Evangelicals are a Minority

John Blake, CNN’s Belief Blog editor, wrote a piece this weekend on evangelical’s minority status.

Is evangelicalism a minority? Is it being treated intolerantly? Is it being persecuted?

(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.”…

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 numbers prove that evangelicalism is, and for most of American history, has been a minority. In a democracy, or a representative democracy, those with the biggest numbers win the power even if it constrained by the rule of law. A few observations:

1. Evangelicalism is experiencing the repercussions of it’s aggressive politicking of the years of the Moral Majority, led by such voices as Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, James Dobson, and Francis Schaeffer (in lesser ways). The politicization of the evangelical movement has proven to be far more disastrous than beneficial.

2. Evangelicalism is a minority; it cannot expect or demand that its view be assumed or enacted into law. It will have to persuade and it has not persuaded well in the last generation. Very few of its favored issues are convincing the majority, which is how America works (again, within the constraints of law).

3. Evangelicalism needs to get its own house in order to become a more credible witness. Evangelicalism’s commitment to biblical perceptions of sexual ethics doesn’t work if its divorce rates and marriage ethics are barely distinguishable from the rest of culture. When evangelicalism becomes more holy and more loving its voice will be more compelling.

4. Evangelicalism needs to rethink its “politic”: its politic ought to be first the church, where one ought to see justice, wisdom, love, and peace abounding. When its ecclesial politic witnesses to the kingdom of God at work in the here and now it can spill over into society and culture.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Danny Klopovic

    No sympathy for the Evangelicals – they sowed the wind, and the whirlwind came. Furthermore, simply saying “the Bible says so” does not change the reality of bigotry – carelessly invoking God and the authority of Scripture to demonise gay and lesbian people does not change that the Evangelicals are rightly to be scorned and ignored as a consequence. One is not any the less a bigot simply because they can quote a biblical text – as the old proverb notes, even the devil can quote Scripture.

  • Dorfl

    One day, I would like to see a discussion about persecution of Christians that did not immediately veer into:

    “In my religion, persecuting others is a sacrament, so by protesting when I do that you’re infringing on my religious freedom – in effect persecuting me…”

    There are parts of the world were Christians actually are persecuted, even if they aren’t anywhere in the west. Sadly, their stories tend to be drowned out by things like this. Even when they manage to make themselves heard, they’re usually ignored since most people have already learned to dismiss Christians crying wolf about persecution.

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com jasdye

    Anybody else have the nagging suspicion that Briggs is lying? It may just be the fact that he comes from the Family Research Center, but I don’t have words for what I’m sure he’s trying to do here. “Bias confirmation”? A rehashing of the “Silent Majority” trope?

  • KJH

    Yes, evangelicals have made their mistakes in dealing with these issues. However, just because a Christian disagrees with the current popular with on homosexual behavior doesn’t make him or her a bigot. Not all who quote scripture on this issue are trying to demonize. Sure, maybe evangelicals could do better than to quote Leviticus on matters of sexuality. But I think it would be helpful for the more progressive among us to at least acknowledge that the traditional view of sexuality has been the view of the church for 2000 years, and if they want the conservatives to change their views, it would be helpful to not join the culture in calling them bigots. Maybe some are bigots. Many are not. Please lets not be prejudice against conservatives.

  • Nathan

    Disagreement, even vehement and mean spirited disagreement, is not persecution.
    When the civil rights of evangelicals, their access to housing, and the like are in play then I’ll be interested, but people calling each other names is not persecution.

  • Kyle J

    We are less than 5 years removed from an evangelical Christian occupying the White House for 8 years. To claim status as a persecuted minority is a bit of a stretch.

    The fact that Bush was reelected in conjunction with an attempt to utilize the gay marriage issue as a wedge issue to drive more religious conservatives to the polls is particularly ironic.

  • Dan

    I am troubled by this post, particularly Scot’s comments at the end.

    Scot writes: ” Evangelicalism is experiencing the repercussions of it’s aggressive politicking of the years of the Moral Majority”

    So in other words, when Evangelicals are slandered for opposing a particular policy it’s our fault?

    Scot continues: “Evangelicalism is a minority; it cannot expect or demand that its view be assumed or enacted into law. It will have to persuade and it has not persuaded well in the last generation. Very few of its favored issues are convincing the majority, which is how America works (again, within the constraints of law).”

