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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. Dan586

    Republicans hate science, whats the difference ? Repiblicans are our Taliban. There holding the U.S back in education, so we keep believing in their religous fairy tales

    August 19, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  2. SugarKube

    I don't care to get involved with suicide bombers, wife beaters and goat lovers.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  3. NOBAMA-2012

    Typical Liberal-bleeding heart hogwash...how can someone with a sound mind and perspective on history even begin to compare the Catholics and their progression into American mainstream politics to the demented cult of Islam? How? For those of us Americans having born in the Middle East and personally witnessed the unconditional, demonic, Evil of all Muslims, we know better. Stop trying to force feed your twisted, self-guilt for this country's horrible civil rights record towards African-Americans, by explaining to us that your buddy "Ali" is a nice guy, therefore now all Muslims are nice guys. Grow up and read something before you write such ignorant articles.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  4. tony in charlotte

    Cnn you muslm loving POS networok why don't you go teach muslims to love and respect our way of life! STOP PUSHING THE MUSLIM AGENDA EVERYDAY ON YOUR NETWORK – WE REFUSE THEM- THEY ARE GARBAGE ! THEY WANT TO POISON OUR NATION – WHAT PART OF ISLAM AND SHARIA LAW AND ALL THIER 8 CENTURY BACKWARDS IDEAL YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND??? MOAHHAMED WAS A CHILD RAPIST AND A COLD BLODDED KILLER DO YOU ENDORSE THAT? DO YOU SUPPORT A CULT THAT BELIEVES IN KILLING GAY PEOPLE? CNN GET IT RIGHT! – I DARE YOU NOT TO DELETE THIS POST!

    August 19, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  5. Dan586

    Christians do more killing of each other in the U.S. then Muslims. We see it on the news every day. Muslims that come from other countries are terrorist and are not American citizens. American Muslims are good people and you never hear them shooting other U.S. citizens. Its white Christian males that are shooting people here in the U.S.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • jgruber

      Your posts are completely invalid. The majority of all murders in the US are within major cities, in crime ridden areas. And a large majority of those are by gang bangers or thieves. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, whatever. And you think these people are christian? I'm thinking they have no religion but their gangsta life.

      You sir, have not a clue.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Dan586

      Why do we never see Muslims one these kind of sites posting stupid comments like Christians ?

      100% of comments of hate come from White Christians, not one single comment from a single Muslim speaking of hate towards anyone on these sites. BUT all these sites have 1000 and 1000 and 1000 of Christians spewing hate non-stop

      August 19, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • jgruber

      You neglected to respond with any sort of rebuttal. And I am without religion...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  6. Pamela

    if they were true christians they would love everybody no matter the faith

    August 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Indeed, but don't require anybody to accept the crap-doctrine which Muhammad teached.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • JWT

      People are people. Noone is required to believe any religious doctrine.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  7. Bobby

    What a load of Islamic propaganda crap...
    Did you know that 87% of muslims world wide ...believe that all Jews deserve to die..
    very tolerant religion..isn't it ?
    ISLAM = EVIL

    August 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • edweird69

      And Xtians feel the same way about gays. What's your point?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:40 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

    Jesus is the only one who can cure our souls. Ask him, and he will give you eternal health.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • edweird69

      What a load! How many people, pray every day to your Jesus, and actually get an answer. ZERO. Pray to a milk carton, the results are the same.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @edweird69

      If you ask Jesus only for temporal wealth, honor, or power, he will give you nothing at all, but if you ask him for righteousness and forgiveness, he will give you that in abundance.

      Ask the devil for honor, power and riches. He will give you that, but you have to sell your soul.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • edweird69

      @Rainer – you're so cavallier with your religion. Jesus was a liar. He said to ask for "anything", and it shall be done unto you. Keyword here is "anything". He said you could move mountains. When was the last time you saw a mountain move? He told a woman, who was impregnated by a rapist that she should marry him, and he was responsible for her and the baby. Oh, and he has to pay a fine to her father. You want me to ask this "god" for forgiveness?? okie dokie smokie

      August 19, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  9. Guest

    Religion kills, Faith heals

    August 19, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  10. louise

    Not going to happen.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  11. Scott

    Here's a thought, maybe Muslims should learn to live in the 21st century. Sometime, when people don't like you, there's a reason.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Dan586

      Republicans hate science, whats the difference ? Repiblicans are our Taliban. There holding the U.S back in education, so we keep believing in their fairy tales.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • tony in charlotte

      some Muslim that works at CNN must be writing this junk!

      August 19, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  12. Dan586

    FACT : There are 2.75 million Muslims living in America and everyday we wake up its white Christian males that are shooting people. When was the last time you read a story of Muslims living in the U.S. shooting people ?

