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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. theoldfool1950

    They are not hated they are just stupid. They are the trailer trash of religion. Disavowing reality is no longer an option. It's the 21st century. Accept it and move on. Fundamentalist Christians will be destroyed by the very thing they do not acknowledge – evolution.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  2. i2hellfire

    the more stubborn of evangelicals espouse 2000 year old doctrine of outdated social norms. there are numerous other nonsensical decrees made in the bible that they freely ignore, yet they cherry-pick ones that they feel the need to be outraged about. the rest of society makes no apologies to the evangelicals who feel persecuted. we don't really feel the need to tolerate the intolerant.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  3. Brenda

    Well, THANK GOD. Those people suck, they are hateful, it is their way of the highway. Everyone but them is going to hell. There is no other religions allowed by evangelical. Can we run the idiots out of the country and take their guns with them. They kill in the name of the lord, so are they any better than radical Muslims...no.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  4. Stephen L

    Really, we need to call out religous people for what they are: brainwashed. I wouldn't mind it too much, but when you hear studies that so many religous people are ignoring climate change because the upcoming second coming, it makes me feel like we need to seek help people find truths beyond the old stories. The future of the planet depends on it.

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

      Don't necessarily disagree. But stupidity is universal and it ain't just religious: kind of think it has to do with human nature, although Rush Limbaugh is a major contributing factor.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  5. stone

    You ignorant minded bible bangers need to worry about your own selves instead of sticking your noses into everybody else's business. You people are so screwed in the head it's beyond comprehension how you idiots remember to breath everyday. It's time for all you to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. It's 2013, not 1013. If it was up to you religious morons we'd still be burning people at the steak and crusading against anyone who doesn't follow your asinine beliefs. You religious people are the very bane of human existence..

    May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Ricardo Williams

      Just kidding

      May 5, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • MagicPanties

      c'mon online anger doesn't help anyone.

      I share your sentiments, but try a little humor.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • stone

      When religious people show a little humor i will do the same, but until they stop their erroneous hate-filled rage agsinst anyone who doesn't follow their beliefs, I will continue to spew hate right back at'em

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

      Burning at the steak? I like it, but please make mine ONLY well done, okay? Seriously, you have the right idea, but does secular intolerance trump religious intolerance? "You religious people" - like Jesus, the Dalai Lama, my mother, yours? Give us a break!

      May 5, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  6. Science

    Guess what ............the sign in the picture above................ is WRONG too !

    The fairy in the sky did not create US!!!

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

      that shadow on the board looks like of Aflac duck, I might be wrong.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  7. ruplesan

    Hate the bigotry, love the bigot.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  8. Ricardo Williams

    This Sound off is difficult to maneuver when some one replies to you. I never get to see their response unless I scroll the entire blog. Am I missing something or was it designed that way?

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

      If you do not see comment right away after you reply, hit the back button you should see comment.............right click and

      click on refresh................that should work. comments comming in to fast !

      Peace

      May 5, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  9. kd

    When so many Christians stop being so hateful and bigoted, when they actually start to live the way their 'savior' tells them they should live their lives – then maybe the fair criticisms will end. Hated? Hardly. But as long as the hypocrisy continues, then the criticism is deserved.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Steven CaboWabo

      Actually they are to some extend living the way the Bible tells them to live. The problem with some religions and people is they need to start thinking beyond what they are told they should think.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  10. Sadie

    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.

    While I don't know what "postmodern" has to do with it, but I fully agree that anyone who says "this is right" and "that is wrong" is intolerant. Often the Religious Right will argue that people are intolerant of them- doing the same thing. I disagree. They have missed the point- the goal of humanity whether secular or religious SHOULD be that each individual can live as they naturally are without judgement, discrimination or consequences. No one should feel that anyone else has bad feelings or thoughts about their authentic nature.
    Do I believe in God? I sincerely hope there is a Higher power running the universe for a divine purpose of good. I hope each individual is here for a specific reason at a specific time, but I can't accept a power that would put an individual here to suffer, whether that be suffering from drought and starvation in a third world country or suffering (lets say less than legal discrimination) at your workplace because others have negative opinions about your background, orientation, race etc.
    Our goal for humanity should be that each individual is equal to the whole- that we don't allow anyone to suffer, to feel less than, or to hide or modify their natural selves.
    So yes, while the Right will never grasp this there is no right way other than embracing everyone as they are and the only "wrong way" is believing others to be wrong.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  11. BillWinIdaho

    The black Christians really don't like gays.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Edweird69

      Blacks go ballistic when you compare their historical plight to that of gays. When actually, civil rights and discrimination all boil down to the same thing... bigotry.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Because they are more likely to be gay.

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

      I had a black neighbor who claimed to be a christian, he hated me because he thought i am gay...I'm not, but he wouldn't listen to reason.
      I would've thought he would understand a bit more about bigotry, but no . Stupid can't be fixed.

