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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. CPGreg

    The amazing thing is how much US History has to be ignored to support gay marriage. The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Drew

      explain, please

      May 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      People like you are used to ignoring the forefathers and rewriting American History. The Churches signed up as NPO's now they have to fall in line or lose that status. Seems like someone could have used a healthy dose of separation of church and state.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • CPGreg

      JUst read the QUOTES from the Founders. Full of the Bible.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Drew

      You need to actually cite a specific one

      May 12, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Epica

      And yet Jefferson went through and took out every miracle in the bible...hmmm almost like he thought it was fine for morals but the whole make believe friend in the sky did not exist.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • makesnosense

      @CPGreg...you logic is illogical...please define the term "true Christian"

      May 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Yarah

    Wrong, it's just wrong.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    May 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Epica

      Of course it does. It gives the child an imaginary friend to talk to. Then they need to grow up and deal with problems like adults not run to their imaginary friend every time something doesn't go their way.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Jesse

    I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is in your head, in your heart, and what you decide to do every day you will either be a good person or not.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • CPGreg

      you forgot Jesse 1:1

      May 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  5. chris p

    Time to come around black folks. Your Obama bashing re: gay marriage is just sickening, unconscionable.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  6. My Children

    Now that Barack Obama supports Gay marriage, we are noticing a lot of people are against gay marriage. But those people who are opposing gay marriage were brain wash by their religion. I am religious, but I don't let my religious beliefs or knowledge of marriage be run by my religion. I was born with both parents a mom and a dad. I was raised to believe that marriage is between a man and women, but you know why that is the reason is because of religion. Religion has taken over us. That's the religion believe and that's what you should follow because since you were a kid you were brain wash that marriage should be between a man and I women. But in reality humans don't know. GOD's intention was when he sent his only son to die. Jesus died for our sins and forgave everyone for their intentions because they didn't know better. He said "Father please forgive them for they know not what they do." Yes I'm quoting . People have being brainwash by their religion, GOD never intended for humans to run an organization that would preach to him, but in a hypocritical way. I'm talking about religion. GOD's intention was for everyone to be in peace, but in reality he knew there will never be peace between humans. As soon as Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit. He knew that humans were the only ones who would survive between themselves. GOD knew that 1 in every 5 humans a least one will be smart about their choices and judgements and criticisms against another Human and their believes. GOD knew that they where going to kill his only son if he was sent to earth, Jesus Christ knew what was going to happen to him. Jesus never judged or criticize us for what we did to him. I mean us because we are the humans who kill GOD's only child. Jesus never judge us for his death, he even told his father to please for give us because we don't know what we did. Now in 2012 we are seeing people from different believes trying to be against marriage when it comes between a man and a man, women or women. People have to start seeing the big picture because we are one, we got to put our differences and be in peace. People might disagree with me and I know theirs still people out there that don't know what they are doing. So please look at the past, we have seeing a lot of damage because of our differences from religion to ethnicity. Please Father Forgive them for they don't know what they are doing. If I must die again for my children then it should be. Please my children learn from the past and please don't believe what politicians or others humans say about you. I die for you once and I will die again for my children. All I want in return is to forgive those who judge you as you wish they forgive you for your wrongs.

    Religion was created by Humans and the bible written by a human being. So please stop with all the hatred that GOD said this about marriage because everything is just written by human beings not GOD. And we already know how human being are, they judge, criticize, torment other humans believes.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • CPGreg

      you are not my father. gross.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  7. zoobedoo

    CNN has a weird kind of censorship going on. When I enter thoughtful commentary, it never posts, but if I make outrageous statements like the Bible says gays are going to burn in the Rapture, my comments post immediately. What gives?

    May 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • CPGreg

      typical CNN bias against Christianity. Try slamming Islam and the protesters come out. Can't do that can we? Yes We Can! Oh No You Didn't.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  8. CPGreg

    Hey CNN, let's hear how intolerant other religions are towards alternative partner choices. Typical Christian bashing by the liberal media. You only attack Jesus because he is the only one who matters.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • TR6

      So because Christians aren’t the only offenders, you think we should accept their offence?

      May 12, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  9. 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 7:37 pm |
    • CPGreg

      how can it be immoral? when there is no standard to measure it against every action is relative.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • n8362

      In the same way we can come to objective truths about the world, such as the Earth is flat, we can also come to objective conclusions about morality. Objective morality must be based on rational thought, not man made religions of ignorant societies.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  10. wackadoo

    Gays are going to burn in hell. The Bible says so and anyone who says otherwise is out of their mind. But it's okay, In the rapture all the gays and other evil people will be burned.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • zoobedoo

      Hey wackadoo, you're a doofus. Oh wait, you're me, posting a stupid reply to my stupid statement. CNN only likes stupid commentary. Intelligent commentary gets censored. Why CNN?

      May 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  11. Al Ford

    It's ironic that many religious people do not realize that Jesus left no written word at all. Absolutely nothing that can be attributed to him.

    In addition, the first writings wren't produced until decades after his death.

    How many people here would believe the musings of unsophisticated farmers and fishermen written decades after a claimed event?

    Seriously...

