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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. Jenn

    Let's not forget what else the Bible says:

    *Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female provided they are purchased from neighboring nations.

    *In Exodus 21:7 it is permissible to sell your daughter into slavery.

    *Lev 15: 19-24 states that you are not allowed any contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking but most woman take offense.

    *Lev 1:9 states that burning a bull on the altar creates a pleasing odor to the Lord. You think I can get away with that today?

    *Exodus 35:2 clearly states that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death. My neighbor has to work long days/hours just to keep his home and provide for his family. Should I kill him?

    *Lev 11:10 says that eating shellfish is an abomination. So is pork. How many will go to hell who didn’t even realize this? Are there degrees of abominations? Is gay worse?

    *Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I wonder if all those without perfect vision understand this. I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20? I am sorry Lord for approaching the altar 

    *Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

    *My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend.) He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to the all the trouble of getting the who town together to stone them? Lev 24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev 20:14)

    May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • phoenix

      @Jenn, those are sections of the bible that we choose to ignore. Don't bring those up again please.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Context of each verse please.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Laila

      You are like so many other anti-Christians, picking a few Scriptures that you do not understand and have presented out of context, and without background information. In order to have an accurate understanding of Scripture you must interpret it according to Scripture, not you personal opinion today, and how you live now. Furthermore, you cannot understand because you choose not to believe in God. Stay ignorant.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Cinchy

    Nice try. This is CNN, again, providing - under the guide of neutrality - an anti-Christian view. No matter what the issue is, one could find pro and con material from the Bible. To attempt (as the headline tagline does) to make the Bible appear pro-slavery is typical.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • martin

      the article isn't anti-christian. the bible does in fact condone slavery and those passages have been widely quoted by people trying to justify slavery. the article simple states the facts and points out a glaring contradiction. personally, i don't this this gay-marriage stance by obama will impact the black vote anyhow.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  3. jim hollander

    what is "the black church?" are all blacks in "the black church?" are all whites in "the white church?" .... was this article written in the 19th century?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  4. Ryan

    We are human beings, and part of our human nature is that as we overcome adversity, we are often tempted to inflict our own experience or awareness of suffering upon others as part of our psyche's way of proving to ourselves that we are no longer the victim. This can be demonstrated in fraternities were survivors of harsh hazing then joyously haze others, or of Jews who descended from the Holocaust generation and then practiced ethnic prejudice against Palestinians, or of Palestinians who treat their own prisoners deplorably as a way to project the pain of their societal captivity. I'm fairly sure that the tendency of African-Americans to frown upon gay marriage is based on this aspect of human nature. The temptation to elevate oneself by lowering another is primal.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  5. M M M

    why is the debate over gay marriage only relevant now? where was it 200 years ago or 2000 years ago? exactly...

    May 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      It is only relevant at this time due to a desperate president tring to create a diversion to his poor job performance.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  6. JoJo

    Religion is just a way to control the weak and hate filled

    May 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • JohnQInCrazyFlorida

      that is the FACT... muslims == christian == jew, they are all the same: misguided hypocrites

      May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  7. dmx01

    One thing for sure: if we allow gay marriage, we'll see a lot more santorum.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Traygone

    $crew dem down low buck n!66ers

    I nevva gwen 2 vote fo dat down low buck dancing n!66er in da White House again. He only out 2 help dem rich white devils

    May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Godoflunaticscreation

    Since when are THESE people in any position to talk about morals?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dudaUVqsXg&w=640&h=360]

      May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  10. jim

    Come on, guys, this has nothing to do with gay marriage. It has to do with gay votes, and more importantly, their money. President Obama didn't change his views; he just decided to stop lying.

    And blacks won't vote for a white Mormon anyway. So let's talk about the economy and jobs, shall we?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  11. Alexander Dukas

    Any Currently/Formerly Oppressed Minority + Oppressing Another Currently/Formerly Oppressed Minority = Hypocrisy

    I think it's most galling when it's Women of any Color or African-Americans because of everything their people + native cultures (all being equal ethno-subgroups of The Human Race which is why we need to drop the racist term "Interracial" as there's only ever been One Human Race comprised by many colors, cultures, and subtle biological variations) endured should have given them Uber-Compassion instead of Turbocharged Hypocrisy but then I guess it's "just not the same thing" right? Riiight!

    If this were happening to women, people of color, elderly, disabled, or a religious group people would be up in arms but because it's LGBTQI's it somehow perfectly OK.

