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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. Gerry Daley

    Well, thank heaven marriage is protected. So, I understand there will be no more divorces in NC or babies born out of wedlock?

    May 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Karma

      LOL! One would be justified to make that assumption, right? Good post, Gerry.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  2. Vidyashanti

    Most of the religions are ambiguous and beyond the understanding of common men. The so called scholars have their own interpretation which keeps changing with time and location. Clergy uses religion not for the uplifting the masses but to contol them. Is there a church which can show a dozen men who lives according to the dictates of the bible? Why all these drama ? Why so much of hatred? Why so much intolerance ? Why so much of prejudice? Every one has the right to live his own way without disturbing others. Do not thrust your belief on others .

    May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • God's Old Dreamer

      Vidyashanti,,,,,,,,,,,, , "Do not thrst your belief on others"

      Sounds really sensual your word does! Thrust,,,,, LoL,,,,,

      How does one "thrust" a belief on or upon others? Tell me for I do not see the thrustings of beliefs being imparted upon anyone!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • TryingToBeRational

      Some believe the word marriage should mean the union of a man and a woman, as it has in the past thousands of years. Some believe that the word should now also mean the union of two men or two women, and want everyone else to adopt this new meaning. Who are "trusting" their belief on others?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  3. ron

    Blacks inherited their fundamentalist religion from white people, who then used it against them to justify slavery and deny them equal rights. Now they join their fundamentalist oppressors to deny equal rights for GLBT. This makes me very sad.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  4. J

    Just saying, very few of these churches protesting gay marriage follow exactly what is in the bible. They add, take away, and interpret in just about any way they want. When looking at the issue of gay marriage, they say it's black and white...unnatural, sinful, abomination. It's downright hypocrisy. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention using instruments, praise bands, having cafe's, having orphanages, etc etc etc. I lol @ people who think they are going to heaven.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  5. dave

    The really funny part about this, is that this sheds light on the fact that many black people are racist and only voted for Obama because he was black. Ooops, not PC...let's not talk about that!

    May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • rs1201

      That's not a secret. I'm 100% sure that this is exactly why Obama got the black vote...his skin color and absolutely no other reason. Obama will exploit that area again for his reelection and some black folks may very well fall victim to his "stories" again...but I bet you that many won't!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • ME II

      " I'm 100% sure that this is exactly why Obama got the black vote..."
      That's a ridiculous statement, unless you are actually all the black people who voted.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  6. Gerry Daley

    In North Carolina the people who pushed this ammendment all the way are the same people who are trying to repeal the Racial Justice Act and enact voter ID's...to keep blacks from voting. They also just gerrymandered the districts here to lessen any influence the black vote might have. Did blacks screw up on this one? You bet they did.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      Don't blacks have to Have Photo ID's for just about everything else including cigarettes, alcohol, food stamps etc. Your argument is bogus

      May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  7. berniska

    We will SUPPORT obama no matter what. And don't believe that rumor that obama is indonesian & not black.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • ME II

      ... not even good at trolling, how sad.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • rs1201

      Well, I've got news for you...his mother was a white lily and his father was kenyan (that's in Africa...just in case you have no clue). He was born in Indonesia. Actually, I'm not quite sure whether his father was also Indonesian. I know his mother married twice and I don't know who Obama's father is. Anyway, he's definitely 50% white, 25% kenyan or black and 25% Indonesian (that's in Asia...again, just in case you have no clue).
      His skin color doesn't matter and if it matters to you or anyone else, then you really shouldn't be allowed to vote. What matters are his policies and the fact that they have literally brought our country to its knees. He cannot be given another 4 years to administer the coup de grace...he just can't. HE HAS TO GO!!!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • ME II

      " He was born in Indonesia. "
      Not sure who you are referring to here, but President Obama was born in Hawaii and I think his father Barack Sr. was born in Kenya.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  8. Marquice

    There is nothing wrong with being brown skinned there is something wrong with being gay and knowing its detestable and revolting.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Observer

      Bigots are detestable, too.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • jimmy cracorn

      Kinda like being a black used to be right? Get over it go make friends with a gay or lesbian person so you can gain insight into their world. You know walk a mile in my shoes? . Hate begets hate.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  9. logan5