    May 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  12. n8362

    @Hammer, God's law has changed through an evolutionary process over the ages to conform to social norms.
    In 50 years the majority of Christians will no longer believe homosexuality is a sin. Guaranteed.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • nope

      nope,.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • yup

      yup.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Godoflunaticscreation

    It's pretty simple. Let Gays get married or start paying taxes!

    May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  14. Frank Airport

    CNN is racist for criticizing the black church.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      That CNN guy. I just knew he was trouble. Darn racist!

      May 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  15. b4bigbang

    Comparing what the Bible says about slavery to what it says about h o m o s e x u a l i t y is like comparing apples to oranges.
    Nice try, but FAIL.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • JKhur

      What the Bible says about either is irrelevant in our secualar country.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Cq

      Why can't they be compared? The same line of reasoning used to justify slavery is being used today to justify discrimination against gays. Simple, really.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Irrelevant only if everyone in the country is secularist. I believe in live and let live, but i think this g a y civil rights thing is a slippery slope. Eventually, they'll try to get laws passed forcing all churches to perform gay weddings, admit them in full church membership and even forcing the churches to follow EEOC laws forcing the churches to hire them as pastors.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Well the churches should have thought of that before they signed up for NPO status.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Yet another reason why the separation of church and state was created.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • n8362

      Why do you emphasize homosexuality and the word gay so much? Do you want to come out and share something with us?

      May 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jen

      Totally not true. Gay marriage has been legal for many years in Canada and churches haven't been forced to do anything.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • momoya

      @b4

      Hey, if you don't want to pick and choose that particular verse to ignore like you pick and choose the verses on shellfish eating and proper slave-owning practices, then that's fine.. Just don't pretend you've got a right to tell others that they have to follow the verses you follow and ignore the verses you ignore.. Simple enough.. You pick for you how you want to; let others pick for themselves exactly as you do.. You don't have to be this stupid.

      May 12, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Cq

      b4bigbang
      A "slippery slope" like freeing the slaves only to have them want the vote, then civil rights, and finally ... gasp! ... the right to marry non-blacks!!!! How AWFUL it must have been to force churches to do that!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  16. n8362

    Using religion as an excuse to deny others civil rights is wrong. It was used by whites to oppress blacks and now a majority of blacks are using it to oppress gays. This is wrong.

    It is amazing Christians still post comments to blogs like this asking why non-believers hang out and try to show them the truth. We are not trying to deny you of some god's riches (as someone posted earlier) any more than we want to deny you of Santa's Christmas presents. We are trying to wake you up and in so doing make the world a better place.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • TR6

      religion is wrong.

      May 12, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  17. Dr. Rick

    And for perspective that is distinguished from what we quite often hear in the mainstream media, please read some cogent commentary from the former director of the Voice of America and lecturer at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington, DC, Robert Reilly.

    http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/obama_devolves

    May 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  18. joe

    Drew, God is the author and finisher of our faith. So God is the author of the bible(His word) and he put it in the heart of men and men wrote what God put in their heart in a book so that all will see and know the heart of God.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Julie

      Then go with God....please

      May 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Bob

      Well, joe, your god must really be quite the ass-hole, then, because in your nasty bible, he makes nasty, violent demands of people like this:

      Numbers 31:17-18
      17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
      18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

      Now, since you keep on about your bible, note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

      Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

      And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

      So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      May 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Drew

      Well Joe, the only problem is that you are taking that idea from the bible. So basically, the bible is infallible because it says it is.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  19. Anthony Brunner

    Our Nation is going through a spiritual crisis. And gay unions are attempt to make morality relative to accomodate thier negation of belief. From a civil stand , yes civil laws are needed to protect us all from crimes and abuses. But when it comes to Christian belief, gay unions are sinful and the marriage of man to man, or woman to woman, does not glorify God nor the human race. And gays with any ounce of Christian belief know it and they know that there in a sinful union before God.,.and this type of union cannot be santified. Pres. O and VP Biden are using the gay issue for political gains.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Well we can't have tax exempt status for an organization that is openly bigoted now can we. Or one that refuses to follow all NPO tax laws.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Bob

      Anthony, your bible and the Christian religion are hardly a good basis for morality, when in the Christian book of nasty AKA the bible, god makes nasty demands like these ones:

      Numbers 31:17-18
      17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
      18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

      note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

      Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

      And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

      So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Cq

      Divorce is still sinful according to the Bible, but lots of Christians still get them despite their only being a "civil" law. This is hypocritical, is it not?

      May 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  20. Gary

    The abolitionist movement was also based upon a literal reading of the bible this is complete ignorance to say that people used a literal reading of the bible to enslave blacks. It was not so. It was taking verses out of context and looking for moral justification that the bible was used to enslave black people. Yet true christians realized it was wrong and started to organize efforts to abolish slavery.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Drew

      I would argue that true Christians are also on the right side of the gay marriage issue; a recent poll showed that about half of all catholics in the US support gay marriage, and just slightly less than half of all protestants too

      May 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Cq

      Actually, the abolitionist movement was based upon a liberal reading of the Bible. The pro-slavery side had the stronger biblical argument, by far. The abolitionist argument was based on appeals to reason and compassion, just as the the argument for gay marriage is today.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:51 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.