Survey Shows How Evangelical Relationships With Muslims Can Further Understanding

Earlier this week, a Baptist church in Michigan canceled an event titled, “9/11 Forgotten? Is Michigan Surrendering to Islam?” due to pushback from fellow Christians and politicians.

The pastor of Bloomfield Hills Baptist Church identifies as an Islamophobe and organized the gathering because he sees Islam as a growing threat in the US, The Washington Post reported.

While some fellow white evangelicals share his suspicions, research has shown that those who know Muslims in their communities tend to hold more positive views and are more likely to see commonalities between their two faiths.

“The personal relationships with Muslims, that’s a game changer,” Todd Green, Luther College professor and former Islamophobia adviser to the US State Department, told ThePost. “It tends to make you less Islamophobic.”

Yet surveys from various sources have noted the friendship gap between evangelicals and their Muslim neighbors. More than a third (35%) of white evangelicals knew a Muslim personally in a 2017 Pew Research Center release, fewer than any other religious group, and evangelicals surveyed rated Muslims more negatively than other faiths.

The Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research found in 2017 that 17 percent of those with evangelical beliefs reported having a Muslim friend, while the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) reported this year that only 22 percent of evangelicals say they interact frequently with Muslims. FFEU, led by a rabbi seeking to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, also noted that 1 in 3 evangelicals with frequent interaction with Muslims viewed Islam as similar to their own faith compared to 1 in 4 evangelicals overall.

The latest research from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a prominent American Muslim organization, offers another look at the relationship between the two faiths.

The 2019 ISPU poll, released last spring, surveyed a representative sample of the US population along with a sample of Muslims and of Jews. The results may not offer as precise a picture of other religious subgroups due the higher margin of error, but still gives a valuable snapshot at broad trends between the faiths.

Here are five takeaways for evangelicals from one of the leading indicators of Muslim community sentiment in America.

1. White evangelicals lag behind in knowing and befriending Muslims; Jews excel.

When asked, “Do you know a Muslim personally?” 35 percent of evangelicals and 44 percent of Protestants said yes. More than half of the general public responded in the affirmative (53%), and 57 percent of the non-affiliated, 61 percent of Catholics, and 76 percent of Jews.

Only 9 percent of white evangelicals said they knew a Muslim close enough to call for help. Protestants were slightly higher at 15 percent. The general public reported 25 percent for yes; 26 percent for the non-affiliated. Catholics reported 28 percent; Jews, 45 percent.

2. Most Muslims have favorable or neutral views of evangelical Christians, but the feeling isn’t mutual.

While a half of Muslims reported “no opinion” when asked about evangelical Christians, a third had a favorable opinion and only 14 percent unfavorable. (Fewer than half of Catholics, Jews, and the unaffiliated also held a favorable view of evangelicals.)

Meanwhile, just 20 percent of white evangelicals indicated they had a favorable opinion of Muslims, with 44 percent unfavorable. (Protestants were split at 31 percent each; the non-affiliated were 34 percent favorable toward and 18 percent unfavorable. Catholics reported a 39 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable. Jews were 53 percent favorable and 13 percent unfavorable.)

White evangelicals also score the highest—and Jews the lowest—on the National Islamophobia Index created by ISPU in partnership with Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative. The index measures the degree to which society endorses ideas such as US Muslims being more prone to violence or less civilized than others.

Only 21 percent of the general public has favorable views of Muslims. When measuring favorability of those who know a Muslim, however, the rating jumps to 47 percent, and increases again to 57 percent if that Muslim is considered a good friend.

3. White evangelicals and Muslims rank highest for piety.

White evangelicals and Muslims were the most devoted to their faith when asked about personal religious beliefs and practices in the ISPU survey. They were far more likely than others to consider their religion important to daily life—82 percent of white evangelicals and 71 percent of Muslims said so. Protestants reported a 61 percent positive response. Catholics and Jews were both at 35 percent.

White evangelicals were also most likely (75%) to indicate that their faith gave meaning and purpose to life. Muslims ranked second at 63 percent. Protestants reported a 54 percent response, followed by Catholics at 37 percent and Jews at 33 percent

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Source: Christianity Today