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Is the black church guilty of spiritual hypocrisy in same-sex marriage debate?
Delman Coates at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church is among a minority of black ministers in Maryland who have endorsed gay rights.
May 12th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Is the black church guilty of spiritual hypocrisy in same-sex marriage debate?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - Some people wonder if the black church will punish President Barack Obama for announcing support for same-sex marriage.

Here’s another question:

Why would the black church cite scripture to exclude gays when a similar approach to the Bible was used to enslave their ancestors?

“It’s so unfortunate,” says James Cone, one the nation’s most influential black theologians and author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

“The literal approach to scripture was used to enslave black people,” he says. “I’ve said many times in black churches that the black church is on the wrong side of history on this. It’s so sad because they were on the right side of history in their own struggle.”

Call it historical irony: Black church leaders arguing against same-sex marriage are making some of the same arguments that supporters of slavery made in the 18th and 19th centuries, some historians say. Both groups adopted a literal reading of the Bible to justify withholding basic rights from a particular group.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Opposition to gay rights is not the standard position of all black churches. Still, while several predominately white mainline denominations have officially accepted gays and lesbians in various forms, the vast majority of black churches still consider homosexuality a sin.

Black church leaders recently helped lead a successful drive to amend North Carolina’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The Rev. Fred Robinson, a black pastor in Charlotte, says most black churchgoers aren’t hypocrites. They take scripture, and sin, seriously.

“Black people are not confused,” Robinson says. “If you look at the scriptures that oppose homosexuality, Old and New Testament, they are clearer cut than the ones people used to justify slavery.”

Yet there are other factors beyond the Bible that shape the black church’s resistance to same-sex marriage.

“It’s more than scripture – it’s history, culture, how we were raised,” says the Rev. Tim McDonald, founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council.

Some black church leaders are still fighting hard just to persuade straight black couples to marry. Accepting same-sex marriage when so many black households lack a husband and wife makes McDonald uneasy.

“I am not comfortable performing a wedding ceremony of the same sex,” says McDonald, an Obama supporter. “That’s just where I am.”

Some black pastors, however, embrace a literal approach to the Bible not just to exclude gays but to get rid of competition, says Edward Blum, a San Diego State University historian.

Some black pastors cite New Testament passages such as Paul’s demand that women keep silent in churches to argue against black women in the pulpit.

That argument is harder to make when black women’s energy and donations form the backbone of the black church, Blum says, but some still get away with it.

“The biblical literalist reading has kept male leadership in power in a church that is hugely female,” Blum says. “It keeps power in men’s hands.”

The one book that mattered

Black churches also embrace a literal reading of the scripture because of its unique history, says Blum, author of “W.E.B. DuBois, American Prophet.”

During slavery and segregation, many blacks saw the Bible as the one document they could trust. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, state and local laws – all found some way to ignore their humanity, Blum says.

The Bible, though, was one book that told them that they weren’t slaves or three-fifths of a person, Blum says.

It said they were children of God.

“Throughout the 18th and 19th century, what document could they trust?” Blum says. “When the Bible says it’s so, it’s something that black people believed they could trust.”

Their enemies, though, used that same veneration of the Bible against them. Slaveholders had a simple but powerful argument when critics challenged them: Trust the Bible.

They cited scriptures such as Ephesians 6:5. (“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling. ...”) And they said Jesus preached against many sins, but never against slavery.

Since the Bible is infallible, and scripture sanctions slavery, it must be part of God’s order, slaveholders concluded.

“Slavery is everywhere in the Bible,” Blum says. “When Americans who were in favor of slavery defended it with the Bible, they had a treasure trove of clear biblical passages that accepted enslavement.”

Blum says abolitionists found it difficult to mount an effective counterargument. They couldn’t just say trust the Bible. They preached another approach to scriptures.

They said you couldn’t enslave people based on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (Obama cited the Golden Rule and his Christian faith in supporting same-sex marriage).

“The abolitionist turned to the ethics and spirit of the Bible,” Blum says. “They were theological modernists before modernism.”

And what are black clergy and churchgoers today when they cite the Bible to oppose same-sex marriage?

Robinson, the North Carolina pastor, says they’re not homophobes.

“It says in the Bible that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God,” he says. “How do you explain that one away? A lot of honest Christians are not trying to hate homosexuals. They’re saying that if I take the Bible seriously, I’m not sure I can say it’s right.”

Robinson says that some opposition to homosexuality is actually based in compassion:

“If I’m concerned about your soul, I have to tell you the truth in love.”

Cone, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, says black churchgoers opposed to same-sex marriage are instead mimicking their ancestors’ oppressors.

