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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. zoomzom

    Islam is the fastest growing religion is America for no reason. It is in American blood, we dont need a whimpsy religion that teaches to turn the other cheek but a doctrine that demands eye for an eye and grabs raging bull by the horn. Sharia law in US is not a dream of distant future anymore. Middle eastern religions is our fetish.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  2. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  3. Really?

    With the stuff that is going on in Islamic countries that people are bringing up...seriously? The majority of Muslims in this country came from those countries, and we're supposed to feel ok with that?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  4. sharky

    At the same token can Muslims learn to love Infidels and western ways?

    Ah now that is a question.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  5. Wow

    A Muslim in Yemen just blew himself up at a mosque killing 7 other people.... omg

    August 19, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Ahmed the Dead Terrorist

      Ach, yah. That was me.

      Now. I keeeeell you!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  6. Sammy

    "Prophet" Muhammed can kiss my azz.....

    August 19, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Ahmed The Dead Terrorist

      Blasphe,y! I keeeeell you!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  7. Sabih/Iraq

    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 11:22 pm |
    • Romney Supporter

      Tell us about hell where they make us drink molten metal. Our Bible is not so clear about that.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  8. /

    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 11:20 pm |
  9. Damocles

    Yes, well, I have enough pride to not stoop to hijacking someone's name. Seems I'm the better person.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Your inability to use the reply function made you a lesser being.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  10. Romney Supporter

    The problem with most, not all, Muslims is that no one can stand to be in the same room with them. Muslims, You should all bathe using Irish Spring. Shave. Bathe again and use some Head & Shoulders. Get a sharp haircut like Mitt's. Put on a polo shirt and some nice slacks. Most importantly, use a medium bristle toothbrush with a good tooth polish and follow it with some Listerine (not the mint stuff – that's Nancy). Learn a good sincere smile and learn to shake hands with a dry grip. And please, please, please LOOK people in the eye when you're talking to them. OK? Salam Aleikum.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      Shave!? You must not shave a Muslim. Poor Nadal Hassan is being stripped of his Allah given rights under our liberal government. Shame on the court for suggesting that this holy mass-murderer-martyr should be shaved and cleaned up!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  11. Jay

    People, please read the book "Zeitoun". It will make you both proud and ashamed to be American. Proud to be American with Z, ashamed of the treatment he received. God bless you Z.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      Ah, zeitoun from the planet Beeblebrox. How is old Zaphod?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      Oh, my bad. You meant the Zeitoun from New Orleans who was convicted last year for Knocking his wife to the floor and hitting her in the back of the head repeatedly? Yes. Good Muslim, him.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  12. Foreal89

    great job CNN keeping kiss the rear ends of these arrogant backward thinking trespassers who hate our country.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  13. Listen up

    I watched a video showing how Muslims cut the head of a Muslim who converted to Christianity in Tunisia.... sick people!

    August 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You already posted this. Do you think you need to do so repeatedly?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      That was apostasy, an offense legally punishable by death. What's wrong with that?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah, you remember why evangelicals used to hate Catholics.
      Because Catholics used to blow themselves up and cut the heads off people all the time.
      Oh... wait.... no.....

      Hmmm.... then maybe the guy who wrote this article is just a blazing idiot?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  14. paul

    Delusional fool, useful idiot. Islam will pretend to befriend until they have sufficient numbers to start aggravating for special treatment. Eventually it becomes more violent, eventually invoke sharia, eventually harass, drive out, kill, convert all non-muslims. Can't trust them. Need to get rid of them.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      It's the Christians not the Muslims. Every good liberal like me knows that Christians are the evil ones and that they are taking over Amerika. Their behavior is atrocious, calling Islam evil. That is bigotry and hatred. And if they don't watch it, Muslims will go Van Gogh on them.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  15. Bruce Garfield

    Yeah, right! Love these worms who publicly patronize non-Muslims to squirm their way into mainstream society, and when push comes to shove, will stick together and turn against every one else. Watch our boys get murdered in Afghanistan by these losers who are supposed to be our allies. Remember, in times of crisis, their religion comes first, damn patriotism.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      And American's force Muslims like Nadal Hassan to shave their beards! Arrest little Christian girls for desecrating the Quran, and kill American soldiers for forcing good Muslims to shave. An body for an eye. That's what they say.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  16. Tabcon

    Please NorCalMojo, the people, all Bodo's who are fleeing South India are fleeing for "fear " of reprisal attacks. It is the Muslims who are being assaulted in NE Indian state of Assam by the Bodo people. And Bodos are assaulting Muslim immigrants who are taking away the jobs of Bodos. Does the scenario sound familiar (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona)!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  17. Obama Supporter

    BBC says an 11 year old mentally impaired Christian Pakistani girl was arrested under blasphemy laws for desecrating a copy of the most holy Quran. Serves that evil little Christian girl right. Let's see if they stone her.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      Down's Syndrome! What an excuse! Says they tried to burn down the Christian's homes. I wonder if they succeeded. Much better that those Christians suffer and perish than that a page of the Quran be desecrated!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      wow – so it was it HeavenSent aka Atheism is not... aka truth be told?

      August 19, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      I knew a good liberal would understand us Muslims and how oppressed and mentally distressed we were over this unholy girl's actions. Only 600 Christians were driven from their homes. And in Pakistan, there isn't anywhere to hide!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  18. J. Syed

    'Bob has traveled everywhere from Afghanistan to Gaza to do interfaith service projects with Muslims.'

    Oh, all of 2,000 miles? That's everywhere now?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  19. edweird69

    What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Damocles

      Stop with the whole making sense thing. It simply will not be tolerated.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      You poor man! You strain to figure God out, but no man can. Your problem is, you're interpreting everything with your limited, human intelect. God is not man, and man can not figure Him out! By trying, you only expose yourself to suggestions of the enemy of your soul, Satan – the deciever, who is more then willing to give you plenty of them. That's why man who relies on his own human intellect is in great danger of susceptibility to satans deception. He's ben around loooong time, and he doesn't ever sleep.

      P. S. Satan loves nothing more than make you believe he doesn't exist either... go figure!

      August 19, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Damocles

      @prism

      So no one can figure out god... except you. Simply amazing.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hahhaha. That'll leave a mark.

      August 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Your problem is, you're interpreting everything with your limited, human intelect"

      And you aren't, Prissy?

      August 20, 2012 at 6:17 am |
  20. NorCalMojo

    Meanwhile, in India, at least 30,000 people have fled Muslim violence in Bangalore and Mumbai.

    It's only been 1000 years in what is probably THE most tolerant and multicultural in history.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Obama Supporter

      Go Muslims! Tolerate us , or else!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:33 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.