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. Rick1948

    Christians and other right wing groups started getting all the heat when they decided to publicly start discriminating against anyone who doesn't subscribe to their shtick. These people and their "all knowing, all seeing, loves everyone God" were doing fine when they minded their own business. Now, they're trying to use their influence to control women's productive activities, pretend that Gays are not people, and take away teenagers abilities to NOT have unwanted children. Go back to your churches, sing, dance, play with snakes, or whatever else you do, leave others alone, and people will leave you alone too.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Hollie


      May 5, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  2. Hollie

    "Hated" is a pretty strong word and mostly inaccurate. There is a big difference between being "hated" and not being allowed to make the laws that govern all citizens based upon your specific religious beliefs. It's about standing up and saying "No" to attempts to deprive Americans of their rights.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  3. Patrick

    You know I would never think of trying to regulate the marriages of Christian extremists unless they wanted to return to the times of old and marry children. But I am against them using the verse in Mark 16 to justify not getting medical treatment for their own kids.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Hollie

      A former neighbor lost their child for this very reason. She was only nine years old and had the flu. She could have been saved if they had sought medical treatment.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • BB

      Christians don't do that, cults do.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Patrick

      @BB – Anyone who takes the bible as the literal word of God as one third of Christians do, would be compelled to do that – since the verse says that true believers are able to heal others and some view it as a lack of faith to rely on medicine or doctors.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Clan Destine

      And the difference is, BB?

      May 5, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  4. Operaman

    Remember, the Bible says in the New Testament, not the Old; slaves, obey your slavemasters. I guess we should all adhere to what it says.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • cwrighta70

      Unfortunately, you don't understand the context here. Slavery in the New Testament wasn't the same as minority slavery in the United States. People who owed debts willingly went to their debtors and asked if they could work to pay it off. They willingly put themselves into servitude. And because the Christian faith is so much about loving God and loving others, Jesus told them (and us) that they should treat slaves with the same kind of love and respect as they would expect from others. So yes, you're statement could actually hold up in today's society. We should treat those who owe us debts with love and respect, and not use it as leverage against them to force them into anything.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  5. Kehlyn

    Jesus was not about the hate that most "christians" espouse today.
    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
    Remove the plank from your own eye before trying to remove the splinter from another.

    Although I was raised believing in Jesus, I no longer claim to be christain as that group has taken a wrong and sad turn in their campaigns of hatred toward all who do not believe exactly as they do.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • GetReal

      "Go and Sin No More".......Why is that one always left off the top 10 list of things that Jesus Said!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  6. Tim Brown

    All you have to do is disagree with one once and you are a "Christian hater."

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • al

      To the Christian, openly challenging their fantastical beliefs means you hate them. In their mind they are not to be challenged. If you are of another faith or of no faith, you are supposed to sit down and shut up while they spread their contemptible meme around the nation.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  7. GrogInOhio

    What a nonsensical headline! The real case is that Evangelicals, fundamentalists, seem to hate just about everyone else. Muslims, gays, Jews and keeping women in their place.... anyone that's not male and WASP. Who would Jesus hate?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  8. eric

    The day I hear a "Chrisitan" who feels the need to weigh in on someone elses lifestyle acknowledge that they themselves are going to Hell for sitting in God's place of judgement is the day I listen to that "Christian" condemn someone else 's behavior. . . sadly the judgey forgetful "Christians" seem to be the loudest

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  9. woodofpine

    It is hypocritical to say that when media or society opposes faith based denunciation of gays – the Christians (or Muslims or Jews) that the faithful are a 'hated minority'; yet when the 'faithful' announce THEIR disagreement of gay lifestyle it isn't hateful – it's merely 'disagreement'. If you can't take it don't dish it out. But a crucial distinction exists: the religious have also sought to legally sustain denial of employment and civil rights to gays. THAT is bigotry in action. No one has proposed penalizing the quietly religious.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  10. Dick Izinya

    Hate the sin, love the sinner.
    Christian translation: I hate you.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  11. Jesus is the most powerful man to ever walk this earth

    There has been much controversy on life after death, hell, the existence of God, the "right religion", the laws of God, the character of God, Christians, rules, and much more. If you care to learn about the truth on all of this, I simply encourage you to visit this website http://www.theeternalwisdom.com. It is very informative and easy to understand. Hope it helps to clear up this dilemma.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Dick Izinya

      You know, the very next time I need moral guidance from the Bronze Age, I will certainly visit your site.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  12. MrJaz

    Christians aren't hated. Not as a religious group but maybe as religious individuals. Christians have the right to practice their religion just like anyone else. However, it is when they try to dictate other's lives that people without the same convictions become annoyed.

