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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. Manda

    Many of the comments on here are simple ethnic stereotyping. These folks are making every Muslim responsible for what some particular sects in some particular countries are guilty of. Would it be fair to hold every American Christian responsible for the violence in Ireland? For the inquisition? For eastern Europe? For David Koresh? For shooting Sikhs in Wisconsin?

    Why are those not proof of "what Christians are like" and "what Christians do?" Because that would be simple-minded stereotyping, right?

    August 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Jake

      Well said Manda

      August 19, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  2. RichardSRussell

    So I'm led to believe that there are 2 different (RADICALLY different) people both posting here under the screen name "midwest rail". Is that right? And is there anything that can be done about it?

    August 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Puritan

      Please click "report abuse" under all of his posts. Then he can go back to his loser life.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Heh

      You can register your screen name with WordPress to protect it. I'm not exactly sure how you do it... maybe someone "blue" will fill us in.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nah, Puritan. I'm going to click "Report Abuse" on all of your posts.

      It will have exactly the same effect: zilch.

      You're a moron.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  3. Wreck Suede

    Who is this midwest rail? Why are you such an idiot?

    August 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Puritan

      Trust me, I know. Nothing intelligent or even remotely logical has ever come from him. Obviously just some loser who lives in his mom's basement. I'm trying to get him banned from this site for good as we type.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "I'm trying to get him banned".

      Bwahahhhahhhha! Wow, you really ARE 13.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  4. jon jon

    From my experience with muslim people, they are not gracious people, they take and give little in return, will not compromise much if at all. Probably the group of people least likely to empathize with others or see another's perspective. Always looking for an advantage over others and to gain for their own interests. And how many happy joyful muslims have you seen? Only when their enemies are killed or subjegated. Face it, their religion exalts power and violence.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Share more, Jon Jon. What is the total number of human beings represented by your personal "experience with Muslim people"? And what fraction of the billion Muslims worldwide does that represent?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ah, another one for my collection. Posts that contain the words "Face it", "Wake up", and "Come on" are invariably complete and utter manure.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  5. Gvee

    As a native from India with a decent exposure to the Muslim culture (thanks to the fact that India has the 3rd largest Muslim population in the world and that we are flanked by Muslim nations in the east and west. As you can imagine there is a long bloody history that comes packaged with such a disposition), my feelings for Islam are mixed for the following reasons
    The good:
    a. A majority of the contemporary Muslims are like the majority of the world, trying to make a decent living and not make religious fanaticism or zeal define who they are.
    b. They are generally compassionate and have the ability to show sympathy and help other communities. I have some Muslim friends myself who are very good people i.e. many of them are regular human beings after all.
    The bad:
    a. Their brazenly conservative tendencies in public don't help in endearing themselves to other religions e.g. a. countries with Islamic majority are extremely unsecular with religion playing a huge role in the administration b. they still sustain the practice of the hijab/burkah despite the fact that it puts their religion smack in the face of the public visual, mostly to their disadvantage due to the prevailing perceptions of the religion etc. Regardless of what religion anyone belongs to, it has to effaced from public discourse and be practiced in the confines of your own homes. And especially so for Islam or their own good.
    b. Their Koran which they consider very near and dear, preaches Islamic hegemony and condones killing non-believers. And guess what, history says that's exactly what was practiced. It was a book for the Arabian stone age and reforming or condemning any text in there is considered as sacrilege with no deference for common sense.
    c. They shamelessly put religion before country. Most Indian Muslims(including some of my friends) support Pakistan when the play cricket against India. I found that very disturbing considering that Pakistan is an arch political enemy that actively trains and supports terrorists and causing carnage in India regularly.

    They need to change some, if they want the world to trust and accept them as one among them. They have collected so much bad rap for their history and their religious teachings it is time they do something to undo all that.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  6. BigBird Johnson

    Muslims support murder and child abuse. I don't see conservatives taking a liking to them. They have a much better chance with liberals.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • NYOMD

      How about those pedophile Catholic priests then? They are still protected by the Vatican. Also, how about all the pedophile pastors that come up in the news every week? The truth is there are rotten apples everywhere, and if you don't see it you are either blind, a racist, or a hypocrite.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  7. midwest rail

    All religious people are nazis.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Fake.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Anon

      Another hideous comment from the world's biggest loser. Why don't you spread your ridiculous hate somewhere else? Grade A Moron!!

      August 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Heh

      This little hijacker twit forgets that it is a "sin" to steal and lie.

      (we've got his number real @midwest rail)

      August 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  8. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    midwest rail: you are hate mongers with puny brain like ahmedinejab from iran...

