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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. Henry Spencer

    Chadwatch–you are so funny. As in side splitting humor!! Every one of your posts is enlightening and funny. Please keep posting.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Chadwatch, a public service

      Thank you for yourkind words and support! However, the only true reward for us at Chadwatch is that rational justice is done and the light of reason shines brightly. And cookies – we are quite fond of oatmeal raisin cookies.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  2. Henry Spencer

    The attrocities suffered by the sudanese is actually quite funny.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  3. Mike

    Religions need to go away. They were useful before modern science, now they are nothing but dead weight.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      Don't think religion was was ever useful – unless you call controlling and manipulating people and getting them to kill other people useful

      August 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    August 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tuck Rule

      Annalingus is healthy though, right? I hope so, recalling all the gross things we did last night.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • David

      How is Atheism unhealthy? Atheism is simply non-beleife in any God.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • truth be told

      More people have been murdered by atheists in the last 100 years than have been killed in all previous centuries. Do you consider murder a healthy pursuit?

      August 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • truth be told

      Confronted with Truth the wanna be atheist quickly degenerates into filth as tuck demonstrates

      August 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • David

      Truthbetold: I assume you are referring to Stalin, Hitler etc. Besides the fact your post makes no sense, those regimes did not kill people in the name of atheism. Atheism is simply non belief in God, it is not a common core set of ideological, political, or moral beliefs.
      It is a silly argument, but if that is not what you are saying then please provide evidence for your assertion.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      David, the dolt doesn't have a fvckin' clue.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      @truth – that Hitler fella was a nutty wacky devout Catholic

      August 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Scott

      @truth be told:
      More people have been murdered by atheists in the last 100 years than have been killed in all previous centuries. Do you consider murder a healthy pursuit?

      Typical idiot Christian. "in all previous centuries" almost everyone was a theist and almost no one was an atheist (it could get you burned at the stake), so most every killing done by anyone before this last 100 years was killed by a theist. Or are you so short sighted that you think anyone who isn't a card carrying Christian is an atheist?

      August 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  5. Badboy

    Christ changed time....duh.....what did allah do? Oh yeah, he was a pedophile who claimed to be a prophet. This year is 2012 BC......"BC"
    not "AC"....Christ changed time....look it up for yourself...duh...every time you look at a clock!

    August 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Badboy –

      That's parody, right?

      August 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Lord Byron

      Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. You have unravelled the mysteries of the universe!! What a genius you are. And so eloquently spoken...The world should be worshipping you. An ideal scenario would be your word spread across this great land and taught in our schools, so future generations can carry on the tradition of excellence you hvae engineered. Bravo!

      August 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Anon

      You cant compare a 9 year old to today to a 9 year old 1400 years ago. Today 9 year old are running around with barbie dolls and backpacks. 1400 years ago children helped with chores and even cooked!

      Back in the day the average life span of a human was 35years, today its 75 years. Back then people married young, if it was disallowed back then, then you are basically CONDEMNING 60% OF THE HUMAN RACE.

      Mohamed(pbuh) married Aisha when she was 6, and consummated the marriage when she was 9. If he was a pedophile would he really wait 3 years!!!!

      August 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • David

      Your post makes no sense. I assume the reference to pedophile was to Muhammad. Muhammad is not God, nor did he claim to be devine in anyway. Allah is the Arabic word for God. This is the God that Muslims prey too. It is the same God that Christians and Jews pray to. Muhammad was the Prophet of Islam, he was not God (allah)
      Clearly you have a limited understanding of Islam. I am not a Muslim but the similarities and connections to judaism and christianity are immense. There are differences too.
      Muslims believe that Jesus was the Messiah, performed miracles, was born the virgin mary, healed the sick, raised the dead, and will judge the earth on judgment day. they do not believe he was God or is a God in anyway. The Qu'ran does instruct Muslims to follow the ways of jesus as they claim he is the word of god, and the light of god.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Seriously

      You are seriously an idiot. You should be put away.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Anon

      Mohamed(pbuh) had many people who ridiculed and even planned assassination attempts. The called him a liar, traitor, crazy etc. but not once did anyone call him a pedophile which shows that 1400 years ago that was the common practice. He traveled to may lands and was never accused of such a thing!

      August 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • JM

      Well, that was dumb...

      Is ignorance now a national pasttime?

      August 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Chadwatch, a public service

    It appears someone has let the children loose on this site today. On a brighter note, through the collective efforts of upright citizens The Chad is nowhere to be seen.

    Nothing but blue skies....(and semi-racist Christians, and childish name-stealers, but other than that...)

    August 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Really-O? (a message to Chadwatch)

      @Chadwatch –

      I may have chased-away "The Chad" here –

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/13/first-on-cnn-atheist-group-targets-presidential-candidates-faith-with-billboards/comment-page-53 @ August 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      ...if so, should I apologize or take pride?

      August 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Really-O?

      ...removing (a message to Chadwatch) from my handle.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Lord Byron

      Great comment!! You prove again and again why you are such an enlightened human being. You should record all of your teachings and spread them throughout the land so that all can enjoy and cherish your brilliant ideology.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Really-O?

      Actually, my assault started at 12:25 pm.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Dr. Leo Marvin

      Really-O?
      "I may have chased-away "The Chad" here -"

      He's not gone... he's NEVER gone!

      August 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Lord Byron –

      Hmm...I think you posted in the wrong thread. No?

