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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. FCarvalho

    When Tim Tebow stood for his faith, many came strong against him for standing for his beliefs. Why this double standard? Christians must stand for what they believe in the same way as non Christians must stand for what they believe. When we do we are label as haters. To stand for what we believe is not only our right but our duty.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • ALF-

      Absolutely – I guess the bully rule does not apply to Christians

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

      What color is your hair?
      Whatever color that is, I believe all people with that color hair should be put to death.
      It is not only my right to say this, it is my duty.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • Jeebusss

      The difference between the two opposing beliefs sets is that one side causes harm to people and the other does not.

      Also, perhaps if you didn't base your beliefs on 2000 year old fairy tales people wouldn't laugh at you so much.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Ryder

      It's not that standing up or what you believe in is bad, though when it directly targets limiting the freedoms and aspirations o other people in this world, you come in direct conflict with those people you try to limit. If I don't believe as you do, that's fine. And if you don't believe as I do, that's fine too. Though when there are laws being designed to limit people's freedoms based on a religious belief (in a land based on separation of church and state) there are issues. If there were laws being created to limit your beliefs and freedoms, I'm sure you would have a different opinion.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Brandon

      I have no problem for people standing for what they believe in...until they try and push that belief on others. It's the most hypocritical I've ever seen to try and fight marriage equality because it will somehow infringe on their religious freedom (it doesn't, not even a little bit), all the while using that same religious conviction to create laws that take away rights everyone should have. Until the hypocrisy ends I will stand against established religion.

      May 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  2. Anthony

    Is CNN owned by Muslim?

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

      Is Anthony's head _still_ in there? Uh, yup.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Asif Siddiqi

      What has Islam to do with this?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Peter

      CNN not owned by Muslim, Tonto

      CNN owned by Time Warner.

      Heap big capitalist company.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  3. Farrok

    Do not engage in religious strife as it is responsible for murders and death....................................

    May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  4. Scott f.

    Across the board, all the people I know through work or outside, who are in your face about being christian, treat people like dirt.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Sane Person

      Exactly. The ultra religious ones at my office are the ones that skip out early, fake illness call-ins, cheat the payroll clock, talk about people behind thier backs, lie and constantly blather about how "liberals" are damaging the morals of the country.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  5. sqeptiq

    Christians don't care if you think as they do as long as you do as they think.

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

    Good! My how the tables have turned.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  7. Aaron c

    Yawn. These people may occasionally experience a fraction of the oppression they spew. You do reap what you sow and religion frequently and intentionally walks the line or crosses the line between civility and demonization of its opponents. It's a game they play where they intentionally cross the line to seek attention and then jump back in the other direction and claim victimhood when they provoke precisely the response they knew would occur. Furthermore they are not even expressing a viewpoint anymore. They are simply ditto heading for an extremist interpretation of the bible that is already quite well known and also known to be wrong my most educated people. When their talking point is shot down. These guys scream religious persecution, but actually people are objecting to their rhetoric because it is uninformed, not just because it is based upon their religious misconceptions.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  8. steve f

    If the Christians don't want to become a hated minority then they should be inclusive of other faiths and ideas!!!!

    May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  9. GrandOldPatsy

    I should be tolerant of your intolerance? Your rights end when they infringe on the rights of others. Religious doctrine should not set the tone of our laws. You can spout all of your religious garbage you want, don't expect me to condone it or support it.

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

      It's called voting, you vote for what you believe don't you?

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

      ALF
      When the people vote for something that is unconst!tutional, such as printing the lie "in god we trust" on our money, or the law they passed to change the pledge of allegience to add the exclusionary "under god" phrase, voting can be moot.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  10. Randy

    Whoa! The Christian-haters are out in full force this morning. But I guess it's to be expected in the Godless world in which we live. Man has elevated himself to be all-knowing and rejected timeless truths that have held society and civilization together for thousands of years.

