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. Kevin

    An anti-gay Christian claiming the label of "prosecuted minority" is like a white racist claiming reverse racism. Christians still have the major power in this country, and some beliefs really are worth getting rid of.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  2. Beth

    This isn't all Christians or even all evangelicals. The % of Evangelicals who feel this can't claim 'Christians' are persecuted without sounding as though they feel t hey are the only true Christians. Most Christians are not like this and the Evangelicals I know are not like this, either. I know some are but certainly not all.

    And those who are, are cherry picking through the bible. I wish they would read their bible again in detail and see the many things they themselves are not following in the bible.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  3. e

    Christians are not a minority.

    Having consequences for what you say and do is how life works when you are not drenched in privilege.

    It is not hate or oppression when you are treated the same as everyone else.

    Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  4. jaded1

    Christians are not hated they are just being judged just as harshly as they judge others

    May 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus is the incarnate love of God. Yet, consider that doesn't only love you but also your neighbour or workmate or classmae, etc.. When God loves your fellow human beings, then it is clear that you have to deal responsibly with them as you wish that they would deal with you. By birth we are selfish (wrong our neighbour for the sake of our benefit) but can get changed through

    God's Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ:

    God, the Father, delivered God, the Son, Jesus, for our sins, and raised him from the dead for our justification. This is the maximum revelation of God's love towards us. Yet, we are so corrupted that we consider Jesus' sacrifice as a mere atonement for our sins, and increase sinning instead of reducing it because we assume Jesus' had yet payed the bill.

    Therefore Christ has also insti-tuted sacramental baptism through which we get metaphysically connected with Christ's death and resurrection: We die for the sin, and get a new life in Jesus. After baptism we will no longer say that Jesus has payed the bill in advance but will improve our life through the power of Jesus death and resurrection. This is costly grace.

    Dear gay, don't believe that Christ's sacrifice was a mere atonement but realize that in is also a work of redemption: God wants to deliver you from your gayness so that you learn to use se-xuality responsibly, and to take care of a wife like Christ took care of the Christian Church. Learn to take care of a wife, and don't only seek se-xual satisfaction.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Atheist

      Christians are not a minority. Boo hoo we all don't agree with your delusions and that makes you upset. Get over it.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Jesus the Christ

      Rainer, pull your pants down, I can't hear you...

      May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Jesus got crucified so you should deny how you feel. Don't be ungrateful. Even if it is detrimental to you, you should be respectful and act in a way that is not true to yourself.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Hello pastor Rainer.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      I will be your translator for the day. I will do my best to make all the magical stuff easier to understand. And help your message get straight to the point. Your Welcome

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

    It's not really Christianity that is being attacked. It is intolerance that is being attacked. It just so happens that a lot of Christians fall into this intolerant category.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  7. Chris

    It must have taken the KKK a lot of courage to protest against black people for being, black... ?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  8. bskb

    ITT: Proof that bigotry against the religious is the last remaining socially accepted bigotry.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Tanker

      Thank God!

      May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Dum Hycks

      As long as evangelicals reject science, they are at odds with modern society and are on the road to extinction.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      I think you're still allowed to hate the Belgians...

      May 5, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  9. Humans

    1.) Labeling and stereotyping humans is incorrect and an error in critical thinking.

    2.) Dieities are also an error in critical thinking.

    3.) Hating all people of a religious group is wrong.

    4.) Not hating religions is also wrong.

    Nobody realizes this yet but in a few hundred years..if we still have a planet you'll know I was right.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  10. Tanker

    Evangelicals don't have to worry about becomeing a hated minority...

    They've been a hated minority for quiet some time now...

    May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  11. Harvey

    Considering God, Jesus, Allah, Yewah, or Whomever is all powerful; if He really hated gays there would be little piles of ash all over the place whee they got hit by lightning bolts. Evidently He doesn't care.

    Also since He is all powerful He doesn't need to have man defending him. He can take care of himself. This is the problem with deities and trying to interpret what They want. This has been the source of evil since time immemorial. 400 years ago it was the Christians; today it is the Muslims; who knows who it will be tomorrow, but the evil will continue..

    If God, Allah, or Whomever really gave a rat's butt about us; He would put a stop to it.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  12. Liz S.

    Why don't all Christians just start saying, "The interpretation of the Bible I choose to believe claims that . . . " As a teacher, I'm tired of seeing students write, "According to the Bible . . . " I'm tired of listening to people use the Bible as a source to justify anything at all . . . people need to admit that whatever they pull from the Bible is filtered through the paradigm of some interpretation they choose to believe. People believe interpretations of the Bible. Once they accept THAT fact, maybe they can get on the road to accepting the idea that their interpretation might not be the only one or even a correct one. But as long as you believe "the Bible" instead of acknowledging you believe an interpretation thereof . . . your mind is going to be closed to other interpretations.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • GK

      Spoken like a true believer in "the original lie of Satan." Still munching on that apple out of self-righteousness. Humility is a much more honorable trait than intellect.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • marjee123

      You are partly correct. There are a lot of caring compassionate and tolerant Christians all over the world. But the problem is, those that foster hate, bigotry and racism are the most vocal and most of the rest of the people get the idea that they are the majority of Christians. what should happen is the Christians who are really Christians should make themselves known. Would a real Christian want to deny little children food and shelter while ranting and raving about giving more and more money and power to very ones who have it. No they wouldn't be real Christians if they did. Speak out real Christians. Let the world know that you are not the ones who do foster the hate the bigotry and racism and greed.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      40,000 + versions of christianity and counting....

