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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. RichardSRussell

    Sep. 14 film opening: "The Master", about a science-fiction writer who decides that all the big money is in religion and goes out and creates one. Any resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology is purely ... um ... good publicity?
     
    Seriously, tho, that's the way ALL religions got started. Some scam artist made up a bunch of baloney so he could lord it over a bunch of simple-minded followers who'd give him money, girls, hallelujahs, and blind obedience for the rest of his life.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Mormon religion, the religion of your future presiden, was certainly started that way, by a pedophile.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • toad

      I didn't know Joseph Smith was a pedophile. I thought his main perv was a hat fetish.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  2. Mother

    I married a Muslim guy and me and my family have been threatened to death if we did not convert to Islam.
    Me and my husband ran away from Tunisia and now leave 'almost' peaceful secular life in Canada.

    If we visit Tunisia, they said we will be killed 😦

    August 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Awful.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • LittleHero

      Welcome to the secular world – we will get better.

      Don't even think of going back.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Hindu girl

    Are there any Christian countries where they kill its citizen for leaving their Christian faith? No.

    Christians pray for those who leave their faith while Muslims kill those who leave Islam.

    WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Islam is dangerous

    August 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      All religions, based on irrational dogmas, are dangereous.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • .

      Another post from an uneducated American, pitiful.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Jake

      No religion will be happy that a member of it leaves. I know other religions imprisoned and tortured those who left. In Islam killing happens in the extreme countries, 2 countries to my knowledge their law allows that. That does not happen the rest of million Muslems. I'm not with the killing.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  4. JustTheFacts

    Athiests, being rational, have no agenda to conquer all.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Stapleton

      No agenda and no organization. No spine either. You atheists are pitiful. I bet you've never even fired a gun.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Well, Stapleton, you have just revealed your ignorance of facts and statistics. Even if you take the low estimates, atheists form a larger portion of the American population than Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Shintoists, Confucians, Rastafarians, and animists COMBINED, and you have just made a sweeping statement about millions and millions of people based on no evidence whatsoever. Given that there are 313 million Americans who own 290 million guns, what do you suppose are the odds that there's an exact overlap between the atheists and the non-gun owners?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • LittleHero

      Believers keep asking what do atheists believe in – well as an American, I believe in the secular principles that this country was founded on. There have been patriotic atheists since the beginning of this country, and the saying that "there are no atheists in foxholes" is pure BS. Are you really asking us to take up arms against Islam when you don't realize we have no more respect for your silly beliefs?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • David

      To: Stapleton: You wrote, "No agenda and no organization. No spine either. You atheists are pitiful. I bet you've never even fired a gun." I'm wondering, do you think that you have written something intelligent?

      August 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  5. Stapleton

    It's good for Muslims but disappointing to me that there are no pictures of Mohammed. If there was I could defecate on it every day the way I do the Koran. I want to encourage people all over the world to do likewise. Get a copy of the Koran and shi t on it in public. Let the world know how you feel about the Prophet and Islam.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Mother

      Why would you want to see a picture of a hairy and ugly guy? He was so ugly that they are shamed of seeing him

      August 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Stapleton: some of my friends have koran to wipe their asses (toilet paper)...but for me? I will do it eventually if I am able to find one...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • .

      Another uneducated prejudice post from JJ the TROLL.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  6. JustTheFacts

    Seth Hill of Topanga, California – what did Atheists do that's so terrible? Nothing!

    August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • LittleHero

      They are offended by the fact that we give their beliefs no more respect than Nordic or Greek mythology.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Unfortunately, people confuse Communism with Atheism. Sad but true.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  7. Jake

    This is the best comment I have read in this blog
    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 12:48 pm |
    • David

      Well said.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Agnostic

    They better tax that enormous mosque in Michigan.... otherwise it should get burned down.

    Non-Muslims are treated like animals in Muslim nations

    August 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Huh?

      Just think American Christians treated African American and Native Americans like animals.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  9. ! ! ! ! !

    FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK MUHAMMAD!

