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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. WilinRome

    It's always amazing to me the argument Christians make that they are not judging, but just pointing out what is sin or just quoting the scriptures. Well, if that's true, why don't they tackle some other issues as well. Like divorce and remarriage, adultery, fornication, pride, greed, and the biggest one of all in my opinion; gluttony. With so many obese Americans, Christians included, they should be holding signs saying, "Overeating is a sin", "Fatness is not righteousness", etc. I guarantee you that if you do that, the Christians will cry judgment.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  2. Hex27

    I love how christians count themselves as a minority, but over 70% of the U.S. population is christian... I guess math isn't taught in the bible...

    May 5, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Barb

      No kidding. A lot of them may not be liked very well by many of the rest of us, but they have a long way to go to be considered a minority.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • harry

      it says when hex...when

      May 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Anon E Muss

      To 89% of Christians, math and accurate statistics are a sin.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  3. Unknownian

    I used to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I even believed the nonsense the Catholic Church fed me about the Bible. Then.....I grew up. The Bible is a novel loosely based on ancient events. Man wrote it. Not a God. It's pretty convenient that the Christians even re-wrote it (the new testament), to fit there voo doo Christian religions. In all my years on this planet, all I've seen is Humans praying and talking to AIR. I have no use for any organized religion. If you want to believe in a God, that should be between you and your God. Organized religion exists, because misery loves company. I am very pleased to hear that Evangelists are becoming a "Hated Minority".

    May 5, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      I was also raised Catholic. I look back at all those teaching as mass hysteria.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  4. Jesus the Christ

    You know, if it weren't for the media, I don't think the world would be such a hateful place.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Sam

      Right, if it weren't for the media Christians could hide their hate and bigotry so no one will notice. To bad there are people who report what you bigots are doing.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Answer

      Right...

      If everybody were to just ignore the world and let the religious freaks continue their reign of terror.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • mary

      That's rich a bigot calling Christians bigots...so tolerant

      May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  5. jimmycomaykillyou

    Who's really doing the hating? The evanglist Christian who hates gay people, discriminates against them and denies their rights OR the non-Chrisitan and Christian we condemns those views?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  6. One one

    This trend will continue as long as Christians continue preaching that everyone will burn in hell for not believing as they do.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • tinman

      Burn, Baby, Burn

      May 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  7. Bill

    Hey Evangelicals: I'm a gay man....welcome to my world!!! Doesn't feel so good does it. You can believe thatever you like, but when you try to ban people's freedoms under our shared civil law you've gone too far! You don't have to celebrate my marraige and I won't celebrate yours. But I'm certainly not the one out to ban people's freedoms...that's you! Wow...no one is a bigger victim in this country than a conservative "Christian."

    May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • tinman

      Sorry, I can not get a picture of your world on all fours looking down

      May 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  8. Steve Wilkinson

    Of course, hating Christians IS acceptable – even praised – in these days of complete 'diversity' and 'inclusiveness.' But, what you CAN NOT do, is express an opinion differing from the 'diversity and inclusiveness' powers-that-be, even if asked for said opinion. That simply won't be tolerated... in the name of 'tolerance,' of course.

    1984 anyone?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • ActualEquality

      Yes, because Christians seem to be the only group holding real tolerance back. At least on this issue. You're right – I am completely intolerant of intolerance.

      And by the way – the diversity and inclusiveness powers that be? Are you out of your mind? Every group has had to struggle for their freedom. Look at blacks and women. Yeah – Clearly "The Man" was on their side on those ones.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Sam

      The only thing we should not tolerate is intolerance.

      Imagine if you have every organization together playing a game of dodge ball. Everyone is throwing ball's at everyone else and the game is going along fine until a Christian get's hit by a ball thrown by a gay guy and the Christian says "That doesn't count, i'm still in the game, I don't consider gay people to really be a part of the game, though if I hit them they should sit down" and the referee says "No, sorry Christian, you are out" and the Christian replies "No i'm not because my religious beliefs tell me that gay's aren't real Americans so they shouldn't get to play the game with us! I'm in!" and the ref say's "Okay Christian, you've been ejected, grab your stuff and get off the court!" so of course the Christian crys "Nooooo! You can't kick me out! It was a Christian who founded this game! Reverse discrimination!! Reverse Discrimination!!"

      May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Steve Wilkinson

      I'm not sure what kind of intolerance you see coming from the majority of Christians. That might have been a valid argument several generations ago. (And, I'd be on your side if that really were the kind of intolerance you are speaking of).

      And, I'm sorry, but I think you need a history lesson. Women and blacks didn't have the president on their side, nor 'hate-thought' legislation, nor the professional psychological organizations, nor most of the major corporations (in their 'diversity and tolerance' policies), nor the news outlets, nor a system of kangaroo-court 'human rights' tribunals (in some countries, and coming in the rest), etc. on their side.

