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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. Amadea

    We are ALL sinners ... all fall short of perfection. The Bible clearly states that certain behaviours are sinful and we have all engaged in one or more of these sinful behaviours. That is why Jesus came to earth ... to save us from our sin. Belief in Jesus Christ calls us to repent of sin and live in Him for the rest of one's life here on earth and for eternity in heaven. And that means avoiding our sinful intentions and lusts and desires. The 'world' sees Jesus as someone Who dumps cold water on its collective party and, as a result, hates Him ... and by extension hates His followers ... Christians. (John 17:14)

    May 5, 2013 at 7:24 am |
    • Sharon

      I don't hate Christians. I just don't believe in a god or Jesus Christ. You are free to disagree and believe as you like. Just don't expect me to get my knickers in a twist when your biblically derived rules are broken.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • johnsullivanmusic

      man, yoqw gys are hard not to hate! So condescending and pious about the unknowable! All your psedo-love is disgusting

      May 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Amadea

      You said, "We are ALL sinners"
      Only if you believe in that nonsense. Sin is a religious concept. Atheists are incapable of sin.

      You said, "The Bible clearly states that certain behaviours are sinful and we have all engaged in one or more of these sinful behaviours."
      If you consider the bible an authoritative work, you should try to follow it. I consider its value to be only caloric.

      You said, "That is why Jesus came to earth"
      According to your fairy tale. Don't forget that part.

      You said, "Belief in Jesus Christ calls us to repent of sin and live in Him for the rest of one's life here on earth and for eternity in heaven."
      According to your fairy tale.

      You said, "And that means avoiding our sinful intentions and lusts and desires."
      Suit yourself.

      You said, "The 'world' sees Jesus as someone Who dumps cold water on its collective party and, as a result, hates Him ."
      Nope, I don't hate him. I think the dude was deluded into thinking he was special. I think his mother didn't want to confess to an extramarital affair, so she made up some bullshit story about being impregnated by the then popular god. That just make Jesus a bastard, not a god.

      May 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      LinCA,

      Do you see yourself as a good person, have high self esteem, consider yourself well adjusted, happy, and normal?

      May 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      LinCA,

      Let's put sin aside for a rest-bit shall we? Where lays one upon the moral and how does this immoral thingamabob gearshift really work? Where does wickedness reside and righteousness vacation? Why do souls perish and spirits soar?

      May 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Robert Brown

      You said, "Do you see yourself as a good person, have high self esteem, consider yourself well adjusted, happy, and normal?"
      Yes, and even without using religion as a crutch. Why do you ask?

      May 26, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  2. polycarp pio

    Harry stick to the guitar because you certainly dont understand the bible or christians. PP

    May 5, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  3. fvkking Christians

    Finally the rapists experience what the victims have experienced for hundreds/thousands of years!

    But no worries, the rapists could still touch themselves, just like every Vatican folk! 🙂

    May 5, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • GuitarHarry2

      You think u r funny....FAIL....STFUn get back to work

      May 5, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  4. guitarharry

    So stop judging people. It's right there in your book; "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Good advice. If Christians actually did this, then people would not find them so annoying.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • ML

      Exactly. They're a bunch of 1-track minded hypocrites.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:24 am |
    • Bill

      And gays aren't? LOL!!!!

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

      SO its Gays vs. Christians! LOL

      May 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      guitarharry,

      Who are the ones judging Christians? Maybe judgmental atheists? Possibly other Christians? Be the whole world a judgmental brood in temptations on whoredom ways' bosoms. Children are hardly ever innocent. As a child progresses, innocents becomes lost within the myriads of elderly mentors enunciated humanisms foreshadowing all enlightening issuances of unrelenting moralism overcoming crude immoralities. Never again will I take steps upon Life's whoring trails within unbridled brothels of once bitten sensual discontentment. All souls shall one day perish and all spirits will forever soar!

      May 26, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    It is not just "hate" for Christians to pass laws based on the Bible: it is illegal in the USA. Many Christians do not comprehend Separation of Church and State, or the reason for it. Some Christians who do understand Separation choose to ignore it.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Ben

      Separation of Church and State is a myth

      http://www.tgm.org/mythofseparation.html

      May 23, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  6. Phillip

    If they don't want to be labeled as hateful bigots, I suggest they don't act like them. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck.
    It is imperative to remember that far-right Christianity is responsible for the KKK, the Inquisition, the prosecution of Gallileo. Their track record of being "right" fall short of the threshold for credibility.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • jonathan0129

      You are being a hateful bigot to pedophiles, who feel like they were born with an attraction to children – Right?

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

      And gays are responsible for Sodom, Gomorrah, horrible STD's, growth in the proctology profession, and the expansion of Hell. What else is new?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Paul Jaramillo

      Your answer is wrong and a lie, there is no such thing as far right Christianity, and racism. Far right belongs to politics not religion. You have no right to connect racism and Christianity. Racism is not in the bible, racism came from white men and their hatred of other people unlike themselves. Racism in this country for the most part was an all white male club. Your argument is as ignorant as to say that Hitler was a Christian, he was a pagan who closed down the church and went after the church and its ministers.

      May 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • johnsullivanmusic

      Many Klansman Disagree with you

      May 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  7. Samuel Michael

    "A hated minority"? Or a hating minority?

    May 5, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  8. Rev Liber Tarian

    And I say to thee, live and let others live. Mindith your own business for there is separation of church and state. Follow the commandment..do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • ThronedOne

      >"Mindith"

      Mindith is not an English word. Archaic english went out with the 1700s, learn some modern vocabulary. Anyone speaking in Archaic English who is not an actor should be viewed with caution and skepticism.