    August 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Shhh. They KEEEEEL you!

      August 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • David

      Just so you know, Muslims do not worship Muhammad.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Hindu girl

      Then why do they blow themselves up, protest and attack people who show/draw pictures of him?

      If all prophets are treated equal, then why do they burn down churches and kill Christians who believe in Christ????????

      August 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • David

      "They" is a broad term. Some Muslims commit violence. People have been committing acts of violence in the name of God since man first talked about God. And I never implied all prophets are equal, that question would take hours to answer. Sounds ike you need to look at things in perspective. The acts of a few who claim to be muslims do not define an entire religion, jsut as the acts of those that claim to be christian or hindu etc do not define those religions.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  10. Truth

    Atheists are Muslim lovers.... they do not understand Islam well...

    August 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • David

      Atheist do not believe in the existence of any God. Your post makes no sense at all.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Truth

      Then why don't they attack Islam and curse their pedo.phile founder?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • David

      that is a silly question. Atheism is not a cohesive set of beliefs, it is simply a lack of belief in a God.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  11. Phil in Oregon

    You've heard that some people are hard to love? It's REALLY hard to love someone who keeps trying to blow up your children.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • HuH?

      "It's REALLY hard to love someone who keeps trying to blow up your children."

      Try telling that to the IRAQ's or did you forget we blew their children up based on lies.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Phil in Oregon

      At least with Catholics it isn't written right in their Bible that they are supposed to be the master race and everyone else is only on the earth to serve them. "Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve..."

      August 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Manda

      Please share your personal story in which those pesky Oregonian Muslims tried to blow up your children...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Phil: Christians think that Jesus came to serve THEM. That's why they're so darned happy when they talk about how he was tortured to death so that they don't have to be responsible for their own actions.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • The Guy

      I don't think that 23% of humanity is trying to blow up you children, Phil. And have you actually read the Quran? It says nothing about "master races" or global conquest.

      I implore you to just take the time and to actually read the book for yourself. Everybody professes to know about this religion, but nobody has actually read any of it's literature for themselves. If you sat down, with an open mind, and read it, you would find many, many similarities between your holy book and theirs (in fact, they consider themselves a continuation of the Abrahamic faith, not apart from it.)

      If people would only take the time to educate themselves on the ways, customs, and beliefs of others, this world would be such a better place.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • The Guy

      Also, did you know that one of the central tenets of Islam is to give 2.5% of your income to the poor? Helping the poor and needy , that sounds quite Christ-like, doesn't it? Well that's because Muslims believe that Christ was a prophet of God who spread his Word, and as such they follow his teachings. They just believe that God's revelation to Mohammed was an update to what was revealed to Jesus, just as Jesus' revelation was an update to Moses'.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  12. HeavenSent

    Jesus was super gay. Historians estimate he took it from behind roughly 1800 times during his short lifespan.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Trolling should never be this childish – or boring.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Cheetahe

    Mr. Patel, I will respect Islam in this country if they respect and tolerate other religions and genders in the countries where they are crushing majorities.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • LittleHero

      Mr. Cheetahe, I will respect Christianity in this country if they respect and tolerate other religions and genders in the countries where they are crushing majorities.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Manda

      Cheetahe, what you are doing is classic stereotyping. You are making every Muslim responsible for what some particular sects in some particular countries are guilty of. Would it be fair to hold you responsible for the violence in Ireland? For the inquisition? For eastern Europe? For David Koresh? Shouldn't those be proof of "what Christians do?"

      August 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  14. Manda

    Brainwashed fairy tale believers shouting about how other brainwashed fairy tale believers are not to be trusted. It would be hilarious if the results weren't so dangerous.

    It's the racist aspect of all this that bothers me, as far as I'm concerned all the faithful are equally deluded religious nuts.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • LittleHero

      AGREED!

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

      Q: Is nothing sacred?
      A: Bingo!

