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. Michael

    Christianity is nothing more than a pagan religion that caught on. It has its roots in other, older pagan religions that were common in the Mediterranean region before the supposed life of Jesus. There isn't a single original thing about it. Every tenant, and every story is borrowed from other religions. From the Garden of Eden, to the Great Flood, to the virgin birth, to the miracles, to the resurrection – all borrowed concepts from other religions.

    Mark wrote the first gospel several decades after the supposed life of Jesus – yet he is able to quote him, word for word? How is that? He never met him. And the other three gospels were copied from Mark. Whether Jesus was divine, or just a prophet, was an item of debate amongst early followers, and wasn't decided for good until the council of Nicea in the fourth century. It was put to a vote, and "divine" won by a narrow margin! A vote!

    Christianity is no different than astrology, fairy tales, and psychics. It's nothing but a conglomeration of myths. There may be a higher power, but Jesus, if he ever even existed, had nothing to do with "him".

    May 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Dyslexic doG


      May 6, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • lol??

      Everybody got confused about the old counterfeit Rolexes that came out of China cuz they were older than current production.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Well said. Most Christians have no idea how their religion actually came about. No clue how the texts were carefully selected...what was included and excluded from earlier bits. Oblivious to the fact that the Bible is biased propaganda constructed by proponents looking to solidify there power and influence.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Dusty2701

      Words from another atheist that only believes in himself...whose God is himself. Must be terrifble to have an empty heart.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Steve doesn't have an empty heart nor does he believe he is a god.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  2. Pushing An Agenda

    What many so-called Christians are doing is using inappropriate Biblical references to push their pro-hate agenda with prejudice. They try to hide behind Scripture just as those during the Inquisition did and those in the Fifties who were against Blacks in this country did. They use Sodom and Gomorrah as an example yet that makes references to angels and an attack on them and nothing about gay and lesbian people. But God is not mocked. He sees and knows everything be assured of that!

    May 6, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  3. weezer

    Because gays don't tie Christians to trees and beat them to death.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • faith

      since when?

      Because gays don't tie Christians to trees and beat them to death.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • The real Tom

      faith, how stupid are you? Can you cite any cases in which gays beat a Christian to death? Do so or shut your pie hole.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • In Memory

      Yes, that reminds me of the horrible and heinous crime committed against the young Matthew Shepard of Wyoming by anti-gay guys who beat him severely and then tied him to a post in the dead of winter and left him there to die.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  4. Enoch

    The world has been taken hostage by two groups who are driven by Lucifer's temporary power: The two groups are Islamic terrorists & Gay terrorists.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Nope

      Delusional much?

      May 6, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      How pathetically stupid.

      May 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • ReligionIsBS

      The world has been taken hostage by religion and nuts like you.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • The real Tom

      Gays are terrorists? What acts of terror have they perpetrated?

      May 6, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Arthur Bryant

      Gay terrorists?? What do they do, break into your house and redecorate? Replace your wardrobe with fabulous clothes? Force you to use hair and skin products?

      May 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  5. Momof4

    The only difference that matters is religion is a choice.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  6. Love Unconditionally

    You can't have it both ways. Whosoever: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: http://whosoever.org/v6i6/cindy.html God says to Love Everyone Unconditionally, that is, without conditions, or you're not truly loving others.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Primewonk

      "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

      I wanted to read this verse in the bible, but I can't find it anywhere. I did find this verse though – Leviticus 20:13 If a man has sèxual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death;

      I guess I'm confused – if we are supposed to love the sinner, why does god command us to kill gay folks?

      May 6, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • lol??

      "1Jo 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

      May 6, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Thoth

      Prime...what are you doing man? You aren't supposed to bring up scripts that don't support the message. Next time you want to quote the bible make sure you get the correct lines from your local preacher.... 8-}

      May 6, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • The Explanation

      What Leviticus there is saying, Primewonk, is that one who is predisposed to be straight should not lie with one of their own gender. That does not however speak to one who is already gay or lesbian doing the same. Therein lies the difference.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  7. charmaine

    No matter what everyone believes it is there right. I have read many of your post and I see a lot of hatred from both sides. I would say the hatred stems from not only Christians parading in the streets but also by your comments. Mm shared his racism Skylark shared her disapproval. Not once did anyone from Daugherty's side oppose the question as to why do you believe or why are you gay. Just people going around in circles finding away to argue. Weather you believein God or not that is your right just as much as it is your business and right to be gay or not. But belittling others because you disagree with there beliefs makes you know better then the accusors you speak about. In other words you speak against others that speak there beliefs and yet are you not doing the same because of your beliefs. Funny! Learning your self is essential to a debate. Some people need to pick and choose there battles before they speak because sometimes it can show how truly ignorant people are. That falls in line with do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I guess your know better then those that are speaking there opinions and getting lashed at. Its always a revolving door on the same topic. I pray and ask God to reveal himself to you all that you may see His strength and greatness. Have a blessed day!