    August 19, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Scott

      How many of those Christians strap bombs to themselves and kill innocent people Dan?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • One one

      Fort Hood

      August 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • jgruber

      So, you're saying "white christian males killing everyday" is outpacing all other minority killings everyday? And you call this FACT??

      August 19, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • DanRebuttle

      How about at Fort Hood?
      And why do you limit your question to a shooting spree? If you expand it to include bombing/attempted bombings, you will get your answer.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  13. Joe

    Evangelism is similar to Islam people do not realize that

    August 19, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Kurt

      Almost all religions are the same, even within the same faith their are denominations, each one claiming that their GOD is the one and only GOD. Yes, they are the same,.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • edweird69

      ALL religions are in the same category... recruit others, destroy any one who disagrees, and live a life of hypocricy. Religion is the scurge of humanity.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • tony in charlotte

      I STILL HAVE NOT SEEN ONE EVANGELICAL PERSON STRAP A BOMB TO HIS BODY AND BLOW UP INNOCENT PEOPLE! NEITHER HAVE I SEEN THEM KILL CHILDREN OR WOMEN FOR JUST HONOR? WHAT HONOR?????? MUSLIMS ARE GARBAGE THERE IS NO HONOR IN GARBAGE!

      August 19, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  14. more2bits

    I'll learn to love Muslims when Muslims start showing the love. So far, all I see are the people being blown up by Muslims–in every country in the world–so it's not a 'local' thing–it's worldwide.

    By truthfully I'll never show Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons, Scientologists or ANYreligion love until they stop killing each other and grow up.

    Practice what you preach.

    Hypocrites all.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  15. JR

    Not voting for a fundamentalist ANYTHING. I respect those who act respectfully while practicing their religion, no matter what it is. That doesn't mean that I'm voting to put them into power.

    But wtih Islam in particular, I have no issue whatsoever those folks who practice "Islam-light". Rock on, it's your business. Have a few friends in this category. Like Easter/Christmas Christians, it's the same to me on an interpersonal level.

    But those who want to support Allah to run the world? Eh, no. See there are so many of those followers that are killing people in his name that I take issue with that. This isn't a discussion of medieval days of the Crusades, this is happening RIGHT NOW. Right now, as we speak, fundamentalist Islamists are blowing the crap out of people all over the world.

    I think that it's sort of ridiculous to have this discussion which would be entirely different if the aforementioned violence was absent from the planet. Because it is not, because it doesn't exist in a vacuum, to not address it and it's impact, is disingenuous. To act like those who are appalled by that behavior are islamophobic is asking the west not to believe what they see with their eyes and to trust something that isn't currently trustworthy.

    Is it possible that in 50 years, Islam could be looked at in this country like Catholicism is absolutely possible...ONLY IF that same said violence STOPPED RIGHT NOW. So the answer isn't appealilng to the hearts of the peaceful folks in the west, the answer lies in dealing wth the fundamentalist followers in the east who are carrying out violent acts. Fellow believers in Allah who through the damange that they are doing to humantiy, are the worst marketing group for Allah that could ever exist.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • edweird69

      And you don't think Xtians are constantly "blowing the he11 out of people, all over the world"? Muslims are fighting the infidels who have invaded their countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). Xtians would be doing the same thing if Muslims came here, with their planes and tanks and soldiers.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • JR

      The summer before 9/11, the only thing in the news was Chandra Levy's disappearance and shark attacks in Florida. The only places that we were mlitarily were support positions from old conflicts.

      We did not go to war over WTC I, the USS Cole, Khobar towers....Islamiiscists bombing us without much response. It took the deaths of 3,000 people at one time to get America to respond with our military.

      Our entre into war wasn't without provocaton. Now one could argue all day long as to a potential different response, but one cannot argue that we weren't provoked.

      That being said, our military is a melting pot of religion/non-religion, as is our country. We did not invade Afghanistan or Iraq because we were Christian Crusaders.

      Fundamentalist Islamicists are fighting ONLY for Allah, our people who may or may not be religious, are fighting only for our country. Apples and oranges, my friend.

      Unless you're arguing that the Taliban and bin Laden didn't act on behalf of their religion?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  16. jaredbradshaw

    I don't think so. Religion is dangerous in general, but islam and muslims are a direct threat to American security.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Dan586

      There are 2.75 million Muslims living in America and everyday we wake up its white Christian males thats are shooting people. When was the last time you read a story of Muslims living in the U.S. shooting people ?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Chad

      President Obama is a Muslim and has a Muslim "teacher" whom he confides in and who comes to the White House regularly. How many other Presidents have we had that do not go to church every Sunday? All but one....Obama. That is why he is changing America to depend on our Government for our survival. Another 4 years of his ideology and we will no longer be looked up to by other Nations. Wake up, people. We are losing our right to choose slowly but surely. And now with Obama's Dream Act, our young people are losing jobs as illegals will work for less. They get free medical, free schooling, free housing, free dental, wages tax free. We pay for all of this. And what do we get? Their asking us for MORE.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Rich

      @Dan586: "When was the last time you read a story of Muslims living in the U.S. shooting people ?"

