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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. A deeper issue

    Many Christians and Muslims do what they do because they are convinced that something bad will happen to them when they are dead if they do not. Since a large majority of people would rather think that death is not the end, that leaves the religion dilemma intact. It's not just a surface issue.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  2. Mirosal

    When these buffoons stop preaching hate, then they might not feel so hated themselves. "You do not need the Bible to justify one's love, but no greater tool has been invented to justify one's hate" (I forgot whose quote this is)

    May 5, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • crimsoninok

      Someone who misunderstood the bible.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Blessed One

      He said "greater tool". Heh heh heh heh.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  3. EastCoastMike

    Hate breeds hate

    May 5, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  4. TSB8C

    Isaiah 5:20

    May 5, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Papa Smurf
      11:06

      May 5, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  5. puck

    Judge and ye shall be judged. Christians have been really good, during their dominance for the past two thousand years in judging others and being ridden by guilt within themselves. Instead of choosing freedom and the honoring of the two greatest commandments (Love God and love your brother/sister as yourself) they have gotten bogged down in politics and social issues – seduced by politicians who found it so easy to win them over with a few expressions about the Christian faith and by attacking their favorite sinners that they hate but love. Certainly not a path to glory or victory and so now they can reap what they have sown – please keep letting us know how the current backlash and intolerance feels and then attempt to abide by your Father's chief commandments. When you have done that perhaps we can philosophize about Leviticus.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • 210

      Idiot.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Nice rant.

      Remember, you are no different, so get off the high horse.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  6. KelleyDF

    since when are Christians a "minority?" i defy any Christian to experience one day of the kind of persecution that this country has perpetrated on actual religious and cultural minorities. African Americans, Jewish immigrants, Irish Catholics, American Indians, Muslim Americans, have all been unfortunate enough to experience the bigotry originating in evangelical Protestant churches. Calling individuals like Broussard out on their bigotry doesn't even come close to matching "White Only" signs or laws against Native American religious practices.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      You left out atheists. We are more reviled than pedophiles by some accounts. Our jobs, friendships and families are at risk when we reveal our disbelief.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  7. Sophia

    I believe it is the fundies that are responsible for smearing an entire faith. I do not think that all Christians believe as the above depicted in this article do.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  8. DCKeene

    I feel so sorry for the persecution of these Christians. They have just been so quiet and subdued over the years. Sometimes I wish Christians would quit being so cowardly and finally fight back against all they suffer. (Sarcasm)

    May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • 210

      You're an idiot. Christians are some of the most docile compared to other religions. Let me guess you are an atheist and have everything figured out already.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Chiniquy

      You are delusional 210.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      All we atheists have figured out is that your insular view of what or how people should view others is based on falsehoods.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • BaZinga

      210: before making the statement that christians are some of the most docile you have heard about the inquisition, the crusades, the thirty years war, the French wars of religion, the Nigerian civil war, Charlemagne's holy conquest and of course Adolph Hitler who in the Mein Kampf references the christian bible as his inspiration, " I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.." I found it necessary to insert the actual quote as most christians try to deny the connection, but overall christianity has been anything but docile.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  9. Curt

    SOME Christians may feel persecuted, but not all. And I don't think it's appropriate for a sportscaster to present his personal religious views on a newscast – it's not the place.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  10. A dose of Reality

    Faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. Our knowledge of the world from 2000 years ago to what we now know about the world has irrevocably changed the need for religion. We do not need God to explain things; and religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. We now see that the leap of faith is not just one leap; it is a leap repeatedly made, and a leap that becomes more difficult to take the more it is taken, reaching its pinnacle in blind allegiance and active denial and rejection of any other possibilities. At that point, the credibility of the faithful is entirely lost.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  11. Aaron

    People forget its not only freedom of religion but also freedom from religion. telling people they will burn in hell is forcing your belief system on them and it also exposes the belief system to criticism. Don't want to be called a bigot try living by the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or in this case say unto others. Keep that in mind and you will never have an issue.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Chiniquy

      So it is ok to force us to accept serxual perversity (men with men and women with women) as normal eh Aaron. But Christians cannot preach what their religious teaches.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  12. RJP3

    Why would anyone need to speak out against civil equality at work – ever?

    If they have a religious belief they should live by it – but there are those whom racism is a religious belief – should they speak out about that at work too and not be judged if they tried to reinstate segregation?

