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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. Henry

    Eric G

    You got it backwards, you will need to provide verifiable evidence that god does not exists.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Whomever makes the claim that there is a god is the one that must prove it. What don't you understand?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mike1

      Anyone that makes a statement of truth needs to provide substantiation. Whether you say their is no god or whether you say there is.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Eric G

      Sorry Henry, it's called burden of proof.

      If I were to make a claim that you do not understand logic, I could present your posts as evidence. Others can read your posts and ask you questions of their own. When you post responses that are devoid of logic, my claim will have satisfied it's "burden of proof" responsibilities.

      You cannot make claims without supporting verifiable evidence.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Mike1

      Really? So the tooth fairy exists?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Ben

      Not everything has to have physical evidence to exist, thats just the porof you decided you wanted before you would believe in God. Remember this is spirituality...

      May 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Ben: Sorry, your claim that "Not everything has to have physical evidence to exist" has it's own burden of proof.

      Please provide an example of something that exists for which there is no supporting evidence.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Ben

      Morality.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Ben

      Can you explain the physical evidence of Morality?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  2. mjcc1987

    African Americans want civil rights to be their copyrighted grievance. No one, absolutely no one else may approach.

    As the LGBT community approached, the "preachers" barrowed from the Klan to keep teh gays away from sole proprietorship of grievance and rights. Wait till Lantinos start demanding rights. You will see blacks arguing segregation and nullification. I got mine, stay away.

    But it gets better, the first shot in the re-segregation of America and the intuition of poll taxes was a white old congressman from Georgia. Who will come to your defense? Gays? Jews? Latinos?

    May 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Patrick

      Exactly. Blacks are simply burning every bridge they have. Gleefully.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  3. God

    simply obey what I put in your heart....this is an easy questions to answer male+female end of story everything else is sick....you can clean it up as much as you like but male and male....female and female....well is just gross sicko's

    May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      What century do live in?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Do heteros ever engage in any s-xual activities that are considered sick-o?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • logan5

      Gee God, you really are ignorant, unintelligent, and petty.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mike1

      Voice of Reason, We are living in the 21st century. Are you on drugs? You're stoned right now huh?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Ben

      VOR really? Don't you think there is something alarming with morality being a majority vote?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Ben

      Care to elaborate?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Ben

      If you leave forming morality in the hands of humanity, there wont be a standard.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ben

      Why can't humanity regulate itself you ask?? Well there is a simple principle religious people believe and non religious people don't...Man is naturally evil. There has been different terms used for it "Human Nature" "Carnal Nature" "Inner Evil". Humanity is naturally selfish and self destructive.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  4. doug estes

    The Hebrew word for virgin also meant "unmaried woman"

    May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Seen it before

    This is how the gay agenda gets shoved down everyone's throat. I have seen it before in corporate america in the 80's when gays were crusading to elevate their stance, christians were the only ones standing in their way and were eliminated in any way possible especially by twisting the bible into some gay doctrine.

    Gays should stay out of the church business period or start their own religion. Go complain to the govt and insurance companies about your benefits and stop trying to change the entire race of man and the history of religion.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. Why change the Bible's long tradition of support for slavery and discrimination against women and the handicapped?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mike1

      The Bible does not support slavery #1. http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/slavery_bible.html

      May 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Seen it before

      @Observer why do you think anyone believes you, go ahead and quote the scriptures. In the mean time go pick on the Jews who were also enslaved and at the same time we can all learn lessons about how much you really care about America.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Seen it before

      People if you want a lesson in history learn from the Blacks instead of bashing them and trying to change them. Yes they were enslaved and endured many years of hardship, they cried out to God and were delivered, is it any mystery why they would want to serve Him? Now the Gays think they are so smart GO AHEAD AND ELECT A GAY PRESIDENT JUST TRY, Blacks were smart enough to accept Jesus and get their own President elected despite the injustices, and in the mean time create Jazz, R&B, Soul in their spare time – this is not a Joke! Even you Gays with Hollywood and TV and all the rest still can't fool REAL PEOPLE – GET REAL.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  6. Mike1

    Gay marriage is changing existing laws that are practiced by most cultures world wide for thousands of years. It would change the meaning of marriage.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      What is the meaning of marriage?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Mike1

      Voice of Reason, Marriage is whatever the "We the People" decide it to be.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Thanks for clarifying!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Amy

      The old testament allowed men to have multiple wives and concubines, a practice no longer allowed in this country. Jesus in the new testament spoke out against divorce, yet few people would say that being divorced made Newt unfit to serve as president. Bob Dole was also married a second time, and that was almost a non-issue when he ran.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Mike1 –
      Precisely how does the fact that same se.x marriages are legal in Massachusetts "change the meaning of marriage" for a heterose.xual couple in North Carolina?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  7. Ted Ward

    Just another case of the left getting the "other guy" to live up to their standards while they have none and tear down the only ones anyone has. Once we have gay marriage, what's the Soros funded left going to want next, polygamy, man child love, or viking great hall marriage? Just wait, you'll see... Meanwhile regular marriage by this example will be weakened and children and what's left of families and our culture will suffer...

