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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. No Love

    Sorry. No one should love Islam.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • saggyroy

      No one should love any religion. It is filled with false hope and empty promises and causes the problems it is supposed to solve.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  2. Rainer Braendlein

    "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.", Mr. Patel said.

    This is a real problem. The Catholic Church is not only a church, but also a state which wants to increase its influence. If too much members of the administration of a secular country are Catholic, there is high danger that the pope gets too much influence. The pope and his clergy was never concerned about the soul's health of the Catholics or anybody else, but only about increasing their temporal power, honor and riches. In fact, the pope is the most cunning criminal which lives on earth. He uses religion as a smokescreen for his malice.

    One of the greatest leaders of Enlightenment was Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia (peace be upon him). He himself was a Protestant, but kept it somewhat secret. In Pruzzia there was religious freedom, although Frederic was convinced of the progressiveness of Protestantism. Frederic knew exactly that wolves in sheep's clothing could even affect Protestant Churches, and abuse them, in order to reach their selfish aims.

    Yet, basically true Protestantism doesn't aspire for temporal rule, power, honor and wealth, and his thus the most advanced religion. True Portestantism according to Jesus intentions, is merely concerned about the soul's health of the Christians or all human beings.

    Islam and Catholicism alway aspire for temporal rule, honor and riches. This belongs to their core tenets, and in so far they are dangerous. The dark age was dark simply because the evil popes and the evil successors of Muhammad ruled the world. In Europe Frederic the Great finished the rule of the pope around 1742 a. D. (peace and honor to Frederic).

    Let us love our Muslim and Catholic neighbours but let us be on the alert when they want to take over rule. Only a few Muslims and Catholics should be allowed to hold public offices.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • No Love

      The dark ages were dark because of pagan influences.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  3. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Once there were ancient religions in Greece, Egypt, Persia, etc. In other words, many of the regions which surrounded where the ancient Israelis roamed. Then the Israelis finally got around to writing down their religion, which clearly borrow ideas from their neighbors (such as heaven and hell). Then came the offshoot called Christianity. Then came the rip-off called Islam. Then came the ludicrous Mormonism....well they're all ludicrous and fantastic!!

    How can anyone who knows history, who knows that things that come later are ripped off of their predecessors and therefore are not original, continue to follow and believe in this crap?!?! And that includes Judaism, since it was ripped off from surrounding folklore in the Middle East. How can anything ripped off of a rip-off be the real thing?!?!!

    August 19, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  4. Matt Dante

    Belief in a supernatural being without one shred of empirical evidence? Muslim, Christian, Jew, Wiccan, etc – a clear indication of a mental infirmity.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Eric

      I am willing to bet there are plenty of things you believe without any evidence.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  5. larryschuh

    I am a conservative follower of Christ. God calls me to love all people regardless of their ethnic/religious background. Hating a Muslim would simply reflect a shallow understanding of God's love for me and a weak ,shallow relationship with God at best. With that said, the biggest misunderstanding that the author is demonstrating is the notion that b/c I am working side by side with you and befriending you, I am therefore completely agreeing with your faith and your beliefs. Islam and Christianity are oil and water. This oil and water started from the beginning with Abraham's 2 children Isaac and Ishmael. Both children represented 2 totally different ideologies. One led to God, the other led to a flesh-driven approach in a worthless attempt to connect with God...I won't go into that, but that is new to you, feel free to study it on your own. Biblical faith is finding a connection with God by grace through faith and not by works....once this faith is born, that follower then works for God out of love. Islamic faith is through works and only works. There is no grace that leads one into the Islamic faith and to Allah. The driving factor toward God in this faith is fear. The famous "Scales" passage in the Koran teaches that so long as your good works slightly outweigh your bad works your good with Allah. These 2 teachings and the 2 historical figures Isaac/Ishmael indicate differences that cannot be and never will be reconciled. All that to say, the author misunderstands the healthy/spiritual/non-pretending conservative Chritian's capacity to love someone and yet disagree with someone and their life choices.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Beast

      Frankly, you could say that about Christianity and any other religion. Hinduism,Buddhism, Judiaism, etc etc etc. The author is CLEARLY not arguing on that level. If you are truly Christian, then you will figure out that "Love Thy Neighbor" doesn't have an asterisk printed next to it.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • collectivedementia

      larryschuh....The hate you speak of actually began with Jacob and Esau, Isaacs children. Esau began to hate Jacob when Jacob conned him out of his first-born birthright and inheritance. That is also when the fear of the children of Esau began with the children of Jacob.
      Ishmaels mother Hagar was actually told by God her son would become a mighty nation, with 12 sons becomeing the heads of nations. God visited her twice as recorded in the OT, to reveal the childs name, and to encourage her when she and her son were cast out by Sarah. She called Him "the God who liveth and seeth me".

      August 19, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Chelle

      It constantly stuns me that in the year 2012 there are still people who believe their beliefs are the only true way to worship.

      Why, why, why??? The fact that Christians still try to "convert" people is equally stunning. If I want to worship a bush, why not just LET ME?!!!

      August 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  6. Andrew

    Eh. As society advances more and more will become more tolerant atheists/agnostics more than tolerant Evangelicals. Nonbelievers don't really have any real beef against the various religions.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  7. Isma'il

    Muslims do not believe in the seperation of "church and State". I am a Muslim, and I know first hand that Islam is involve in every part of our exsistence. If, I took office, it would only be my duties as a Muslim to adjust the laws of the State to serve God.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Andrew

      That is why no one in their right mind would vote you into office.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • guest

      why i have a feeling that u r not a muslim 🙂

      August 19, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Chelle

      So does the LDS Church but that hasn't stopped Mitt Romney from running.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  8. dm21865

    Islam talking about tolerance an acceptance in others. That's a laugh.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Christie Ley

      You need to read history on The early Muslims They were very tolerant of other religions until the Christian Crusaders came into the picture and massacred their people.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • saggyroy

      "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."

