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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. Benny

    Most religious people are creepy....they obsess about what other people are doing with their genitals.

    May 21, 2013 at 1:25 am |
  2. Peteyroo

    If only Christians would become an even smaller minority then finally disappear.

    May 21, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  3. Cactus Wren

    Aww. Hateful bigots afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled hateful bigots. My heart bleeds for them.

    May 20, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  4. A Follower of Jesus

    I became a Christian because I got tired of living a life of hatred. I certainly had every right to hate but frankly it was destroying me and not only me but my family. Hatred comes in many shapes and forms and unfortunately it is part of us and our nature to hate. Jesus demonstrated His Great Love for us by taking on all the hatred of every person ever born, he took it upon Himself and physically died and descended into Hell for all of us. Then He Rose from the Dead and overcame all evil and hatred once and for all. Today He extends the gift of forgiveness and unconditional love towards all who will receive Him! He will come to you and be with you and accept you as you are and yes, Love you forever. Thank you.

    May 20, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Jesus is not real. Neither is Santa or the Easter Bunny. Get a grip.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • faith

      baby dodo. your sincerity screams off the internet

      May 22, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  5. mrjackson777

    Its ok to be a Christian as long as you shut up, and sit the corner. Don't speak up, or out. Don't say anything abut moral issues or what is right or wrong in society.

    May 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Christians are free to do those things in private or in their cult's clubhouse, but in public, you've pretty much nailed it.

      May 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • TC

      The problem comes when some Christians THINK they know what's wrong, and try to legislate their beliefs, forcing them on others.

      Hint – if your words and beliefs cause direct harm to other Americans, keep them to yourself.

      May 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      TC, why did you limit your hint to "other Americans"? Wouldn't "others" have been better, or are you implying it is ok for delusionals to harm non-Americans?

      May 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Louis

      Since when do Christians know or do what is right or moral? They are the biggest bunch of hypocrites out there. They preach morality and yet have no problem spreading their hatred around. Sitting in the corner and shutting up is exactly what they should do.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      What is wrong with Christians sitting in the corner and keeping their mouths shut? It sounds good to me.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:46 am |
    • craig

      That would be contrary to Gods Word. As long as it is done in love and not condemnation.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Ol' Yeller

    When Christians start understanding their religion and what the Book is trying to teach them (surprisingly enough, what most atheiats/agnostics already know) the world will be a better place.
    Less judging/more forgiving.
    Less preaching/more tolerance.
    Less Holier than Thou/more being humble
    Less taking/more giving
    Less exclusion/more love
    Less hatred for your fellow man/more love

    May 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  7. Eric

    Of course basing your moral system on the moral system of people from 2000+ years ago will make you sound like a hateful zealot.

    Acceptance of gays and lesbians is increasing even more rapidly than that of minorities 50 years ago. If you want to go up and use your religious beliefs to justify your bigotry, then over time more and more people will treat you like a white supremacist.

    May 20, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • ERIC THOMPSON

      The further the usa goes from God the worse things will get.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  8. WHAT? really?

    I'm Christian......I am not gay.However as Christians we should realize that we are in America. An understanding country, a country that allows more than just christians, a country that promotes freedom. I understand that there are other who are gay and what they do with other gay men or women will not affect the way I live. Even if my child is that way, I realize that he himself should choose to be Christian. To be a Christian, I'm sure to be any religion or belief, is to FEEL A NEED for the faith not just to want it. Let everyone be free to do what they do.

    May 20, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  9. JTC

    I'm a Christian.... wake me when one of my modern brethren gets physically assaulted here in the US for their faith.

    May 20, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • Janis

      You will know when it happens.to you.. In the today's world, physical doesn't just mean body to body- there are other things that assault and that is already happening in North America. Haven't you noticed anything unusual in the news the past few years about Christians or strong faith people acting out of character (as well as whistleblowers). I am sure the statistics would be too high to seem chance.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Janis, What statistics? Please share.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      just what is wrong with bashing in a few Christian heads? I'll be happy to wake you–and none too gently when it happens.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  10. Insanity_Prevails

    Also, I think the ratio of comments on religious-based articles to non-religious-based articles on this site is hilarious.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • just1mor

      Haven't you noticed how the creatures in the dark always follow the light.? And then zap! they get trapped. Just make sure you are light.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  11. One one

    Anytime one group of people tell everyone else they are destined to burn in hell for not believing as they do can expect a lot of push back and ultimately outright rejection. Christians made their bed, now they can sleep in it.

    May 19, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • nclaw441

      One one:

      I am a Christian, and much of what you say is right. I see part of what I am called to do by my faith as reaching out to others to share my faith. Most Christians believe this, but far too many of us seem to think that threats of hellfire will accomplish the goal, when there is such a positive message of our faith to give.

      My faith is a great comfort to me in difficult times here and now. I really don't think much about heaven (and there is another article on that in the Belief blog) because there is plenty to do now. For much the same reason I don't spend time thinking about hell, either. I can't say why so many Christians emphasize hell when a wonderful life of faith, love and joy (cheesy sounding, I know, but it is true) awaits us NOW if we, with God's help, believe.

      May 20, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Aurora

      Christians are not being pushed into the closet. They're just being forced to keep their opinion to themselves like the rest of us. Why should I have to listen to what your holy book says when I'm at work or walking down the street or window shopping. That's the main problem with Christians – they feel they should shove their diatribe on the rest of us.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  12. lou

    One day humanity will create a god. It will destroy religion as we know it.

