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. Bob

    The evangelical Christians minority you refer to are 'hating', so it's no surprise that's what they get in return for their condemnation and intolerance. Your headline lumping all Christians into this group does a disservice to those who truly follow Christianity's principles and don't treat the Bible like an historical rule book.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • steward


      Many people think that some Imams should come out and say about Muslim terrorists: "This isn't what the Prophet had dictated to him. This is not Koranic, al-Qaeda is influenced by Iblils." We don't see much of that. In the same way, we don't see many major Christian leaders – even 'liberals' – condemning the hateful actions of Christians who do things like saying gays are going to hell. Get some major leaders of Christian sects to start condemning things like that and your statement about Christianity will be believable.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  2. gyrogearloose

    There are very few people, if any, that I actually hate.
    However, I have a strong dislike for evangelical Christians because they tend to try to impose their faith on me.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  3. cindy lou who

    St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Michelle

      At what evil spirits are you referring to?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Vera Waitress

      Paul 16:32 Let ye who condemn others for not following God look within. Judge not, lest ye be judged. For the rules of life are fluid, like a river, and tradition eventually falls to the earth and is buried with the dead, and new traditions spring forth.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • JR Ewing

      And may the Tooth Fairy protect me from cavities. And may Santa give me every toy on my list. And my the Easter Bunny lay lots of eggs for baby Jeebus! In Lard's Name we pray! Ramen.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  4. Voodoo Idol

    What is this amazing garbage? Christians are over 70% of the populace in the U.S. How, exactly, are they a minority? And what's this about being hated? Let me know when you get burned at the stake or forbidden from holding public office for your religious choice – THEN we can talk about how much you're hated.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  5. buildmeister

    As a Christian, it offends me more that my other fellow Christians are trying to legislate their morality on a public that ever increasingly doesn't accept their beliefs. Yeah I personally believe that being gay is a sin, but if I made it a law that no one could be gay then are we any better than the theocracies in Iran and other parts of the Middle East? Attempting to legislate away sin doesn't pave the way for for people to come to Christ.

    To me the most important message of the Bible is faith and a willingness to follow Jesus. Whatever sins we bring along are washed away after that. The sad truth is that all Christians are likely living in unrepentant sin because they believe in an interpretation of the Bible that likely offends God. Myself included. All I know is that I'm prepared to face God knowing I have sins I'm not recognizing. And for those who don't believe they'll face God at all, I only wish that they have the happiest and most fulfilling life they can.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Ibigredheartgays

      I am not a Christian, but I have much respect for your comment. Thank you for showing that one can disagree with someone else's lifestyle, yet accept that there are others who do not share your beliefs without condemnation or rhetoric.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Nasty Canasta

      Sin is man made,
      The early church found out they could make money
      by absolving you of your "sins" for a price.
      Nice racket.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • buildmeister

      > Sin is man made,
      > The early church found out they could make money
      > by absolving you of your "sins" for a price.
      > Nice racket.

      I don't know about any of the other Christians here, but it hasn't cost me any money to absolve my sins. I'm blessed to be part of a church where their finances are transparent. And the money I give to them doesn't factor into my salvation one bit. I don't believe that and my church doesn't believe that either.

      I find it disappointing though that people are judged based on how they want to spend their money.

      May 5, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. ©™

    The Family Research Council is a hate group. The SPLC was right when it said that.
    If a person says he loves me but hates my choice of spouse, or my hair, or my skin, and that therefore I should not have equality in my country, then that person hates me.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Kanageloa

      Your attack on the Bible and Christians is flawed as well as your logic. You apparently didn't read the article did you?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Rob

      The SPLC is an anti-white hate group.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  7. Mirosal

    Juat wait until June, when the Suprenme Court hands down its decision. I'm guessing you'll be able to hear the screams of these idiots while standing at either N or S pole, or even if you're in the Marianas Trench.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • .

      weight down the qu-eers and fill that trench up

      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  8. TallinOK

    Fundamentalist Christians are as dangerous as Fundamentalist Muslims. We want to go out and shoot Muslims for their radicalization manifested in a strict interpretation of the Qu'ran. When will we condemn Christians for the strict interpretation of the Bible?

    What hypocrisy!

    May 5, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  9. Ouch

    fa gs are sooo gay

    May 5, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • .

      gay is a word stolen by qu-eers to make there disgusting practices seem acceptable.fail

      May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  10. Ouch

    silly gay

    May 5, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  11. C.W.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Pretty sure that is in the evangelical bible. They really need to start reading the entire book.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • .

      you first

      May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  12. Zoop


    May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  13. John

    Freedom of speech: Everything is good until it goes against what I think is correct, then it is unacceptable.

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

      Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

      Where do morals come from?

      By Kelly Murray, CNN


      Gravity is not up for debate ! ............E = mc2..........(U–Pb).................two math formulas..........that do not lie or sin !!!..........

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      For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

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      Make sure to read comments

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      Cheech & Chong's History of 420


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      February 16, 2013 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |


      May 5, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  14. Chris

    It's not the Christianity people are hating, it's the way the people act. Trying to impose your beliefs on others and thinking you are special and right is not the way to become loved. Supposed all people who loved NASCAR would talk about it constantly, tell you how much better NASCAR is than other sports. If you don't like NASCAR then you are stupid and condemned to a life of eternal damnation. When someone says they like another sport, the NASCAR fans start demonizing him. These types of Christians love to judge and condemn people. Let us find our own path, and if we screw it up, that's our fault, but don't impose your beliefs on us.

