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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. Peter Parker

    Never going to happen... Islam and democracy do not mix.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Tru dat. And yet George W. Dolt thought he could just go in there and change things with a phony war in Iraq.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • One one

      Who says we will continue to have democracy ?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      And then democracy is just a farce anyway, but it sure beats the h&ll out of theocracy.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • One one

      Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on whats for dinner.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  2. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    I will do my part to foster a spirit of kindness to my Muzlim American neighbors. I will be hosting a barbecue this afternoon in my backyard, featuring pork ribs and chitlins. Come 'n git it!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Peter Parker

      ..don't forget the women in bikinis.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  3. Kaczka

    New political divide will be between secularists or "nominal" believers and traditional religionists. We see this happening in Europe already–on social issues, traditional Catholics and Protestants increasingly make common cause with practicing Muslims. There is indeed a clash of civilizations coming–but it will be between militant secularists and staunch traditionalists, not Christianity and Islam as Huntington predicted.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  4. One one

    Muslims deserve the same respect and tolerance they show to other religions and atheists.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  5. edweird69

    I saw the "love" of American Xtians a couple of weeks ago. They couldn't wait to get in line to show their "love" of gays, at Chik Fil A. They even hate their fellow countrymen. The very people that are overseas, fighting for their right to practice their religion. They think the bible advocates 1 man 1 woman. Right! Those freaks in those bible stories had numerous wives and concubines.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  6. Bill

    Why??? Muslims have made life a living hell for Americans for the last 20-years or so. 7-8,000 American lives have been lost. They kill without remorse, and supposedly their Koran urges them to do so. They flee the killing and danger in their country, come to the US, then demand that we become like the hell-holes they just left. As long as they follow Mohammed and the Koran, they will NEVER be accepted, nor should they. If they want to be liked, they should go home.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  7. Super Gus

    Muslims are a lower form of life than pigs.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • John W

      Unfortunately pigs like you with no brain cell in big skull are what is wrong with the world! Yo mama should have abortion before she had you. That is the only reason why I am prochoice. To weed out pinheads like you!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Ima Moore Ron

      I agree with you Gus.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  8. Bibletruth

    "....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."

    Nothing has changed, not one thing. It has always been Catholicism's operating method to be as gentle as a lamb when they are in the minority and have minor political influence, to ________________(I cant remember the animal they used on this one as I am going by memory right now) when they are nearing or near equal in political power, to a Tiger when they have political power.

    Not one item of their core doctrines have changed.. It is protestants that have changed. Ask a PROTESTant today what they are protesting that they should take the name "protest" ant and they look at you with a blank look...truley deer in the headlights. Every protestant should know why they are one and should understand exactly nothing has changed except one thing (which will not last long now)-catholicism does not have the political power to carry out its will just now...but it is coming, and soon.

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

    One has to ask oneself just how tolerant muslims are toward other religions. Look at what happens to christians living in muslim countries. Don't take my word for it. Do a little research.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • One one

      And the current administration is silent about it.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • John W

      Ask yourself who started intolerance? Of course US the American Protestant! If they hate us so much it is because we started it.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  10. Dan586

    QUESTION: Why do we never see Muslims on these kind of sites posting stupid comments like Christians ? People bring up bombings in other countries and Muslims strapping bombs to them. That is not in the U.S. We are talking about the U.S. Muslims who are good American citizens. You can't compare these Americans to Middle East countries.

    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 10:04 am |
    • Who me?

      ..just practicing freedom of religion and freedom of speech..C'mon,the christians have a very hard time relating to any subject without it coming of as hateful.It seems to be quite natural.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • John W

      It is good to hear from brilliant fellow americans like you!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  11. daveyoung

    Wow – Eboo has been on a magic carpet ride to fantasyland.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  12. One one

    Evangelicals used to hate Jews. Now they support them. Same with Catholics. In the end it could come down to an alliance among believers to maintain power over non-believers.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • daveyoung

      Evangelicals never hated Joos. On the other hand, democrats have always enslaved derk people and still do. Go figure.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  13. Daniel

    "Learning to Love Muslims"? Shouldn't it be the Muslims to learn to love others?

    August 19, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • jesus saves

      i agree. their "god" is a god of violence, not love.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Jesus freaker

      their "god" is a god of violence, not love.

      Your "god" is no better. Read the Bible sometime.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  14. fatal42

    Love Mudslimes it will NEVER EVER happen !!!

    August 19, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  15. what The

    The new racism is the denial of racism.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Never mind the religion...seperation of church and state, remember? With that being said, let's talk about state as in state of the economy. The last time Paul Ryan put his fiscally conservative budget into play, the GOP controlled both the House and Senate and the Executive branch and the end result was a squandered surplus, record unemployment, high inflation, a housing crisis, a broken banking system and the worst economic crisis in America since the Great Depression. Hey Paul Ryan, you're not the solution. You're the PROBLEM. Please go away.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • FR

      Always make fun of the GOP? Look at your stupid political party, full of mistakes everyday!

      August 19, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Ooops

      wrong thread.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  17. sean

    You know the Muslim religion isn't gaining any trust from anyone anytime in the near or remote future. Look , it sounds great on paper, but face it, really every culture for the most part (except maybe wealthy individuals in western society) practicing this faith are fundamentally violent. They don't even like their own people they kill each other if the faith is a little different!!! Come to think of it, Rainer Braendlein you must be really strange. Look I'm not Catholic , I know Catholics though as well as folks of other faiths, never has any of them ever , i mean ever conceived of the idea their religious faith was conquering the word! Bloomin' ridiculous, in fact mostly older people follow the Catholic faith. The Pope is a throw back to old european Christian mannerisms, nobody is thinking of controlling the world! For God's sakes!!! Really buddy???

    August 19, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Ummm, Catholics NEVER EVER thought they were conquering the world? HA HA HA! Maybe not in recent centuries, but let's think.....Inquisition, Crusades, Columbus and Cortez slaughtering Native Americans.....

      August 19, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  18. awww, look at those liberals go crazy! lol...I love it...

    love muslims? whyyyyy?

    I'd sooner love obama....LOL....

    August 19, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Al

      Liberals love and conservatives hate. I guess that explains why the majority of Christians vote Republican.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  19. Easy E

    I'll like Muslims the day they start rebuking and weeding out the extremists from within their ranks. I'm only asking the same that I expect of myself...I don't tolerate the bigots and extremists within the Christian camp.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • what The

      I don't think you are weeding them out tho...

      August 19, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      So you're actively weeding out the KKK?

      August 19, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  20. Zaphod2010

    Sorry, but I don't believe that for one flip flopping minute.
    Born again christians can't stand mormons and I dont' see the evangelics, as some 90% of catholics not following their religion to the tee, being endearing to them.
    Nice try with the altar boy from Wisconsin tough cnn.

    August 19, 2012 at 9:59 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.