

      Or, are you exactly like Manson?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • The Guy

      Ever heard of the KKK? Or the people who kill abortion doctors?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Let's All Agree

    That "Sit on This" is either a repressed gay religious nut or a gay hating atheist and ignore him either way. He is a fvcking simpleton.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  19. dwp19542004

    send the towel heads back to their own country and we will love them

    August 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  20. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    Be careful with muslim woman wearing NINJA head-face covering hijab...lots of them are suicide bombers in the middle east....

    August 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • .

      Americans are so uneducated.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Louis

      They are taught to spread their disease and blow themselves up

      August 19, 2012 at 12:17 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.