    Problem one is that the main issues Evangelicals have been upset about are issues where the law was changed by the courts without a majority. Roe v Wade started it all and at the time there were laws outlawing abortion in 48 states and a sizable majority opposed what the Supreme Court did. The other side used the courts to subvert the legislative process and they continue to do so with the intent of turning public opinion by convincing the middle that everything is settled.

    But the bigger problem is Scot would never write such a thing about other “minorities”.
    Should blacks be required to “convince the majority, which is how American works” to overturn slavery?

    Would Scot expect gays to be resigned to “experience the repercussions of their aggressive politicking” and just resign themselves to a minority status?

    No. Scot is quick to chime in with the narrative of the left and make demands of conservatives that he would not apply to Jim Wallis, Tony Jones or Dan Savage.

    And for the record, Falwell, Kennedy, Schaeffer, et al, never would have said Evangelicals are in the majority. What they said was that we once had a consensus about certain values, shared by Evangelcals, Catholics, Jews, Mormons and even many agnostics and atheists which was loosely connected to Biblical themes. The misrepresentations just keep coming.

    Finally, when people are fired from jobs for their beliefs, it is persecution. When teenagers are called “pansy-assed wimps” for walking out on a tirade against Christianity by a figurehead of a movement and frequent visitor to the White House, I think that is persecution. Is it as bad as in other parts of the world. Not yet.

  • Dan

    Point being, Conservative Evangelicals have every right as citizens of a representative constitutional government to speak, organize, politic, vote and do the same things those with other views do. The only problem is the other side doesn’t fight fair.

  • http://david-inrepair.blogspot.com David Grant

    Number 3 observation – Thank you Scot.

  • mike helbert

    Persecution? No. Marginalization? Yes. And, mostly as a result of their own efforts. I agree with Scot in all 4 of his observations.

  • Phil Miller

    Point being, Conservative Evangelicals have every right as citizens of a representative constitutional government to speak, organize, politic, vote and do the same things those with other views do. The only problem is the other side doesn’t fight fair.

    Sure, we have those rights. It seems to me, though, that demanding our rights be respected seems to be largely counter to the Scriptural witness. It’s not that we need to simply allow injustice to go along unfettered, but it seems to me that taking the tact we’re mainly defensive about our own personal rights is going to lead to a situation where it’s possible to win battles but lose in the end.

    The thing that was unique about something like the civil rights movement in American politics is that it didn’t happen because of pure power. It really happened because people who were largely powerless were able to use non-violent resistance and suffer on behalf of others. It kind of goes against the very ethos of modern politics.

  • scotmcknight

    We just got moved over to Disqus for comments and seem to have lost our comments from this morning… let’s start from here again.

  • Dan Martin

    Whenever a religion is politicized it is in danger of extinction. -Ravi Zecharias

    The American Evangelical would be much better off loving and reaching out to the culture than fighting against it. I’m not saying that we compromise on the Bible…hut stop being so condemning in our message and instead share the joy if the gospel of Jesus Christ! That will do a while lot more towards exacting change than a wagging finger! To be honest I get tired of the constant Facebook posts telling me how thus or that is sn outrage against evangelicals. If ee follow Jesus the world will hate us because of him. Instead it hates us because we are cranky condemning people who are bent on restoring the “good ole days of America.”

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    There is a factor that can’t be overlooked but it is very hard to quantify. Coming out of the 1970s, homosexuality (with abortion) became an issue that transcends the narrow considerations of the topic. Opposing homoerotic behavior became a symbolic signifier of one’s opposition to liberals. Taking a position on the issue “flashed your card” as a member of group that clung to a much larger raft of issues. But it was also a way to symbolically express your contempt for liberals without directly saying it, especially by holding up the most obnoxious of LGBT supporters as emblematic of all supporters.

    The reverse is now also true. Many have come to a position where they genuinely embrace homoerotic behavior as morally acceptable. But for many, tangled up with this is animus for Evangelicals/conservatives. Boisterous support for gay-rights is deeply entangled with a visceral desire to make Evangelicals “pay,” with Evangelicals being identified with the most obnoxious supporters (ex. Fred Phelps) of their positions.

    In both cases “homosexuality” offers people the opportunity for people to act with hostility toward their enemy under the guise of supporting a just cause. And, IMO, it is animus toward an enemy, more than deep thoughtful reflection about homosexuality, that has driven too many people. It is impossible to quantify because so many of us are in denial about our own animus, while others of us relish the sticking to others with the plausible cover of pursuing righteousness.