      May 6, 2013 at 3:09 am |
  9. spottedsharks

    The author does not know what "hated minority" means. Christians have not been deprived of the vote, do not have "separate but equal" restaurants and schools, and are not lynched by mobs. All these things happened to blacks in the century after the civil war. Now THAT was (is?) a hated minority.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • Bill

      Read a history book sometime. Christians have a long history of persecution. BTW, those blacks to whom you refer are/were majority Christian, and the vast majority don't approve of your gaiety.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • johnsullivanmusic

      I sure the Blacks yo reference wouldn‘t WANT TO BE LumpPED IN WITH KLANSmeN

      May 26, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  10. You-are-not-God

    Do these "aggrieved", judgmental, Christians not understand the difference between someone making a personal statement about himself or herself and someone else judging an entire group of people on the basis of their own - the judger's - beliefs? Or is it only bigotry when those - Christians or otherwise - who judge others' personal choices are called on it as bigots?

    May 5, 2013 at 7:18 am |
  11. kali

    so if an evangelical is called on his prejudice then that means everyone "hates" all Christians? man, what nonsense....

    so now evangelicals should be able to get away with prejudice because..... they're Christians?

    so typical.... if you use your religion to justify your prejudice then your prejudice is ok, right? WRONG.....

    May 5, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  12. Xanthophile

    Sprigg is exactly right, conservative Christians ARE a hated minority, but not in the way he thinks. They are hated by God Himself because their propagation of narrow political agendas drives souls away from Christ. They should be preaching the Good News of the Gospel instead of condemning people for their lifestyles. I used to consider myself a Christian, but the right-wing politicizing by fundamentalists has totally turned me off. I expect it has turned off Jesus as well..

    May 5, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  13. S.Ignis

    When does disagreement become hate you ask? When you disagree that other should have rights.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  14. lessthantolerant

    America is doomed to follow the path of all Empires. Her people have allowed excess, avarice and deviate behavior to rule. the leaders are corrupt and the lowest of society grows.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • mb2010a

      The fall of the Roman empire was caused by the Christians. We are headed in the same direction because of the Christians...I personally think we should throw them all to the lions...

      May 5, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      The Roman empire was doomed when it became bloated by war, money and power.
      Sounds like todays Republicans, don't it ?

      May 5, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  15. ATL_Guy67

    I am not a Christian and perfectly accept gays, but I also believe in free speech. I have Christian friends who believe I will go to hell because I don't follow their beliefs, but we get along fine. They don't bring up their views, but if I asked they would state it as I would expect them to. I believe that they have a genuine concern for people like me. I disagree with their views on this topic and they disagree with mine, but we accept and get along.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • Robert

      Indeed! Tolerance by its very definition means that there is some form of disagreement.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:39 am |
    • jonathan0129

      I really hope there are more people like you. The problem here is the hypocritical fundamentalist "Christians" and the extremist LGBT activists. Both attempt to paint the other side in the worst possible light. Cooler, wiser heads most prevail.

      May 5, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Oy

      jonathan,....what is "extremist" about wanting equal rights?
      Would you have called MLK an "extremist"?

      And original poster, why in the world would you be friends with people who are so judgemental of you!? It's great that you're not upset about it....but I feel like your energies would be best spent elsewhere...with people who aren't thinking you're going to die in a fiery pit for being you!

      May 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • bb

      That's not true for some Christians I've met. Even though we've just met, they were rude enough to inquire about my religion and suggested me that I should give time to those evengelicals who knock on my door to spread the so called good news.

      May 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  16. Ed

    Why does the headline say "Christians become the hated minority" and then the blurb and article focuses on evangelicals only? I don't need to point out that there is a big difference. Why does CNN always look to cause drama with their wording?

    May 5, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • Sharon

      Because, unfortunately, drama is what sells. Journalism has become corrupted by playing to the lowest common denominator.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • Doris

      Amen!

      May 5, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • One one

      There is a big difference ? Who is right and who is wrong ?

      May 5, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Ed

      Yes one one, there is a big difference. First off, To call 2 billion people a hated minority is laughable. It's not about who is right and wrong, but rather who is accepting of other people and minds their own business. And Sharon, you ae totally correct.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Those who scream the loudest, get heard.

      May 5, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • ThronedOne

      >"Amen!"

      Amen-Ra, the sun god.

      May 6, 2013 at 3:11 am |
  17. Nom

    Separation of church and state. Simple as that.

    May 5, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  18. fvkking Christians

    Every Vatican folk touches himself? Whom are they fooling? Oh right, 1.2B sheep! 🙂

    Don't believe it, sheep? Ask your priest/pastor if he touches himself!

    May 5, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • Mike

      Grow up.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • Paul Jaramillo

      What does touching ones self have anything to do with Christianity and it's various responses to gays?
      You are a vulgar and ignorant person who is unable to state your opinion without say, f@#k in every sentence.
      Yours is a Stupid and ignorant generation that will not live to an old age due to their pure stupidity.

      May 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  19. Optimist5

    Did Jesus turn away the sick, the gay and the poor? Would Jesus carry a Glock? Has the church forgotten what Jesus was all about? Just saying...

    May 5, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  20. BBNOW

    Natural Law dictates and presupposes the order of Life. Deviation behavior/choices go against this circle of life which leads to a Dead end and unfulfilled LIFE with no possibility of natural generational output

    May 5, 2013 at 7:08 am |
    • Optimist5

      Not sure what "natural law"is, but don't worry the earth's population is growing exponentially.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • mb2010a

      Don't you just love "sweeping generalizations"...they are almost always wrong.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • Oy

      "Natural Law" is pseudoscience, at best.
      Next!

      May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
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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.