      August 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  15. achepotlex

    As Islamic societies evolve and Western societies disintegrate, I'm sure we will eventually meet, hand in hand...probably circa the 16th century.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      achepotlex: you are so Naive....their woman is still wearing Ninja outfit and that is dangerous. They will not assimilate, mingle with anglo american christians....infact here is something 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 12:41 pm |
    • .

      Another uneducated American post – from the TROLL JJ

      August 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  16. Truth

    Being Gay is death sentence in Islamic nations... WOW!

    August 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Dumb kid.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • LittleHero

      Only in the last couple of decades was it safe to be an openly gay man in most places in America. They usually took enough beatings as children to stay deeply in the closet and out of harms way.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Huh?

      Many scholars of Sharia, or Islamic law, interpret homosexual activity as a punishable offence as well as a sin. There is no specific punishment prescribed, however, and this is usually left to the discretion of the local authorities on Islam. Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, a contemporary Mauritanian scholar, has argued that "[even though] homosexuality is a grievous sin... no legal punishment is stated in the Qur'an for homosexuality... it is not reported that Prophet Muhammad has punished somebody for committing homosexuality.. there is no authentic hadith reported from the Prophet prescribing a punishment for the homosexuals..." Hadith scholars such as Al-Bukhari, Yahya ibn Ma`in, An-Nasa'i, Ibn Hazm, Al-Tirmidhi, and others have impugned them.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  17. Sad

    Why do Muslims have to kill those who leave Islam? Why do men get their head cut off for converting to Christianity? 😦

    August 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Andrew

      Why do "Christians" do so many things specifically against Jesus' teachings and commandments? Dude, there's a sequoia in your eye.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Huh?

      Probably for the same reason Christians burned witches at the stake and murdered millions of Native Americans.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Manda

      Read your bible, young Christian:

      "If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods,... do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him." (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

      August 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  18. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    You all guys want to go HEAVEN right?..christians, catholics, islam, hindu, buddhist, etc..everyone likes to go to heaven well perhaps the atheists, they dont know what heaven is like....NOW there is a faster way to go HEAVEN according to islam. That is jihad, suicide bombing !

    Now how come all of you muslims have not done JIHAD, suicide bombing? dont you guys want to go to heaven too??...or you are stupid that does not know heaven at all?...

    Speaking of Jihad, suicide bombing how come mohammed, Bin Laden did not do suicide bombing/jihad to kill themselves? why only their followers that have done suicide bombing???.,....something is not right. The leaders are too chicken to do suicide bombing.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • .

      Another uneducated American post by the TROLL JJ.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Paul

      Stop using God to justify your prejudice. Religion is about Loving one another. You're just looking for an excuse to hate

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

      Faulty assumption. I for one have no desire whatsoever to go to heaven, and I am deeply susp¡cious of anyone who thinks it's a real possibility.

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

      Paul: you are so naive !! dont you know that islam is dangerous?..even worse, their ladies, good looking or ugly once are also dangereous. IF any of those ladies starts wearing NINJA outfit...you have to run like hell....why they are dangerous? here is why: 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 12:43 pm |
    • .

      more uneducated posts from the TROLL JJ.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, JJ, DID say that atheists weren't interested in heaven. Possibly because atheists know that there is no evidence that any heaven exists, therefore wanting to go to heaven is rather like wanting to go to school at Hogwarts.

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

    WOW – how insulated from reality are you people?

    I work with people of every major religion on the planet, and 10% of them are gay – just like the normal population of your family and friends. If you can't recognize that most (99+%) of the population just wants to get along with their neighbors and make a decent living, and you still feel the need to preach to them or discriminate against them – then recognize that you are the problem.

    If you are so alarmed by religious extremists or the gay agenda, then take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really want to live with all that self-hatred.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  20. JustTheFacts

    All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher. – Lucretius (94 BC – 49 BC)

    There were smart people around for a long time!

    August 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      You can quote that but yet say "Not" to my post on the previous page? W T F?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Rastafarians? Are you kidding me? Russ Tafari?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      What's wrong with Rastafari? It's just as make-believe as any other religion. Did you see the line with FSM in it? Miss the joke, did you?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:45 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.