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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. Donald

    To speak on faith Mr. Blake you have to know faith. What theology school did you attend to understand the scriptures correctly. You speak on it as if you know it. Full of horse *%& is you.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Adam C

      Right. You have to attend a "theology" school to be given the correct interpretation. That's how you know its all BS. "Yeah, even though it looks like the bible is full of hate and misogyny, that's just because you haven't been taught how to properly interpret it."

      May 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Donald

      No... he doesn't need to go to theology school... but that's a good basis to know whether or not one has truly studied the scriptures or just coming up with their own interpretation. Reading his stories it's obvious he went into his interpretation with an extreme bias, which almost always means incorrect interpretation.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  2. matt in nw

    Gay marriage:

    -good for the legal crowd – finally gonna get a shot at the one segment that they couldnt exploit
    – should be irrelevant to all others... because when you think about it, does it really bring you life to halt in any way?

    What should matter: education... solid science...only way we ll survive. the only way to lose all the ignorant Bs we are currently saddled with.

    hope this post goes..2 others failed.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  3. Ted

    Should Atheists be allowed to get married?
    We can go to the town hall and get married. It is recognized by the government, Right?
    Christians do not own the word marriage. There are plenty of none Christians that get married all the time.
    We are not a Christian nation no matter how much some people want it to be.
    Separation of church and state was what this country was founded on.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Rat in a Cage

    boys have a peenis and girls have a vugina.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      And that's all we need to know.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • saopaco

      Some have both. Explain that, god.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  5. David Motari

    predominantly > predominately

    May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  6. steve-o

    There is zero proof in the bible..it is a work of total fiction. Enslave your daughters and wives and then you can talk about how the bible needs to be followed.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  7. styve

    We can all have blind spots in life, often purposefully! The people who chose to use the Bible to justify slavery and their sin did not speak for the whole church or current day interpretation of the Bible. The Bible itself says that people find ways to twist it and use it to justify their own proud and sinful desires, which has gone on from the day it was written to this very day. The interpretation of the Bible to justify slavery was based in the south slave holding culturally religious people. People attempting to interpret and apply the Bible to their times were the backbone of the abolition movements in the U.S and England. Gladstone was transformed from a selfish politician by Christ and the Bible to one who spent his life looking to abolish slavery. The famous Christian revivalist Charles Finney said his revival movement would stop if ministers and churches took the wrong ground to any question involving human rights, including slavery. He explained the Christians supporting slavery as having seared and damaged consciences, using the Bible to justify their sin. He called slavery an abomination, based on the Bible. He said the church must not be silent or turn away from this question of slavery or God would withdraw his blessing from those people and that church. His own church in NY was integrated. It was moral ideas, supported by so many in the church that supplied the moral energy and political courage to lead to the abolishment of slavery.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  8. Harquard

    Before people start quoting the Bible to justify their ignorant, biased views; remember the same book that says:

    Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

    Luke 6:37: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

    James 4:11-12 : Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  9. god

    All gays and lesbians will burn in hell as stated in the bible

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Harquard

      And you WILL be judged as stated in the Bible!

      Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

      Luke 6:37: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

      James 4:11-12 : Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • steve-o

      I don't know you but I'd bet a $1000 you will be burning along side them

      May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Hitchens

      God would never call a ho mo se xual "gay"

      May 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Adam C

      The fact that you believe in hell is the saddest part of your statement. Research your religion. Do you know when the concept of hell was added?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I see it made you gay.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Gay is a word stolen by ho mo se xuals in a vain attempt to hide their dirty, disgusting lifestyle. Since the vicious and deplorable sin of ho mo se xuality is practiced by only a sick 1% of this country the statement you made is 99% wrong.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • saopaco

      Prayer changes two things- Jack and Shht. And Jack skipped town...

      May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  11. Bo

    because black people are mostly dumb?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  12. Monica C

    Wow. This story is incredibly skewed and lacks proper understanding of Scripture. First off, they would have been using the King James Bible at that time, and the word is servant, not slave. Though some may say that the two are the same, they are not. A servant is one who willfully chooses to serve. We elect public servants, don't we? They choose to serve 'we the people' . Read Exodus 21:5-6, all of Philemon, John 13. Jesus is our Master who paid for us with his own life, and we now 'serve' him with our own lives because we love him. That Ephesians 6:5 was taken out of context and used to enslave a people is enormously tragic and reflects on their own sin [slave owners], not the Bible. Servant-hood in the Bible is a reflection of the love between Jesus Christ and those He came to save.