    If you, as a Christian, want to hate gays and people with other beliefs then do so quietly. Racists used to be able to express their bigoted hatred toward people of color openly as well. Racist bigots aren't extinct but the political landscape has changed to where they can no longer express their hatred openly. The political landscape is changing, for the better, once more.

    It is NOT hatred against Christians as a group but a response to the 'Christian' expression of hatred toward those who don't share their view of the world.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  13. jesuswithoutbaggage

    "Some evangelicals say they have become victims of intolerance because of their reverence for the Bible."

    Many Christians are publicly attacked, not because of their reverence for the Bible, but because they attempt to impose their views on everyone else–by force of law if possible.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  14. Casey

    Christians have become hated because they spew hatred.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  15. Tom Dee

    So Collins was engaged to a woman for yrs, and cheated on her with a man...and the left media wants to make him a hero....nice. I dont have to support gay marriage, period...its my opinion, but hey...Im full of hate the left says. Another hack job here by the atheist new media

    May 5, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Dick Izinya

      Dude, professional sports are full of rapists, thugs, killers and animal abusers. I doubt the guy that cheated on his girlfriend is the worst of the lot.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  16. al

    Please. Number one, Christians are not a minority in this country. Second, it is THEY that expect everyone else to sit down and shut up about their beliefs, as experienced by my daughter who had a Christian say "You are not one of THOSE atheists", meaning an atheist who actually has the nerve to question Christian beliefs out loud. Christians are the oppressive majority in this country and the reason they find themselves hated is because the rest of us,we unbelievers are sick and tired of them. They feel this country should be run by their invisible man in the sky, his phony messiah and a book of fairy tales. More and more people are getting sick and tired of this, and the hate against them will continue to grow. Now it is time for THEM to understand what it means to be told to sit down and shut up as they have been telling others, people of other faiths and people of no faith, to shut up for two centuries and in this country for 400 years.

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

      I like it. If you're born that way, hard to change. Live and let live.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Dick Izinya

      Well said.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  17. oldguy66

    People seem to forget that we don't make the rules, they come from God above. Morals are formed from the base of the 10 commandments. Opinions, of course, change, but they are just that, opinions. Unless and until man realizes who makes the rules for this life, there will be disorder and dissent. It is too bad and very sad to see so many who have no foundation and choose to make the rules as they go based on what's 'popular' at that moment. 'Build a house on sand and it will crumble and fall apart. Build a home on 'rock' and it will stand forever'. This is the difference between secularists and those who believe in a higher power, no matter the name of that higher power. It isn't just Christians.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • al

      How can you say the rules come from a god above when you can't prove god's existence.

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

      when going over the "rules" you guys always seem to leave out the "judge not lest ye be judged" part. . .

      May 5, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • beaellie

      You also assume EVERYONE worships the same god.

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

      Considering that the planet has been around for about 4 billion years I am not going to put much store in your 2000 year old rock. I am far more willing to believe that the sands are going to shift and move that rock around quite a bit in the future. But,then again, if you are an evangelical xian, you think that the planet has only been around for about 6,000 years, or is it 10,000, maybe 4,000? You guys have a hard time sticking to your made up "truths".

      May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  18. sparky

    Evangelical Christians should join up with fundamentalist Muslims and throw themselves a pity party. See, it's not "Christian-hating". It's intolerance toward intolerance.

    If someone else is paying taxes, obeying the law, and not physically showing up on your front doorstep uninvited, then you have no right to tell them what to do. Mind your own business. If you can't wish them well, then yes, at least shut up.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  19. Tim Brown

    More like an ignored majority.

    The Christian Persecution Complex is alive and well.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • al

      they should move to Saudi Arabia if they really want to see what anti Christian persecution is about.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  20. Someone

    Well, let's see – there is a minister who wants to put gays into a concentration camp, there was another who wanted to burn the Koran, and of course there is Westboro...and then there is a strong identification with the GOP right wing. Given the polarized politics in this country – they are suddenly surprised this is happening?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:32 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.