  • Theo

    Even if this sort of vilification of evangelicals does not exactly (yet) constitute persecution, it certainly is not a mark of civility and does nothing to facilitate dialogue in a pluralistic society. The notion that people have a right to approval for the choices they make and the activities they engage in is one that can only lead to trouble over the long term. To label as bigots those who cannot in good conscience give this approval not only does nothing to advance mutual understanding but clearly sets it back.

    It is undoubtedly true that “Evangelicalism needs to get its own house in order to become a more credible witness,” but this is hardly new. We’ve lived with this reality for two millennia. Christians will always fall into sin, including sexual sin. But if we are to wait until the body of Christ gets its own house in order (and what institutional mechanism would enable us even to attempt this I have no idea), then we will have to refrain from speaking at all. The quotation above oughtn’t to be used as an excuse for Christians to remain silent in the face of intimidation.

  • Dorfl

    Hmm…

    When I click refresh, I can actually see the old comments as the page loads, but they go away once it’s finished.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I dispute the assertion that “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.”

    I don’t dispute the idea that Broussard may well be attacked intellectually for his beliefs, as is demonstrated in the post. But Collins risked very real *physical* harm by coming out. You can’t tell me that it takes more courage to risk verbal abuse (however meaningful that might be) than it does to risk possible physical death from the attacks that still happen in blind alleys and dark corners when a gay person comes out.

  • Tim

    Scot,

    I wish you would quite writing about politics, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Evangelicalism is “experiencing the repercussions of it’s aggressive politicking” simply because it lost that political game to the secular elite. Moreover, it lost that game not because its arguments were deficient but for the following two reasons: (1) The secular elite proved itself capable of managing the country’s sociopolitical narrative through its control of the entertainment, media, and academic spheres. Evangelicals tried to overcome this influence by appealing to various traditional narratives, but the new forms of propaganda proved stronger than these narratives over the medium-term (but not the short-term!). If the secular elite wanted to, they could use their control of these organs to make something as ridiculous as “transexual marriage” just as socially compelling as “gay marriage” is today in a matter of a few years. (2) The secular elite were able to demographically overwhelm the religious right through the mass immigration of people who do not share the latter’s cultural narrative and whose own personal narrative as immigrants was much more easily shaped by the various organs of propaganda than a fading national culture (see, e.g., California).

    In politics, it’s never a matter of arguments but of power.

  • Richard

    It seems to me, especially on this particular issue, that “evangelical” isn’t a broad enough term and ignores non-evangelicals that agree with evangelicals on this issue. This creates an artificial minority. Not to mention the unrecognized middle ground that holds homosexual action to be a sin but also uphold the benefits of the law for same-sex couples.

    The anecdotal evidence is also fairly weak – why would someone waste Q & A time with, “I agree with everything you just said.”?

    And Broussard did get backlash, but as far as I know, his employer hasn’t disciplined him in the least. There’s a difference between between others disagreeing with you, even rudely, and experiencing persecution/prosecution.

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    @dan #12
    Agreed. Had Evangelicals begun with a more authentic witness characterized by love and compassion, rather than power and domination, would the present day LGBT movement look different? I think it would.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, insults don’t work on this blog or in the Christian narrative. Your point is precisely mine, though yours I think is a bit reductionistic. It’s not “never a matter of arguments but of power” but power is at work, which is precisely why I say we evangelicals are minority, which means not in power. I totally agree that the narrative matters immensely, as George Lakoff has written up so well. But I’m not so eager to blame the whole thing on the secular elites or simply the media, but those elements are surely at work. Which is why FoxNews arose: it recognized the power of the media and the power of a narrative. If it were only power, there’d be no need for a narrative, but even those in power appeal to a narrative in order to persuade.

  • mwkruse

    There is a factor that can’t be overlooked but it is very hard to quantify.
    Coming out of the 1970s, homosexuality (with abortion) became an issue that
    transcends the narrow considerations of the topic. Opposing homoerotic behavior became a symbolic signifier of one’s opposition to liberals. Taking a position on the issue “flashed your card” as a member of group that clung to a much larger raft of issues. But it was also a way to symbolically express your
    contempt for liberals without directly saying it, especially by holding up the
    most obnoxious of LGBT supporters as emblematic of all supporters.

