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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. The BIG JC

    Question: Why do Christians claim persecution when people disagree with them? Answer: they have taught that acting like children is a virtue.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  2. ShawnDH

    The problem is, "Christians" think their backwards and anachronistic beliefs are grounds to oppress groups of American citizens. This is wrong. We do not live in a theocracy. If you are still clinging to the wrong side of history on gay marriage, for example, that's your problem. Your beliefs should not mean that gay people must be oppressed by the government. If you don't like gay marriage, fine. Mind your own business and shut up.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • jobiwan

      Not all Christians think that way. I am a bible believer and I have many gay friends. I ma\y not like what they DO but I still like them as friends and people.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Richard

      Believe what you want, but if you express your antiquated backwards beliefs, you're a small minded bigot. Seems like this article has a point. You disagree with Christians, but you have no right to tell them to shut up, just as they have no right to tell you what to believe or how to express that belief.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • mark

      If you don't like Christians mind your own business and please be quiet.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  3. Jonboy

    He's not being labeled a bigot BECAUSE he's an evangelical. He's being labeled a bigot BECAUSE he basically told someone that a cosmic being should burn Collins for all eternity because of his victimless, private, adult actions. A minority experiences hate when they walk down the street, being guilty of nothing more than being different. The difference is,Chris Broussard could have avoided all of his "backlash" if he would have kept his mouth shut, instead of publicly condemning anyone, for whatever reason. It might be true to Broussard and it may be his belief, but do you think he would share that honesty by going up to his wife and saying "If you keep eating that cake, your bu-tt is going to be wide as a barn!" There's a difference between expressing your beliefs and just being hurtful without anything constructive to offer.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Loathstheright

    Dear Christians (or just any religion): Your god does not exist, never did, never will. So, please, keep your ignorance, bigotry, and hatred of others to yourselves.
    Signed – A civilized, educated citizen.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Answer

      Let the christard troll come in with their stupidity of : "prove that my delusion does not exist."

      Go with your uneducated spiel of proving a negative you dipwads. It's a given.

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

    Hated minority. Sounds about right with congregations of evangelical Christians like the Westboro Baptist Church. And thank God they are a minority of Christians.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  6. Kevin

    Calling Evangelical Christians victims and equating their status in America with other minorities is ignorant and appalling. As a mixed race Jewish person, I have zero sympathy for their struggles. Wow...just...wow. I don't even know where to begin.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Mr. Obvious

      Well said

      May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  7. erexx

    Since when are Christians a Minority in this country?
    They are only starting to experience what they have been dealing for years.
    Give me a break!

    May 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  8. Mr. Obvious

    Wait, you're telling me a group of people who damn and condemn all those who don't share their beliefs are now facing hatred from those they've damned and condemned. Shocking. Next you're going to tell me the KKK or the Nazis are facing hatred, too. Yet those of us who don't judge or damn or condemn people and just let them live as they choose are feeling no hatred at all. Well, except from the Christians that "love everyone." Right.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  9. us_1776

    Learn the real history of Christianity and you'd hate them too !!

    .

    May 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  10. Ryan

    You guys keep saying "Evangelical Christians are so self-righteous and are always telling people how they're wrong." But let me ask – how many times in your life have you had an evangelical Christian tell you, face-to-face, that you're wrong? Chances are you just have a generalized idea of the media consensus of what evangelical Christians do, or you are taking the words of a few and stereotyping many. I consider myself an evangelical, in that I share what I believe is the good news with others when the situation is right. However, I don't go around bellowing about how wrong everyone else is or condemn them to judgement, and neither do the vast majority of Christians I know personally. I find it hypocritical how so many exhibit the same blanket criticism of Christians that they themselves accuse Christians of having, especially when reading the borderline-violent hostility in some of these comments. Please believe me, there are a lot of Christians out there who ARE concerned about the suffering of their fellow humans and are more concerned with loving their neighbor than with condemning him.

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

      I have...as most of my extended family are nothing but hypochristians.......I point out contradictions in the bible, and what do I get?....Not an answer or explanation....No, what I get is "Pat....you're so intelligent.....why can't you use it for better things than denying god"

      May 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  11. just bob

    Persecuted? Well boo hoo... cry me a river. If you would quit trying to force your beliefs on everyone else maybe they would quit hating you.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  12. john

    By this logic, people who condemn evangelical Christians are a hated minority. Wouldnt the KKK be able to say the same thing, that they are being persecuted for their beliefs about blacks and jews?