    August 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Puritan

      Midwest rail is an utter fool. Let's all ignore his idiotic comments from here on out. In fact I will be reporting him to the webmaster.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Since you're too brain dead to realize my screen name has been hijacked, I won't worry about much of anything you post.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Puritan, how many names have you used in the past 20 minutes? Don't you get tired of coming up with new ones so you can pretend you aren't writing to yourself?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Patrick

      you mean ahmadinedork?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  9. paulm5545

    Talk is cheap...

    August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  10. Totem Pole

    I think we can all agree midwest rail is an unprecedented moron. Go away loser.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Gary IN

      I agree. His comments and overall existence makes the world a worse place. Midwest rail should do all of nature and humanity a favor and end his own life.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Citizen B

      No doubt. Just thinking about the pathetic human (?) on the other end of that keyboard makes me want to vomit.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I believe you have hit on the one thing that can finally bring all the religions of the world together.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      midwest rail makes you three look like the Stooges.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  11. gpl2032

    What is it with CNN and muslims? Muslim this...Muslim that....Damn i hate that word. I personally hate muslims and there religion. Those terrorist on 9/11 were muslims, the FT Hood shooter was muslim, hell our POTUS is a muslim. The irony is muslims are the most tolerant society and yet liberals like the people who write for CNN embrace them.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Man, I sure hope they award you the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in whatever space-time continuum you've managed to tunnel thru from.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Manda

      Wow, gpl2032, you crammed a lot of evidence for you being an idiot into relatively few words. Well done.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  12. midwest rail

    Thinking about the holocaust gives me an erection.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Ah, got it. The name-hijacker is none other than "pervert alert". What happened, get tired of being schooled ?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      midwest rail: you must be iranian decend...like ahmadiejab you are jew haters, us haters, christian haters, gays haters...

      August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What does "decend" mean, you moron? Did you suffer brain damage in a go-cart accident?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  13. Jake

    I dream of the moment I see all people unite for the sake of this world. I dream of warless world based on fairness and justice. Please reject hate and prejudice.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • LittleHero

      I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.

      Unfortunately, weak minded people need to be lead around and there will always be more sociopaths to lead them than truly great men (or women). It is easier to deceive than it is to enlighten.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • John

      I dream of the moment Muslim "men" stop mutilating Muslim women. Then you can talk to me about respect.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  14. midwest rail

    I condone the actions of the 911 hijackers.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      midwest rail: you must be gay too..watch out since islam hates gays and lesbians and they will eventually get you.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Patrick

      why?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Jake

      Every wise person condemns it.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Little Late for Lenny

      Wow midwest rail...you are a horrible human being. Not only are your comments inane (don't hold your breath, how trite and lame) but you seem to support attrocities. I hope you never post again, loser.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Another childish name – hijacker. Typical contemporary faux Christian.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Johnson, are you 13 or 14?

      August 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  15. Sagebrush Shorty

    Evangelicals can love Islam until the cows come home. Atheists and even agnostics know better.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  16. fritz

    It's no surprise Protestant evangelicals would eventually make peace with and unite with Catholics considering the tsunami of scientific humanism sweeping the country as well as the world. Eventually, both Christians and Muslims will be forced to unite as well to try to prevent their religions from withering into irrelavancy. They all see the writing on the wall and wish to stop the inevitable. Unfortunately for them, they will fail and their religions will disappear from the minds of humans in the centuries ahead as did the worship of Zeus, Mithras or Ahura Mazda.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  17. RichardSRussell

    It must be driving the God-squadders nuts that the 4 guys at the top of the major-party tickets include 2 Catholics and a Mormon, and the guy who's closest to their own beliefs is Barack Obama.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  18. skytag

    Here's my take on how evangelicals could grow to love Muslims: they could act like Christians.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Don't hold your breath.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      What, you mean by mindlessly killing people who disagree with them? Mission accomplished.
       
      Or perhaps by loving their nabors as themselves? Mission also accomplished!
       
      Thus endeth the reading about drawing sweeping generalizations from a limited sample space.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  19. JustTheFacts

    People confuse Communism with Atheism. Why?

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

      Because in their myopic little redneck circles that's what un-Americans are.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  20. Islam

    Allah u Akbar

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

      allah u snackbar

      August 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      So says Mohammed (pb&j).

      August 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Admiral Ackbar

      August 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Patrick

      islam islame!

      August 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Oscar Mayer sez: I salami

      August 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Islam: Allah u akbar? yes.,..my Allah is akbar not yours...

      August 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Patrick

      islame is hell!

      August 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Patrick

      allah=shaitan

      August 19, 2012 at 1:19 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.