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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. lerianis

    People are sick and tired of evangelicals of WHATEVER stripe intimating that someone is 'lesser' than they are for not cowtowing to their 'god'.

    It's past time that religion stayed only in a person's home and their church and people were told "Out in public, keep your religion to yourself!"

    May 5, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  2. Randy

    This is such a tiresome argument. If you espouse bigoted, hateful rhetoric, I have every right to call you out on it. Why is that some Christians think they're the only group whose beliefs are beyond reproach?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  3. Mark in Omaha

    The way I see it, you reap what you sew. You treat people with hate, that's what you get in return

    May 5, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Ruby

      Exactly!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  4. kevin

    George 7:14 – Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  5. Jack Noxious

    The notion that Christians are some kind of victim in this context is patently absurd. I know many Christians who love and support our gay friends and neighbors, and I know gay Christians, as well. It's ridiculous to think that Christianity is the problem here. The real problem comes from those who preach intolerance, who campaign for unequal treatment for gays (and frequently women and minorities, as well) and then hide behind a very selective interpretation of the Bible. Christians aren't a hated minority, but a very vocal minority of Christians are definitely haters.

    The God of my forebears is for all people, and loves His people and His creation. Also, this is the 21st century.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • fvkking Christians

      Your god's existence is irrelevant, and you should know that the Vatican has always been vocally anti-gay. Yet, they are all gay! Don't you think they beat off? Christianity, Islam, etc. are the cesspool of barbarism.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • mark

      @fykking you apparently are obsessed by your inability to keep your hands off your little unit. Don't assuage your guilt by accusing everybody else of your weakness.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • fvkking Christians

      @Mark the w anker, you are right! Not abusing kids at church today? 🙂

      May 5, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • mark

      No you do it during school hours. Everybody in this forum knows you are a wannabe pedophile. It is why you accuse others.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  6. feedthemtothelions

    Any religion that tries to force it's will on others is fair game for counter measures. Try to stick a cross in my face and I'll stick it up their _ss. The radical Christo-facist right wingers in this country are the enemy and should be dealt with accordingly.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • The end

      Your trying to force your will on me right now! U idiot

      May 5, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  7. Reason

    If a male is attracted to a male and was born that way then based on that reasoning if your attracted to little girls or boys or even animals, as long as u were 'born that way' it makes it ok

    May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Sane Person

      "2 consenting adults" really is a concept too difficult for the sheeple to understand isnt it? You look silly every time you try to make a point.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  8. Doug

    What about where the good book says not to judge ? Just forget that part and still hate on gays... What hypocrites !

    May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  9. Farooq The Great

    Christianity is the truth. I guess the truth hurts sometimes.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Barney

      Wow – how convincing; LOL.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  10. rosethornne

    Oh boooo hoooo poor bigots.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • fkwhitaker

      Says the hater!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  11. znod

    There is no reason to hate them–or even to not tolerate them. However, it would help if they: were not so intolerant themselves; were not so sure that their way is the only way; did not try to impose their beliefs on the majority in society through laws, etc.; were not hypocrites; and weren't just plain stupid in general

    May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  12. joe b

    The problem is and CNN purposely fails to mention this in the article, is that CNN along with MSNC purposely manipulates stories with the intent of making Christians look bad. The wording, the angle etc., are always manipulated to present as propaganda. CNN is not doing reporting but has the intent of manipulating the masses.

    Why does CNN take a position on the wars in the Middle East? Over 90% of the US general public oppose the wars but CNN like the Democratic and Republican leaders ALL are in agreement that we need more war. Why is this? It's the elite bankers running the US that want the treasures of the Middle East for themselves. Both political parties work for them and have abandoned the American people. It is the same for CNN and MSNBC.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  13. Jeebusss

    When you base your beliefs on 2000 year old fairy tale nonsense, you should perhaps expect to be eventually called out on it.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • fkwhitaker

      2000 "year old nonsense" that's with strode everything thrown at it verses your minuet opinion of experience...hummmm!

