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. weezer

    I see no real difference between ultra-conservative Christians and the Taliban. Matter of fact, they should support each other, because they have the same goals. Christian Sharia law = Muslim Sharia law. Both want society, education, and law guided and controlled by a strict adherence to a holy book - which was written by the same authors.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Except Christians don't put 11 year old girls under the death penalty for burning Bibles

      August 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • OTOH

      Bill Deacon,

      "Infidels" and "heretics" were put to death by the Church for a long time. They stopped due to the imposition of secular, civil law.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Pumbaa

      Southern Baptists and Muslims: Both want alcoholic drinks banned and they have done so where I live in rural Mississippi. The Bible folks have even made it illegal to own or operate a pool hall in the nearest city. Never ever should a religious group gain enough power to change secular laws. If they want to lobby for legislation then let them pay taxes.

      August 20, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  2. foreigner

    america is the country based on stealing,terror and nazism.americans never got civilized,so dialogue with americans is impossible.americans are bearable only when they are dead.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Huebert

      Your trolling is boring and unoriginal.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  3. BSH

    More false moral equivalency to make Islam seem more acceptable than it is. Try this little thought exercise: could you go to the Vatican and slaughter an effigy of the Pope and live to tell about it? Could you go anywhere in any number of Muslim countries (never mind Mecca) and slaughter an effigy of Muhammed and live to tell about it?

    That should put the lie to any false moral equivalency.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • foreigner

      no slaughtering,you must be nice.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • ME II

      So is your moral equation, 'if they do it so can we'?

      August 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      MEII you miss the point. One can, in fact go to the Vatican or national television, or a Madonna concert etc etc and destroy a religious image in Christian countrie. One cannot conduct the same behavior in Muslim countries. Therefore, there is no moral equivalency.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  4. Ray

    I do not practice any religion, but if you search (objectively) violence is committed from people of all religions. Perhaps because we all came from Adam and Eve! The violence committed in the Seikh temple was by a christian man, the shooting in the Movie theater in Aurora by a white chritistian young man, Timothy McVeigh (The Oklahoma city bomber) was a white christian man, Amir Egal (Jewsih) assasinated his own president (Itshak Rabin; president of Israel), Ghandi was killed by a hindu, president Sadat of Egypt was killed by K. Islambuli (a muslim), and so on and so forth. It seems to me unfair to state that violence is committed by only people from one religion. Dr Watson, who discovered the DNA and received the Nobel prize for it once said "The best thing that happened to me is that my father did not beleive in any religion".

    August 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  5. smk

    Educate yourself a little more on the topic...

    "Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    (they are condemned) for disbelieving and uttering about Mary a gross lie. [4:156]

    Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous. Quran [5:46]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      You really think that a supernatural being "said" those things?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • OOO

      The only education anyone would get from your posts is what a few sentences of the Quran say. Why would I take readings out of any holy book as a basis for my education, other than to understand how your cultures think.

      Is that your intention?

      August 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  6. halfbakedlunatic

    They are both equally absurd.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  7. Chris Cuthill

    The connection between Catholic-Evangelical relation and Christian-Muslim is fraught with error. One is an interfaith dialogue between two groups that profess a common God; the other is a discussion between two groups who profess belief in two disparate Gods. However much we try to cram the notion of Allah into to Judeo-Christian framework, Allah is a very different deity than the God of Christians and Jews. True interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims would require one of the two faiths rejecting the most sacred tenets of their faith to accept the other's God. Christians should accept and defend Islamic rights to to practice their faith, but there is a world of difference between acknowledging the basic rights of religious freedom and finding a common place to discuss faith. There is as little in common between a Christian and a Muslim as there is between a Christian and atheist - we can talk about the weather or our favorite movie together, but when it comes to belief, we just have to agree to disagree.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. mark

    Is it just me, but doesn't Eboo sound like a cartoon character?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      We Christians love our neighbors as ourselves but that does not mean we are going to allow a deadly and worthless ideology such as Islam to come here and take over the country as islamist and mass-murderer Osama Bin Laden predicted. Muslims must learn that the fact that we protect ourselves agaisnt Islam does not mean we do not love them in the Christian sense.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. Ralph Malph

    "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."

