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. matt

    Poor bigots being called out for what you are. I feel for you. Really I do. I feel you should move somewhere else.

    June 3, 2013 at 5:19 am |
    • am7

      And yet you are the ones who hate us and have no tolerance for our beliefs. I wonder who the real bigots are here...

      June 3, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • matt

      I'm going with the group of people who hate an entire group of people based off a piece of fiction. Also we don't hate you for your beliefs. Only your incredible ignorance.

      June 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  2. Steven

    Hey haters it's called KARMA- and you deserve to find out how it feels to have to listen to a little reverse intolerance while having to keep your mouth shut. I have ZERO sympathy for you.

    June 3, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Why?

      Who wants your sympathy? Hate is exactly what I expect, because God promises it. Let me offer a point, here: If a Christian stands up for what the Bible teaches us, and the world hates us for it, then we know, with certainty, that we are doing what is right. Not in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of God. Do I want God to approve of me, or the world? That's a ridiculously easy question for me to answer.

      June 3, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • anonymous

      Love doesn't wish the same hurt onto another

      June 3, 2013 at 12:28 am |
    • Alexander

      Why: You realize the Taliban are saying the same thing as you are, right?

      June 3, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • Why?

      So what? They are free to believe what they want. So am I, and so are you. The only Judge is God, and His judgment is perfect; He will decide who is right, and who is not. At the end of it all, God wins.

      June 3, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • Alexander


      So what? Really? You and the Taliban are both free to believe what you want, but the problems come when you want everyone else to believe it too and aren't willing, despite what you say, to wait for god to judge the unbelievers–the world is too full of people willing to take on that role themselves. When Christians quit trying to legislate their beliefs in this country, they will find more acceptance.

      June 3, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  3. John Brown

    If Christians are becoming more hated, they have only themselves to blame.

    I remember when I liked what Christians were about, even if I didn't share their beliefs. Back in the 60s and early 70s they were all about helping others and encouraging each other to show they were Christians by their love. They were generally fairly humble people, and their political involvement was aimed at helping people gain rights, not preventing them.

    What a mess they've become. I sometimes think it was Roe v Wade that was the beginning of them getting so sidetracked socially and politically. It's sad, really.

    June 2, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Joe Peterson

      Lets just walk step in step together and the rolling over those of different opinion. Sounds allot like Germany peeking its head around the corner.... Those Jews they deserve it. They are not real Germans. They have no rights ..They are vermin.. Do you realize that much commentary of the same type was being produced in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s?

      June 3, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Alexander

      Joe Peterson

      Get hysterical much? All the poster was saying was that the face of Christianity has changed over the last few decades, for the worse. How about coming up with a rebuttal instead of just jumping to the "you're acting like a Nazi" rant.

      June 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  4. aallen333

    What did Jesus say, 'if they hate you, remember that they hated me first', 'you are the salt of the earth, and if the salt has lost its saltiness, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be trodden under foot of men'. We are living in a broken, wounded world. Wounds are supposed to burn when you put salt on it. But if you go along to get along, you'll be the type of salt that has lost its saltiness and only a nuisance to the wounded instead of a burning reminder that something is wrong!

    June 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  5. Anthony

    @ CM

    Why are gays: "Judgmental, hateful, condemning, hypocrites. You get what you earn. They're just miserable fakes hiding their personal shortcomings and ugliness behind the name".

    Its a choice not a gene. Why are gays so angry all the time?

    June 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  6. Felix Sinclair

    "When self-aggrandizing hypocrites no longer get everything their own way"

    June 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  7. Science

    Current search on Bing chadie ..........bookmark update chad........3rd one from top of page.

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    June 2, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Science

      By the way HAR..........your header on post was ............see below.

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      June 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |

      June 2, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Your hope in a flood is for naught. BTW, been there, done that. BBBBbbbwwwwaaaaaahahahhahaha

      "Rev 12:16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth."

      Poor little lonely dragonite.

      June 10, 2013 at 7:03 am |
    • Science

      You know lol??................urls cool science.................no horn-y red beast/devil needed or required.


      June 10, 2013 at 7:12 am |
  8. Science

    Earth’s timeline ................chad remember this long ago..........L4H but me on the list for this.

    Trace our planet's geological and biological ages............better than the bibles timeline.


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    June 2, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
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    June 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Informed

    The evangelicals wonder why they are despised and hated? Well hate begets hate.

    June 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • CM

      Exactly. Judgmental, hateful, condemning, hypocrites. You get what you earn. They're just miserable fakes hiding their personal shortcomings and ugliness behind the name.