      I'll stick with the Scriptures!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  14. tyrammstein

    before the civil war, many many Christians were for slavery. and many preachers cited passages from John to justify slavery. if people thought that was wrong were they guilty of discrimination and hating some one for their RELIGIOUS belief??? it is NO different now...Christians use the bible to justify their prejudices and when there is push back, they YELL that they are the victims.. TODAY in Africa, American Christians are behind the movement to have gays KILLED. if any christian justifies their hate and prejudice via the bible they are not doing what Chrits would do and must be told that. i ashamed to have called my self a Christian in america... and i will not tolerate hate any more

    May 5, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Screamin Eagle

      There are also places in the world where Christians are being persecuted and killed not just gays. True Christians just want to convert gays not kill them.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  15. southernwonder

    bible is not always right. it is often not right. it is a non starter when a person tries to make a point with "bible says.."

    May 5, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Peter

      It is only RADICAL Christians who are the problem.

      You know, the kind of people who tell you that you are going straight to hell because you are gay.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • saggyroy

      "It is only RADICAL Christians who are the problem." – I disagree, the article talks about those who sit silent. Just like people complain of where are all the Muslims to denounce terrorism done in the name of Islam, they are guilty by association. Religion is bad period.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  16. KT

    Read Leviticus in its entirety. The "rules" regarding a mentruating woman, animal sacrific, cleanliness, and other areas of life are preposterous in today's world, so do evangelicals religiously follow every one?? 20:16 – "All who curse their father or mother must be put to death." (what child wouldn't be guilty of this at some point?:-) 20:10: Adulterers will be put to death. I don't hear them clamoring for the death penalty. And that's just the start. I'm a progressive Christian, and despise being lumped in with thes folks. Pretty arrogant to think only you know God.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • stainpouch

      Exactly. Fundamentalist Christians pick and choose from the Bible according to their own tastes and patates. They always have and I suppose they always will. Here's part that Sprigg forgot to mention: Christians are supposed to be persecuted: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (it's in 2Tim–go find it yourself), so what's the rub? This self-fulfilling prophecy might hold true for any trouble-maker or group of trouble makers–"Yea, thou must maketh trouble. And, yea, you'll get into trouble for that."

      As far as the The Family Research Council, concerned–well, its members have been spewing hatred since it was founded. They should not be given a forum here or anywhere else.

      This is what my inner-jesus says: No toleration for the intolerant. No mercy for the merciless.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • saggyroy

      How about the chapter/verse that tells rich people to give all their possessions and money to the poor? Robertson, Olsteen, et al seem to forget this one too.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  17. saggyroy

    Christianity as practiced by most "Christians" is immoral.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • mark

      Really, so you know 51% of practicing Christians. Or are you being assumptive and calling it a fact.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • saggyroy

      Now why would you be upset if I don't have evidence to support my claim? Christians don't need evidence, it's called 'faith'. I can make up whatever I like.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • mark

      Typical of the lame of mind to simply make things up. Jesus walked this earth, that is a fact. Your time is short.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  18. Motarr

    "When Christians become a 'hated monority". Is this statement provocative? Yes. Am I provoked? No. Why? The Spirit of Christ pacifies me. Grace and peace, Friends.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Jeebusss

      That's just your meds. Don't worry the voices in your head will go away one day. (Maybe).

      May 5, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Vycore

      Amen

      May 5, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • mark

      @fyyking...Your time left is short! You are but a blip.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  19. usresham

    If God is love and Love is God then in The Bible 'Hate' should not have any place.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Screamin Eagle

      Bible verse baking this up?

      May 5, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  20. fkwhitaker

    BELIEF BLOG?

    Belief in what? Humanism? Atheism?

    Be clear CNN about what Belief you actually mean here!!

    May 5, 2013 at 9:21 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.