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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. Ramon F. Herrera

    Which is the party of hate? Is is very easy to see:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsHi6_l1XzA&w=640&h=360]

    August 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Capt Snarky Bear

      I'm calling ICE. Go back to your own country, taco muncher. You people are ruining America. Take your twenty kids and leave.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Yer a dork

      Why, the Dems do course. They are the ones constantly manipulating the press and putting together multiple clips of the few bad apples so they can make unfounded generalizations about the rest. Hateful, bigoted Dems.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Farscape

      I wish Mexico was successful, as opposed to the dangerous cesspool it is. Then I could go to your country and work at burger king.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      People wonder: Which is the party where hatred is most concentrated and distilled?

      The only ones qualified to make a statement are the victims of prejudice, persecution and racism themselves. Let's ask them, shall we?

      Here's their response:

      – Black folks voted for Obama, by a 96% margin.
      – Jewish folks voted for Obama, by a 75% margin.
      – Hispanic folks voted for Obama, by a 66% margin.
      – Asian folks voted for Obama, by a 63% margin.
      – Gay folks voted for Obama, by an unknown margin.

      ps: Oh, I almost forgot the largest minority of all:

      http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/story/2012-04-01/swing-states-poll/53930684/1

      August 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Yer a dork

      Yep, Ramon, that certainly shows racism, just not in the way you think it does. Too bad so many were snowed by the silver-tongued devil, someone who didn't do one thing to help any of their causes. Too bad they fell for a novelty rather than voting for someone with experience rather than the failure we wound up with

      August 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  2. Capt Snarky Bear

    Has anyone here ever seen a black guy naked? It looks like they are making a bowel movement from the front.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      One can't help but wonder whether you are aware of the long-term, irreparable, permanent damage that you are inflicting to the Republican Party.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      @Capt Snarky Bear: "Has anyone here ever seen a black guy naked?"

      Mrs. Palin has. She went down on a Black basketball player she was interviewing in college.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  3. There is No god BUT God

    I am an Evangelical. I love Muslims and Catholics. So the folks y'all are talking about must be in the neck of your woods, or some hate groups who pose as spirituals – them pharisees and SAD'U'SEE's

    August 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Puhleez

      I love them, too, but can we please distinguish between the people and the horrible, violent, abhorrent religion known as Islam?

      August 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  4. jimzcarz

    and You can't make me..

    August 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  5. Ramon F. Herrera

    Let's hear it from the horse's mouth, as it were:

    Interviewer: "Why do you hate Mexicans?"
    Tea Party Member: "Because they are filthy, stinky ANIMALS!!!"

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXaILy3GE7U&w=640&h=360]

    August 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • ug

      Where is you geen card Ramon? Stop eating tacos and go home.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Yer a dork

      Generalize much? Don't think the same sort of heavy-handed editing can be done for the utter failure of a movement by Dems known as Occupy?

      August 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  6. ipmutt

    We should not love or hate anyone becasue of their religion. shame on mainstream media for using this to seperate people.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      "shame on mainstream media for using this to separate people."

      I just saw this in the Website Disclaimer:

      "Anybody who disagrees with the CNN editorial lines or forum policies, can go to Faux themselves:

      http://www.foxnews.com

      August 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      @ipmutt : "Shame on mainstream media for using [religion] to separate people."

      Don't worry, we have been doing an outstanding, admirable job at separating ourselves centuries before media was invented.

      -Signed: The People

      August 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  7. PPJr

    First I'm going to learn to love bedbugs, as an intermediate step.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  8. Ramon F. Herrera

    @Mei: "Why is it that Sundays this site puts several Muslim related stories up?"

    I just saw this in the Website Disclaimer:

    "Anybody who disagrees with the CNN editorial lines or forum policies, can go to Faux themselves:

    http://www.foxnews.com

    August 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Ramon F. Herrera

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSixNyQFhpM&w=640&h=360]

    August 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  10. Alabama Hotpocket

    .sgaf era snaitsirhC

    August 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Timbuck Deuce

      .emit eht lla sllab gnikcus pots dluohs yehT

      August 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  11. ug

    I will never embrace or "love" these parasites that are real terrorists and want to see sharia law in this country and through out the world...they are a cancer to the world and need to be thrown out of this country and the liberal terrorists will always try to suck up to them and lie about their real intent in this country...wake up America!