      The current clash is a push-back against an overly aggressive minority, forcing their view on everyone else.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  9. forpol

    There is a great assumption here and that is that only evangelicals are Christian. The abuse of the charge of "hate speech" is beginning to backfire on those who use it.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  10. Corkpuller

    What is the Muslim view on Gays?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Answer

      They're no better.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Steve Wilkinson

      Heh, no kidding! However, they are currently in the 'protected' group by the 'inclusive' powers-that-be, because at least at some levels, they are allies in being against Christians as well. (Well, that and the fact that most of the folks in the powers-that-be don't have a clue about Islam beyond what they might have heard from some extreme leftist professors of religion.)

      May 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      In Iran, being gay is a crime. You are allowed to undergo "gender re-assignment" surgery to correct what they think is a medical issue, but that is the only accepted form of $exual deviance" as they see it.

      you are not allowed to have $ex without marriage, so when they pick up a prost!tute, they will "marry" them for the hour.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Choomba

      Muslims are told to kill them.
      So.... of course those who are born gay in muslim culture are even more desperate and reckless, trying to outdo the anti-gays as they hide deeper in the closet. All these religions say to kill anyone for any reason, all you have to do is interpret the words that way and suddenly its written in stone.
      There are a lot of gay muslims. It is hard for them to get women, so there is added pressure in their heads.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  11. Banjo Ferret

    Helpful tip to Christians: whenever a thought ends with "I'm being persecuted" or "there's a war on Christmas" or some other trumped up silliness, replace it with "the world is sick of my ****". See yourself through the eyes of everyone else.

    Ferretianism is the one true religion. Repent and secure your purple energy bubble! (banjoferret d c)

    May 5, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Choomba

      Show me the purple energy bubble first. Is it purple drank?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  12. cjacja

    They are NOT a hated minority, they are a minority of haters. They openly preach intolerance.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  13. Red Team

    Well look at at the zeal in which these "evangelicals" judge others and hide their intolerance behind faith. They are also rife with hypocrisy, after all the Bible reminds us that we are to remove the fleck of bark from our own eye first before pointing out the flaws of others. Since perfection is beyond humans that means you never can judge anyone else because you will never stop being flawed. Judgement ultimately belongs to God and if something offends a deity who can flood the world or make it rain frogs he doesn't need your earthly help. In fact if you have to do all the judging and punishing for God, then its not actually God you are working for because God is omnipotent who reserved the right of judgement onto itself alone. Anything else are peoples personal hatreds masquerading as a false god that gives them license for cruelty.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  14. Religion

    Christians use religion to justify and spread hate.

    If people despise them because of that, so be it.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Bill

      Right wing Christians are no different than the Taliban.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  15. ironage

    Anyone who knows anything about the Southern Poverty Law Center knows that they have become a left-wing extremist organization that labels anyone with a conservative world view as a racist or a "hate group."

    May 5, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Ironage. You should change your name to Darkage.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Religion

      Only when they spread hate.

      See how that works?

      May 5, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Matt in Oregon

      If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then its a duck. If it looks like a hate group and acts like a hate group...

      May 5, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  16. Religion

    Yes, we are intolerant of Christian intolerance and hatred.

    That doesn't make them victims by any stretch of the imagination.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Cecilia TOB

      The Bishop in Belgium that was attacked by "Femen" before his debate could start at a University...IS A VICTIM of HATE by pro-LGBT movement.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  17. poopie

    Well they got the hated part right.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  18. diablo3sage

    If any group perpetuates hatred, discrimination, and bigotry then that group should be rightfully detested.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • tinman

      Thats every group including both Dem and Rep parties

      May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Sam

    Frankly, I see nothing but good out of people being scared to speak out with their stupid, bigoted views. I would be surprised if we couldn't find something similar a hundred or so years ago saying "Well, God fearing Christians are now scared to say that slavery is okay because the bible says you can own people due to fear of backlash from other people!"

    You and your dinosaur ways are on the way out, hundreds of years too late. I am incredibly happy for the world that we are moving towards accepting people and not making anyone a second-class citizen for dumb, unacceptable reasons, while at the same time telling people they are wrong when they discriminate for things that have been proven to be lies. Go humanity, go!

    May 5, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  20. nanee

    Everyone is a bigot. There is no "right" person on this planet

    May 5, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Not quite nanee.
      I am not a bigot. I am prejudiced, as it is a survival instinct. It is whether or not you act on those prejudices that define bigotry.

      I enjoy being with many people from all around the world, and my life is far richer for the variety.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am |
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