    May 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Do you have a very limited attention span? The topic is equality for gays. Fantasies about polygamy, etc. have already been addressed by laws.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      No, let us not move forward, let's just live with the status quo. Let's rot intellectually and watch television and buy items we don't need. Makes perfect sense to me!

      May 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Eric G

      By "regular marriage", you mean the kind that more than half of end in divorce? Is that the strong moral foundation that you fear will be weakened?

      Love the "just wait, you will see".

      May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • logan5

      It blows my mind how you would come to such a public forum and display such a gross lack of critical thought and intelligence. But I will say this, you got guts LOL

      May 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      C'mon people, you can come up with better responses than these lame remarks, or maybe not...

      May 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  8. Bob

    What is the "black church"?

    May 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • logan5

      Umm....the denomination of Christianity predominately adopted by blacks, maybe

      May 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  9. jmo

    im not pro gay marriage but i have to stick up for it because of the alternatives. the same people that's against gay marriage are the same people that's against equal rights for minorities and women. if GOD deems gay marriage to be a sin then he will handle it when that person meets him/her. its not up to any mortal to pass judgement on another mortal.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      "if GOD deems gay marriage to be a sin then he will handle it when that person meets him/her."

      You really need to lose this type of thinking, it is delusional.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • jmo

      all im saying is if you bleed and cant walk on water then your not to pass judgement on another. your not a god your mortal get over it

      May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mike1

      Republicans are generally against gay marriage. A Republican congress gave women and black the right to vote. Democratic congresses refused to give woman and blacks the right to vote. Susan B Anthony wrote the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, she was arrested for voting for a Republican president.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike1,

      Times have changed. You certainly wouldn't pretend that the KKK voted for the Democrat for president.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • God

      yep you are right....this is all biblical what is happening...give them marriage give them rights I am okay with that I know what is going to happen I know the ending....purity is not a fade...it is a way of life and gay is not pure there ya go...truth is truth gay is not truth it is a lie and it will cost a lot of souls their freedom....

      May 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  10. Kelly

    The bible never said slavery was okay. Slaves were told to follow Jesus teaching and example.

    "do not resist evil" and "do good to those who treat you badly"

    The writer of this article doesn't understand the scripture so the assumptions are inevitably wrong.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Kelly

      Do not try and attempt to discuss something you know absolutely nothing about, it is embarrassing.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Eric G

      Logic foul on the play!

      Argument from authority........ Your statement is illogical because you are using your personal interpretation as a standard.

      No points this round. Please move Kelly back 3 spaces.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • logan5

      No Ronald, you will simply be dead. Deal with it deluded dreamer

      May 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  11. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KVr1rIzG5o&w=640&h=360]

    May 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Dead atheist type guy whose throat rotted out of him as i recall. So what?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Never heard of the stupid sob till he died. Wrote for a third rate rag as we recall.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Never heard about that Jesus fellow until after he died. As I recall he was nailed by a bunch of Romans while his mom watched.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I read about him in a 4th grade rag.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      You follow chris , I'll follow Christ. Guess where we will end up. I'll be with Christ, you will be with chris and rightly so.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • God

      wonder if he feels the same way now......he knows the truth now

      May 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Patrick

      And not one of the above comments addresses the actual content of his speech. Just more ROT IN HELL, INFIDEL drivel.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  12. Pete

    Does anybody else think God is making more gay people as population control? How does it affect anybody to let two guys get married? And even if religions don't want to marry a gay couple, who is the government to not let them marry. Our government isn't run by the bible.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Eric G

      My guess is that many people may think that god is creating more gay people as population control. Those people are called 2nd graders.

      Your post might possibly be the most moronic of the day. And, that is saying something.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  13. Random Excess

    Who exactly are the leaders in the black community that are opposed to marriage equality and/or civil unions. Except for Allen West I am stumped. Even conservative leaders such as Rice, Powell and Steele all support at least civil unions.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  14. Voice of Reason

    Choose your god or choose humanity, basically that is it, right? The religious display such a inhumanity I am embarrassed for our species. We need diversity in order to evolve. Evolution will support humanity physically and build upon its strengths and weaknesses. When it relates to social evolution which requires the understanding of our natural world and how we all interact with each other; we will begin to see a slow decline (as we are now) in religious thought. In this light, religion is necessary in order to eliminate it.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Truth7

      Without God, nothing will exist.

      Evil will be used to wipe out the wicked, and then the evil are wiped out. Is "religion" teaching one how to understand God? NO.

      Noah, Sodom, Tower of Babel, Now.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  15. Chris

    What about pork and shellfish?

