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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. John W. Ta-Tao Hale

    Just another self-fulfilling prophecy like the one where they are determined to destroy the earth because the creation is corrupt and evil.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  2. Tom

    This somewhat appears to be an evenhanded look at this issue, but once again, the media seeks out the most fundamentalist, extremely conservative Christians for the Christian "position." That's no different than interviewing a Muslim terrorist and claiming that person represents the whole of Islam. Truth is, there are a lot of Christians who do not agree with FRC or Moody on points of theology. But that fact is ignored in this article and no moderate or liberal Christians are interviewed. Why not?

    May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • JACK

      In my experience, Evangelicals view anyone who does not agree with ALL of their views as not a True Christian. When you "KNOW" the truth, there can be no discussion. One true way or the highway. Their view alone is right; it is "self-righteous" defined. It is ego, not God.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  3. Dawn Gray

    What goes around comes around. Gay people have had to live "in the closet" for years. Now it's the "christian's" turn and they don't like it? The good Christians are not having a problem because they live their lives in loving acceptance of other people.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  4. Maria

    Hmmm, why is it so easy to place Christians as bigots and not, let's say, Muslims. Could it be that the media shakes in their boots at the thought of what might happen to them if they do? Cowards! I never hear the gay community come againist Muslims abd their intolerence for gays either, I suppose they are scared too, what else could it be? I grew up Catholic, no longer practice, but never once was the gay community ridiculed for their lifestyle, a lifestyle I do not agree with, I see that lifestyle as very destructive and unnatural. I guess that makes me a bigot, I think Christians say what it is and only want to help, yes there are those who go about it the wrong way, but there is always a bad apple in the bunch, and you can say that about any group. If you really are honest and really pay attention to the media you will know that the true haters are not the Christians. Open your eyes peolple and stop believing everything you read, look at the source and their agenda and then make up your mind. Problem with the country today is their are too many ignorant people, look at the state of this country today, we are no longer a country of hope but a country that's is laughed at because we are destroying ourselves with all this debt and a commander in cheif who keeps the middle and lower income in this country unemployed, the black community has the highest unemployment rate ever, and yet they love this guy in the White House, I don't get it, when you vote for someone because they are black instead of the their qualifications makes absolutely no sense to me, and hello gay community, Obama was always against the gay lifestyle until he needed more votes to win the election and then changed his mind, he doesn't care about what you are fighting for, as long as it keeps him in power he will agree with you, can the gay community be that stupid! Yup, they can. The true haters (and deep down inside you all know it's true but everyone is to afraid to tell it like it is) in this country are politicains and those who follow them blindly. Take liberals for instance who say they are for the minorities and are not racist, yet they bring up the race card every time they start to lose an argument, why do they insist on grouping everyone according to skin color or ethnicity, I consider myself an American, why do I have to be labled a Mexican-American, does something change when "Mexican" is placed in front of American, should it? NO! Why do liberals see only color, that is the problem! That is so racist!!!! Republicans are to blame also for not calling them out on it, they are such spineless little mice. Think about you idiots out there, use your brain. Do yourself a favor and think for yourselves

    May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Inglourious

      Try some decaf in the morning.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • paper

      check out Sam Harris and his writings on "Islamophobia"

      May 5, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Cris L

      "think for yourselves"??? did you read what you were frantically writing? I agree, more decaf, maybe with a splash of Ritalin sweetener...and how is this Obamas fault?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Cris L

      wait for it.............

      May 5, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  5. GardenGrl

    Jesus lived in a society in which many prominent Roman citizens were openly gay and had been for many years. Did he advocate judging people who were just going on about their business by the same standards as converts? No. He told his followers that they were in this world but not of it, that they should consider themselves visitors in a foreign land. So do you visit a foreign country for the purpose of telling them that they are evil bad horrible people? No, you play tourist and try to avoid running afoul of the local authorities. Not to put too fine a point on it he recognized separation of Church and State, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's". Do gay people have every right to seek equitable treatment as they mind their own business, pay their taxes, and build for themselves a meaningful life in society? Absolutely! Do Christians have the right to do the same? Absolutely! Should you invade the privacy of either group to force them to conform to the beliefs of the other? Uh... NO!!

