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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. Jake

    “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.”

    That is the most idiotic statement I have heard in a long time. What is courageous about expressing an antiquated prejudiced view that has been expressed by millions of other religious morons? It's not courageous, it's pathetic.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • craig

      Agreed.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  2. Jesus the Christ

    Did I actually say, "hate gays and make sure they don't get married, ever?" Seriously? And don't quote the old testament because it also says that you can be stoned for reason the would have most of American dead by now...

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Doctorstrangeluv

      Did Jesus also ever say "build churches, pay no taxes on them and get down on your knees every Sunday and worship me" ?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • edmundburkeson

      What did he say? What was his mission? Do you know anything about what he did say?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  3. Choomba

    Time to round up the crazy people! Oops! That's almost everyone! Time for an apocolypse people! Get with it already!

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  4. artfuldodger64

    As an atheist, I find it ironic that evangelical christians would complain of persecution. There are so many bible verses about hypocrisy and judgment, which I won't bother to post them because many others have already. I suggest to my fellow Americans who are evangelicals that they read and reflect on them. Perhaps, having experienced a taste of what I have experienced, they may reconsider how they treat others with whom they disagree.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Choomba

      It is a common trick of bullies to play the victim card. I have seen it so often I would be glad to see it made a felony.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      As a Christian, I am allowed to disagree with lifestyles, habits, and behavior.
      That doesn't mean I "hate" anyone. That means I, like Jesus, don't accept all behaviors.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Choomba

      Let me translate the words of bldrRepublican:
      As a schizophrenic, I am [gibberish]. That doesn't mean [gibberish], it means [gibberish].

      There. Fixed it for ya.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Visitor

      The fact that so many Evangelical Christians identify themselves as Republicans shows that their religion is so wrapped up in their politics that they are political enemies to non-Republicans. Republicans have used Gays as a political issue for decades now. This goes way beyond disagreement with lifestyle. That disagreement was used to get out the vote of Evangelicals. If Evangelicals need "disagreement" with gays to vote, that barely qualifies as Christianity and is more akin with nasty hate-based politics.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  5. Hindu

    Is a secular state an officially gay state where any other opinion is demonized and bullied

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Answer

      A secular state will include a population of gay people. All together they'll function as a cohesive culture because they won't care what their s-e-x-u-a-l preferences were to each other.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • About Salvation

      You should be seriously thinking about this. Is a religion whose folks worship Animals instead of the One and only Christian God one who will attain Salvation? I've got news for you, No, they won't! "He that believeth on Him is not condemned but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the ONLY begotten Son of God." - JOHN 3:18 (KJV)

      May 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Visitor

      You are spamming. Next life you get to be born a lowly woman.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  6. Conner

    But a lot of those evangelical groups are hate groups (not all though which is important to note). They espouse hatred of anyone who isn't a cookie cutter copy of one of their "approved" versions of christianity. If all they did was say they didn't approve and teach that it's against their religion it would be fine but they also try to erase these things from the public eye and make them less than citizens with fewer rights. That is big problem.

    I don't care if you disagree with me but when you start saying your religion (and only your version of that religion) should be the bases for our laws – then we're going to get into it.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  7. runner75

    but the hate speech comes from those so-called Christians
    and the problem is not religion but their intolerance
    Christ was not intolerant

    May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  8. George F.

    Only CNN would think Christianity is a minority. Only Liberals and atheists would think they are the hated minority. I remember when CNN was the best news organization. These articles are laughable at best...

    May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Big Sky Humanist

      its not an article but an opinion piece in the belief section. Sorry for the need to point out the obvious, but i know its hard to tell the difference for some people who are fox followers

      May 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  9. Jesus the Christ

    Why do Christians clam to be persecuted when they are the ones persecuting people????

    May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  10. Doomslayer

    Money is the route of all evil yet it is prevalent in modern religion. How do you accept that money is evil and have it be a domint force within your church, without sin through the first stone. All the children that are being abused within the church is blasphemy against god. If you belong to these organized religions that have cases of this, are you not dwelling in sin? In the bible it also states that the ultament sin to harm a hair on a child's head is to have all the plages of the bible upon you. But you still bring your children to the sinful place, are you not the worst kind of sinner? Does the bible not also state that if all religion is not the same then all religion is wrong? I have read the bible for what it says not what I think, or try to twist it to serve me. I do not like gays but do I think they are condemned to hell no because I can not judge, nor can you. Should they have rights we'll you give rights to child rapist and I never see a mass protest against this!