    It is a tragic and sad irony that Christian blacks are so deluded and taken by their religion that they fail to recognize it is this very same belief system that was used to justify the brutal enslavement, abuse, and murder of their ancestors. The black community needs a SERIOUS wake up call here.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      you are comparing apples to oranges and to think that a great man like Martin Luter King gave his life for a legitimate struggle....your comment shames and belittles his name and efforts

      May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mike1

      I agree that some stupid people misinterpreted the scripted in the past. But that does not mean Bible is wrong.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike1,

      So the Bible is right to support slavery and discrimination against women and discrimination against the handicapped? Wow.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • logan5

      Of course the bible is "wrong," but that is not what I'm arguing here. That's a topic for another blog.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • logan5

      No this is not an apples vs oranges and has nothing to do with Martin Luther King......get with the program, man!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  10. JaneE

    It's not a sin to be black! It is a sin to be a sodomite.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Observer

      Millions of heteros are sodomites. At least you are condemning them too.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      there's no such thing as sin. that's a disgusting idea.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • ME II

      There are no Sodomites.
      Supposedly your God destroyed that mythical city, so no one can be from Sodom, ergo there are no Sodomites.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • yeah?

      do you mean sodomy is wrong for gay people or all people? because straight married people sometimes like it in the butt and I'm not talking about men 😉

      May 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  11. NoMoreLies

    Imagine Americans one day wanting higher taxes! Imagine Americans one day permitting bigger government. Imagine Americans one day willing to give up their individual freedoms. Imagine Americans one day decide enough is enough.
    Imagine November 6, 2012

    May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Observer

      Americans decided enough is enough almost 4 years ago. No more trillion dollar wars started by Republicans for false reasons.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      @Observer, and "YES!" to trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see??? I think not.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike in SA,

      Repbulicans started the war, then didn't want to pay for it and dumped the cost onto President Obama. Now these hypocrites are blaming him for their deficit contribution of $1 trillion plus interest.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Imagine one day that you have to be employed or disable to get welfare. (a helping hand versus a way of life)

      Imagine no more multi-generational welfare receipients.

      Imagine a federal government that has a balanced budget

      Imagine a working heathcare system that does not overtly tax people to death, invades in your privacy or determine what treatments you are eligible for depending on age.

      Imagine a return to relgious freedom

      Imagine term limits so politics are no longer a career but duty. Not money but representation.

      Novembr 6, 2012.....Vote Republican.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      Nice try Observer, we've pulled out of Iraq, are pulling out of Afghanistan and still, trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Your argument doesn't wash in any rational way.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike in SA,

      Speaking of not being rational, you tried to completely ignor the $1,000,000,000,000 that the Republicans' war cost us.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      BTW Observer, the whole Iraq war cost well below a trillion dollars...over all the years we were there. Hard to blame that for the trillion dollar ANNUAL deficits under Obama.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Rock Singer

    What is needed now by President Obama is to show the same kind of leadership as JFK showed during the Civil Right Movement back in the 60's by say the same thing "who would want to be discriminated against if they were Black" in this case gay.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  13. Robin Anderson

    The bible speaks of other sins such as adultery, fornication, greed, lust and tattoos. Cutting into the flesh was something a heathen who had no God did.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      yay heathens! woohoo!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  14. Allan

    Well, we better not cite any scripture in support of any proposition then, right John Blake? Think McFly, THINK!

    May 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • John

      Actually, you better not – it makes you sound like a fool.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • ME II

      Yes, it would be better not to use the Bible to argue a position because 1) it can be used to argue just about any position and B) if you can't find a better reason than, "the Bible says so," then you might want to reconsider your position.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  15. John

    They should've finished that verse in Ephesians. the other part reads: "...and Masters be kind to your slaves." If I recall slaveholders weren't kind to their slaves so that could've served as a damning argument.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      Exactly. Paraphrased that set of passages says nothing more than, "Work hard even if you're a slave. God will bless you for your hard work. Slave owners, don't be abusive or threaten because God views everybody as equals, slave and master alike."

      May 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      how disgusting. telling slaves to obey their masters. the bible is evil.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • buckeyenonbeliever

      God views all as equals Mike?

      Yet a master who strikes his slave but does not die right away, but days later; shall not be punished because afterall......the slave is the masters property. Exodus. Is that God believing ALL are equals? Hardly.