    May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  6. Marty Marzipan

    Evangelicals a "hated minority"? More like a "hating minority". Instead of trying to play the victim again, the Westboro types need to look in the mirror and ask themselves who is doing the hating.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  7. Cris L

    You reap what you sow. The people that have been keeping people in the closet feel as if they are being pushed into the closet. The feeling that is being described of is ironically the very feeling that the evangelicals have pushed on to others for years. For the record, I am spiritual, I wear a cross, but I don't subscribe to the craziness and intolerance. After all, "God don't make mistakes".

    May 5, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  8. Steven CaboWabo

    For thousands of years non-believers were hated, threatened, tortured and killed because they did not believe what religious people believed. Now some people are questioning and calling out some aspects of some religions and they are not used to that. As an atheist I'm no fan of people name calling, but I am a fan of people asking tough questions of others, both ways.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  9. simplax

    People don't have to tolerate intolerance. Get over it, bigots.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  10. Reinaldo

    Christianity is not about "imposing" the Bible. That is called DICTATORSHIP while using the Bible as a theme. That is not the word of God or Jesus at all.

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

      You invented a new religion?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  11. Fearless Freep

    Hitler tried, good luck.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  12. JC Copeland

    "Love" is written in the King James version of the bible almost 700 times. Also written is that Jesus was no respecter of person. Also written was Jesus saying to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your enemy, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What would Jesus think if he read this article and saw the comments? I suggest strongly that all "Christians" take their bible, along with their prejudices against their fellow man, and put both on the bookshelf to gather dust.

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

      Why would you put something on the shelf to gather dust that, as you pointed out, teaches so much about love?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  13. Liberty Bell

    Liberals critisize Christians , but not Muslims . Liberals are weak cowards .

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

      I'm a liberal and I'll criticize Muslims along with Christians. The two religions are fellow travelers full of hate and oppression. Evangelicals have a LOT in common with the Taliban or the Iranian Regime and would impose a similar regime in America if they could. They simply would replace Muhammad and Allah with Jesus and God in the propaganda.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  14. LWJR

    CNN is the #1 antichrist news portal. Persecution madness arrives. endtimesurvivalguide dought calm

    May 5, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  15. Rob Ferguson

    I say turn about is fair play. For centuries they have hated upon every minority that has crossed their paths. If Christians have acted more Christ like then they wouldn't be hated upon.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  16. Tom

    It's not the opinion, it's the hypocrisy. Do Messrs. Sprigg and Broussard speak out every time an athlete or other public figure cheat on their spouse? Ignore the poor with their sizable incomes? Glorify violence?

    I don't judge any of these people for any of these things (God can handle that part if there needs to be some judgin', I wager). Mr. Collins did an important and brave thing; though I'm actively pro-marriage equality, I don't despise conservative Christians for their views; I just wish they weren't so selective about their biases.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  17. Farooq The Great

    Since all of you anti-religious folk are lumping all of Christianity together, will you do the same thing when speaking about minorities?

    I hate that you can't edit your posts.

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

      Lumping? We are talking about a doctrine that people follow. If you say you are Christian but disregard the fundamental doctrine of it, cherry pick the bible and so forth...you have invented a new religion.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Farooq The Great

      @paper

      "Lumping? We are talking about a doctrine that people follow. If you say you are Christian but disregard the fundamental doctrine of it, cherry pick the bible and so forth...you have invented a new religion."

      You seem to be ignorant of Orthodox Christianity. The Bible is viewed differently by us. Thank you for proving my point.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • G to the T

      Actually Farooq – you just proved his point. Even the term "orthodox" (right way) was developed BECAUSE people practiced so many types of christianity in the beginning. Sure (most) denominations follow the outlines of the Nicean (sic) Creed, but the very fact that there had to be one shows that "orthodoxy" is an opinion, not a fact.

      May 8, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  18. Kenneth

    Good. Fundamentalist anything should be abhorred by any rational public.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  19. NewMexico720

    I believe in all that the bible has to say and I believe that prophecy is being fulfilled in that immorality will escalate like never before and that the people of the world and its government will turn on religion as a whole. Soon, religion will be removed or destroyed by earthly governments and that will mark the end of this wicked system. Too bad the majority of people today think the bible is outdated and irrelevant just so that they can live their lives as they please and not as God has meant it to be.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  20. Malach the Merciless

    Evangelicals have been minority in the country a very long time, they just have some of the loudest voices.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:08 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.