“I tell some people, ‘These people were against you.’ They would have lynched you. How are you going to now join them and help them lynch somebody else?’”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Politics

soundoff (4,348 Responses)
  1. Larry

    Total hypocrisy on all fronts: In addition to slavery, I'll mention polygamy (Abraham and others)...I'm sure that would be an issue with the "church" whether it be black, white or green. I guess "church" folk will now say that their faith's forefathers are going to burn hell for that–including all of the forefathers of Romney's faith.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • saopaco

      Polygamy should be legal. Who can tell consenting adults who they are able to marry? I thought this was a free country? Why is it such a struggle in this country to keep the christians from trying to control everyone else?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • dave

      xtians, like all religions, need to control things cause deep down they know their faith is false and every little thing they see that goes against it makes them doubt their faith more and more which naturally scars them since they realize they were lied to by their parents and everyone around them causing more conflict and making them miserable and crazy. A person that chooses to believe in things that aren't real is DELUSIONAL and when it gets really bad they are sent to the loony bin, sadly an exception is made fore religion... it shouldn't... we elect deluded people to the highest offices in the land and wonder why things are soooo screwed up....

      May 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Shmee13

      Sorry, but you must confused about the reasons for polygamy. If you would like we can discuss Romney's religion, but if not then don't criticize something you don't care to understand. As for myself I know many LDS (mormons) people, and they are by far a good people. Now i know that ever religion has their crazies, and the LDS church is no acceptation, but they church in whole has and does great things in the world in welfare, service, disaster response among many other thing to progress humanity. You my good Sr. are a bigot, one that speaks without understanding. People like yourself who just react with their emotion and not their minds are what is bring down this country.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Larry

      Shmee13: Don't knock me, my forefathers are LDS. Are our my forefathers doomed to hell....its that simple? Calling someone a bigot is easy...it's also easy for hypocrites.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  2. bry55

    What is the "Black Church"? Is there only one?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Truism

      It's not even totally "Black"... It has 'white' trim and 'brown' roofing! What spin...

      * And if you think my description sounds foolish, how much more-so anyone making the statement: "Black Church"? Because I'm SURE Jesus, the Christ, gave his life for all shades of brown. Even those who hardly get to experience the color (sans Sunlight).

      May 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  3. tofuman

    I wonder how many SSM proponents would support polygamy?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • saopaco

      Probably most of them. It is the same concept, really. Freedom.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • saopaco

      Spammer.

      Name one thing that prayer changes.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • just sayin

      Lives. God bless

      May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Prayer position gives priests easier access to altar boys a holes. See, it does change things.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • saopaco

      How?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Harry

      However, it is the one right view~

      May 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Larry

      Please help: I want my children to be healthy. Who would you call an Atheist? Any that don't believe what you do? Will my children be healthy if I believe in a "God". Will any faith that believes in a God be ok? If not, what "God"? Would a God of any "Church" be ok? I most definitely want my children to be healthy.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  5. abqTim

    Pass laws for gays but don't mess with my marriage and don't call my marriage gay cuz it's not because we reproduce as nature intended. Call it gay union or whatever just don't mess with the laws that currently govern what my loving wife and my family have. Obama really changed his values at the last second just to try and win...spineless.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Nare

      Nobody is calling your marriage gay. Grow up.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • What?

      How would changing laws to allow SSM change what you have with your wife? It would have nothing to do with you or your marrige, only with other people and their lives.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  6. Carl

    I didn't know God made black churches and non black churches. CNN, why do you recognize black church versus non black churches? Isn't that hypocrisy CNN on your part?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Jay

      the only thing hypocritical is the fact that in reality there are predominately black, white, and latino churches. not just bc of the demographics of the surrounding area, but bc of the fact that many christians still define their social groups based on racial terms. black, white, latino and other "kinds" of churches are a fact, not a cnn invention.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  7. Tammy

    Marriage is defined and created by God, not the U.S. Government. Our government recognizes marriage to make money off of it. Funny how you all scream about the separation of church and state unless it fits your agenda. If gays want to make a union let them do so but don't call it marriage.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • saopaco

      Actually, marriage predates the religion of christianity. People of other religions get married, too. People have civil ceremonies with no religion in them at all. Just because your mythology is against something does not mean that everyone else is against it as well.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Nare

      Marriage was defined and created by man back when women and the money/land that came with them from their families were all considered property of the "groom". Study history.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Kandric

      Marriage is a legal contract between two consenting adults. Your religion my expand upon that, but when you get down to it...marriage is a legal issue nowadays.

      Marriage exists in my religion, too. However we allow anyone to marry anyone they want, provided they are of sound mind.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Michelle

      If what you say is true, then non-Christians should not be allowed to be married, and it should be called something other than "Marriage" since your claim is that the Bible owns the word.

      Give me a break!! You think people weren't "married" the bible used it?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  8. Michelle

    As a Christian, I am sick of those hypocrites who quote Leviticus to promote intolerance and hatred towards ANY group or person.

    I would love to see the day when the medical community proves that being gay is not a choice and that you are born that way, just as you are born with red or blonde hair.