    May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • L2r

      Its the love of money, not money. Please read rather than spew nonsense.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Doomslayer

      A church is not love of money? Where is that logic?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    Mahound (Muhammad) was probably not gay but a fornicator. Se-xual misbehaviour seems to be connected with disbelief. Muhammad did not believe in Jesus, God's eternal Son, and therefore he had to perish, and become more and more a slave of the lust of his body.

    Mahound has caused so much sorrow and bloodshed. Dear gay, don't follow Mahound's disbelief but become a responsible man who takes care of a wife, children and his other fellow human beings. Tell people of Jesus, the Life, who can still cure people (soal and body).

    May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Answer

      Make a better choice today.. accept the Tooth Fairy.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Dearypie

      What?! Did you have one too many drinks prior to writing your comment?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Translation:
      Mohammed is bad. Jesus is good.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  12. james

    How come the pedophile cant be who he is? He has real feelings yet the world condemns him.

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

      Forces a minor against their will, bird brain.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • G to the T

      Thanks James – I don't know if you are a christian or not, but you sure are a bigot...

      May 9, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  13. jim

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ"

    Mahatma Gandhi

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

      And Ghandi is not even close either.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  14. Dan

    I don't hate Christians. I just think they are weak-minded and dumb for believing in mythology.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • dale

      what do you believe in Dan?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  15. Michele

    The problem presented is that Christians feel the right to judge others by their (and God's) Bible and have no shame in doing so. We all have the "right" to sin however we chose (or not), but regardless of what you believe, Judgement is God's work. Man has no right to do so and should tend their own houses. If we're talking about rights, then ALL men are considered equal in the eyes of the LAW and should be treated as such. MORAL law is something else all together and that is between a man and his God. No one else.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      There's a difference between "judging" and "accepting" – a point you surely are too dimwitted to ascertain.
      I'm sure you have no problem "judging" pedophiles, or rapists, do you?

      May 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  16. Steve

    Look at what the Catholic Church and other churches did to Europeans for two thousand years, and look at the rejection of them by huge numbers of Europeans today. What do fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. expect? You try to dictate how other people live their lives, sooner or later they're going to rebel. I'm gay and if I want to marry my partner, I'm not asking a straight conservative Christian to pay for the wedding, attend it, love it or accept it.

    I feel bad for the large numbers of Christians who are more progressive and accepting who get tarred with the same brush as the religious nutters. The differences need to be sorted out because Christianity and other religions have a lot of good to offer. It's just that the far-right fundamentalist nutters don't offer it.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Bill

    Oh, QQ more.

    Now Christians know what it feels like.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  18. michael

    Slow news day? 75% of Americans identify as Christian and you have the audacity to call them a persecuted minority? I am still trying to remember all the anti-christian hate crimes that have occurred in the past 50 years here in the USA. This story is bogus. By the way, I am sure a majority of people disagreeing with the bigots and ESPN loser are also Christians. Not all Christians agree with the right you know. Some are quite liberal. MAybe Sprigg should go protest funerals with Westboro.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Denisov

      "75% identify as Christian" depends on your demographic. Older generations, sure. Younger generations, minority. Also depends on regional demographic. South vs Coasts. Rural vs Suburbs vs Cities. As an ethnic minority myself, I can understand what situations I feel marginalized depends mostly on who's around me. We need to make all minorities in whatever situation feel welcome to voice their opinion.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  19. joe

    Hate begets hate. If the Xian right wingers spout hate, they are missing the whole point of the teachings of Jesus and they deserve to find themselves ostracized.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      But you claim that Jesus ostracized no one, yet you're ok with ostracizing Christians?

      That makes you a flaming hypocrite.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • G to the T

      Just separating the wheat from the chaff BR...

      May 9, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  20. Janae

    Frustration is being a nonbeliever and knowing that you can't express your views for the fear of being of being ostracized and marginalized by your loving Christian coworkers.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Someone

      Amen!

      May 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
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