    We were all born with free will to believe or not. It's your choice. Just realized that there are consequences for your decision.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Damia Savon

      Society existed long before Jesus, Christianity or even the Christian God existed. Nothing in Christianity is new or original beyond believing Jesus is part of God. The actual concept of Jesus is not new either. Christians are really some of the most immoral people out there. The variety of sects shows that Christians cannot even agree on what it means to be a Christian. The dislike and outright hatred among Christan sects is well established. If we put all Christians in their own country to live by the Bible, they would turn on each other and war until one group wins by sheer bloodshed. To honestly think that Christians are somehow special or unique just shows an ignorance of history.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      What timeless truths? Show how it is truth.

      Religions are the reasons wars are fought, millions have died and you claim it is the religions that have held societies together?

      Humans are a social animal, and our societies will continue to be built...no gods required.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Zach

      Actually, I dispute your assertion that I have free will to believe in God. My free will would certainly allow me to act like I believe, and I could no doubt fool most Christians, but if your god does exist as you say, that would certainly not fool him.

      A sane person can't just believe anything they want to. They need evidence of the belief, and I think our disagreement is with differing standards of evidence.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Sane Person

      lol. Timeless truths. No, we dont hate the christian, we hate the christianity. Humans and morals have been around longer than your religion. People who lived no where near the 1 small part of earth jesus supposedly visited still managed to develop a code of ethics and responsibilities. There are people on this earth who have never even heard of a christian, and they are doing just fine. You have no moral authority over anyone else. You are not special, chosen, or holy. You are however, the weakest link.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • sqeptiq

      We don't hate the believer; we hate the belief.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  11. athiest

    Except for the people I love whom I will miss, I celebrate the passage of time and with it the passing of more and more Christians from this world. We do not need them.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  12. Paul

    It's time for these people to get with the times. You are just going to end up as this generations version of the racist old man. Change for the good now and be accepting of other people, as you would want to be accepted. Do this now so your grandchildren won't be ashamed of you.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  13. BaltG

    The world would be such a better place if religion would just die already. What's wrong with thinking for yourself...? Take these religious stories for what they are... nice stories. Why does it have to go to the next level? So sad.

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

      uh oh, Zeus gonna strike you with a lightning bolt, you heathen!

      May 5, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  14. AdamC

    The earth has survived many religions, and it will survive Christianity.

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

      Don't be so sure. Christians are the ones who believe their god granted them dominion over the earth and they will abuse it all they want.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Bobbie Jo Justice

    Well then, perhaps "christians" need to quit promoting hatred

    May 5, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  16. scallywag

    The media is not reporting the 'problem' anymore here.. CNN is part of the problem. Stirring up emotions, hatred, and polarizing the country. That's what's really gone wrong with the United States. And no religion where the people hate as much as they do here can go very far. I mean, if you get past the proganda and indoctrination, the main tenant of Christianity and any other religion, is compassion.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      And so religion should stop preaching dogmas and get to the compassion part.

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

    Christianity is conflicted with itself. It always has been. Therefore, it is current impossible for it to be compatible with current science as some might claim.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • oOo

      ( currently )

      May 5, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Its the conflct that keeps it going. You can believe whatever you want and somehow rationalize it. Because that silly bible book is full of contradictions.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
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      Detailed satellite images reveal the web of connections that sustain life on Earth. Aired February 13, 2013 on PBS

      Program Description

      "Earth From Space" is a groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth. Viewers witness how dust blown from the Sahara fertilizes the Amazon; how a vast submarine "waterfall" off Antarctica helps drive ocean currents around the world; and how the sun's heating up of the southern Atlantic gives birth to a colossally powerful hurricane. From the microscopic world of water molecules vaporizing over the ocean to the magnetic field that is bigger than Earth itself, the show reveals the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet.

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/earth-from-space.html

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

      Peace

      May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  18. Riley

    Or republican candidate lol. I refuse to vote for who the media tells me I should vote for because they are the most marketable of their party, not the best suited

    May 5, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  19. Lauradet

    If Christians did not impose their beliefs on others then they would not be a hated minority. Keep your beliefs to yourself and leave others to believe or not believe as they choose.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  20. TB

    It isn't hate to disagree.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:53 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.