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

      You can say this about any religion but it seems Islam gets a free pass today.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • shadow

      Im a christian. i dont know how much it means to you. but "he who judges will be judged the same way -jesus". Please dont let the "judgements" of a "christian" rub off on my name as a christian.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • PS

      I agree to an extent. There are those who genuinely do hate Christians and what they believe; there are also those who think anyone who believes *any* religious belief is a fool. But I do agree that for many, it has to do with having differing beliefs shoved on them day after day. Fundamentalist Evangelicals are in my opinion among the worst. I'm a Christian with conservative morals but I also don't believe in alienating, condemning, and hating people because of my beliefs; to me that defies Christ's call that I love my neighbor. LGBTs are also my neighbors, therefore I must treat them with dignity and respect like anyone else. So when I see fundys treating others as they do, to me it's sad and horrifying, and I grow increasingly frustrated with how they give those of us who try to use our beliefs to do good in the world a really bad name.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • BaZinga

      Dale: radical islam is only being ignored due to the fact that the article is about "christianity" being a hated minority. I would have to imagine that radical islam for many people who are commenting is on equal ground with radical christianity, both are hateful to many.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  15. Vera Waitrss

    Christians: tradition, hierarchy, obedience, Middle Eastern law. Everyone else: reason, logic, truth, freedom, justice, equality.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  16. Michael

    Stephen Colbert hit it right on the head this week when he said, "If conservatives are going to refuse to accept gay marriage, they need to protest as if they were a marginalized and condemned minority. Cause if they keep pretending they can deny gay people the right to marry, they will be. " I will add, AND THEY SHOULD BE.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  17. Ken

    God rules woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  18. Lexagon

    "...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..."


    "Being a hateful bigot is HAAAARD...Even claiming that I'm hating on people for their own good doesn't win me the broad support it used to! Waah! Waah, I say!"

    May 5, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  19. longshot

    Sorry, but being afraid to express your hatred and bigotry does not make you a victim. Just because the true victims of your hate and oppressive laws speak up, it does not make you a victim.

    Why do we even give space to this nonsense? It is 2013, it no longer deserves any respect

    May 5, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Seth White

      Is a sense of morality and right and wrong such a terrible thing?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Exactly


      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Sane Person

      A sense of right or wrong is not a terrible thing. Its also not the issue here. Obviously a great number of people disagree with christian beleifs. Chrisitans do thier best to impose thier rules on non-christians. That is the problem. You dont believe in gay marriage? Fine, dont get gay married. Dont eat shellfish, dont get divorced, marry only virgins and lounge around every sunday. No one is trying to stop you from any of that. We are trying to stop you from dictating what the rest of us must do. You have no greater moral authority than any other religion (or atheist) simply because you believe it came from a supernatural sky fairy.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • derp

      "Is a sense of morality and right and wrong such a terrible thing?"

      There is no morality in religion.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  20. crimsoninok

    I just realized something that is so humorous. Its so obvious now the reason there are so many anti-christians on this board today.. The Christians are in church experiencing God and His love. The timing is just worth a giggle that CNN would post this story on Sunday morning. This way they dont get too much backlash on the blog when it first comes out.. To you atheists, God knows YOU exist because he created you and He loves you and He wants you to have a blessed life and an even more blessed existence after you pass from this world. God is about love, but he is about justice too. So please, dont mistake His grace for amnesty. He will judge you and all of the other judgements you have received here will be nothing compared to that. And for that fact alone, im sorry for you.

    May 5, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Sane Person

      lol. You're silly.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      The bible was created by men, all gods (thousands of them) have been created by god, and you have fallen for the biggest scam of all time.

      Join us in reality.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      oops...all gods have been created by men. Every one of them.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • tara

      Don't worry about us, dearie. Our brains are working fine.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • suziecoyote

      One doesn't have to be an anthiest to want nothing to do with Christianity and its history of hatefullness, murder, repression and cruelty. There are those of us who believe your book was written for (certain) men by (certain) men. That doesn't mean we don't believe in a deity. Of course, to the Christian, we might as well be athiest, because if we don't believe they way they do, we are going to he!! anyway.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • God

      crimsoninok, you have broke the Sabbath. I have commanded you to bow down and worship me once every seven days. Instead, you chose to post non-sense on this Atheist, left-wing, communist, Muslim, weak on our enemies, war-bating, anti-gun websitre of pure EVIL. You are henceforth condemned to the lake of fire!!!

      May 5, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • derp

      "And for that fact alone, im sorry for you"

      And you bibletards wonder why the sane people think you are such a bunch of judgmental self righteous d i c k s.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • BaZinga

      That makes this a good time to blog about real science: the fundamentalist nut jobs are busy handing their hard earned cash over in church to an unsubstantiated and never proven to exist diety and will not be able to enter anti-science commentary stating that the world is only 6000 years old!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Nasty Canasta

      Christians go to church on sunday so they can feel better
      about themselves while screwing everybody the other six days.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Boggy Creek Rocks

      If you are a Christian and you go to church on Sunday,
      you have just sinned.
      The Sabbath is on Saturday.
      Bet you money you will ignore this, wont you ?

      May 5, 2013 at 11:26 am |
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About this blog

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.