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When Christians become a 'hated minority'
Evangelical Christians say they are the new victims of intolerance - they're persecuted for condemning homosexuality.
May 5th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

When Christians become a 'hated minority'

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - When Peter Sprigg speaks publicly about his opposition to homosexuality, something odd often happens.

During his speeches, people raise their hands to challenge his assertions that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but no Christians speak out to defend him.

“But after it is over, they will come over to talk to me and whisper in my ear, ‘I agree with everything you said,’" says Sprigg, a spokesman for The Family Research Council, a powerful, conservative Christian lobbying group.

We’ve heard of the “down-low” gay person who keeps his or her sexual identity secret for fear of public scorn. But Sprigg and other evangelicals say changing attitudes toward homosexuality have created a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.

As proof, Sprigg points to the backlash that ESPN commentator Chris Broussard sparked recently. Broussard was called a bigot and a purveyor of hate speech when he said an NBA player who had come out as gay was living in “open rebellion to God.” Broussard said the player, Jason Collins, was “living in unrepentant sin” because the Bible condemns homosexuality.

“In the current culture, it takes more courage for someone like Chris Broussard to speak out than for someone like Jason Collins to come out,” says Sprigg, a former pastor. “The media will hail someone who comes out of the closet as gay, but someone who simply expresses their personal religious views about homosexual conduct is attacked.”

When is disagreement hate?

Bryan Litfin, a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Illinois, says Christians should be able to publicly say that God designed sex to take place within a marriage between a man and a woman.

“That isn’t so outrageous,” Litfin says. “Nobody is expressing hate toward homosexuals by saying that. Since when is disagreement the same as hate?”

But quoting the Bible doesn't inoculate anyone from becoming a bigot or hater, some scholars say. There's a point at which a Christian's opposition to homosexuality can become bigotry, and even hate speech, they say.

Crossing such a line has happened many times in history.

A literal reading of the Bible was used to justify all sorts of hatred: slavery, the subjugation of women and anti-Semitism, scholars and pastors say.

“Truly damaging speech cannot be excused just because it expresses genuine religious belief,” says Mark D. Jordan, author of “Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality.”

“Some religious beliefs, sincerely held, are detestable. They cannot be spoken without disrupting social peace,” says Jordan, a professor at the John Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.

The point where religious speech becomes hate speech is difficult to define, though, scholars and activists say.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama is a nonprofit civil rights group that combats and monitors hate groups. Three years ago, it designated the Family Research Council, the group that Sprigg represents, as a hate group - a characterization the group stridently rejects.

Mark Potok,  a center spokesman, says there’s no shared definition of what constitutes hate speech.

“There is no legal meaning. It’s just a phrase,” Potok says. “Hate speech is in the ear of the beholder.”

'One of the most hated minorities?'

Intolerance may be difficult to define, but some evangelicals say they have become victims of intolerance because of their reverence for the Bible.

The conservative media culture is filled with stories about evangelicals being labeled as “extremists” for their belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Their sense of persecution goes beyond their stance on homosexuality. There are stories circulating of evangelical students being suspended for opposing homosexuality, a teacher fired for giving a Bible to a curious student, and the rise of anti-Christian bigotry.

A blogger at The American Dream asked in one essay:

“Are evangelical Christians rapidly becoming one of the most hated minorities in America?”

The reluctance of evangelicals to speak out against homosexuality is often cited as proof they are being forced into the closet.

Joe Carter, editor for The Gospel Coalition, an online evangelical magazine, wrote a blog post entitled “Debatable: Is the Christian Church a ‘Hate Group’?" He warned that young people will abandon “orthodox” Christian churches that teach that homosexuality is a sin for fear of being called haters.

“Faux civility, embarrassment, prudishness and a fear of expressing an unpopular opinion has caused many Christians to refrain from explaining how homosexual conduct destroys lives,” Carter wrote.

Some Christians fear that opposing homosexuality could cause them to lose their jobs and “haunt them forever,” Carter says.

“It’s easier to just go along,” says Carter, who is also author of “How to Argue Like Jesus.” “You don’t want to be lumped in with the bigots. That’s a powerful word."

Edward Johnson, a communication professor at Campbell University in North Carolina, says we are now living in a "postmodern" era where everything is relative and there is no universally accepted truth. It's an environment in which anyone who says "this is right" and "that is wrong" is labeled intolerant, he says.

