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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. Oklahoma is OK

    To their credit, Muslims did introduce many important ideas and inventions to the world. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, invented the double penetration dildo which he shared with Pope Gregory (the Great). The celibate priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church probably would not have survived without it. Well, that and the little whips the priests carry.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  2. Truthteller

    Try selling Christians in Muslim countries on Islam. Muslims barbarically martyr hundreds of Christians—men, women and children—every day in this world, though few of these atrocities are ever reported in our news media. That has been the Muslim way for thousands of years.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • HWB

      That is so true, but American is really too stupid to realize that and too timid to do anything about it.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • :(

      Well, since Christianity did the same thing for a thousand years, maybe they will learn too.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • sam

      So let me guess...that makes it ok for Americans to do the same? Where exactly are you going with this?

      Also, I don't see Muslims going door to door to convert me.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • God is supposed to be perfect

      And you would explain the issue (That is being covered up) In burma how ? Let me guess you are one of htose that believe all the founding fathers are christians... despite all evidence and their admittance of being free masons. 🙂

      August 19, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  3. killtactic

    Just because most Americans don't want to live WITH Muslims doesn't mean we "hate" them. It just means that we are informed enough that we know we can not trust them. We have freedom of religion here, but Islam exceeds the boundaries of religion and crosses over into governing and ruling elements...the same as combination of church and state, which by the way is AGAINST the law here.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  4. Daveusa99

    Learn to love muslims so they can kill you easier as the degenerate infidels that you are. So a religion that hates and kills anyone who is not muslim because they are infidels is so wonderful that we should love them, or die of course. Glad to see NObama already loves them but the rest of country should not.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  5. HWB

    The world is doomed in the name of allah.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  6. Foreal89

    we do not owe these people a dam thing

    August 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  7. Colin

    Baghdad was actually the ceter of intellectual development until Islam took a hold and retarded development of the Arab world and allowed the West to speed ahead.

    If we give the idiot Evangelicals their way, the same will be said about the USA in 100 years.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Daveusa99

      That was like in the 14th century, seriously?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Colin

      So?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Oklahoma is OK

      As I pointed out above Colin we should acknowledge our debts to the Muslim world. Many contributions: Medicine, mathematics, optics ... The West could never have gotten started without them.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • :(

      Actually there were many brilliant Islamic intellectuals, and scientists. When fundamentalism over took Islam, they killed the intellectuals. Findies of any sort are dangerous to science.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • God is supposed to be perfect

      No your an idiot. The mongol invasion is what destroyed baghad. It was not Muslims or even Arabs. As a matter of fact Islam paved the way of interfaith development and co-operation. The bible is a widely fabricated book, filled with contradictions. The entire christian theology was made up by Romans before anyone else could have a say. Irregardles... look at where Algebra came from. Trigonometry, All the foundations of science and technology today is based on the findings and advancements of that day. Look at Spain, Spain flourished during muslim rule ... the rest of europe was in famine. Your argument here is completely null and based on nothing but hate and prejudice.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • sam

      Fundies are the scariest people this planet has to offer.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Baghdad and Damascus were both important Christian centers until the Crusades brought hostile feelings about Christianity in the entire region. It also explains why misinformed and misguided Western meddling in the Middle East is readily perceived as a new Crusade.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  8. Brad

    An Evanelical loving a Muslim is like a retarded teenager loving his puppy-drowning little brother.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Damocles

      Like

      August 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  9. Brad

    I don't know who are worse, Muslims who generally lacked the education and opportunity to see through their silly superst.ition or Evaneical Christians who had every opportunity but were too fvcking dumb to see through their silly superst.ition.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • HWB

      Actually phucked up people like you scares us more.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Colin

      HWB – Brad has a point. About 80% of evangelicals think the World is about 6,000 years old and started with a man, a woman and a talking snake.!

      August 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Mark

      Colin.....actually Eve was a ventriloquist. And a ho. God was looking for her one day so he asked Adam where she was. Adam said she's in the river bathing. God said. Damn, now I'll never get the smell out of the fish.
      Islam is very annoying.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Brad

      " I don't know who are worse, Muslims who generally lacked the education and opportunity to see through their silly superst.ition or Evaneical Christians who had every opportunity but were too fvcking dumb to see through their silly superst.ition. "

      While you have a point to a certain extent, especially in the poorer and theocratic Muslim dominated countries, a lot or even most of the Muslim's in the *U.S*., that have been educated and have opportunity, are pretty much on even footing with the Christians as far as believing in their respective religious books.

      In other words... no excuses for them either.

      Peace...

      August 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  10. killtactic

    The real question is: Why are the government and media trying to brainwash the American people on this topic? What vested interest do THEY have in this? They KNOW we don't want them here and yet they continue the brainwashing...What is going on?

