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. Arbour

    Each person is pre-disposed to certain sins. If I feel I am pre-disposed to wanting to sleep with all the beautiful women I came across, does it make is ok? The point is everyone has desire and passion, but it does not mean they are good for us. One major concern is, according CDC, gay men accounts for 1% of total populations, but they account for close to 70% of new HIV infections. Their behaviors are at risk for STD's and HIV.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Lauradet

      What does this have to do with the topic?

      May 5, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Inglourious

      So all of your concerns will vanish as soon as there is an HIV vaccine? No, I didn't think so; the AIDS argurment is a red herring.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  2. Name*penguin

    Right wing conservative Christians seem to put more faith in the bible than God. I refer to them as "biblists" rather than "Christians". Their dogmatic, literal reading of the bible leads to unthinking intolerence. And the one thing I detest and won't put up with is intolerence.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Lauradet

      No, they believe Jesus is their god.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • ALF-

      Give an example of how the Bible's word is is different than God. You should qualify your statement

      May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Inglourious

      @ALF: Give proof that the Bible is the word of God. Your only proof are the claims in the Bible itself.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      What words, phrases, lines of the bible were put there by a god?...If you can find one( which I know you can't), which of the thousands of gods men have created, put those words there?
      Show your work please.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • NM

      Surely you see the irony in what you wrote

      May 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      @ALF: The bible is real but god is not. Big difference.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  3. Brenda

    When you attempt to force your religious beliefs on those who don't believe, you are the oppressor, not the victim. This false equivalence of calling it "Christian persecution" because people are willing to challenge the irrationality of your beliefs while you endorse the death penalty for gays and lesbians in Uganda would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. Take care of your own souls, and we'll take care of ours. The only reason Christians would be hated is if they use their hate to suppress minorities, as they have done with blacks (slavery and segregation), gays and lesbians (dehumanization of inequality and sodomy laws), women (anti-choice, anti-feminist), and other religions. Fresh and poisoned water cannot come from the same faucet.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      You also forgot atheists. There are may laws targeting us as well.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  4. Christ/god/the Vatican folks/Mohamed/etc. beat off! :)

    wanna bet?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • bob1223

      My thats a lot of hatred we're posting isn't it.

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

    So basically any group spewing hate that is met with opposition is now a minority and a victim? What then is the difference between These Christian extremists, nazis, or the kkk? Are they minority victims now too? They fit within your logic.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • RJP3

      You should know the Nationalist Christianist American Right Wing has spent MILLIONS AND MILLIONS trying to rewrite history so the Nazi's are not Christians who prosecuted Jews in a Holocaust. Even Wikipedia has been re-written with a BS alternate reality where Christianity played no role. We are in dark times in America.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  6. papoose059

    If we were all gay, the human race would cease to exist. It's not a natural, organic reaction to live a gay lifestyle. This isn't a religious perspective, it's just FACT. Now, can a human genetically be disposed to a condition leading to being "Gay"? Yes, I do believe that. Is it inherently their choice and thus a sin?, No, it's not. The same instance that it's not a "child's" fault for being autistic or mentally handicapped. Being gay is not the "normal". It is not how nature intended, the mRNA replication(translation) of proteins makes many mistakes that scientist have researched for a long time now. We don't need to send our "gay" community members to church to "heal", we need to accept they are different and they deserve equal rights. But I'm not going to tell my child this is how nature intended it, because it's not. And if you believe it's "normal", you're just lying to yourself.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Jeebusss

      Nature doesn't "intend" anything. It isn't guided by some intellectual force.

      You reek badly of someone trying to square their süperstîtious religious nonsense with their scientific mind.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • papoose059

      Okay, switch the word "Intend" for "naturally select". That's what I 'intended" to dispose.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • madrogio

      Some good, ethical, scientific sense here. What an anomaly! Of course, it's not the intent of nature that we don't reproduce! It's not the intent of nature that we all survive, or that we don't eat each other, or that we don't have earthquakes, famines, asteroid strikes. But here's the rub: it's called civilization. Idea was: maybe we can improve on nature? For me, the jury is still out. But, with all due respect, nature is not NECESSARILY the best judge of what we should admire and emulate. Or, Ordovician extinction anyone?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  7. Myles A


    May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  8. Wes Scott

    The greater good of the whole world would be realized if the whole world developed a loathing and intolerance of ALL religions, which are nothing but opiates for the masses. Religion dumbs people down to the lowest possible level of personal responsibility and allows them to think of themselves as superior and better than others who do not share their personal dogma. It is past time to eliminate religion from the face of the earth starting with Christianity, which has NOTHING to do with the teachings of Jesus. Most Christians are oblivious to what Jesus actually taught. More people have been murdered in the name of religion than from all other auses combined!