    May 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Ben

      Read the FULL bible you will figure it out, or you can google a few supporting scriptures to your point of view...

      May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Doug Pinto

      Read Romans 1. It's pretty clear and it's not Levitical laws written for the Jews.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  16. 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 2:42 pm |
    • Raven

      Well it's a fifty fifty shot, hope your right..... just sayin.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • UncleM

      It's not a fifty fifty shot – there's no evidence for the existence of any gods. they're all a creation of man.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • n8362

      It is not a fifty fifty shot. That is like saying it is a fifty fifty shot that Santa Claus is real because he may exist or he may not.
      That statement also disregards all the other religions of the world, which by the way are virtually guaranteed to all be man made.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Truth7

      Religion IS man made. God is REAL.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Ben

      Your trying to prove something that at its core states it wont be show by physical evidence. You either believe or don't and your either right or your either wrong thats the 50/50. You will never find a physical proof of God that would defeat the point "it is better to believe then to have seen".

      May 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Observer

      Ben,
      "You either believe or don't and your either right or your either wrong thats the 50/50."

      Same for anything requiring judgment. So the existence of gravity is only 50/50 for you?

      May 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • n8362

      Then you must think there is a 50% chance that Islam is true, a 50% chance that Judiasm is true, a 50% that Buddhism is true and so.

      That is statistically impossible.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • logan5

      @Truth7
      "Religion IS man made. God is REAL..."
      Wrong! Your god has his origins in religion. Therefore you god must be man made as well

      May 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  17. Jason S

    One of the common themes when you talk to an atheist about the Bible is the Bible’s treatment of slavery. To the untrained eye, it appears as if the Bible condones or supports brutal slavery. This argument is made by Stenger in God: The Failed Hypothesis. However, the Bible’s view of slavery is advanced compared with relatively modern views of slavery. As Dr. Schroeder (MIT trained physicist and Jewish rabbinical scholar) comments:

    “The Hebrew word for “slave” is “worker,” with all of the connotations that differentiate the modern concept of slave from that of worker. In Rome and Greece, the slave was no more than an animated tool. The biblical rules for the humane treatment of slaves are so strict that if a master broke the tooth or any other bodily part of the slave, the slave was immediately freed as a full citizen and with compensation (Exod. 21:26-27). The person about to become a slave must willingly sell him- or herself into slavery (Lev. 25:39, 44), which would only happen due to abject poverty. Kidnapping and selling a person into slavery was a capital offense (Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). Returning an escaped slave to the master was absolutely forbidden (Deut. 23:15-16). A quick reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin will put this humane biblical law into juxtaposition with more modern practices of slavery.”

    As Paul Copan notes in his essay “Are Old Testament Laws Evil?,” these provisions for slavery are unparalleled around the ancient world.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Observer

      Jason S,

      The attempts at excuses for the Bible are great examples of pick-and-choose hypocrisy.

      The phony argument that slaves are servants doesn't hack it at all unless you believe it's perfectly okay to beat your servants.

      Read the Bible sometime and stop making excuses for what it ACTUALLY says.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • logan5

      What a pathetic appeal to authority! And you bought this BS? Don't you realize that for every biblical quote you find that supports your position, one can be found to counter it? That is why the bible has been labeled as being so subjective and contradictory. Do you really believe for a second that the human societies that existed 2 or 3000 yrs ago were actually more "civilized" then that those existing 200 yrs ago? You need a serious reality check, dude!

      May 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  18. Truth7

    If one cannot understand that God ONLY placed male and female pairs on the ark to be saved, then they don't get it, and never will.

    As to slavery, every single person is a "slave" to sin. All of God's people were in slavery in Egypt!!! "If you are destined for captivity, YOU WILL go into captivity". Slavery among his own people meant a six year term of guaranteed employment! Unlike today when employers can drop you for any reason! Do you know what else God commanded to go along with the employment "slavery"? All debts were to be cancelled! So someone else couldn't make you a debtor for life!

    Guess what? The Bible contains snares for EVIL MEN'S HEARTS. They will see what they WANT to see. If one understood what the Bible even REALLY spoke about, they would understand that ONLY GOD could have brought certain Africans here to begin with. No matter what they had to go through, their CHILDREN were MEANT to be here now! Brothers. No wonder evil is trying so hard to create hatred among us!

    May 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible says it's fine to beat your slaves.

      Please get serious.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Budaweep

      So basically you're saying god is dick. He screws people over, puts them in misery, so that their offspring can enjoy better times. Sounds like a dick to me.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • efasdf

      quick throw out all your cotton

      May 12, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  19. luis

    we have freedom of religion. so why would we allow one religion control the lives of people that just want to be happy?

    i see it is true, that we are" free", free to do what we are told..

    May 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  20. Revelation

    Mary was a virgin....unless you count anal

    May 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
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About this blog

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.