    May 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  13. Josh Johnson

    Victims do nothing wrong to become a victim. People who wrap themselves up in a flag and spout nonsense are not victims, they are reaping the fruit of their labors.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  14. forpol

    Two things about this article got my attention: One is the wrong assumption that only Evangelicals are Christian; and two, we are beginning to see how the abuse of the term "hate speech" is beginning to back fire.

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

      I think it depends on what's being called hate speech. If it's a case of, "you hurt my feelings, therefore it's hate speech," (which seems to be the message of this article) then it's easy for that to backfire. If it's a case like the one cited in the article, where Mr. Spriggs associates gay men with child molesters, then there really isn't any other word for it and thus no way for it to backfire. He is literally trying to incite hatred against gay men by dishonestly associating them with pedophiles.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  15. A dose of Reality

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

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

      You mention in your post over and over again that science is fact...then how do you explain the fact that science originally proved h o m o s e x u al ity was a psychiatric disorder and left it on the DSMR for years claiming it to be fact...The facts are that science is not fact..noone can prove any God exists and no one can prove that one doesnt so there is nothing to argue abour..n

      May 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  16. Brian

    Christianity is a joke. Islam, Judaism, etc. They are fictional stories taken as true events. I'm sure some happened and many people witnessed those events, but most of the magical fairytale things like Jonah in the whale and making water into wine, its quite ridiculous if you think about it logically.

    Bottom line Christians are getting a taste of their own medicine and they don't like the taste. But again its not just christians, islamics, are just as bad you just never hear about it. Mainly because they j ust kill you if you don't believe what Islam says, basically where christians were 800 years ago.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  17. Rainer Braendlein

    Many heresies based on basic idea to seperate God's character from the character of Jesus Christ as if the Father and the Son could have differnet characters. Heretics always could not believe or did not want to believe the God, the Creator, was as meek and humble as his eternal Son Jesus Christ.

    Such a heretic, heresiarch or incarnation of the devil was Mahound (Muhammad), the alleged Prophet of the Arabs. He spread his religion by the sword, and was therefore the opposite of Jesus Christ who preached love, and cured people. Alone this proves that Mahound was not a divine prophet but an incarnated demon.

    Jesus did not use violence excepted when he purified the Temple in Jerusalem, the House of his Father. Jesus had to do the job of the Temple-police which failed to do their job.

    There is evil in the world but we should not assume that God made the world in this state, and that God himself has an evil side.

    God is a pastor or a saviour or a physician like Jesus. God doesn't want to destroy but cure. God wants to save us sinners. He wants to give us power to overcome our natural state of egoism.

    Don't assume that the gay lust is the natural state of man before the Fall. No, gayness is just an extreme expression of unresponsible behaviour. A gay man only takes care of his member but he actually should take care of a wife. What an error! Yet, God gave his precious Son for all sinners, also for gays.

    Dear gay, believe in Jesus who died for you, and his love will flow through you, and you will become a loving man as Jesus.

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

      If you believe all of that...I have a bridge for sale.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Answer

      Believe in the tooth fairy.

      A much more benign delusion and healthier option.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Translation:
      God is a nice guy (unless you anger him).
      Arabs are evil demon worshippers. Jesus wasn't violent and so he was no demon (unless he needed to be violent but thats different).
      Stop thinking you know whats right because thats just your ego.
      And stop being who you were born to be because god isn't cool with it.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • G to the T

      Heresey is in the eye of the beholder....

      May 9, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  18. khh1961

    maybe a little taste of what it's like to be on the other side of that fence might not be a bad thing for the evangelicals.. the LGBT community certainly has been there long enough..

    May 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  19. For Those People

    For those people who would criticize others, Scripture has these words for You! "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest, not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye." - LUKE 6:41-42 (KJV)

    May 5, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  20. showjeff

    What ever happened to "Judge not lest thee be judged?" Isn't that a Christian principle? This is the real problem with so-called Christians who rail against the behavior of others. They are trying to impose their beliefs on others and others don't like it, just like they don't like it when other challenge their beliefs. On another note, how cowardly are these people? They tend to feel persecuted when others disagree with them. That's not persecution. It's rejection and we all have the right to reject another person's opinion.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:59 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.