      May 8, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  12. watching4jesus

    Romans 3:3-4, " 3What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man [be found] a liar, as it is written, "THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED."

    People can deny God and His Word all they want, but there will come a day when they will face Jesus Christ as their judge and they will be without excuse. They can even tell Him that His Word is "Hate Speech", but they will suffer His wrath.

    He gave His only Son as a sacrifice for them, but they refused Him and went their own way.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Keep watching but no one is coming.

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

      Thanks for reminding us that if we don't believe what you believe, then your "loving" god will torture us for all eternity.
      Gee, what's not to like?

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

      Quoting the Bible to make a point is kind of like peeing in the wind: WATCH OUT!

      May 5, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • G to the T

      That's it. Just keep listening to what Paul had to say instead of listening to what Jesus said...

      May 8, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  13. skl1974

    This goes so far beyound the gay issue. As bad as it sounds, if I could round up every evangical Christian and radical Muslim in the world, I would, give them swords, and throw them in a 'Hunger Games' situation, where they could entertain us by doing what they love, terrorizing the world while working to kill each other. I look at both these terrorist groups the same and can't stand to be around either one...

    May 5, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • Edweird69

      These 2 terrorist groups are going to get everyone killed. They wouldn't hesitate to push the nuclear button.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  14. andres t

    they are hateful bigots, no better than radical jihadists

    May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • Edweird69

      Agreed. And, they never say anything about adultery, 1 of the 10 commandments. Being gay didn't even make the 10 commandment list.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  15. WW

    Hate grows hate.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  16. Jeebusss

    Psychologists need to come up with a term for the religiously inflicted. Perhaps "PFS" (Pretend Friend Syndrome).

    May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Nice

      May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  17. STFU

    that white board says "God made the male and female, and said... a man shall be joined to his wife."

    now who defined Earthly relations like husband and wife, father and mother, brother and sister, humans or God?

    May 5, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  18. Eric

    Christian 'minority'? They rule the country. They fill Senate and Congress. They fill the White House. They fill the Supreme Court. They will NEVER be the 'minority'. Though it would be a better world if they were.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Doug Lynn

      You are Biblically illiterate if you think Christians rule this country. Hedonists rule this country and have for a long time. Only politically correct misapplication of the Bible is acceptable in the public forum. Politicians often claim to be Christian but they govern counter to Biblical teaching most of the time. They find churches to attend that pervert and ignore much of Scripture. For many of our leaders, especially the Progressives, the Bible is just a prop in a charade they use to fool ignorant voters.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  19. elijahi34

    Sin is Sin in The eyes of the Lord. It is not just the lifestyles of gay folks but let us throw in there lying, stealing ,cheating ,adultery, idolatry must i go on with the things that God hates. Your sins America has put a wedge between you and your God. Hating on Christianity is nothing new. Go back to the times of the Roman Empire and you will see when there was great suffering. The Lord has already told us this time and the Lawless time would come. The article states that some Christians support this notion of madness. Yes the Lord tells us some will be deceived and will move away from the faith. You can change what ever law you wish to suit you . Remember the Kingdom of God standeth sure And the gates of hell will not prevail over it. The written Word of God has been around since Moses first started writing the Old testament around 3500 years ago. Then came the Gospels almost two thousand years ago. You will die off before this Word does. If you do not Know Christ YOU WILL BURN IN HELL. Not a hater just the plain truth.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Jesus is the truth

      Amen brother. The time is near prophecy's are being fulfilled on a daily basis.
      Trust in the lord and the rest will take care of itself!

      May 5, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Everyone be scared the end is near. AHHHHHH

      May 5, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • sdhdf

      solid evidence of claim plz

      May 5, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Brandon

      Truth is a strong word there, what you have is faith, truth requires evidence. Where's your evidence of eternal paradise/suffering. P.S. the bible proves nothing

      May 5, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Brian

      you're funny

      May 5, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Thomas A. Hawk

      Perhaps the truth but you delivered it in a hateful fashion. Please stop doing that.

      Your role as a Christian is to love and attract people to Christ. You aren't doing that. You are pushing them away from Christ. Is that what Christ wants - for you to push non-believers away?

      Remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son. God wants the sinner to return home, accept full responsibility and beg for forgiveness. What does God do? Throws a party!

      So, please, when you write, don't threaten. That's a hateful delivery. Love. Welcome. Listen.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • anitique-republican

      people with beliefs like yours cannot know God or Spirituality. God and truth is not found in a book. there are many paths tonGod but of course your beliefs will deny them all

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

      As Voltaire said, I asked God that he make my enemies appear ridiculous...and he granted my prayer!

      May 5, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • G to the T

      Hey Elijah – when you get raptured... can I have your stuff?

      May 8, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  20. MagicPanties

    My invisible pink unicorn is praying that the evangelicals get a clue.

    May 5, 2013 at 9:58 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.