    May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      An imaginary, invisible, supernatural sky fairy can't reveal what doesn't exist. Grow a brain.

      May 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      And learn how to spell and use proper grammar.

      May 6, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Nope

      you're- your
      they're- there- their
      know- no

      Grab a clue

      May 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Honey Hush

      Yours prayers are not wanted. Get it yet. If you think prayer works, pray that evangie Christians act like their jesus figure, not like ignorant bigots.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  8. PushingBack

    God = Santa Claus for adults!

    May 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  9. Erlo

    The article forgets the piece about how religion is a bunch of crap.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  10. PushingBack

    Push your beliefs into other people's faces and try to control their lives and you will soon find that those folks are going to push back pretty hard.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Michael,Chapel Hill

      Obama and his cronies are doing it already...no one wants to go aginst it.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Yes, Michael. So much so that they all lined up and voted for him again! ahahhahaha, you lost.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  11. Thoth

    Christians bring it on to themselves by presuming to be morally superior, and attempting to codify via legislation what they choose to believe. That's where they cross the line. I'm a happily married heteros.ex.ual. As a man I am not physically attracted to another man, nor do I want to understand that attraction. I also don't care if two men, or women decide they are in love – it does not effect me, or my family. Perhaps if the good Christians would just stop interjecting in something that doesn't really effect them, then they would not be accused of being the hypocritical bigots they are.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  12. Joseph Bleaux

    Religion will be the instrument that brings this country down. Evangelicals and their ilk are trying to force their ignorant nonsense down everyone else's throats through legislation, e.g. forced school prayer, teaching of creationism, denying a woman's right to choose, etc. etc. I wouldn't have a problem with them if they were content to wallow in their delusional fantasy worlds and leave everyone else alone, but no, they feel they have to force their ignorance and stupidity on the world. But I don't really hate them, I have nothing but pity for people who are that stupid and ignorant. But they should definitely be opposed at every opportunity.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Erlo

      Couldn't be more spot on. Well said.

      May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • lol??

      Did you mean milk?? You can't digest meat.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  13. Eric

    The premise of this article is absurd. To call Christians a "hated minority simply is inaccurate and misleading. The 2 billion Christians in the World hardly can claim to be a minority. They control the majority of the World's wealth and arguably are one of the most powerful blocks in the world, hardly a quality one would associate with a "minority" Perhaps the millions of non Christians who lost land or culture (not to mention millions of lives) as a result of Christian nations colonizing the World justifiably would call this headline atrocious as it simply is historically untrue if one looks at the World over the past 300 or so years and it ignores the reality of suffering brought forth by a particular religion that seeks to change all people to any one particular religion.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Rupert

      You do realize that the global population is over 7 billion right? I'm not sure how 2 in 7 could be considered anything more than a minority.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  14. Food For Thought

    For a good common sense approach to things go to whosoever.org where you'll find some great food-for-thought!

    May 6, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  15. lathebiosas

    The Bible also is okay with Slavery, bride price....if you work on Sunday you are to be stoned to death, if your child chooses another religion – same fate. If you plant more than one crop on a field, death, also the same penalty for wearing two different textiles at the same time. So, why do we choose to ignore those sins and get really serious about the gay thing? Because most Chirtians are cherry picking hypcorites.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  16. Nope

    I love to watch Christians debate with non-believers the existence of their God and validity of their beliefs. It is comical and very entertaining.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  17. KKB

    I know that my God is not a hateful God. He loves the gays as much as I do. Of this, I am certain. To think anything to the contrary seems contradictory to me, as most Christians often speak of his 'unconditional love.' Seems 'unconditional' has a lot of conditions these days....Once day we will look back on all this gay hoopla and be embarrassed about what a big deal we made out of who one chooses to love.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      So how do you explain how messed up his message is? Why did he "reveal" such divisive and prejudiced views? Why is his "inspired word" so ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations?

      Because a god had nothing to do with authoring the many various religious texts. It's all man made...that's why.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Primewonk

      "He loves the gays as much as I do."

      Your god commands you to kill gay folks. How do you equate that with loving them?

      May 6, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • NTG

      He also thinks that whoever works on a sunday should be put to death...

      May 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  18. Charles

    The article says that the Bible is good with slavery....maybe it's time we re-think our position on it.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  19. Best Sense Ever

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

    May 6, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Michael,Chapel Hill

      Subash Chandra Bose & the youngsters in the Indian National Congress did not side with Gandhi...

      May 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Exemplification of How It Is

      Whether they or others sided with Gandhi or not, Michael, is irrelevant. This message of his hits the nail Right on the Head and tells it like it is unequivocally!

      May 6, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  20. Mike

    Give me a break. This article is a joke.

    May 6, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • lol??

      Headline was enuff for me.

      May 6, 2013 at 8:46 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.