    The reverse is now also true. Many have come to a position where they
    genuinely embrace homoerotic behavior as morally acceptable. But for many,
    tangled up with this is animus for Evangelicals/conservatives. Boisterous
    support for gay-rights is deeply entangled with a visceral desire to make
    Evangelicals “pay,” with Evangelicals being identified with the most obnoxious people (ex. Fred Phelps).

    In both cases “homosexuality” offers people the opportunity for people to
    act with hostility toward their enemy under the guise of supporting a just
    cause. And, IMO, it is animus toward an enemy, more than deep thoughtful
    reflection about homosexuality, which has driven too many people. It is
    impossible to quantify because so many of us are in denial about our own
    animus, while others of us relish the sticking it to others with the plausible
    cover of pursuing righteousness.

    Had Evangelicals begun with a more authentic witness characterized by love and compassion, rather than power and domination, would the present day LGBT movement look different? I think it would.

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks so much for that Michael. You’ve eloquently stated the power politics so much at work in this “discussion.”

  • Kyle J

    We’re less than 5 years removed from an evangelical Christian serving as president of the country for 8 years (re-elected, ironically, partially based on an effort to use gay marriage as a wedge issue to drive religious conservatives to the polls). It’s hard to argue that now the group is suddenly a persecuted minority that faces challenges beyond those of other minority groups.

  • Theo

    I noticed that too. Strange, no?

  • Adam

    Theo,

    What about dealing with the plank and spec? Or how about “Do not judge or you too will be judged”? Regardless of what you believe on the rightness of homosexuality, we haven’t seen an organisation with the integrity to properly judge on it.

  • Dorfl

    They seem to be back now, even if the timestamps are wrong. Thanks, whoever fixed it.

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

    Why are you putting scare quotes around “homosexuality”?

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

    Question: Been thinking of moving over to Disqus, but worried I’d lose all old comments. Has this been remedied? Or is someone at Patheos manually reapplying them? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/pennypyro Palmer Joss Whedon

    Evangelical Christians are a larger minority, in the USA, than those minorities a lot of Evangelical Christians tend to fear: atheists, Muslims, Mormons, pagans.

  • http://www.fivedills.com Greg Dill

    Evangelicalism lost all credibility when it became a political institution focused on legislating morality. However, there is a small minority within evangelicalism that is becoming more progressive focusing on social justice, becoming more inclusive, and demolishing old and stale religious institutions and traditions. And, this is the evangelicalism that is looking more like the Jesus we see in scripture… loving God and loving all of our neighbors.

  • mwkruse

    Jasdye, I just saw this. Why do you call these “scare quotes”? Please read my remarks in context. People from different sides of the debate say they are arguing about homosexuality when in fact their advocacy for a position on homosexuality is mostly about attacking their cultural opponents (Evangelical Christians or Liberal Christians), which is to say much of the debate has little to do with homosexuality. Thus, the debate is about homosexuality in name only, thus my statement, “In both cases ‘homosexuality’ offers people …” How do you get scare quotes out of this?

  • mwkruse

    And just to follow up, I took from your remark that I intended something
    derogatory toward homosexuals by the remark. Nothing of that sort is
    communicated here. But looking up the definition of “scare quotes” I see
    that my use does qualify. But I’m still curious about what you think I
    meant.

  • mwkruse

    Greg, I’m curious. All laws are legislated morality. Codified morality is a great definition for a law. Punishing people who kill, steal, do bodily harm, fail to honor contracts, etc., is the result of legislated morality. What I think I read in your comment is not that “legislating morality” was the problem but that Evangelicals were legislating the wrong morality. If they had been legislating a morality more like those of Mainline Protestants (my tribe) things would be okay. Yes?

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

    I believe that when I am engaged in talking about homosexuality, I and anyone that I am talking with is and should be talking about homosexuals (and trans* people) as people. I’m sorry but I have little regard for talking about homosexuality removed from the context of people as people. I don’t know of anyone else who does, either (at least from a “liberal” perspective).

    I don’t mean my reply to be an attack. I’m just asking you to consider that those of us with different perspectives on this are not holding or arguing these positions in order to score points or to just argue. The Gospel, in my understanding, is about love through liberation and wholeness and accepting each person as one made in the image of God and worthy of respect.