      Selective memory much?

      2/13/2007 – Salt Lake City, UT – A Muslim immigrant goes on a shooting rampage at a mall, targeting people buying Valentine's Day cards at a gift shop and killing five.

      1/1/2008 – Irving, TX – A Muslim immigrant shoots his two daughters to death on concerns about their 'Western' lifestyle.

      7/6/2008 – Jonesboro, GA – A devout Muslim strangles his 25-year-old daughter in an honor killing.

      2/12/2009 – Buffalo, NY – The founder of a Muslim TV station beheads his wife in the hallway for seeking a divorce.

      4/12/2009 – Phoenix, AZ – A man shoots his brother-in-law and another man to death after finding out that they visited a strip club, in contradiction to Islamic values.

      6/1/2009 – Little Rock, AR – A Muslim shoots a local soldier to death inside a recruiting center explicitly in the name of Allah.

      11/2/2009 – Glendale, AZ – A woman dies from injuries suffered when her father runs her down with a car for being too 'Westernized.'

      11/5/2009 – Ft. Hood, TX – A Muslim psychiatrist guns down thirteen unarmed soldiers while yelling praises to Allah.

      12/4/2009 – Binghamton, NY – A non-Muslim Islamic studies professor is stabbed to death by a Muslim grad student in revenge for 'persecuted' Muslims.

      4/14/2010 – Marquette Park, IL – After quarrelling with his wife over Islamic dress, a Muslim convert shoots his family members to 'take them back to Allah' and out of the 'world of sinners'.

      4/30/2011 – Warren, MI – A 20-year-old woman is shot in the head by her stepfather for not adhering to Islamic practices.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  17. Dan586

    There is nothing written by Jesus, himself that even shows that he was real. No note's no nothing. The Bible was written 100 years after is suppsosed death by white males. Everything is written in the Bible, just like Romney's comment about his taxes. "TRUST ME, I AM TELLING YOU THE TRUTH"

    August 19, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • David

      Dan586 – You are at best ignorant of the facts. 1.) For every white Christian whacko you can name that has killed people based on their beliefs I can name 250 muslims who have killed in the name on allah! 2.) Actually the 4 Gospels are firsthand accounts of Jesus ministry. Each was written by different Middle Eastern men some 30 – 50 years after Christ’s ascension. Can I suggest that you attend a good bible church for say one year? Not that you have to accept Christianity but at least you will have accurate information regarding the Bible and Christianity.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  18. Alfredo

    I'd prefer an atheist president. Keep society secular or perish....

    August 19, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • edweird69

      Agreed.. but if anyone running for office even joked they were a non-believer, their campaign would end instantly. This country is 80% supposedly Xtian, despite the 50 percent divorce rate. This country wages war on gays, like they're the enemy.. I believe religion is the true enemy.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  19. FluffyBunny

    What this blinkered Islam apologist is carefully ignoring is that very few Catholics have recently flown planes into buikdings, or blown themselves up in a crowded market. Islamaphobia is well earned.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • edweird69

      Oh RIGHT! Just the crusades, and countless other atrocities. Catholics/Xtians are just as violent as Muslims!

      August 19, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • FluffyBunny

      Kneejerk response. Go look up the definition of "recently" since you seem to have forgotten it. All religions have inherent violence, it's just that Muslims are still doing it.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Paul

      Thatis spot on. There are many Muslim apologists on this chat who like to remind us of the dark ages of Catholicism and other religions. But the simple fact is that those religions have grown and changed with the time. Muslims are still stoning innocent women and blowing their children up for some jihadi cause, not to mention endorsing and practicing violence throughout the world in the name of Islam. Islam needs to grow up and merge out of this dark age it currently is in.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Buddha

      Dan you claim republicans hate science yet who cut funding for NASA. Let's see deems and the Obama team

      August 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • edweird69

      Fluffy – you want recent? How about the horrors committed in Ireland over the last half century? Catholics are notorious for their violent religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  20. Unowhoman

    Evangelicals grow to love Muslims? This will happen in about 100 years = by then the main group of people that were raised to not accept other people unless they look like them will be gone and not be able to pass on as much hatred of others. When kids are raised & interact around people of other religions they gain understanding & tolerence instead fear that the older parent has.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • edweird69

      Good post! Wish I could live long enough to see a day like that. All I've experienced, all of my life, is the hatred spewed from Xtianity. Hate wrapped in a package called "love".

      August 19, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • collectivedementia

      No, in 100 years it will simply be a different majority hating and despising a different minority...Athiests over all religions?
      La Raza, maybe?

      August 19, 2012 at 9:41 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.