There was a time when a person could publicly say homosexuality was wrong and people could consider the statement without anger, he says. Today, people have reverted to an intellectual tribalism where they are only willing to consider the perspective of their own tribe.

“They are incapable of comprehending that someone may have a view different than theirs,” Johnson says. “For them anyone who dares to question the dogma of the tribe can only be doing so out of hatred.”

Sprigg, from the Family Research Council, says his condemnation of homosexual conduct does not spring from intolerance but a desire to protect gays from harmful conduct, he says.

Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the council, wrote in a council pamphlet that homosexual men are more likely to engage in child sexual abuse than are straight men. He also wrote that gay men are also afflicted with a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases and mental illness as well.

Sprigg says he does not believe homosexuality is a choice and that “personal testimonies" and "clinical experience” show that some people “can and do change from gay to straight.”

“Maybe we need to do a better job of showing that we are motivated by Christian love,” Sprigg says. “Love is wanting the best for someone, and acting to bring that about.”

'That's a lie'

Potok, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, has little use for the love Sprigg talks about.

He calls it hatred, and his voice rose in anger when he talked about the claims by Sprigg and other Christian groups that gay men are more predisposed to molest children and that homosexual behavior is inherently harmful.

He says the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t designate the Family Research Group a hate group because they view homosexuality as a sin or oppose same-sex marriage, Potok says. There are plenty of Christian groups who hold those beliefs but are not hate groups, he says.

A group becomes a hate group when it attacks and maligns an entire class of people for their “immutable characteristics,” Potok says. The Family Research Council spreads known falsehoods about gays and lesbians, he says, such as the contention that gay men are predisposed to abuse children.

“That’s a lie,” Potok says. “These guys are engaging in straight-up defamation of a very large group of people. There are not many things much worse than you can say in America about somebody than they are a child molester.”

Potok scoffed at Spriggs’ claim that the council and other evangelical anti-gay groups are victims of intolerance.

“That’s whining on the part of people who spend their days and nights attacking gay people and then some people criticize them and they don’t like it,” he says. “That’s pathetic. It reminds me of slave owners complaining that people are saying ugly things about them.”

What the Bible says

What about the popular evangelical claim, “We don’t hate the sinner, just the sin” – is that seen as intolerance or hate speech when it comes to homosexuality?

There are those who say you can’t hate the sin and love the sinner because being gay or lesbian is defined by one’s sexual behavior; it’s who someone is.

“Most people who identify as gay and lesbian would say that this is not an action I’m choosing to do; this is who I am,” says Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.”

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It's an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Some people cite Old Testament scriptures as condemning homosexuality, such as  Leviticus 18:22 - “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” But other Christians counter by saying they are not bound by the Old Testament.

There are those who also cite New Testament scriptures like Romans 1:26-27 - “… Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men. …”

Beal, however, says Jesus said little about sex. And the Apostle Paul, who wrote Romans, was probably referring to male prostitution and men having sexual relations with boys, a practice in the Greco-Roman world.

“Paul does not understand genetics and sexual orientation the way we understand it now as something much more than a choice,” says Beal.

Some evangelicals say Christians can’t change their view of biblical truth just because times change. But some scholars reply:

Sure you can. Christians do it all the time.

Denying a woman’s ability to preach in church was justified by scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 - “… I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” But many churches have abandoned that teaching - and some scholars say a woman preached the first Christian sermon, when Mary Magdalene proclaimed that Jesus had risen.

Slaveholders in 19th century America justified slavery through a literal reading of the Bible, quoting Titus 2:9-10 – “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything. …” And anti-Semitism was justified by the claims that Jews killed Jesus, such as Matthew 27: 25-26 - “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”

Litfin, from Moody Bible Institute, acknowledged that the Bible once sanctioned slavery, but he said that practice was a “cultural expression” that changed over time. Evangelicals who oppose same-sex marriage by citing the Bible are on more solid ground, he says.

“Marriage is a universal and timeless institution that God set up for maximum human flourishing. He set it up in the first book of the Bible with the story of Adam and Eve. It is consistent throughout the whole Bible. … Marriage is in a different category than those cultural things.”

Public jousts over the Bible's stance on homosexuality rarely change people’s minds. What changes is when people get to know gay and lesbian people as friends and hear their story, says Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible.”

“If you open up to that other person genuinely, you basically come to a point where you have to sacrifice them to your ideology or crack open your ideology to make a hospitable place for them,” Beal says.