      June 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Why?

      I, for one, do not wonder why. I expect it.

      June 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  11. gary

    Deut 23:1 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD." Such wisdom in the bible.

    June 2, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  12. Mike - WA

    I'd argue that true Christians are not a hated minority. What is hated is the evangelical "fake" christian movement that over the past 30 years has morphed the true teachings of Christ to support greed and wealth worhsip. True Christianity is not practiced in America.

    June 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Science

      It would be nice......... but...........Chad you stuck at museum or do you take the show on the road ?
      Maybe they should not have created the wedge !!!
      The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Insti-tute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Insti-tute manifesto known as the Wedge Docu-ment,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic

      June 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • CM

      Exactly, that was precisely what my post pointed out as well. "Christan" vs. Christian.

      June 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jason B

      I'm in complete agreement with you on that Mike.

      June 2, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • slawea

      Mike: AMEN! David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge in the 50's saved my life from drug addiction through patience, help and LOVE! Try selling this fake "name it and claim it" "god is your vending machine" wealth garbage to the 130 countries that say they have almost "Eradicated Christianity". You are right absolutely. The American claiming christian of today are often the most lost of all. The rest of you: God never changes. Jesus spoke of servants and masters often as employer/employee relationships AND the Bible insults you? If you go to a church where you are never CONVICTED (not condemned) by God's loving Spirit, GET OUT! Of course I hate sin...especially my own. But I thank God for His MERCY. I do not hate sinners, I feed, help, love and pray for those in my life that need it as I was helped. See ya soon bro!!

      June 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • Science

      Hey slawea.......you too.

      Hey chadie time to come in old of the cold..............or stay stuck in the green slime that created US

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      May 30, 2013 — Detailed analysis and review have borne out researchers' initial interpretation of pebble-containing slabs that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity investigated last year: They are part of an ancient streambed.


      Creationists make sure to look for that chondrite................compasses and GPS does not work around the stones.


      June 3, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  13. Science

    Hey chadie time to come in old of the cold..............or stay stuck in the green slime that created US

    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Water-Rock Reaction May Provide Enough Hydrogen 'Food' to Sustain Life in Ocean's Crust or On Mars

    May 30, 2013 — A chemical reaction between iron-containing minerals and water may produce enough hydrogen "food" to sustain microbial communities living in pores and cracks within the enormous volume of rock below the ocean floor and parts of the continents, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.


    Star Dust we are


    Pebbly Rocks Testify to Old Streambed On Mars

    May 30, 2013 — Detailed analysis and review have borne out researchers' initial interpretation of pebble-containing slabs that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity investigated last year: They are part of an ancient streambed.



    June 2, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  14. gary

    xtianity it ancient myth and folklore, made up by men over centuries to gain power. It's all a farce, fiction, make believe.

    June 2, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • honest

      Do you have proof to back up your claim?

      June 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Science

      honest yep..............look up !

      June 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  15. Leigh Anne

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

    These Evangelicals don't revere God, if they did, they would do as God said and love their neighbor and enemy the way the Good Samaritan did and help those in need. No, they simply revere their version of "being right" and love their ego more than God. I have no tolerance for such self-styled know it all's.

    June 2, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  16. michael

    It's about the fact that they want everyone else and American law to conform to their ideals. That is why people stand against them. Most fully respect their right to their beliefs and to live in a way that they see fit, but very few support their right to impose those beliefs and lifestyle choices on the rest of thus. And, of course, it doesn't help that they lie, selectively quote the bible to support what they want to espouse, and fight to the death to prohibit human beings from living their lives their way. I hope they stay in the closet and hidden from view. The ones that would rule the world are an embarrassment and dangerous.

    June 2, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  17. 111Dave111

    Evangelism is the reason that Christians have become a 'hated minority'.

    This is not a belief among Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, Buddhists, etc.

    It is not enough for them to live their own life, their own way.

    They 'must' enlist others in their beliefs.

    June 2, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  18. Doug

    These people should be hated. They should be hated for the same reason radical Islamists should be hated. They have no place in our society.

    June 2, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  19. Science

    To bad so sad no horn-y red devil........... not old enough chadie.............crickets go splat !

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    June 2, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  20. huhb

    Christians aren't becoming a hated minority. Rabid, irrational bigots are becoming a hated minority. That the most vocal and visible of them identify as Christian is incidental.

    June 2, 2013 at 9:20 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.