      May 5, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • G to the T

      So GK – which version of the bible do you have the "true" interpretation of? I have 6 different versions at home so I want to be sure I'm using the right one the right way...

      May 9, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  13. Chris

    It's not that Christians are a hated minority, it's just that ALL religions are made up of the most judgmental and bigoted elitists. Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, so on and so on. They ALL have the "our God is better than your God" mentality, and all nons are judged as weaker, lesser humans because they don't believe in their God.

    Atheists and Humanists are typically quiet about their lack of faith. Sure, you have your vocal minority in every group....but Atheists don't have churches, functions, gatherings....they don't preach.

    There is a big change coming in this world, and it can't come fast enough. The growing fractures within the various religious groups, such as religious extremists making the collective look bad, the advancements in science...and quite frankly, people just getting smarter. Religion is dying, and within a few generations I believe ANY religious group will be viewed in the same way we view witches today. And this world will be much better off without religion.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • mountainmanpat

      Insanity is believing ones own delusions......

      Religion is believing someone else's delusions

      May 5, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  14. vgs1895

    As a follower of Christ, I think Christians became the hated minority when many forgot Jesus's two commandments–Love God and Love people. Pretty straightforward.

    Matthew 22:36-40
    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    And in case we didn't read it from one source, here's another:

    Luke 10:27 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

    Jesus refers to loving others numerous times. I don't understand why some Christians seem so full of hate. 🙁

    May 5, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  15. Livilla

    Total manure from Tealiban. Hated minority my left hind foot! They are just annoyed as all get out that they cannot legally oppress others the way they could sixty years ago with impunity.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  16. What you do

    "Some evangelicals say Christians can’t change their view of biblical truth "

    Which is why the earth is still flat for some. They are not willing to consider that they might be wrong and are not about to admit it they might be wrong even when shown a picture of a round world.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  17. Terri

    Everyone needs to realize there is a huge difference between having an opinion and attacking an idividual or group with a different opinion by calling names and trying to get others to hate them. Every time I see a protest on the news with someone holding a sign that says, "God hates gays", I want to go there with my own sign. "Only Satan hates. Just who is it that you worship?"

    May 5, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Since god created satan, knowing full well the consequences, god must be ok with anything satan has done, or will do.

      Join us in reality.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  18. Busted Poser

    Along with other monotheistic religions, Christianity forms a major segment of the true Axis of Evil.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  19. JB

    This article is not about ALL Christians being a hated minority, it us more about Evangelical's being a hated minority under the umbrella of the Christian faith. They ARE extremists who believe things like Dinosaurs walking the Earth with humans a few thousand years ago and that Dragons once really existed because their is 'evidence' in the Bible to tell them so... or at least a few whack jobs who try to extrapolate a few words here or there in the Bible to make a case for such nonsense. Real Christians are able to realize you can believe in the teachings of the Bible and accept Scientific realities of the world at the same time. Evangelicals are most certainly the Taliban of the Christian faith, though they are less violent and more insidious.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  20. Frank

    It's Easter in San Francisco! Time for the Hunky Jesus contest! Gay men dress up in nuns garb, or in Bishops robes, or in Papal Regalia. Those organizing the affair are a group of gay men, "The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence", who engage in mock Catholic theology. Up on a stage are the contestants, other gay men carry crosses, and exhibiting their naked bodies in the contest, before an audience of thousands who are laughing and cheering. The winner last year modified his cross, into a type of guitar, and strummed it and sang. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of San Francisco was openly jeered, and Catholics mocked and smeared. This, on the holiest Day of Christianity! But, don't worry! It's Freedom of Speech! If you don't like it, move out of town! And, screw you, Catholics!! If Catholics in San Francisco behaved this way towards gay people, we would be arrested for perpetrating a hate crime....and lets face it, "Freedom of Speech" now is only allowed to gays in our city....while they pretend to be the "victims" of Catholic prejudice.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Greg B.

      You wouldn't be arrested for a hate crime. If you have to make stuff up to make your argument, you don't have much of an argument. You can't spend millions of dollars targeting the civil rights of a minority group then cry victim when some members of that group have a few laughs at your expense.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • mique

      I like how you refer to it as "our city, and you do not see the irony of your thought process..

      May 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • e

      Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Oy

      One chooses a religion, one does not choose to be gay. HUGE difference.
      And really? You're basing your martyrdom on *one* group of people mocking Xtianity?

      May 5, 2013 at 11:38 am |
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