    August 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • booboo

      I am sure I don't know who "we" is killtactic but it still is a free country.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • :(

      Oh, and did "we" take a poll ?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • killtactic

      Ok geniuses, "we" means those who would agree with me. There. You happy now? Why don't you guys go on a spell checking tour or something ok?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Mark

      boo........we is most of US.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  11. j

    Loving muslims isnt the problem, its getting them to love US thats the problem!

    August 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • booboo

      "j" its not Muslims in general, its just some. And every day we kill more and more. The U.S. cannot win this PR war with bombs.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • :(

      What ? You mean Obomba and his drone strikes are not good for PR ?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  12. citizen4

    Surah 5:33 "The punishment of those who wage war against Alla and His Messenger....is execution or crucifixion or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides...." How do you get to love that?

    August 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • :(

      That's almost as bad as the Bible, telling them to kill women if they were not virgins, or disobedient kids.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  13. SFM

    Muslims and Persians (the same crap) would cut your throat if they had the chance. Look what they do in the muslim countries and Iran. That will tell you everything. We should understand them. The fact is we do understand them.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • :(

      It's a good thing there is no murder in the US, and that 95% of US prisoners say they are Christian.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  14. Foreal89

    yeah right get these arrogant people out of the country

    August 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  15. Jesse Pinkman

    Never trust a Muslim. They secretly want to kill all non-believers or "infidels". The word "Islam" translates to "Submit" in the english language. They are told to lie to non-believers and encouraged to do so by their "Holy Book" the Quran. The Quran lays out a set of rules for all Muslims and demands total obedience from it's followers. If you think Muslims are not dangerous then you are blind....and that's exactly where they want you. You can NEVER let your guard down with Muslims. They are barbaric evil people with a hidden agenda. You might say "not all muslims are bad", but trying to figure out which ones are not lying to you will be nearly impossible. Muslim's named it a "Holy War" for a reason.. do you get it yet? So please be aware and watch the back of your fellow man who wants to live in peace and wants to enjoy this wonderful gift of life we are all given.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  16. killtactic

    Islam is barbaric, look at all places they have majority population....nuf said right? Only the foolish and gullible would even think for a second that they come here in peace. Yeah..peaceful right now, but just wait until they reach a higher population level and start making absurd demands...JUST LIKE THE ILLEGAL ALIENS. The "moderates" would choose the side of Islamic extremists if forced to make a choice.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  17. holy cow

    I cant the depth we go to promote Muslims , the Muslims want to kill us and they want to assimilate America.

    The FBI is investigating at least 100 members of the United States military believed to be Muslim extremists
    . \
    The FBI and Department of Defense believe these so-called "insider threats" are targeting the military for attack.

    "I know one can say that as a percentage of the millions of people in active military service or working with contractors, the numbers you talk about are a small percentage of the total,

    but the reality is it only took one man, Nidal Hasan, to kill 13 people at Fort Hood and injure a lot more."

    Maj. Nidal Hisan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, is alleged to have killed 13 people during a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Inigo Montoya

      I don't think 'as similate' means what you think it means.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Mark

      There is truely something wrong with you.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  19. Listen up

    Hey Atheists/Nonbelievers..... Go to any Islamic country and tell their people you don't believe in Allah/God and count your seconds for how long you have until your head is cut off. BTW actually you may have few minutes since they pray in Arabic before they s l o w l y cut your head off. Then come tell us how "bad" Christians are.

    .............................................................................

    Hey Atheists/Nonbelievers..... Go to any Islamic country and tell their people you don't believe in Allah/God and count your seconds for how long you have until your head is cut off. BTW actually you may have few minutes since they pray in Arabic before they s l o w l y cut your head off. Then come tell us how "bad" Christians are.

    August 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • :(

      I have to repeat everything I say.
      ---------------–
      I have to repeat everything I say.

      August 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • One one

      What does that say about religion ?

      August 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • edweird69

      So Xtians are better people, because they don't physically kill us? They have other ways of punishing us with their brutal religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • sam

      I don't purposely go around looking for religious people to say things to. Try doing that to any evangelical christian here in the states and discover what kind of grief it gets you. Probably get your house burned down.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  20. Islam is great MASALLAH

    Yes, we Muslims do have Sharia Law to follow and everybody should respect it. Allah is great and we need to follow his order according to the Quran. We do not tolerate anyone leaving their peaceful faith, any gays or any other bad things.

    August 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • :(

      Do you serve Chicken Masallah, or Chicken Marsala ?

      August 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • RufusVonDufus

      I'd say, "up yours, muslim," but you would more than likely enjoy that just as your pervert mu"ham"ed did.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Foreal89

      we do not have to respect a dam thing your arrogant animal

      August 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Mark

      Everybody does not have to respect your crap sharia law. You live here, you are bound by our law. Try and understand that. You don't change ours to yours. We have to listen to crap from people who wipe their A**es with their hand but kissing is dirty.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:02 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.