One Christian pastor who is gay says the uproar over the ESPN commentator’s comments can actually be good,  because debates help settle moral disputes.

“What appears to us as antiquated and prejudicial now was once a disputed issue that required debate,” says the Rev. Richard McCarty, a minister in the United Church of Christ and a religious studies professor at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania.

Until the debate over homosexuality is settled - if it ever is - there may be plenty of evangelical Christians who feel as if they are now being forced to stay in the closet.

Carter, the evangelical blogger, says he foresees a day when any church that preaches against homosexuality will be marginalized. Just as many churches now accept divorce, they will accept sexual practices once considered sinful.

“It’s getting to the point,” he says, “where churches are not going to say that any sexual activity is wrong.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Culture wars • Protest • Sex • Sexuality • Sports

soundoff (10,982 Responses)
  1. Rochelle

    You can believe anything you like, as long as it doesn't affect my freedom to believe as I like OR dictate public policy. Religious belief has no place in politics or public school. I think that Christians claim to be victims when they try to dictate morality and public policy and they experience backlash...as they should.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • CurmudgeonTx

      So how are you NOT doing exactly what you accuse Christians of when you determine what is right or wrong? Everyone has an opinion, and wants their opinion to be the law.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • G to the T

      Curmudgen – then the trick is to ensure the MOST liberty for the MOST people that way everyone has enough "room" to believe as they like, WITHOUT stepping on the civil liberties of people who believe otherwise.

      Whenever we're talking about a civil liberty we should always ask if we are being INCLUSIONARY or EXCLUSIONARY. If you are excluding, chances are you are on the wrong side.

      May 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  2. DARTH CHENEY

    Those who are intolerant do not warrant toleration. If Christians do not want to be hated, they should cease to be hateful. Perhaps a little less listening to their fascist church leaders and a little more reading of the teachings of Jesus will solve the problem...

    May 5, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  3. kevinlyda

    Seriously?

    There are Biblical passages very clearly condoning and encouraging slavery. Where is the CNN Belief Blog post talking about how Christians are discriminated against because of laws against slavery?

    Why does CNN continue to discriminate against Christians who follow the complete bible and not just the parts they agree with?

    May 5, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Kevin, Take a moment to study the Scriptures before writing such nonsense...the OT law, commands/promises to the Children of Isreal vs. the New Testament.

      Read Philemon-its not that long, perhaps shorter to read than watching that sitcom you like.

      Silly.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Sane Person

      You have no idea what the word "discrimination" means. Let me know when you arent allowed to work, live, or eat someplace because you choose your delusional lifestyle. Yell when CNN restricts its pages to rational people only. Yell when you are prevented from being elected, married, or able to join a club because you are a christian.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  4. jellyroll713

    Minority? Not by a long shot. Hated? Well you can only flout human rights and stymie scientific progress for so long before you get a bit of a backlash.

    The planets revolve around the sun? The church says no.
    Slavery is wrong? The church says only whites deserve the right of freedom.
    Blacks should be able to marry whites? The church says that intermarriage will doom the human race.
    Gays should be able to marry? The church says that God has the ultimate say in who gets to spend their life together under the umbrella of marriage.

    Now, I realize that much of this (like Hitler) is just the work of conservative power-mongers trying to claw back some semblance of control from the progressive-minded among us. However, the days of politicians using ancient and ridiculous fairy tales to control the people and stamp out freethinking and healthy skepticism are coming to an end. The slow death of this plague on society will not be quick, the Christians will claim persecution, as they are now. But in the end, the people will realize that the only was forward is through critical thinking and good old human altruism. Let those who would control us with fear and hatred scream themselves into obsolescence. Their time is over.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Rick

      Is this not "hate speech"?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Nasty Canasta

      Rick

      Is this not "hate speech"?