    As Christians we should expect tolerance and acceptance, and if we feel there should be a judgement, to let God handle that.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tammy

      The medical community has tried to prove that gays are born that way for the last 25 years. What has been proven is that it is impossible for the human species to have survived if 10% (some gay groups claim 15% of people are gay) of the species were born gay.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Jay

      actually tammy, it's not. i can explain how it would still be possible if 50% or more were. can you explain WHY it would be impossible for 10%?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Jesse

    Wow, comparing slavery to marriage. Okay.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Tom

      I think you missed the point.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  10. Jerry

    The author asks a question, "Will President Obama be punished by the black church", then proceeds to fire a shot across the bow by effectively saying, don't punish the President by the same instrument that kept you in slavery! This is more editorial than journalism and is an example of slapping down a race before they have a chance to think and act for themselves. It is a mockery to intellectual freedom and seeks to reign in voters in the same way the plantation intimidated slaves from wondering from their property.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      It's an opinion piece, genius.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Kandric

      It's in the religion blog, not the regular news cycle. So, yes, it is an opinion piece. It's a blog post.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Reason changes things.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  12. saopaco

    Christians claim to be monotheists, but are actually polythiests with a triune god. That means that they are liars. Why should liars be looked at as having some sort of moral high ground?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • just sayin

      The moral high ground belongs to the Lord. God shares it with us. God bless

      May 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • saopaco

      Which one, polythiest?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  13. tab

    Something that has as many words as a book..can be changed to benefit anyone. You believe what you want..

    May 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Kana

      Agreed.
      The only problem with using the Bible for your political agenda is that it is subjective to interpretation. Any quote you pcik to forward your cause can also be contested with other quotes to reject your cause.
      The moral foundations that religions promote are good for society. And we as US citizens have the Right to practice whatever religion we chose or not.
      however for a candidate to use their religion to further their political agenda I won't support them.
      Santorum's advice to use religion as a weapon is reckless. And I think President Obama's change in position is not sincere but is being used for political gain.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  14. sam8131

    Ah, the new liberal cliche, "the wrong side of history." Do these people know what the definition of history is? I guess 38 states are on the "wrong side of history." Although according to history they have voted their desire to outlaw gay marriage. Why are they on the wrong side of it? Because a few intolerant radicals have another opinion? This is a republic. Voters decide the rules they want to live under. Remember of the people, by the people, for the people. Do liberals have any original thoughts? What is "fair share"?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Glenn

      The point of the article is that history changes. Remember, most states used to believe slavery was OK. Did that make it OK? For what it's worth, I believe that the latest poll showed most people accepting of gay marriage.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Kandric

      Half of the states in the Union allowed slavery before they ended up on the wrong side of history. Your argument is invalid.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • saopaco

      This is a republic with a code of laws. We are not a true democracy, so that the majority cannot tyrannize the minority. Depriving gays of equal rights is wrong. Just like it was wrong to deprive women, blacks, native americans, etc.

      You don't have to like gays, but you shouldn't try to prevent them from having the same protections that you enjoy. That is un-american.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • dave

      yup you are on the WRONG side of history mainly cause religion is bs and we all know it, some of us just can't accept reality.... if you look throughout history religion is used as a tool by men in power to control the masses, they write it and change it and make it seem supernatural so the ignorant masses stay in line and do their bidding... pretty simple concept ... still goes on in many many forms....

      May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  15. n8362

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • sam8131

      I am glad you know why I believe in religion oh knowledegable one.

      How about you don't want anything holding you responsible for your immoral, unethical, unprincipaled life, so you can't stand to be held accountable by anyone or anything especially by someone more pwoerful than you. You are just a worthless blob of cells, so life dosen't really matter, so let's do what we want when we want. So it would be okay for me to add some copper and lead to your blob of cells, what does it matter. It would feel good, and there should be no consequences to my actions because it just dosen't matter.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • dave

      100 percent correct.... of course sam is an ignorant moron afraid of reality so he believes in grown up fairy tales ... so sad ... you live your life based on laws created between man, not between ur imaginary god.... some gods say its ok to kill people, mans law... not so much... which one do you follow SAM??? ignorant morons like you make me sick...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • n8362

      If I did not want to be accountable I would be a Christian. Sin all you want because Jesus will always forgive you. What a great system.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  16. todd

    african americans will stay home as a from of punishment!!!!OBAMA HAS LOST HIS MAN CARD!!!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  17. siwlan

    God is as real as Jurassic park

    May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Eric G

      You are wrong. I have seen Jurasic Park, twice.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Glenn

    Why would anyone want to exclude two consenting adults from doing anything that doesn't harm someone else? What's next, outlawing two gay people from exchanging best-friend-forever bracelets? Marriage is just a ceremony and piece of paper. See in it what you want and let others do the same.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • panorain

      If it is just a piece of paper then why should it be so important to you. It is not really a matter of excluding gays as not including them. Since their plumbing does not fit properly according to nature. Plus "gay marriage" has never existed. So no particular reason to add it on to the tradition.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Glenn

      It's important to me because its a freedom. I don't care if it's a freedom to put a popsicle up your nose. If there's no reason to deny it, then allow it.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  19. A Serpent's Thought

    Keyboard punchers cannot even prove any issues' contents let alone denials of their own filthiness ways! Idiots are bigots too!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  20. palintwit

    If I was Sarah Palin I'd run and find the nearest bread slicing machine and stick my head in it.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
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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.