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. Julie

    Whether or not Christians will be a "hated minority" in the future is debatable but they will be a minority. Mathematicians have calculated that within 100 years they will be a very small minority here in the states. The fastest growing religious or non religious group are referred to as the "unaffiliated" at 18%. This is due to the fact that less and less parents are indoctrinating their children from birth with ancient and ridiculous religious myths and dogma. The rapid decline of Christianity is happening in real time right before our eyes.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • yep

      more proof of evolution. Good point.

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

      well that is going to happen, but please remember this christianity is still growing at very fast rate around the world, so since we from the West thinking that world is flowing in our ways no way, Jesus is still the man of times, the bible is still no 1 and evan if in america if it abandon the judeo-christian faith, it will be still around, trust me

      May 5, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Athy

      Yeah, there will always be a few slow-witted stragglers. But at least xtians will be a minority. Probably happen sooner than 100 years, though.

      May 9, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  2. mountainmanpat

    Okay, so there's a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father
    and can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh
    and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master,
    so he can remove an evil force from your soul
    that is present in humanity because some rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...
    yep, Christianity makes sense.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  3. mordac

    Christians that profess hate will suffer the same in return.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  4. TyronePalmer

    True disciples of Jesus shouldn't force anyone to believe the truth that's written in scripture. God created man with free will, you can choose to obey His commands, His words, and His truth or you can reject it. In the end every living soul will stand before their Creator and be judged for what was done on this earth whether good or evil.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Believe in whatever you want. But choose wrong and you will burn in hell.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • hogarth

      The problem isn't the truth that's written in scripture; it's the bs.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  5. South Dakota

    Religion allows one to masquerade their hypocrisy, fear and bigotry under the guise of “values”. One never defends a belief they have complete confidence in. Just as no one is fanatically shouting that the sun will rise tomorrow, no true believer defends a “god”. When people are fanatically dedicated to defending a religious faith or any other kind of dogma, it's because they themselves doubt what they espouse.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • hogarth

      That's the problem with religion generally – everyone has to believe it, or the nonbelievers become a threat to the whole belief system. Faith in unprovable theories leads to conflict.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  6. bgg1175

    Whats changed is simply this: Christians are no longer the feared majority with the power to condemn people openly and get away with it.
    In the past they could do that. They could judge people while keeping their own "sins" secret and public-ally pretend they were something better than others. They spread their hate this way and caused serious damage. Unfortunately their influence is still out there as gay and lesbian teens in public schools still face christian spawned hate and persecution.
    If a person believes being gay is wrong then dont be gay. Make and live with your own decision and stop worrying about the decisions others make in their own lives.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • hogarth

      Exactly. There is a difference between holding a belief and insisting that everyone else must hold the same belief. If you disagree with the life choices someone else makes, so be it; you can choose not to associate with them – and even let them know why, if you must. But to oppress them? You're asking for trouble.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • TyronePalmer

      Check out "Another Perfect Stranger" on Youtube, this movie does a pretty good job of showing how Jesus would deal with sin and people who do not believe in God. The bottom line is true discipleship is not being taught in the buildings of man (churches), and the divine love of God is not being manifested (revealed) in the hearts of those who profess to follow Christ.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  7. TheTraveler

    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". Personally, I think this is applicable to both sides of the issue. The secular version is "if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

    May 5, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  8. beyondgayorstraight

    “Truly damaging speech cannot be excused just because it expresses genuine religious belief,” says Mark D. Jordan

    Well said. Weak minds often quote/misquote "god".because they believe that act provides no room for argument.
    Truly religous people try to express what people share instead of fire and brim stone to those they disagree with.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  9. allenwoll

    In the end, follow the money.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Lamb of Dog


      May 5, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • John

      He was for being gay before he was against being gay.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  10. Fundie Science Rules!


    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  11. hogarth

    Oh, right – play the victim card, as if Christians aren't the most oppressive, death-dealing, hateful bunch of hypocrites on the planet.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  12. realoldguy

    Here's some news! The Rapture has already happened, back in 1955. Thousands of souls were taken up in the clouds. But since all of them were poor and so few of them were white nobody noticed. Remember the poor? The "so-called" poor?

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Tex

      If poor people were taken up to the clouds in 1955 surely some one would have noticed the bodies falling from the clouds. LMAO

      May 5, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  13. snowboarder

    a collection of writings by supersti tious men is not a sufficient argument for condemning anyone.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Tex

      I agree it does Not. I recently moved to the bible belt of America and I get along well enough the people are friendly They do not put you on the same level as them and you will never be considered equal as long as you do not do exactly as them.
      I find it interesting that in a town of only 5 to 10,000 people the biggest building and the ONLY jobs are at Wal Mart and the next biggest is the performing art building at the school which happens to come in handy for plays about God and Jesus. The next ten biggest buildings will be ten different churches. All of them claiming to be the real and True Christians.
      I as a non christian can live with it. They on the other hand simply cannot seem to accept the fact that others may not wish to join them. The seem determined to make America pass laws that govern as if the bible is our guideline. Forget THAT!!!!.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  14. bp

    Hate speech is still hate speech even when someone claims their God approves of it.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Kling

      Hate speech is verbally endorsing and encouraging sin instead of warning and pleading in love.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  15. NewMexico720

    Pretty soon, Pedophilia will be normal and accepted by all who are accepting of any immoral act. Soon, being a common murderer will be accepted since its no ones place to judge them. Let everyone live as they please and love your neighbor as yourselves since Jesus taught that. Give me a break people.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • snowboarder

      the sky is falling! the sky is falling!

      May 5, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  16. Marc Perkel

    Should embrace the Church of Reality. Reality changed my life – it can change your life too!

    May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  17. BillWinIdaho

    The Democratic Party is the party of progress, enlightenment, and science. We do welcome Christians or other religious people in our party.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • BillWinIdaho

      Correction: The Democratic Party is the party of progress, enlightenment, and science. We do not welcome Christians or other religious people in our party.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Real Atheist

      Disagree. Please check religion and other mythical non-sense at the party line, please.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Sean

      No democratic Christians? That seems highly impossible. But this site is for intellectual commenters.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  18. Nickolai

    Sad that CNN is treating this as news. The fact that they would carry this story proves they are swiftly becoming irrelevant.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  19. Susan

    It seems not ALL christians are accused of being judgmental or bigots, just the ones who judge gays openly.

    Someone should write a book that has advice like "don't judge people or else you'll be judged" or something. Hmmm.....

    May 5, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  20. frozenOne

    Broussard's error in judgement was using his access as a broadcaster to tell us his personal views. Please stick to sports coverage.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:27 am |
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