      No, its not.
      If you see this as hate speech you are paranoid.
      The cure is education.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  5. Dave Green

    Many Christians aren't speaking up to defend these people, because they know what he's preaching is crap. They may agree with him secretly and whisper in his ear, but there is no law keeping them from standing right at his side. They are making that choice on their own.
    In fairness, I don't think all that many Christians agree with these people. A certain percentage, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were relatively low.
    All of that being said: No one can harm you in this country for standing up for what you believe in. SO, if you are choosing not to because you are afraid of becoming a social pariah, then perhaps you should examine what you are secretly defending a little more closely.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  6. RandyB

    We love Evangelicals...we just hate their hate. I was raised Evangelical and they are so intensely judgemental and talk a lot about love, but don't show it in everyday kindnesses. They are so busy attacking sin they don't live the life of Christ. Stop getting in other people's business. It's not American to force your beliefs down other people's faces all the time.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  7. reality

    What a misleading headline. Nobody hates Christians. People hate intolerant religious zealots who think its this country, every other country, and every person on the planet should subscribe to their way of living. Those are the minority and those are the people who others complain about, and frankly the world would be a better place if the media #1 stops giving them press and other Christians #2 call them out on their BS.

    The media seems to have run with the "war" on Christianity nonsense the last few years when in reality that is a flat out lie, is disingenuous, and actually just makes it seems worse than it is.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  8. rosa, b'ham al

    This actually makes me really mad. The Christians are complaining the backlash against their hatred proves they are becoming a hated minority? What about all the hatred they have spewed toward minorities over the years? Its about time they take some of their own medicine. I guess they can dish it out but they can't take it.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  9. stevie68a

    Religion is a delusion. It is simply not true. It was created to control people.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  10. JakeF

    Perhaps if some Christians who continue to attack others for not being and believing as they do, they would not receive the same from those who are their victims.

    Hiding behind religion to hate others is not what Jesus taught you. Reaping what you sow... is.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  11. plaidshirt

    The supposed Christians openly show their disdain for gays and lesbians. Why are they so dumbfounded when they get the same in return?

    May 5, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  12. jbp

    I think one phrase from the Bible that is conveniently ignored in much of the evangelical moral judgements is Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

    I think most people truly respect those who take their spirituality to their personal core. The issue is, as so many folks have pointed out, is in the judging of others. When we all eventually stand before God, then we will be judged, in the meantime I think most folks would appreciate some people keeping their opinions / judgements to themselves....

    May 5, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  13. squoose

    A hated minority? No one is killing Christians for their beliefs, though in the past when that has happened it was mostly done by other christians. No one is telling Christians they can't have equal rights. No one is telling Christians that they cannot marry or adopt or give blood. No one is keeping Christians from being at the side of their dying partners because they can't legally marry. Yes, Christians, when you spew YOUR hate, people are going to respond and it is not going to be nice. Why should we be silent in our condemnation of your hate when you can't keep it to yourselves but choose to air it on national television?

    May 5, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  14. Jamie

    The Bible says that Christians will be hated and persecuted to death for their beliefs, as the end times approach. The prophecies have been and continue to be fulfilled. None of this is surprising news, considering that Satan rules this world. Immorality rules.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • JakeF

      Criticism is not persecution. Enough of your petty, insecure, whoa is me, I'm persecuted complex.

      Jesus WAS persecuted. You are being criticized. Get over it.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • Sane Person

      Oh brother. The deluded have been claiming the "prophecies" have been occuring since the creation of the jesus myth. The 2nd coming has been "right around the corner" for thousands of years. Before your silly religion, there was dozens of others claiming the same thing. A thousand years from now, some new irrational idiot will be spouting off about how the end times are near.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Hmm

      With all the demonization of Christians, Jake, it won't be long before one of the haters starts persecuting, let's just hope it isn't Obama.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Satan's can opener

      The Bible says a lot of things. Like this for instance:
      2 Samuel 1:26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.
      1 Samuel 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

      May 6, 2013 at 12:36 am |
  15. rasko41

    In the USA, you have the right to free speech; you do not have the right to be taken seriously, or to be free of criticism.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  16. Ouch

    Isn't being gay a pain in the A S S?

    May 5, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • madrogio

      It may also be sticking something in your mouth.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  17. David

    If evangelicals are a hated group, they have nobody to blame but themselves, and their big mouths. Let other people live their life, and mind your own G.D. business. Nobody cares to her your bigoted opinions.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  18. veep

    What a joke!

    Christians pretending to be persecuted.

    The Gay hating started in Church.

    own it.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  19. stevie68a

    Religion wears a cloak of "love", to hide the hate.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • David

      Exactly. And that's been going on for thousands of years.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  20. Sarah

    It's one thing for a church to say "we only perform marriages between one man and one woman, but the United States government may recognize a different definition of marriage, and that's fine by us." It's another to try to force the entire nation to adopt your marriage policies.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:19 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.