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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. midwest rail

    The worst thing about banging kids is getting blood on my clown outfit.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Sad, sad faux Christian.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  2. wobbles

    I'll "larn to love muslims" when they can go even one year without murdering people for not being muslims. So far they haven't been able to achieve that in over 1300 years. We need to stop traying to convince ourselves that we are the ones who need to change when they haven't changed since their cult leader first started his wasr of aggression at the founding of the cult.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Manda

      Please indicate any year when no group of Christians killed anyone. Seriously, get your ignorant head out of your ass.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Who me?

    I love to hang out in public restrooms so I can smell other people's bowel movements.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Who me?

      ..I see what you did there bud.I'm out, as the crazies seem to be well into the afternoon 6 pack session.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  4. frank

    beware the muslim

    August 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  5. Doug

    Muslims want Christians to love them , but Islam has no reciprical love for non Musilms , i.e. Jews or Christains .
    This can be a problem .

    August 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  6. Gamma

    Why do christians believe in god?
    Because they are told to.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Gamma

    How many christians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    Zero. Science is fake. Thomas Edison was wrong. The reason the bulb lights up is because Jesus wants it to.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Who me?

      Easy cowboy.I am atheist and I find these posting neither funny ,nor constructive.Reel it in a bit.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  8. government cheese

    Maybe Muslims could denounce terrorism instead of cheering every time Americans die.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Gamma

    Why did the christian cross the road?
    A pedophile donned a rob, lit a few candles and told him to. The christian did so without asking why.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  10. ruth

    There is no way I would grow to love muslims,and I am not alone in my way of thinking,the younger generation might but 9 out 10 baby boomers will not!....are you kidding,I am sorry they are taught to hate Americans from the time they are little,what you see and hear from them is a front...they will try to take us over by population at first then it will be just a matter of time when Americans will be hearing the prayers over loud speakers and saluting and flying a different flag,.....trust me it will happen .....Obama was taught for 20 years by Jeremiah Wright to hate this country ,we just never found this out until AFTER he became President,and now you never hear about him..you do not hear this for 20 years and all of a sudden you CHANGE....I do not think so

    August 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • David

      Feeling paranoid today? Your post is a little nutty....

      August 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Marc

      Ruth, go back to your Bible and re-read the part where Jesus says to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. He didn't say "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself, but only if they aren't Muslim", He said to love EVERYBODY. He also put it into practice, even as he was being executed by forgiving those who were tasked with putting him to death despite the Roman soldiers being gentiles and worshipping gods other than God. There are no exceptions here, you are to love God and love everyone else, including Muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow. Ruth is really a wacko. Hopefully there aren't too many of these nitwits around.

      August 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  11. Gamma

    You are stuck in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden and a christian. You have a gun with two bullets. What do you do?
    Shoot bible boy twice in the face.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Puhleez

      Nice one, mental midget.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  12. James

    Why does anybody have to learn to love muslims? I am a christian like most people in America and Canada and Christian teaching is big on loving thy neighbour as thyself, and that each person is made in the image of God. If you do not practise this, you cannot call yourself a christian.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Really-O?

      And there we have it...a textbook "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • David

      What is your point?

      August 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Seyf

      James, that is a beautiful value. A sincere love for each other and the consequent concern for each other's worldly and eternal well being will help us listen and understand each other and make progress for the better on the basis of our commonalities. Thanks.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • ruth

      Muslims think different than a Christian,they take the Christ out of Christian!

      August 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  13. Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

    Overheard at a secret Taliban Suicide Bombing School – TEACHER: Okay, class, I'm only going to show you this once

    August 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  14. Reality

    Dear Eboo,

    We come with a better solution:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    August 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  15. msadr

    We still don't like Catholics. We have just realized that they are the least of many evils. Muslims are the most. And Mormons are somewhere in between.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. David

    maybe people should examine the world through the lenses of rationality and not old books written thousands of years ago.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  17. Alicia

    I don't like liver, the taste, smell, texture. I see no reason to learn to love it, same with America hating muslims.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Gamma

      Very Christian of you. Not only are you people brainwashed and docile, you can't even interpret the bible correctly.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      @ gamma: by definition, and interpretation is just that – a subjective view of something. There cannot, by definition, be a "correct" interpretation of the bible.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Ima Moore Ron

      I'm with you Alicia.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • David

      What is it about the Bible that is more moral or better than the Qu'ran? Just wondering what your opinion is. I am assuming you have read both.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  18. redlace

    Acknowledge differences, but highlight similarities. "Learning to love" someone for their differences only results in magnifiying opportunities for prejudice. Concentrating on the common ground that we all share minimizes those opportunities. When taken to the ridiculous extreme – that is, magnifying the differences between multiple different illogical fantasy worlds (religions) – simply highlights differences that don't even truly exist. Faith simply has no place in a rational discussion of peaceful coexistance.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      @redlace: How DARE you bring logic and moderation to this comment board! Prepare to be condemned and burned at the stake.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • David

      Well said

      August 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  19. Tuco Salamanca

    Why CNN, would you print this? You had to have known it was going to incite hate and bigotry from the uneducated and narrow minded.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      Fortunately the atheists are here to post comments to counter those hateful, narrow-minded comments

      August 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  20. truth be told

    Jesus is lord. The world is 3000 years old. Tim Tebow is the best quarterback in NFL history.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      3000? Not 6000? Are you sure? That must be why scientists were able to recently see a supernova billions of light years away, huh? "god" must rely on subterfuge like planting the image of that supernova only thousands of light years away so as to confuse modern scientists into thinking that the universe is much older, huh? What a prankster! "he" must not want all that many souls in heaven, huh?

      August 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Gamma

      G Zeus: religion isn't about logic or reason. It is about a bunch of brainwashed tards singing songs. Trying to use reason with a religious person is like trying to use reason with a shoe. Neither is receptive to logic.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      The NFL? Who cares? The CFL – now THAT's football!

      August 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Football??!!?? Hockey is a REAL game!

      August 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      @ tall: The tern "Real" is a qualitative, as opposed to quanti-tative, measure, and as such is simply subject to personal interpretation. Having said that, the Montreal Canadiens were the greatest franchise in the history of team sport. (Although they've kinds sucked for the last while, sadly)

      August 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Poor Habs. I'm a Red Wings fan myself. That's a class franchise. And if there IS a god, it's Steve Yzerman.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      The Wings – no argument about how great they were, and are. But I'd have to put Guy Lafleur a little higher on the pantheon – smoked, drank, skated like the wind, with that hair flying behind him – part of the team with the best season record every. But I'm sure we can agree on one thing – the Maple Laffs

      August 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Certainly Lafleur has earned his spot in the hockey pantheon, but I'll take the quiet Captain any day. He carried the Wings for a long time and gave up personal glory to do it.

      And I must confess I don't hate the Leafs as much as I hate the Flyers. (B@stards.)

      August 19, 2012 at 4:03 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.