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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. sparky

    Christians become a hated minority when they try to make their religion law.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Well then

      Ditto gay marriage

      May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  2. Laura

    If they're becoming a hated minority, it's because they are a minority of hatred.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • John

      Ignorant

      May 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Gay

      Says the guy who puts other mens penisis in their mouths and rear ends. lol

      May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  3. Jake Sharns

    "...but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot."

    More like... but will not say so publicly for fear of being DISCOVERED a hateful bigot.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  4. Janet

    This takes the cake for the most stupid article I've read in a long time. Christians are not a hated minority! What they must stop doing is forcing their religion on others. THAT is the problem. I have no problem with people who want to believe in a magical daddy in the sky as long as they don't try to force that belief on me or my family.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • yep

      agreed. Tell them they can stop their cra=p with abortion once they've taken care of the living and breathing children already in distress. They claim children are a gift from their god. They rather sound like a bunch of spoiled children who get too many gifts, wanting more and never appreciating what they already have.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Hillcrester

      Agreed! What they do in the privacy of their homes and churches is none of my business.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  5. Northwoods Sinner

    How about we just let God do the judging and quit trying to imply God's endorsement of our own particular slant on things?

    May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  6. Liberty Bell

    So, Chistians are the enemy now ? What do you do with them ? Send to poltical re-education FEMA camps ?

    May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • skytag

      Nah, group therapy with someone who has experience in deprogramming cult members should be sufficient.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Translation:
      Be scared!

      May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  7. Hillcrester

    When evangelicals decided to push their beliefs on the rest of us though political means, those beliefs became open to criticism by "outsiders." They they choose to reain silent now–and I surely don't see that in the comments typically made about any GLBT, abortion, contraception, etc. article–perhaps that is just the consequence of aggressive pursuit of unpopular positions. I can't feel sorry for them about that,

    May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Yup.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • kathy

      Could not have said it better....the Moral Majority came about during the Reagan administration and once they got involved in politics and trying to shape policy and choose candidates they crossed the line. Your religion should be between you and your god...not to be forced upon anyone else and certainly not involved in government. So to quote yet another verse from the bible...you reap what you sow.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  8. FleshTuxedo

    Since when did Christians become a "minority"?

    May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  9. The Maeven

    The problem here is two-fold. First, a true Christian would never, ever try to hurt anyone, especially when they are already hurting. An example of non-Christian behaviour is exhibited by the Westboro Baptist Church picketing US military funerals.with their self-righteous and evil rants. Second, Christ-like behaviour has virtually disappeared in today's world. When the news shows random acts of kindness, it seems to be a surprise to the world. Sad state of affairs if you ask me.

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

      You might want to look up the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, seeing as how you just provided a textbook example of it.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • yep

      why do religious claim those who make them look bad, aren't christian. Always trying to change things to give a misleading impression of their religion.

      Guess that's what they do best. After all,, they believe in the bible while picking and choosing what was real and what was really meant. That alone should raise a red flag.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  10. Brandon

    America and the world today have turned their backs on Christ. Just another sign that He is coming back soon, when we least expect it. And when he does, most of us will be caught off guard.

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

      While I defend your right to believe as you wish, I can't help believing you are delusional. And my belief is as worthy of being "stated" as yours is.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  11. Masse

    So much anti-gay hate.
    I note the bible also says wealthy people are 'bad' (or whatever).
    I'll believe the religious folks really care about religion the day they speak out against the rich as much as they speak out against gays.

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

      I think you misunderstood it, my friend. There are wealthy people who are Christians, take my word for it, I know several wealthy people who are Christians. It's just that sometimes money can block Who is truly trying to save you and distract you from Him.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  12. Grinning Libber

    Playing the victim card – what paranoid garbage.
    They want YOU TO OBEY – and send money.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  13. Christopher Moore

    Gay marriage is not a part of HIS process. He created two diverse beings to assist HIS bubble we borrowing. Bottomline... :-/

    May 5, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Grinning Libber

      Is that you jezuz?

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

      Are you HE?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Doug

      Good thing for us, HE doesn't exist.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • G to the T

      And woud you impair their free will by legislating against them?

      May 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  14. wade

    I happen to be a Christian who is for gay rights and woman rights but I do agree Christians are targeted and hated by liberals. The proof is so obvious all you have to do is turn on the news or watch any show or movie and 90 % of the time they are making fun of or putting down in some way Christians or their beliefs. Good thing for them we are Christians and not Muslims or they would all be beheaded.

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

      How big of you...

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

      Poor guy. What would you do if you faced real discrimination?

      May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Hillcrester

      "Targeted and hated"? Hardly? Once you moved your sphere of influence out of churches and into politics, you stopped being immune from analysis and criticism. The choice is yours.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • I Am God

      I think you are the minority of Christians he is talking about.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Paul

      If Christians don't want to be made fun of then they should stop doing and saying stupid s.hit in public for other people to hear.

      May 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Doug

    I'm sorry but I'm not going to join in the pity party for the "poor christians". Not all "christians" are bad, but the number who eagerly work to prevent others from having freedom because it doesn't fit the "christian way" is staggering. It's downright offensive. You want to know why the christians are hated? It's pretty simple. They work against anyone who is different.

    Let's not even go into the "minority" garbage. They have no idea what it is to be a minority based on a belief structure. They still outnumber every single other belief/non-belief in the United States. They aren't even a minority in the world, holding the #1 position, even over Islam. So don't you DARE try to call yourself a minority.

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

      Doug, look at your language and tone. Then look at the language of the two people interviewed. Who is being hateful? I understand the passion of the topic, but it's that kind of tone and language that are leaving Christians feeling like they are hated.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  16. matthew

    It seems people have confused a war on religion with always getting what they want

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

      Bingo

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

      You are right except it is the liberals who always get what they want or declare war.

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

      Funny, Wade. I don't recall any headlines in ANY news, fictional or not, where liberals are crying that a war was declared on them....

      May 5, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Hillcrester

      They are like all other "true believers" in adopting an us-vs.-them mentality. This uit about the social psychology of disconfirmed beliefs, not about religion per se.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  17. gswalz

    "It takes more courage..." ?!?! No, it takes ignorance.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  18. yep

    according to a recent study involving an internet p-o-r-n producer using zip codes from credit cards, the highest percent purchased by state is among the most religious right ones.

    Also, the largest sales drop overall is during the hours of Sunday services.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Grinning Libber

      Check on booze sales and strip clubs too.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  19. Hitting the Nail On the Head

    The way some Christians act and the things they say against others reminds me much of the following quote by a famous wise man: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Ghandi

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  20. Gay

    This is why CNN is such a joke of a news outlet. People like those in this article....well let's just say you have to tell them what they WANT to hear. The internet makes fun of this trash site. It's getting worse than the Enquirer.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • I Am God

      Speaking of trash why don't you throw yourself back into the dumpster where you came from? Get a clue. You don't like CNN then get lost.

      May 5, 2013 at 10:34 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.