    May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • False Christianity

      Too True. The teachings of Christ have been manipulated and watered down and some times totally misrepresented by christianity as is in the Bible to make it be fiction. The Bible Jesus is a construct of many stories, people and myths found from all over the world. That is why there is little if any historical facts supporting that person. That is not to say that there wasn't Christ like person that was called Jesus in the Bible. As disturbing as that may be to fundamentalists, evangelicals and religious nuts, it is pure Myth.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • madrogio

      Don't disagree. But, not all Christians are evil, not all of them, by their very beliefs, are out to do harm and act like bigots! Maybe Jesus did live and heal the sick, etc. I'm an agnostic, but I'm not against those who disagree just because they do. And I don't support my local bigotry in favor of yours because I grew it in my own garden. Surely, though I don't call you that, you must know at least one (professed) Christian who was a decent, honorable person? I could cite several....

      May 5, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  9. Dustin

    I'm really surprised how few reasonable Christians have had anything to say in these comments.It seems to be atheists vs. kooks. Sad.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Jeebusss

      "Reasonable Christian" is an oxymorøn. The second you believe in invisible sky people reason is out the window.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • MalcomR

      Christian =/= Reasonable. By definition.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • TRH

      As a born and raised Christian, I just want these evangelicals to show the same outrage and picketing and shaming towards people who eat shellfish, towards people who don't own slaves, and towards people who listen to women and don't have them serving their husbands.

      There is a LOT in the bible that is good.
      There is a LOT in the bible that is completely antiquated, completely contrary to itself, and completely out of place in a civilized society.

      The sooner the extremist Christians realize the latter, the sooner people at large will be far more willing to accept the former.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • madrogio

      TRH: Won't you be shunned in any church of the sanctimonious bigots? Well, no matter, I suspect that obscure Jewish philosopher Jesus of Nazareth will let you into HIS church! Peace be with you.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • logan5

      What the heck is a "reasonable" Christian?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • TRH

      madrigo: Nope. There are plenty of churches who don't judge like that, or take such a literal translation of the bible. People who claim Christians are all one way are JUST as bad as Christians who claim extremist views as well.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  10. Alex A.

    Christians can do whatever they want, but if they actively work to limit the rights of others based on preconceptions from a book that not everyone subscribes to, then they will be ignored.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  11. muhammad

    When is CNN going to say anything about Islam and there hatred toward Gay people. CNN has no balls until then!

    May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • ALF-

      So true

      May 5, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • False Christianity

      Considering that islam borrowed heavily from the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible, that makes it flawed also. But islam is more about barbaric desert nomad customs than anything.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  12. James Quinn

    Basically what w have here is the oppressor claiming to be oppressed and I find that very funny.

    Pagan jim

    May 5, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  13. Christ beat off! :)

    Of course, if it existed.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  14. pete

    most of these posts are ludicrous. posts telling people to keep their beliefs to themselves while citing their own...

    May 5, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • t

      It's not just beliefs! It's a fact that the Vatican beat off.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • The Vatican folks beat off! :)

      It's not just beliefs! It's a fact that the Vatican folks beat off.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • madrogio

      No, don't keep your beliefs to yourself, just keep compliance with them to yourself. Freedom of speech and all, do you get it? And, BTW, masturbation is good for prostate health. I suspect verbal masturbation is good for mental health.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  15. BaltG

    Basically, these "Christians" are whining that they can't freely vilify another group.... yet, they want us to tolerate this intolerance. What a pathetic group. Reminds me why I shun religion.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • Dave

      Good point!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  16. Matt

    Anything is hate if the left disagrees... according to the news media and the left

    May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • James Quinn

      Let me get this straight. A Christian can read in his book that gays are abominations and he can use that word to describe gays since well it's in his book and make speeches and such to that effect but it's not hate because in your heart you don't feel any right? But if I think you are a jerk and I call you a jerk because I can read the definition of a jerk in the dictionary and think it describes you to a T I am hating you cause well my book is not a faith right? Both words are negative I'll grant you thins much but in the real world of real people it is far less likely that can actually avoid hating an abomination than you can a jerk.

      Pagan jim

      May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  17. Susan

    While I don't agree with this column, not even a little bit, I was raised Christian and will defend their rights to worship and to an opinion. Like Muslims, Christians are judged by the worst of their groups, overlooking the diversity and majority who don't speak out like Westboro, who don't spend their Sundays carrying hateful signs. Like Islam, the different types of Christianity (except maybe Evangelicals) are about peace and love. Are they flawed? Of course! Many Catholics are praying for a more modern church that has kept up with our changing world, but at the core it had done more good than harm.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • False Christianity

      Christians, muslims and crazy nuts have the right to believe whatever nutty way they do. What they DO NOT have a right to do is to FORCE others into their religious insanity. There should be a capital punishment for religious nonsense as it applies to Government. There is no place for religion in Government. Conservatives and evangelicals are the American Taliban.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  18. Commentator

    Anyone else notice how the SPLC guy said the Christians were just whining about being called names and then proceeds to compare them to slave owners?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • logan5

      Never was anyone directly referred to as a "slave owner." Read again!

      May 5, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  19. Craig

    Dan got it right. Author did not.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  20. Alex

    Zero tolerance for bigotry is the only possible behavior for any decent human being.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:47 am |
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