    Thankfully, some States and some Americans are REAL American States and Citizens and don't support oppression of their countrymen.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  12. Johnny

    I really like how ppl speak of god and gods words yet probably go to church a few times a year.

    Marry under the church? What if the couple is atheist?? You ppl keep associating marriage as some religious ritual that a person who's celibate (unless it's a young boy) performs ... it's not. (see ordained minister)

    Btw god does not have a sin chart (tho sins probably add up) so basically that quarter you took off your buddies desk or the killing of a person, is equal in gods eyes.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • tk007e

      You're obviously an atheist, therefore you'd not know that marriage is sacred!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  13. PaulC

    The religious group cannot help themselves. They must control your body, religion and bedroom.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Andrew

      ok, since you think i should not have the right to marry whom i wish, let's all go out and buy a slave....oops does that sound bad....well maybe i am a hypocrite just like all of you. Up to the white man. If i were a woman of color with a disability i would have hit the trifacta of bias. So all you hypocrites, just go f...yourself, get a life and stay out of mine!!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  14. markkado

    THIS is the MOST RACIST & ANTI-CHRISTIAN Article I HAVE EVER READ! Way to go CNN, total Let down! I used to like you guys...

    May 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • PaulC

      The bible can, and has been used to support any viewpoint you want to support from the handling of snakes to death for adultery.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Seth

    Let's all watch the Christians have a fit because someone is pointing out a logical flaw in their belief system. They'll never learn will they.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Notaclue

      You people don't get it. Simply looking at one verse doesn't mean there is a contradiction or "logical flaw."

      I mean really, come on, as if atheist and evolutionist don't have these logical flaws too.

      "Hey, stupid Christian, you can't see God or any miracles, therefore it doesn't exist or never has....but, trust us when we say the earth is billions of years old and that matter created itself out of nothing..because we've see that..."

      Please don't be so myopic. It's embarrassing.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  16. Atheist

    I have a really hard time believing that black voters will take such offense at this that they would throw Obama under the bus and vote for rich, white, clueless Mitt. Disagreeing with it is one thing, voting against their own best interests is quite another.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  17. JoJo

    black ppl are the biggest hypocrites........they were persecuted for hundreds of years, and now with "equality" they are free to persecute others, but yet they still play the race card like in the Trayvon case, but two weeks later they say gay ppl can't get married.......i guess that just shows how education is a scary thing for most black ppl......it's easier to cry about their problems and blame it on "racism" instead of, you know, getting an education and working hard.......but then when they have a chance to show how enlightened they are, they totally flub it by saying gays shouldn't marry.....and I'm not trying to be racist, I know full well this sounds to be racist, but hey........look at what just happened

    May 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  18. 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 1:33 pm |
    • LIberalsSux

      Can you say hypocrite? This government just imposed birth control on a religious organization that does not believe in birth control. I think you need to look at yourself in the mirror from time to time. It might help you argue an intelligent conversation.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • JOhn

      Speaking as someone who was raised in an atheist household, and has Jewish, Christian, Atheist, and Buddhist relatives, . . . it is amazing that you do not see your own intolerance and fear.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • LIberalsSux

      and maybe you need to learn what the word "faith" means.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Please show me the law that FORCES Christians to take birth control. Your mind is so warped that you are blind to see your tyranny. Infact it IS Christians forcing people and non Christians giving a CHOICE!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • n8362

      John, I am not intolerant at all. I am just trying to help wake people up to the truth of religion because it is harmful to society and this topic is a good example of that.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  19. Alexander Dukas

    Any Currently/Formerly Oppressed Minority + Oppressing Another Currently/Formerly Oppressed Minority = Hypocrisy

    I think it's most galling when it's Women of any Color or African-American's because of everything their people + native cultures (an equal ethno-subgroups The Human Race which is why we need to drop the racist term "Interracial" as there's only One Human Race comprised by many colors, cultures, and subtle biological variations) endured should have given them Uber-Compassion instead of Turbocharged Hypocrisy but then I guess it's "just not the same thing" right? Riiight!

    If it were women, people of color, elderly, disabled, or a religious group but because it's LGBTQI's it somehow OK.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  20. Abe Lincoln

    American Federal Law demands that we arrest all gay, black, men with compromised immune systems who smoke medical marijuana in the 16 Sates the legalized it -- States have no right to defend Gay people.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:32 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.