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. Patti

    You don't know what it is to be a hated minority in this country until you're something other than a christian. Get over it, and stop whining.

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

      Right on!

      May 5, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Rachael

      Well said.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  2. MJKT

    And I don't care what personal views people have. I fully support the KKK's right to free speech and to believe that gays and blacks are less than human. What I do not support is the government being able to discriminate against gays and blacks. You may believe the Bible tells you gays should be able to marry or maybe even that blacks should not be able to marry whites (another thing people have used the Bible to protest against); however, that does not mean that US civil equal rights laws should be based on your personal religious beliefs. We should have freedom of religion in the US which means you cannot impose your personal religious beliefs on others through their own government.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  3. matt

    Hey CNN! There's also this breaking story about whistleblowers coming forward with information about Benghazi!! Others are reporting about it, but I guess you conveniently forgot? What about when CNN becomes a hated minority for not reporting without political bias?

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

      Notice that this article is a belief based article you tool.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Patrick

      Benghazi. LOL! Bush couldn't protect people in NYC or New Orleans yet 4 people in a third world country is a huge scandal. Get real or go back to your Fox News bubble.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • md22mdrx

      Matt – It's because the majority of the media knows there isn't a story there. The only ones trying to beat that drum are those on the uber right who want to blame Obama for EVERYTHING. Everyone else has looked into it, found NO story, and moved on. Republicans are still trying to manufacture this Benghazi garbage.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • skytag

      Another Foxbot whining about CNN. Snooze alert.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  4. alf

    If Christianity doesnt work for you then dont drink it. We live in a democratic society, lets take it to the polls. Minority- I dont think Christianity is a minority. I look at the number of posted comments, and no way does it represent the population of America. This is small time, I say let the votes do the talking. Oh-snaps that wont work because when they tally the numbers and it doesnt turn out the way you want, then you go crying to the Supreme court, that the majority spoke up and we dont like it. Can I get the cheesse with that Whine. LOL

    This is crazy-

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • md22mdrx

      Our country was designed to be inclusive and defend individuals from the "tyranny of the majority" ... that's why we have the bill of rights. You cannot legislate against "unalienable rights" because you have a majority.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  5. Sorcha

    Yes, isn't it a total shame that ignorant, deluded, hateful BIGOTS are becoming the minority. Now perhaps they will realize just how other peoples have been made to feel. Oh wait–not possible. That would require intelligence, thinking, and empathy. Are these creatures even human as we know it, Jim?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  6. Rahul

    Hey all you evangelicals, let you who is without sin cast the fisrt stone! Judge not, lest you be judged.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • md22mdrx

      Love the sinner, not the sin ...

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

      Like I said in my explanation of this out-of-context verse below ... See what I mean.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  7. md22mdrx

    Well ... look at this article. It is the VERY REASON you are so hated.
    You claim to be a religion of tolerance and love, but then say the most evil, hateful things in the name of the "Bible" or "Jesus".

    You're the WORST hypocrites. THAT is why you are hated.

    THAT and you keep on trying to shove your religion down everyone's throat and then, when people push back against you, you claim that everyone is out to get you.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  8. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    It may be that evangelicals and other religious wackos are becoming a "hated minority." If so, it's about time! But I would prefer that they become a laughed-at and ignored minority. Their backward ideas need to be relegated to the trash heap of history.Also, their churches need to be taxed, and their religious books all need to come with a warning label: "Contents consists of mythology only. Taking any of this seriously will damage your brain."

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  9. Loki Saloo

    delusional – believes his congregants whisper in his ear just like the Big Fella himself does.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Jesus the Christ

      Good point, why aren't people realizing that these men and women that think they are speaking to god are actually mentally ill? It's indicative in their hatred and fanaticism.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  10. Erik

    Evangelicals view persecution as not being able to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • md22mdrx

      EXACTLY .... and they wonder why they're hated.

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

      Yes. And their definition of free speech is no one speaking back to them but only silently nodding their heads.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  11. hudson5585

    Chris Broussard's comments like "open rebellion to God.” and “living in unrepentant sin” is nothing but hate speech. It should be condemned. This is not the mere expression of one's belief while giving other people the liberty to live their life as they see fit.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  12. MJKT

    The KKK considers themselves a Christian group, and they consider their racist (and anti-gay) views to be based in the Bible. Does the fact that they base their views on the Bible mean that they are safe from being considered bigots?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  13. jaypsyd

    I suppose people who owned slaves felt pretty discriminated against as the social tide change and America progressed and realized the evil that was slavery.

    Let's not pretend this is anything other than what it is: a small group of people holding onto their evil discrimination against a group of people.


    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • MJKT

      The people who supported segregation (using the Bible as reason) probably also felt pretty discriminated against when that tide turned against them. The same as those who opposed interracial marriage. And the same who opposed equal rights for women. This is just the next step in the US in moving toward equality, and these are just the latest people opposing equality and doing it hiding behind their Bible and Jesus.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  14. Ryan

    This article is ridiculous. Of course people who try and force other people to live their lives in a certain way will be hated and reviled. You can't find many people who are fans of the Nazis, and for good reason. America is progressing forwards, and hopefully will soon join China and Europe in having a spiritual populace with no need for organized religion, which is a relic of a darker past.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  15. What you do

    Speaking disapproval does not get Christians in trouble.
    It is the practice of using ropes and pickup trucks to express their opinions that gets them in trouble.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  16. gremlinus

    The Bible condemns a lot of things. Why aren't we taking away the rights of adulterers? Or people that don't keep the Sabbath? I don't mind labeling it a sin per se, but we seem to pick and choose a lot.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  17. Tmac

    Ever wonder what life would look like if those upstanding Christians had their way. Re-education camps, witch trials, public execution for adultery....

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  18. Clint

    I blame Tebow, he made people sick of the Christian extremest.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Jesus the Christ

      True, praying for a touchdown in front of everyone instead of praying for the starving, the suffering and the downtrodden...not such a good idea...

      May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Southerner01

      Matthew 6.5 and 6.6 address Tim Tebow.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  19. rfrancis

    To all religious people: How does it feel? At least atheists aren't burning you at the stake or arresting you for your beliefs. By the way, asking you to justify your beliefs is not an attack; rather, it is a discussion in which you should be able to logically partake.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Jeebusss

      But they can't justify their beliefs so they are incapable of partaking in logical discussion. So instead they have to cry, "don't attack me!"

      May 5, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • md22mdrx

      There is no logic to religion and is undefendable ... therefore they act out like this when their belief structure is challenged.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  20. Sanjaya

    In this 21st century, it's time to come out of the closet about Religion myth; more on Religion and its Repercussions:

    May 5, 2013 at 11:32 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.