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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. Mariam

    Seriously people, if you wanna learn more about Islam. Study the religion not those who practice it, not the media but sit down and read the Quran. By not taking the words out of context just read and you will see what a beautiful religion it is. If Islam taught terrorism why is it that Muslims are taught, if you kill one person it's like killing all of mankind, and if you save one it's like saving all of mankind. So plz do not judge. Islam only has ONE book and it is the true revelation of GOD...there is only ONE GOD And ONE BOOK.
    If you read the bible in Arabic wherever it says god ,Allah is written for it. The Arabic term for god is Allah!!!

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

      Seriously, many of us have read the 'quran' and are convinced that: a) Satan personally inspired the author of the book, b) the book contains no words of God, and c) the Arabic word 'allah' is not the same as God. 'allah' is an Arabic pagan god.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      I have read the whole Koran, really. It is the worst rubbish I have ever read. Muhammad was an insane moron.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • TheBob

      Muhammad was sick pedophile who liked raping 8-year girls. Kind like the pedophile priest on this board that goes by the name Rainer Braendlein, except that he likes boys.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  2. Jimmy

    islam will be the demise of the US–they are not ambitious people–they multiply in numbers to sacrifice themselves–they practice hate speech in the mosque–and they have a hate mentality–they hate jews christians and themselves–they are in the news each and every day–suicide bombing killing children–this is definately not the religion of peace!!

    August 19, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  3. emma65

    Of course they will embrace Muslims: they hate women, are anti-choice, obviously highly militaristic and religious fundamantalists and they hate Jews. It's a match made in hell for eceryone who loves freedom, equility and secularism. Sounds perfect.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • mjaymc

      Emma: You should read the New Testament and see for yourself how Jesus treated women. It may surprise you.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  4. bo

    I love when pieces of them are flying through the air after a hellfire strike.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  5. DJensen

    Doesn't matter who you are... one day EVERY knee will bow, EVERY tongue confess.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • SciGuy

      ...that Jesus Christ is Lord! you are right!

      August 19, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • JWT

      Utterly untrue.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  6. William

    "Maybe in 50 years, there will be no surprise when the loudest cheerleaders for Muslim presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices are evangelical Christians."

    I only hope that such things never happen. I, for one, would never vote for a muslim or a muslim sympathizer. With a muslim president, women, gays, Christians, Jews, and any other of us non-muslims would be strongly persecuted. As another muslim commenter mentioned, they don't recognize separation of 'mosque' and state.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  7. guest

    I am an American muslim and I think what author is talking about is natural trend since I know that both Muslims and Envangalicals share much more than both sides think. And the hatred comes from false misconceptions.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • William

      The hatred comes from people recognizing the truth.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • SciGuy

      An evangelical living by the Bible already loves Muslims, but would never want one to be President due to their suppression of women and their unconsti.tutional view of church and state.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • HeavenSent

      SciGuy, Wisdom is a woman and was with God from the beginning.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  8. 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 many 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 in history 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. Frederic did not want to promote any religious group, because he did not want to promote any wolves in sheep's clothing, nevertheless Frederic was a lover of genuine Christianity according to Jesus Christ's intentions.

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

    Islam and Catholicism always 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, and thus the dark age around 1742 a. D. (peace and honor to Frederic).

    Let us love our ordinary 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.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    August 19, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  9. Insider

    CNN, the American mouthpiece for Islamists and Al-Jazeera.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  10. PaulC

    Wrong. The evangelical are not backing Romney because they are embracing mormonism. They are backing Romney because of the visceral hatred of Obama. It is the lesser of two evils. Mormon or black?....at least mormons are 100% white.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Obama is 50% white.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • emma65

      G. Zeus Kreiszchte@ those who are racist only accept 100% white as white; going to be interesting as races continue to intermarry and that designation becomes increasingly obscure.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Dan586

      Republicans hate Obama because he is 50% black and republicans are very racist people. I have not met a republican voter who is not racist. Start up a conversation with any republican and if you use a few racist words, republican voters do no hesitate to show their true colors.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  11. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    At least CNN finally posted this article with the heading OPINION (at least on the main page), which is the section that all religion-oriented articles belong....OPINION.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  12. marcelo melo

    You guys are terrorist and period. Go back to the Muslin World and stop killing in the name of allibah bahhhh baaaaaaaahhh... I don't remember any religion at the moment that kill others, do you???? Please, next time write something more real than dreams. Thank you, Thanks very much... I love EUA. JESUS bless this country.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Shawn

      Christians has a very long history of killing people in the name of their religion and are still doing so today.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  13. stankfinger

    Tell the little twit Soledad O'brian who considers herself an amalgamation of black, Muslim, Indian and any other slime she can muster up to go sleep with some stankin ARABS and camels!

    August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  14. stankfinger

    CNN is MAD to write nonsense like this article and then push it for idiots in the US to read!

    August 19, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  15. rajbir dhillon

    no way will i ever love muslims. if u have an ounce of common sense u will see islam is a nonsense rambling of a mad man (mohammed the worst person ever to set foot on the earth)

    August 19, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  16. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    QURAN SURAH 9:5
    "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the infidels wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

    Kill all non-Muslims unless they change their ways and convert to Islam. Peace, I say, a religion of PEACE!

    August 19, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • shah

      You are taking this verse out of context. This surah is after breaking of a peace agreement by non believers of that time, and is in the historical context of a war. Islam doesn't condone killing innocents anytime. You have to read the Quran in full to understand the beauty and peaceful message. And please do not quote anything out of contxt. That is sick

      August 20, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  17. 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 9:00 am |
  18. Willy Brown

    You progressives who want to shove this down out throats. You go live with them in the sand box.

    August 19, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  19. SheldonPlankton

    I AM INDIAN AND MY LAST NAME IS PATEL AND I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS GUY.

    PLEASE READ -
    Most people with the surname Patel are decent, hardworking HINDUS who actually do not agree with this Guy.

    I am HIndu, I respect deeply Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others (Omission Intentional).

    I find it very difficult to respect the Muslim claim of Peace when I see how many killings have occurred by men named "Mohammed" and I witnessed the DEAFENING SILENCE from the majority of the Muslim world FOR YEARS after 9/11.

    They remained silent to condemn their own, but now they claim bias has hurt them.

    FIRST CONDEMN the acts of violence by your people until we are satisfied as a world, THEN talk about how other religions should cheer you on to power.

    It's UPSIDE DOWN Eboo, and you are too entrenched to see the real reason why people of your belief have failed and continue to fail. Miserably.

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

      Awesome post!

      August 19, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • William

      ^^Agreed.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  20. MontanaTrace

    Why don't we hear about Muslims condemning the killings by other Muslims (the bad ones)? They condone it? Fear the killers? We don't know the reasons because of the silence. We don't understand how they can kill their own daughters, encourage their sons to wrap themselves in dynamite, etc. I, like many, think the peaceful Muslims silently approve when the radicals kill non Muslims. If we're wrong, speak up on an international stage and condemn those that give you a bad name.

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

      Montana Trace, you haven't heard those voices because you haven't been listening. They have always been there. You, and those like you who make the same false claim, just refuse to acknowledge them.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Duh

      "Why don't we hear about Muslims condemning the killings by other Muslims (the bad ones)?"
      We do.
      You don't because you refuse to hear it.
      Why?
      No doubt because you are a bigoted moron................

      August 19, 2012 at 9:08 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.