    That might be a argument for accepting Muslims, if Muslims were good people. My experience is that they are not. The ones I know have no problem lying, cheating (including committing welfare fraud), treating the property of other with disrepsect, insisting that their religious beliefs be accomodated at all cost, and a number of other horrible things.

    As the Europeans are finding out, the more you know Muslims, the more you hate them. I hope we in the US never has a Muslim population of a size to lead us to that conclusion. Stay out of the US and I'll try to like them from a distance.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  10. Lisa

    Obama is doing plenty of "accepting" muslims hate filled poision with this political correctness, we can't hurt anyone's feelings crap. Ask the family members of the Fort Bragg shooting and 9/11 victims to "get to know' muslims. They constantly burn our flag and spew hatred in this country. These mulit-million dollar mosques are nothing but places for them to recruit more muslims to go out and do jihad in this country!! The muslims are doing more smaller, low budget jihad, it's called the "Chip Away" approach. Please America, get educated about what is going on right under our noses. Where is the funding for the mosques coming from?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Muslims died on 9/11. Muslim families lost fathers and mothers and children.

      Furthering the hate that drives terrorism by feeding it more hate will not stop the deaths of innocent people. It will, however, drive more moderate Muslims closer to the fire, create new terrorists. They need no recruiting ground for that, the hatred and vehement anger spewed at them by their fellow Americans does the job for the terrorists.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  11. Fred Flinstone

    I'm not religious in the least, nor am I a fan of the Roman Catholic Church or any other religion. That being said, there's no moral equivalency between Catholics or other Christians and Muslims. I don't mind living in a majority Christian country as a non-believer. I'd be scared out of my mind to be so in a Muslim country...and the numerous reports of the persecution of Christians and other non-believers in those lands indicates that those fears are legitimate. Christianity and Western thought gave rise to democracy, free-thinking, freedom of speech, rapid technological advancement and a standard of living not known in other parts of the world. Islam, on the other hand, brings backwardness, honor killings, ignorance, genital mutilation, etc., etc., etc.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Christians in the USA still murder nonbelievers. We've had at least 5 abortion clinic bombings this year, a massacre at a shiekh temple, and a spate of religiously-motivated murders, including a man who killed all his children to send them to Jesus. Religion makes any naton dangerous.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Godfrey

      As an equally non-religious person, I feel compelled to point out that Christianity wasn't always as warm, fuzzy and bloodless as it is today.

      Perhaps it's the degree to which people follow their religion that is the problem. If Christianity were followed to the letter, a large percentage of America would be murderous psychopaths. Christianity has become gentle only to the degree that its source text has been rationalized or ignored by its adherents. (see Numbers chapter 31 or pretty much all of Leviticus).

      August 20, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • abbot

      Hey Fred. I am an athiest and you took teh words right out of my mouth. Bravo.
      I hope all the left wing loonies here realize this and not be useful idiots.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • JonathanL

      Cheers – I also am an Atheist and what you said I agree with. Faith and reason are opposites. Muslims can't seem to distinguish spiritual and material, right and worng. They mistake violence for peace, evil for goodness. Before we get to wisdom, let's start with some simple reasoning. Problem is that 'faith based reasoning' is an oxymoron, so I highly recommend all people discard their faiths entirely and start over with logical based reasoning..At least then there would be hope for the world, albeit a slim chance. Better than none.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • ME II

      "Christianity and Western thought gave rise to democracy,..."
      Didn't the democracy start with the Greeks well before Christianity even began?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • abbot

      @godfrey: People like you make me sick. You are talking about 12th century christians. You are not addressing the issue at hand which is Islam and the role it is playing in todays world. Look at CNN, shoving Islam down our throats. Do you not realize the OIC is pouring billions of dollars to push Islam into our schools and brain wash kids?
      And here you are stuck in the 12th century?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      As a Catholic, let me say Thank you! For acknowledging the contributions of Judeo Christian thought to the construction of western civilization. It gets frustrating hearing how Christianity is the source of all evil in the world from people who are supposedly educated. An honest dialogue requires an honest broker.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • OTOH