      The same is true of ANY religion. Wake up!

      August 19, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Tom

      Christie: You need to read their book. By tradition, the later writings are the ones that have precedence. And these writings clearly instruct that the infidel is to be killed. I'll believe Islam is a peaceful religion when they change the book. You've clearly had way too much Kook Aid.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Tom

      Christie: You need to look at recent history. I'm less concerned about early Muslims than I am with the recent ones.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • dm21865

      The crusades??? That was in the 13th century. Are you saying that is the crutch upon which Muslim bigotry, hatred and intolerance for all other religions rests? The crusades?? Good grief.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  9. Tom

    This piece is nothing but a cheap slam against evangelicals. Who's the real bigot, Patel???

    August 19, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Beast

      No it clearly is not. A significant subset of evangelicals promote hatred of Muslims because of lack of understanding. I guess you have never walked in on a conversation of your "friends" talking ahout how they would solve all of the world's problems by nuking your entire religion off of the map.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Tom

      Facts talk, Beast. A "significant subset?" Back it up.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • wjshelton

      Tom, we could start by naming Franklin Graham, who is well know for his blatantly anti-Islamic statements.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Beast

      Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Bill Keller, John Hagee. Is that significant enough for you?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  10. charles bowen

    Have had my back against that wall in 1970 Durring the Jordan Crisis ....When a Religion Supports Evil it is time to Bring that Religion to an End Muslims Support Evil and Christianity is,nt far behind .....Charles Bowen

    August 19, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  11. collectivedementia

    Evangelicals need to accept Mormonism first before stepping that far out of the box. If that were to happen, Mitt would be our next President. The Republican ticket might have had a better chance if it were Ryan-Romney, not the other way around.
    At least Mormonism is a true made-in-America product, no matter how wacky it appears to the general population.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Cefalu

      Mormonism is whacky, and based on some seriously flawed and suspect beliefs... But, it isn't bent on murdering it's own, or the rest of us for that matter.

      Muslims, as a whole are either trying to kill each other and everyone around them, or the minority stay silent in fear of their own, secretly hoping they win the battle against the infidel.

      God help us if these monsters gain power in this country.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  12. jp

    It's all FAKE all of it everyu single bit; made up superstion; fantasy; myth; lies; guilt and brainwashing

    August 19, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  13. USA citizen

    ain't NO WAY IN FRICKIN' H E L L... this is going to happen...Send them all back to desert and their camels

    August 19, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  14. mike

    Everywhere the white man goes theres nothing but death and destruction, think of colonialism in africa, the genocide against native americans, Hitler killing all the jews

    August 19, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  15. Thaddeus S.

    Deuteronomy 23
    King James Version (KJV)
    "23 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord"

    Thats right Lance Armstrong is screwed!!

    August 19, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  16. Christie Ley

    I find it incredibly sad that people who have probably never even met a Muslim can be so negative about them. You can not put every Muslim in one basket. This is a very narrow minded, tunnel visioned way of looking at people who are different from us.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Braveheart

      you must be living in a different planet...People around the world have seen enough of Muslim and their peace...nothing more to see..Cult of death and slavery....Islam is not a solution but the problem....

      August 19, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Tom

      Christy: "I find it incredibly sad that people who have probably never even met an evangelical can be so negative about them. You can not put every evangelical in one basket. This is a very narrow minded, tunnel visioned way of looking at people who are different from us."

      Thanks very much for your sterling insight!

      August 19, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • saggyroy

      I am a white middle aged male atheist ex-catholic. I have Muslim relatives by marriage. From Saudi and Palestine. There are also more than a few xtian fundies in the family. I prefer the company of my Muslim relatives any day.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • saggyroy

      @Braveheart: Religion is the solution to the problems religion causes.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • c

      Amen! It's hard to stomach the amount of hatred being spewed forth from these trolls. I have many Muslim friends and 1. they are American, 2. they are successful parts of society, and 3. and they suffer for the hate Osama bin Ladin spread and and everything he stood for. It is disgusting how our fellow "Americans" can turn blame away from a madman to a million good American Muslims.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  17. Noel

    Where I come from, the response is "That dog won't hunt".

    Not going to happen, embracing the Religion of Murder is about as likely as George Wallace becoming President.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Robert McCabe

      Anyone who believes this story has serious head problems.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  18. Mcbob

    Ill keep saying it. Not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are Muslim.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Beast

      Except Ted Kaczynski, Jared Loughner, Wade Michael Page, Timothy McVeih, Eric Rudolph, and most recently Floyd Lee Corkins II. Keep your head buried in the sand, Mcbob. It is easier to think that way.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  19. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Sure, and we can learn to love Scientologists in positions of power. There will be no reason to fear or ridicule their whacked $h|+.

    The newer a religion is created, the truer it must be. Islam is so far behind now that Mormons and Scientologists are taking the cake with their utter weirdness.

    I'm going to invent a new religion today, based on the writings of Robert Heinlein....or Stephen King....or......

    August 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  20. charles bowen

    Who cares what the Christian Evilgelicals like ,They are as evil as the Muslims and should be cast into their heII ....Have a nice day!!!!! Charles Bowen

    August 19, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Noel

      Charlie, you might come to care, when it's your back against the wall.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:45 am |
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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.