      Nice job of cherry picking what you want from the bible.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      @Buckeyenonbeliever, please absolutely feel free to read the passages I paraphrased. Ephesians 6:5-9. Special emphasis should be on Ephesians 6:9.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      BTW...@Buckeyenonbeliever, I'm not the one cherry-picking. Mine was a reference directly to the passage noted in the article. And your's was a reference too...? And who's cherry-picking?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  16. Doobie Doobie Doo

    It must be gay week at CNN.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Thomas

      Jesus was not gay.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQPsLMygz1s&w=640&h=360]

      May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Observer

      Why are YOU here?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • dave

      It's always gay week at CNN.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • SurRy

      "Jesus was not gay." Well, there are people who make the argument that he was. I guess we'll never know as Jesus never said anything about gay people. We do know the stories about Jesus show he embraced and loved everyone.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  17. J

    Either the author of this article is ignorant of Christian theology, or he is cynically counting on his readers being ignorant of Christian theology. I happen to support gay rights, but this is a bogus, straw-man argument with many inaccuracies thrown in just for fun.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • ME II

      So are you agreeing that black churches are being hypocritical?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  18. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQcGXBo8HP8&w=640&h=360]

    May 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Interesting. I wish he would have answered the question though.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You missed the part where he said that he already answered the question. Not surprising coming from a cherry picking "Christian".

      May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Peter

    This article is hypocritical itself. This is not an issue exclusive to black churches.

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

      This article is not hypocritical. It just leaves out the key bit of background information that one of the demographics that is most opposed to gay marriage is the black church.

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

      Wrong! This particular issue IS exclusive to black churches. Black churches are the only ones in the U.S. who's ancestors were enslaved and this enslavement justified by the Christian churches of the time. This issue can apply to no one else but Christian blacks. And how is this article hypocritical??

      May 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Peter Metz

      @logan

      The Jews ancestors were enslaved. The Mormons were persecuted and were many other sects of Christianity.

      The Blacks have been duped into thinking that gay marriage is not a civil right and that the LGBT community is somehow vying for equal status with the Black plight.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • logan5

      @Peter
      I said churches in the U.S. That makes your reference to Jews irrelevant. And Mormons may have been persecuted by other Christians (how ironic is that) but they were never enslaved and Christianity used to justify that enslavement.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Mike

    It’s all about true freedom. Do you want America to be a free country or Not. Simple test do you want the right to preach and practice your beliefs. If so then why would you want less for anyone else? Maybe there should be a movement for denier's of freedom. We are either all free or we are all phony’s, you can't have it both ways. For those who preach "Don't tread on me", well don't tread on them. Anyone who believes their belief is the only way would be livid if someone told them they could not practice their own belief. So as Thomas Paine said wisely "to deny someone of their own belief is only to be bliss of your own”. If you believe in an “eye for an eye” then don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Whether you are a God fearing person or not, isn’t the point. In a Truly Free Society we are either all free, or we are all hypocrites. There can be no in between, anything less would expose us as guilty, as to having no Honor. You would not look a passerby in the eye, then stab him in the back because you didn’t like the way he looked, nor would you want it like wise. To expect respect when none is given is delusional, and out of touch with reality. So to anyone who would not defend True Freedom for person and conscious shall be doomed for eternity to that which they deny others of. If you vote to deny someone of their freedom or beliefs because they don’t coincide with your beliefs than don’t expect Mercy.

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

      Here we go again. We try to justify everyhing with the 'FREEDOM' argument. Many people in this country take freedom for granted. OK then let's talk about freedom. So then, why don't I have the freedom to hire whoever I want to work for me without the fear of beeing accused of discrimination or racism? Why do gay people want to impose their beliefs on straight people who, don't really seem to be free to oppose them with their own beliefs unless they want to face the same fear of being accused of discrimination? These are facts....we have on camp crying and demading their rights to be heard and on the other hand complaining if the 'other' camp tries to exercise their freedom of speech. WHAT's up with THIS?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • SurRy

      To "christian" who wrote "Why do gay people want to impose their beliefs on straight people who, don't really seem to be free to oppose them with their own beliefs unless they want to face the same fear of being accused of discrimination? "

      Replace your words gay with black and straight with white.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:31 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.