      Fred Flintsone,

      You can thank the great thinkers of The Enlightenment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment), but yes, it seems that Jews and Christians were more receptive to those concepts than Islamics. It's still a work in progress, however. The deadly-serious challenge is to figure out how to 'enlighten' certain barbarians.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  12. Jim

    Following Christ we have to love Muslims, is not a matter of reciprocity is a matter of obeying God and following Jesus.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Mendozian

      That is exactly right.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Godfrey

      This is part of what makes Christianity so absurd... the edict that believers must pretend to "love" their enemy.

      It's very Orwellian, if you think about it.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • abbot

      Yes we will love muslims according to Christ. But you have to do everything to defeat Islam. Make fun of it and ridicule it for all its worth.
      Remember muslims are the victims of Islam. Love muslims, discard Islam.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Eboo Patel needs to stop smoking what he’s smoking. You really think that xtians and mooslums can get along? Why should they is the real question.

    What needs to happen is that people of “faith” need to wake up and live in the real world. Only after that happens can we move on and enjoy the age of reason so that the human race can advance.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  14. NickLynds

    Whay would they want to grow to love Muslims?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Perhaps because Muslims are human beings, and your scriptures command you to?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  15. Maverick

    Eboo Patel .....what ya been smokin ? U been on your knees snorting too much but_t holes of the guy in front ?
    It will mess up your mind .....cuase been there and done it myself. U have to RISE UP....get off that prayer rug and raise your hand to Jesus ! Alahahahahaaa is like Obamamaaaa..........myth and faith healer. HOPE AND CHANGE......reemmber that ? Come on now.....get real ok.....the only good Muslim is one them dead ones.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      I didn't steal your line. I didn't even read your post before I wrote mine. Must be a case of the obvious.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  16. Mei

    Why do not Muslims start preaching love of neighbor to themselves and those in their own country first? We see so much violence from Islamic regions–they need to help their own people first.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  17. Truefax

    Take your religiousty and stick it up your @$$. I hate all of you equally.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  18. Rabbit One

    basically stupid religion can love stupid religion – and share the burden of screwing up the world's freedoms

    August 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      What freedom are you denied?

      August 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  19. JCMars

    Did this guy miss the Pakistan story?!

    August 20, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • lolita

      HONOR KILLING!!! Mohammed beliefs vs Jesus teachings. I was reading about the honor killing that took place in England, and I am just so fed up with these Monster Satanic Muslims. I just don't get it. You ran away from your country to a western nation. So i guess the parents need to be killed by another Muslim fanatic, because they moved among "westernized people." This kind of news is what makes me abstain from any contact with these honorable child murderers.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Truefax

      So what, christians aren't any better. Just look back to WWII, the Inquision, the Crusades, hell you'll even kill off eachother like in Ireland. How many prodistants have killed catholics and vica versa over the years. Humans are no differant then any other large predator, we're not a second out of the jungle on the geological time scale.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • TJX

      Truefax, that is such an insanely ignorant comment. The inquisition, crusades, et al. happened centuries ago. The Christian mindset has more or less evolved and mellowed out since then. Muzzies haven't. As for WW2, Hitler didn't kill Jews specifically in the name of any religion (he was Catholic, most of Germany wasn't). Nazi Germany was more or less a secular regime. On the otherhand, even a place like Saudi Arabia still has public executions. How vile and disgusting is that.

      August 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Nazi Germany a secular regime? Are you high or something? Did you forget "Got Mitt Uns"? How about the records showing that during speeches and writings Hitler laced a lot of what he said with religion? In terms of more recent, how about the Christians in power in Uganda and the execution law on gays?

      August 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  20. Tom

    Take the best from your religion, throw off the chains, and think for yourself to create a better world.

    August 20, 2012 at 7:16 am |
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