      August 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Dr. Leo Marvin –

      Yes, rather like herpes.

      Cheers

      August 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Chadwatch, a public service

      Well, played, sir.

      We at Chadwatch have frequently observed that simply forcing The Chad to cut to the chase rather than arguing about minutiae often sends him packing. When he is obliged to admit that all he is really arguing for is that "Magic Mike" made it all happen because He wanted it that way, The Chad runs out of steam pretty quickly. If not, demanding to know exactly how the magic is performed usually tangles him up pretty good (actually, it usually just causes him to conspicuously dodge the question and try to change the subject). I've got a busy days ahead of me, so I will entrust Chadwatch to the public collective.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Dr. Leo Marvin

      Really-O?,

      "Dr. Catherine Tomsky: If you want to be rid of him, just tell him you won't treat him anymore.

      Dr. Leo Marvin: Catherine, that's easy for you to say. The man is, is like, like human Krazy Glue!

      Dr. Catherine Tomsky: You should never have let him sleep in your pajamas, Leo."

      August 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Dr. Leo Marvin

      p.s. Y'all's discussions with Chad have been great. Don't wish him gone - you guys are good!

      August 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Dr. Leo Marvin –

      Clever Bob reference. I do love me some Murray.

      Cheers

      August 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  7. III

    I want to reconstruct the events of the holocaust using only my genitals.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Start with Kristallnacht. Break a window with your putz and report back here.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  8. RichardSRussell

    Hey gang, their might be someone out there stealing peoples screen names! Don't know if anyone noticed. I suggest that you click report abuse on all posts under Tom, Tom the Piper's Son and midwest rail.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      OK, that one was not from the real RichardSRussell, and I'm going to make it real easy to tell the difference from here on out by logging out for the weekend. Bye.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Commenter

      RichardSRussell (the real one),

      That's a damn shame. Your posts are always excellent.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  9. lll

    TT has been at this for awhile – the end game for TT is to tick people off and then count it as a personal victory that the "Trolls" give up and go away. Accomplishing nothing really, to be most pitied

    August 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Stone Throw

      I agree. Tom Tom is an annoying troll. Tired of reading his amateur comments every weekend.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Wahhhahhahha!

      If you don't like my posts, good! Get lost. Go blow. Leave. Scram.

      I can guarantee not one person here will miss you in the slightest.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  10. rabbitone

    what do we need to love muslims or christians – both are phony monsters of cruelty

    August 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • coyotesayswhat

      The more you learn the more you ask...what was all the hub bub? Its so simple. We are all one.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • JM

      Stupidity.

      Why don't you actually get to know a Muslim American? They are probably doctors and engineers in your community, Einstein.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  11. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    hear yea..hear yea: You all may laugh and joke around in here but dont let your guard down by muslim woman suicide bomber. Here is a friendly reminder for you all: 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 2:06 pm |
    • JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

      Even something as large as a hand-grenade can be concealed, well... at least in my rectum with room to spare. That's my experience.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  12. JJ (Johnson and Johnson)

    You all may laugh and joke around in here but dont let your guard down with woman suicide bomber. Here is a friendly reminder for you all: 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 2:04 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @JJ (Johnson and Johnson) –

      Thanks for the warning about ninjas...I've always been afraid of them.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  13. RichardSRussell

    Just a word of advice to anyone whose screen name has been hijacked by a troll: Since I am systematically going back several pages to hit "Report Abuse" for those posts, do try to distinguish your own authentic posts from theirs in some way, lest I inadvertently flag one of yours by mistake.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ellison

      Good advice genius. Do you work for the CIA? You seem to have a lot of valuable insider knowledge here.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Nope, just a regular citizen end user who's spent WAY more time than I should have on the Belief Blog and picked up a few tricks along the way.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  14. oddjob2234

    What a bunch of bull. Why must people cherry pick the most disruptive and rude elements of society, and try to attribute those characteristics to anyone that agrees with those people politically? It's beyond asinine.

    "As they believed about Catholicism then, many evangelicals now view the very nature of Islam as incompatible with American values"

    What the hell does "many" mean here? This is nothing but more divisive crap. Crap.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  15. Blondie

    And Eve's hole is really an android sausage-slip made from silicone and shaped like an orchid and sold online for $49.95.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  16. Curtis Hecker

    Wow this Tom Tom guy is a real moron. Losers seem to flock to this blog.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Hot Chick

      No doubt. I can tell you first hand that losers like Tom Tom never get anywhere.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Comment

      Curtis! Stop! You've confused your beat-off sock with one of your sock puppets. Go wash your hand.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  17. midwest rail

    Hey Tom, Tom. Let's take a shower after this.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  18. The Piper

    Sorry about my son everyone. I should have pulled out.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Tom, Tom, the F Tard

    My life is so pathetic that the only way I can gain self esteem is by making brainless comments anonymously. In real life I have no friends and have never gotten laid.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Poor little thing. Is this all you have to amuse yourself?

      Honey, do you think you've posted anything that I haven't seen before? You're not even original, much less literate. But do keep on posting. It's fun to watch you attempt to land a blow.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • lll

      TT and has been at this for awhile, only end game is ticking people off and counting it a victory when people get fed up leave the site. to be more pitied that somehow TT feels this is living.....

      August 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  20. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I want to design a currency for cats and dogs to use.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Because the trolls here need someone to be a responsible party.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:56 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.