    August 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Alabama Hotpocket

      You have made yourself a shoe-in for fvcktard of the millenium. Congrats.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  12. Nietodarwin

    Mormon and muslims are both believers in polygamy. You good xstians gonna vote for Mitt????

    August 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  13. lou50

    1700 years of history should give you a clue!

    August 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  14. Mona

    Do any of you guys care for gross, hairy tacos? My beaver will change your outlook on life.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  15. midwest rail

    My goal in life is to make a bukkake video starring myself and my grandma.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      Is grandma pitching or catching?

      August 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  16. midwest rail

    I like to beat off into my own mouth.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • midwest rail

      In your true incarnation, I'm sure that's true.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  17. Scott

    Wow, the hypocrisy of most comments i see is really astounting. Most of you you are talking negative about muslims i bet have never met a muslim and have a conversation about the religion even for 10 min. because you have decided that it is evil and hence dont bother. It makes your life a lot easier to sort out. We as americans are notorious for not knowing anything outside america. What you consume in news is what you believe. I know tons of americans that live in middle east without any problems. Do you know of one? probably not. If yes asked them what they think. and pls lets not go into even 10 years ago when on a pack of lies we went into a muslim coutry killings thousands of them. i.e iraq. Also before iraq invasion, during clinton era because of medicine embargo 500,000 iraqi chirldren died. Dead even before they knew they were iraqis. Iranian govrenment was thrown by us in 1953 and we installed Shah who brutalized and killed thousands of iranians. We impose mubarak on egypt, kep the current king of jordan and Saudi arabia. Muslims dont hate any americans except the few radicals. They hate our foriegn policies....

    August 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Your existence is flawed. Perhaps you should stop being such an idiot.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Puhleez

      Come down off your high horse there cowboy! Don't assume people who have views different from yours are unlearned and antisocial. I've been to a middle eastern country. I gave money to Muslim beggar-children, and yet I was hatefully shouted down as Amriki! Merely because I did not care to enter his shop and browse his wares. I've known many Muslims, some of whom have been nice, but that doesn't mean I approve of their hateful and violent religion. My previous reference to "killing the unbelievers wherever they are" is not something and Islamist extremist said, it is mentioned multiple times in the Quran. If you haven't read it yourself in spite of your high-horse tone, then you should. Islam is a religion that has always encouraged and rationalized more violence than any other and was indeed born out of violent nomadic raid mentality. It deserves to be humiliated and should be abandoned by any rational, truly non-violent people.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. Puhleez

    Maybe in 50 years Islam will disappear from the U.S. and preferrably from the world. Sorry, Muslims, it's too hard to stomach the many "Kill the unbelievers wherever they are..." references. So having a Muslim preaching to other religions about how they need to work on their tolerance is, to say the least, hypocritical. Try removing th log from your own violent religion's eye before pointing out the spec in others'.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Scott

      I do respect your point but if you read about middle east there is tons of poverty and lack of education. It is that breeding ground that creates ignorance on their part. That can be said about any society. Islam has verses that talk about violence just like bible and yes the western countries act on them in the form of war not suicide bombings. We have killed many of them mostly innocent civiians even though we may not have the intentions to do so. That still does not answer my initial point...have a look at our own foreign policy since 1953 throwing of the iranian govt. and you can connect the dot.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  19. Mei

    A good video about love of neighbor: A Man Fell in a Hole
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg-wqM8Q0ds&w=640&h=360]

    August 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • One one

      The real message of this vid is my religion is better than all the others.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Mei

    Why is it that Sundays this site puts several Muslim related stories up? Sunday is a Christian holy day–every Sunday when Christians go to church. Christianity has created (and done) the most charity in the world–from hospitals, to orphanages, to welfare system, to homeless shelters. They have given much love to all people despite their religion. Mother Teresa was a fine example of the practicing Christian.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quanti-ty Surveying

      "They have given much love to all people" Yeah, like during the Crusades! Or the Salem witch trials! Or if you're gay! With love like that, who needs hate?

      August 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      Claiming to have a monopoly over the Sunday Mei wrote:

      @Mei: "Why is it that Sundays this site puts several Muslim related stories up?"

      I just saw this in the Website Disclaimer:

      "Anybody who disagrees with the CNN editorial lines or forum policies, can go to Faux themselves:

      http://www.foxnews.com

      August 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Yer a dork

      And, Ramon, I'm sure you'd say the same of any negative article on Islam that happens to fall on one of their Holy days. Actually, I suspect you wouldn't.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:50 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.