    May 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      The sooner religion vanishes, the better.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • Science

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/19/proofs-of-heaven-popular-but-not-with-the-church/#comments

      NOT BILL DEACON !

      Larry

      The church is recognizing that science is rendering faith unnecessary. Most of the faith believe heaven is up in the skies. We have been there with space trips and with the telescopes that are very very powerful. Heaven is not up there. So where can heaven exist? Fact is heaven cannot physically exist. So if you want to render faith more of a dinosaur then try to convince people that do understand science that something exists they can prove does not and all you end up doing is pushing more people out of your dying faith. What we do know about after dying is that you will no longer be here and you will no longer be suffering with your earthly problems.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:38 am | Report abuse | Reply

      Bill Deacon

      From the catechism of the Catholic Church:

      1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

      So, your image of heaven as a place in the clouds is a bit immature. You probably formed it when you were ten and decided science was cool and Bible study was not.

      May 21, 2013 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |

      Science

      And look who shows up..............Billie................more what billie...................the origin story is BULLSH_IT!

      May 21, 2013 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |

      Cpt. Obvious

      The bible implies a flat-earth, sky-heaven in numerous places and by the means of various anecdotes. In order to "climb a high mountain" and see "all the kingdoms of the earth," and in order for the resurrected Christ to "ascend in the clouds" where believers will join him, heaven has to be "up there" above a flat plane of the earth.

      May 21, 2013 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |

      Science

      You do know the old pope kicked the angels with pitch fork off the team.....last xmas.........don't you Bill ?

      All these years .Bill..............there are angels.....................then poof............go the red horn-y thingy too HA BILL.

      Where are the fvcking morals there BILL or ethics ?

      May 21, 2013 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |

      May 21, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Captain Morgan "Perfect Getaway: Chapter One"

      You need Adobe Flash Player to watch this video.
      Download it from Adobe.

      .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctrUY4CWocY

      May 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Science

      Chuckles..................chadie might not like this or he is a POE ?

      The real Tom...............do a seacrh on google............for this article ........When Christians become a 'hated minority'

      By John Blake, CNN

      It might be the beast.........666.?

      May 21, 2013 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/19/proofs-of-heaven-popular-but-not-with-the-church/comment-page-48/#comments

      May 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |

      May 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  13. Religion

    Christians are a holes who have pathological desire to run other peoples lives.

    May 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Knows what is right

      You sir, are a fool. Research something before you go off making yourself look like a fool with your ignorance 😉

      May 19, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • nclaw441

      That is pretty much the definition of generalizing and bigotry.

      May 20, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • Aurora

      I agree with you @Religion. They're particularly obsessed with what we do in our bedrooms.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  14. faith

    midwest idiot, chrome dome, tom moron, blind as a bat, all of 'em dodo, said somethin negative about somebody else! can u believe it?

    perfect love incarnate found something negative to say about someone! golly sarge, the sky be a fallin

    oh no

    May 19, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Science

      666..............and fiaith /chadie

      May 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Science

      Dom you have any..............faith/chad?

      Where do morals come from?.....................NOT THE BIBLE>

      By Kelly Murray, CNN

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/12/where-do-morals-come-from/#comments

      May 20, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  15. James Berry

    Here we go again with the we are the beleaguered ones, we poor Christians. Why's everybody always picking on us? Yet every word from their mouth is hate filled about people they know nothing and care nothing about, yet want to control their lifes choices. We've heard the same whining over "The War on Christmas." Your Jesus said to love everyone, but you hate anyway.

    May 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  16. james

    billy: your science mentality can't defeat my supernatural ability...i swear hehehe....i know that your dead serious about science...but im still laughing at you because you don't know anything....only science and your modern mentality....

    May 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  17. james

    Billy: hahahaha.....yeah maybe need straw at least you got learned from me because without a straw you have no information sucked from me because you're a dumb...hhahaha...loser

    May 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  18. Ben Franklin

    If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.

    (from a letter to The London Packet, 3 June 1772)

    May 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  19. james

    yeah....is coming to an end.....because your science, awareness and evolution is the tool being fool you.. learing to be wrong....and guys those who blaspemy about christianity...goodluck...hehe your atheist, modern religion, other religion...Its better that we got believe even its so hard, because we doesn't prove to our 3rd dimentional world that there is heaven... than afterwards you died and actually there is heaven and you did not believe when you are alive...

    May 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • james

      surely..suffer you from hell....

      May 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Billy

      So james, how old were you when did you threw up your hands and declared that things like science and English were no longer useful to you?

      May 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • Billy

      *when you threw up your hands* (strike did)

      May 19, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • james

      Billy: never because i believe that heaven exist....your science cannot proof it because you only believe on what you see...they have some things exists but we cannot see...and science only proof through research and only dominates only in 3rd dimention.......hahaha...your more dumb...

      May 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  20. Mike Francisco

    Christians can believe that gays are sinners and it goes against the bible and anything else they want to. What we object to is when they take these religious beliefs and try to force them on others who don't share the same faith. How would you feel/react if Jews tried to pass lass forcing everyone to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or if Muslims tried to slip certain of the sharia laws into the US lawbooks. I suspect that you all wouldn't feel the same way as you want us to fell when you do the equivalent thing. Follow your religion's moral code yourself. And you might try adopting the Golden Rule as well. After all, isn't that one of your Jesus' s basic rules?

    May 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
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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.