  • http://www.fivedills.com Greg Dill

    I would argue that not all laws are legislated morality. For example, it is not immoral to not wear a seat belt, and yet it is the law to wear one in the US and many other countries. It is not immoral to choose to not have health insurance. But, under Obamacare, it will be the law. It is not immoral to choose not to go to school, but it is the law to go to school in most countries. Rather there are indeed universal moral laws that all men ascribe to (i.e. murder, rape, theft, etc). But, no, not all laws are legislated morals. What I am stating about evangelicalism is that it became and remains to be a political platform rather than a community of Christ followers living together and loving the world around them in a gentle, meek, humble, and loving way. When it became institutionalized and politicized, it lost credibility with America and the rest of the world.

  • NorrinRadd

    I assume you also believe it is scorn-worthy to note that infidels — i.e. non-Christians — will be damned to hell.

  • Thursday1

    “Evangelicalism is experiencing the repercussions of it’s aggressive politicking of the years of the Moral Majority, led by such voices as Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, James Dobson, and Francis Schaeffer (in lesser ways).”

    No doubt this is true to some extent, but I’m skeptical it’s the whole or even most of the story. There are substantive differences between orthodox Christianity and modernity and those were bound to come out. I tend to the position that the culture wars were a bit of a waste of time and effort, but I’m pretty sure there was going to be a fairly nasty conflict anyway.

  • Thursday1

    Hmm, I just did a quick look at the stats, the annual risk of any hate crime against a gay person in the US is about 0.000015% per year. That would be just over 0.001% in a lifetime. That somewhat overstates the risk of violence, as that includes property damage etc., though there may also be issues with underreporting. Still, it seems like a pretty low risk, especially for someone in the upper middle class like Collins.

  • Thursday1

    Had Evangelicals begun with a more authentic witness characterized by love and compassion, rather than power and domination, would the present day LGBT movement look different?

    I doubt it.

  • Andrea

    Thursday1, how is “hate crime” defined in the study you found? I think bullying is much more pervasive and much more easily hidden and overlooked for gays. I also think it is difficult to define hate crimes against gays because some people who are attacked for being gay, sometimes aren’t, they may just dress queer* (*not in the derogatory sense). While those who are really gay, may not report hate crimes for fear of more abuse.

    I agree with Mark B-W. Even if Collins didn’t personally risk physical harm, I believe closeted LGBT peoples remain closeted because of that fear along with other familial and professional risks, while the flack that may follow conservative religious or political views is not nearly as harmful.

  • Thursday1

    Mark B-W was sensationalizing about the risk to Collins and now you are special pleading. Collins had an extremely small risk of physical harm and an absolutely sure thing boost to his career. His decision required zero courage.

  • Thursday1

    Ira Glass states the obvious:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=As1lwvqHKQA

    BTW just watched, or tried to watch, the Emma Stone movie Easy A. A prime example of the kind of thing Glass is talking about. There would be an outcry if any other group were portrayed the way Christians were portrayed in that movie.

  • Andrea

    If by special pleading you mean that I’m ignoring counter-evidence, you’re a pot calling the kettle black on that one, Thursday1, since you have completely ignored my emphasis on the larger concern of closeted LGBT people. You and Sprigg are focusing on Collins and Broussard, while I am broadening the scope and questioning the accuracy of assuming that it takes more courage to be a vocal conservative than an out LGBT person. I would argue it’s the opposite.

    Consider the stat that between 40% of homeless children identify as LGBT and 46% percent of those LGBT homeless youth cite family rejection because of their gender or sexual orientation as their reason for running away (see ThinkProgress article). How many conservative Christian youth are faced with that same rejection? To emphasize the risk of coming out that much more, gay teens are 5 times more likely to commit suicide. I understand that I am focusing on youth in this instance, but the idea that I am trying to present that you are blatantly ignoring is the serious risk–the emotional, psychological, and again familial and professional, in addition to the physical risk mentioned by Mark–of LGBT who choose to come out.

    I’m just trying to educate people on the fact that being out is not easy. And even if it’s perhaps “easier” for Collins, remember that he is “the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport” as he said himself. The number of vocal conservative Athletes is significantly higher, and I would argue another sign of how un-risky it is to identify as such. In fact, Tim Tebow, who was lauded for his religious conservatism, then became a “coward” to conservatives after he canceled his appearance at a church whose pastor shared anti-gay sentiments. Thus, Time Tebow took more of a risk in openly disagreeing with anti-gay sentiments than he did for his conservative opinions.

    I have a feeling we’re just going to have agree to disagree on this one :-)

  • Bill

    Good points!


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