    May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  13. Skeptic

    Evangelical is a beautiful word used to describe a stupid person without offending them.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  14. Chris

    No man is without sin and most Christians know this. You can accept anyone, even gays, for who they are and at the same time not condone their sins.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • 210

      Yes!

      May 5, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Except sin doesn't exist. It's a fabrication of your religion.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • .

      murder exists sin exists, theft exists sin exists , qu-eers exist sin exists sin is deviations and crimes against God and man your opinion does not mean jack sh it. your might say speed laws don't exist and there is no legal authority but encountering your third world legal system can make even you a believer.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      No...crimes exist and we have ethics to decide what is legal and what is not legal. Sin is defined as the defiance of God's will and that can't exist if your God doesn't exist.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • RJP3

      Just pretty words to make you feel better about being judgmental and elitist.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  15. Richard Cranium

    Oh, the horror ! ! !
    Oh wait...reality setting in.....NOOOOOOOOO

    May 5, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  16. Whoa

    You mean these sad, delusional, judgemental people, who cannot keep their judgements and mouths shut about others not of their faith, are upset that people are tired of hearing their BS?? The hypocrisy is astounding.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Nic

      Spot on!

      May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Gumby

      Funny how when Christians spew condemnation toward gays, it's "Christian love", but when non-Christians call them out for their judgmental hypocrisy, it's all "WAAAAHHHH! We Christians are so persecuted and hated! We're a despised minority!!!" LOL.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Steven

      I wonder why many of you guys never say anything against MUSLIMS!
      Afraid? Many radical Muslims really hate us and would enjoy seeing us part into pieces. Those are the enemy, not Christians.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Gumby

      Steven: I laugh whenever I see you Christers sputter "But... but... what about the MUSLIMS?" Fail. If the US was a predominantly Muslim country we would. But since the religious bigotry and prejudice in this country comes from Christians, we pay attention to the evils of Christianity. See how that works?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  17. bankrupt1

    I think a lot of the things people claim to hate aren't really christianity so much. Seems like they twisted some things.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  18. Deb

    I'm not overly religious but I was Anglican growing up. The church I attended taught compassion,loving each other and tolerance. It also taught me that was being Christian was, so I've led my life doing my best (not always succeeding) to be kind and non-judgemental and helping out where I could. These fanatic, evangelical, crazed persons who claim to be Christian have tainted the word Christian and made it something I am embarrassed to say that I am. It used to make me proud but the way they have dragged that word through intolerant 'mud' makes me ashamed for them. They love to quote only certain , hateful passages from a book that was written by men; fallible men. Why they choose to ignore the biggest lesson is beyond me. I read the same book (& read it cover to cover) and the main lesson the Jesus they refer to taught is – compassion, kindness, forgiveness and humility. These modern day 'Christians' are anything but Christian in my book.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Stacey G.

      Brava, Deb!

      May 5, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • shadow

      Very true, certain "christians" are like snakes, they can spit poison but cant take poison. who are we to judge a creation that god created and loved, and still does love regardless. compassion is one thing many christians forgot, but so is conviction of the spirit.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  19. Boring Media Hype

    I gave up Christianity for lent years ago. It's a cult that uses guilt to control it's believers. I simply just try and not hurt anyone, treat people as I would be treated and possess deadly force should anyone attempt to hurt me or my loved ones.....it's working so far

    May 5, 2013 at 8:27 am |
  20. Joe

    Well the bible is a work of fiction so this is all irrelevant.

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

      you must live a miserable life if you have none of God's grace, and for that, i feel sorry for you.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Joe

      God is made up in your mind. I can prove science can you prove god?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Joe

      And if you believe the bible is truth then I pity you. It's a book about a good man that's been turned into a cult following. Theres been hundreds of thousands of gods throughout history, Greek, roman, Buddha,etc. why is Jesus real but no others are? Why is he so special? It's because you're scared of there being nothing after you die so you make it up it in your own mind. Think about it, don't be so blinded by your faith.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • GNH

      crimsonink: You believe in a book that is used to teach intolerance of others. For that, I feel sorry for you.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Santex

      And yet here you are reading the entire article and leaving a comment. Perhaps you feel that something is missing?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Gumby

      It's not "irrelevant" when millions of people hide behind that work of fiction in order to spew their own hatreds and prejudices.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Nasty Canasta

      crimsoninok

      you must live a miserable life if you have none of God's grace, and for that, i feel sorry for you.

      I have plenty of grace, I don't need or want your god for that.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:12 am |
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