    Please people speak in love. It grieves me when I see others 'defending' the Bible, yet they themselves speak with such hatefulness. Speak the truth in LOVE and let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth. Ephesians 4:15,29.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Rich

      You rock, Monica. Well said.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Adam C

      The bible is BS. Is has been edited by the various people in charge in order to fulfill it primary purpose: a control mechanism. Think for yourself. Do not be a slave (or servant, if you prefer), to an outdated book of hate.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Mr. Noble

      Monica,

      You realize that the original greek word being purposely mistranslated into English was the word "doulos". This word most directly translate to "slave" in English so your post facto rationalization of the Bible supporting an atrocity is ignorant. This difference between slave and servant doesn't actually exist when trying to understand what Jesus is saying because he is talking about slaves.

      What I find most interesting is observing Christians trying so arduously to justify their aging, misguided, and may times contradictory beliefs. You will so quickly try to reinterpret what Christ said to satisfy the current norm yet in the same breath interpret another passage literally. This is the cognitive dissonance that rattles around the Christian mind.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Jon

    How interesting that a thousand-plus year old book, that was cobbled together from dozens of other, non-referenceable writing, is looked to as the "source" of truth. Humans are still unevolved.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  14. Doobie Doobie Doo

    I'm curious, why is it always the Christians who take the hit on this? The jews wrote most of the anti-gay parts of the Bible?

    Why doesn't anyone rail against them?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • marctheduck

      Come on... let's cut through all of this and get to the real source of the whole problem. The liberals inherited all of this from George Bush.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  15. sean50

    I don't even know why the bible is a factor in this issue....remember something called "separation of church and state"?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Jay

      what a pie in the sky dream that is... Sad...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • John

      Yeah, why are we not talking about this? It's very explicit, and written within the last 2000 years, that we are supposed to have separation of church and state.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Laila

      Separation of church and state means the state cannot dictate to or control the organized church. Not the other way around.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  16. Karma

    I thank CNN for such a wonderful article and Mr. Cone for voicing/addressing something that I've struggled with early in my life...the hypocrisy of the Black Church. As a Black female who predictably grew up in a very structured church environment (Grandfather was a Deacon/Grandmother was a church leader) I was raised going to church almost every day of the week. I don't want to make this a long story, but as I grew and began to really understand what I was being taught, I came to realize that the church I was being raised in was nothing, but hypocrisy. I'm sure like many other denominations, the Baptist church I was raised in was a haven of "do as I say, not as I do" and the minister/leaders would use the Bible to fit their agenda of the messages they were trying to pound into our heads. Of course, these were the same "leaders" I saw the night before at my parent's house for parties, etc. (think mid-late 70's) Needless to say, as soon as I could I made an exit stage left and adopted a more spiritual outlook on life that focuses on nurturing/nourishing of both my body and soul. If I had to box me into a structure, I suppose I've adopted a more Zen Buddhist outlook on life and it suits me so well.

    I share this to say that this type of "flip-flop" thinking is the norm when it comes to Black churches. It's truly unfortunate that the Black church organizations are so behind the times. The last statement of this story says it all...“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?’” I sarcastically say that as long as it fits their agenda, the lynching of someone else is justified in their "book"; however let some injustice (both perceived or real) befall them (members of the church) and they'd be marching down some street crying injustice. I ask church leaders to OPEN THEIR EYES!! Thanks for reading my post...

    May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Adam C

      Religion has been used to oppress and control all groups. Unfortunately, blacks have a hard time seeing it. The religion of white men was forced upon them. They unwittingly adopted the belief structure of the vary people who thought they were sub-humans. Now, like good little drones, the leaders in many black churches continue to spread this filth.

      Drop religion all together. Humanism is the way to go.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Karma

      @Adam C...well said. I do wish black people would open their eyes...

      May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  17. Adam C

    I feel really sorry for anyone who takes the bible at face value. The mental gymnastics that you must have to do in order for it all to make sense to you must be intense.

    Support higher education – reduce religion. 2 birds – 1 stone.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Karma

      Amen brother (Pun intended...)

      May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  18. Mike

    Wow...so now liberals get to tell minorities how to think as well? They're opinions. That's why each person gets a vote. Stop being so incredibly arrogant and let others think as they see fit. They get a vote, you get a vote. Seems fair to me.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  19. glu

    Nice spin job CNN, you bunch of 8ss's

    May 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Mica

    To those of you who will come on here and post hateful, ignorant rants, quoting the Bible; remind yourself of the following:

    Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

    Luke 6:37: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

    James 4:11-12 : Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Most of the one's I've read are from the other side.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Mica, the cherry picking "Christian". I see you ignore most of the bible with your cherry picking. You are almost an atheist.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • God's Old Dreamer

      Mica

      Ephesians 2:15 abolishes the commandments and their ordinaces for the sake of peace in the flesh! What say ye now?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:05 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.