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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. Alex

    A lot of religious black people are not trustworthy and fast to forget.
    They're using the Bible to attack the President Obama views on gay people. The same bible it was used to give white people the right to enslave them.Come on Black flocks the Bible is not bullet proof book, it has a lot of mistakes.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  2. RichardSRussell

    The only thing the black church is guilty of is gullibility. Their ancestors were fed this line of crap by their white owners about how Christianity would teach them how to live with their miserable condition on Earth, to stoically endure because there'd be "pie in the sky bye and bye". Since it was the ONLY hope those p00r wretches had, they clung to it with both hands. But it was a false hope then, and it's a snare and a delusion now. Its only real effect is to pass along the crap to a DIFFERENT minority group.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  3. foot814

    say what you want to but the bible was written by men. it can be twisted to justify anything! a million churches one bible. read it for yourself your preacher/pastor /pope has his own agenda as the king james did.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  4. happyfrenchman

    Actually, if the black church ignored the gay issue, they would be closer to how Christ handled the issue. however in the general terms... all churches are guilty of hypocrisy if they discriminate against their neighbor, or throw stones

    May 13, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  5. JOregon

    Every Church that opposes gay marriage but uses their chapel to marry someone that has divorced their spouse to marry another is GUILTY of hypocrisy.
    Mark 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
    Mark 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  6. longshot

    everybody needs a boogyman, someone to spit on, someone to feel superior over, someone full of sins we can throw stones at and say "but I'm better than them, that's not me"

    May 13, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  7. Carlin123

    ALL Churches are guilty of hypocrisy. ALL church goers are too.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Ryan

      Thanks for the great insight

      May 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  8. t.sarcastic

    Why would the "black church" be different than the others?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • realitypunk

      Nothing really, outside of being slightly more ironic, since it was Whites that insisted they be converted to Christianity in the first place.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  9. pchow

    distraction from the economydistraction from the economydistraction from the economydistraction from the economy

    May 13, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • realitypunk

      This about prejudice. Period.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  10. no

    I can't see the color of God, likewise I can't partake in violence that God shuns, so I can't see man/woman as anything different than the likelyness of God. I can only seek forgiveness if I offend as an individual for others to ask they shall receive. Forgiving others is what many never learn even generational and that is sad.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Andrew D

      ditto

      May 13, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  11. Lamar

    "THE" Black church? So. . .all blacks belong to only one church?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • laceshia

      My thoughts exactly Lamar! What is a "Black Church"?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  12. keyser

    All churches are guilty of hypocrisy.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  13. Joe

    The real hypocrisy is the black churches continuing to stand behind Obama.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  14. contraryjim

    One can believe in anything – that doesn't mean it is true.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  15. Jim

    The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, once holding a prime spot on night time television, said it so beautifully: YOU HAD BETTER LIVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE, OR YOU WILL BELIEVE WHAT YOU LIVE. Sadly, so many, many persons have yielded to their own notions of what is "right" and "wrong" and pitched out any idea of universal truth such as "good" and "bad." It is by natural, divine law that marriage is between one man and one woman, 'til death do they part! To act otherwise is patently wrong. However, we now live in a world where folks cannot hear any view contrary to their own inclinations. To deny oneself any desire or any temptation is somehow considered "wrong" in the present permissive culture. History repeats itself over and over again. And the USA is on the brink of following the pattern of the Roman Empire – collapsing from within. The morals are decaying faster than one can imagine. The black church is NOT guilty of hypocrisy. Civil rights was fought over the matter of a person's skin color. The "gay" issues is a fight over actions, behaviors. The two are not able to be equated, except in the minds of lazy thinkers or those who chose not to think one bit for themselves, allowing their passions to rule their lives.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • how silly

      ah, Archbishop Fulton Sheen.. He was responsible for the worst crimes against children,, the cover ups. Instead of helping the children abused, he made sure he helped the church and pedos first.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Dennis

      Amen!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • YeahRight

      "And the USA is on the brink of following the pattern of the Roman Empire – collapsing from within. The morals are decaying faster than one can imagine. "

      This is such stupid logic. First Christians came here murdered millions of Indians while stealing their land, Then we had to fight for equality for African Americans and stop slavery. Then we had to fight for rights of women. So we actually have become more moral only prejudice bigots make up the lies you're telling. Oh...that's right fear sells which is why it's such an important thing in your bible.

      "The black church is NOT guilty of hypocrisy. Civil rights was fought over the matter of a person's skin color. The "gay" issues is a fight over actions, behaviors.""

      Gay couples do not have the same rights as straght couples. These rights include:

      Tax Benefits
      -–Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
      -–Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members.

      Estate Planning Benefits
      -–Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate.
      -–Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
      -–Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
      -–Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse – that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.

      Government Benefits
      -–Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
      -–Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
      -–Receiving public as-sistance benefits.
      -–Employment Benefits
      -–Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.
      -–Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
      -–Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
      -–Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.

      Medical Benefits
      -–Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
      -–Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.

      Death Benefits
      -–Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
      -–Making burial or other final arrangements.

      Family Benefits
      -–Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
      -–Applying for joint foster care rights.
      -–Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
      -–Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.

      Housing Benefits
      -–Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
      -–Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.

      Consumer Benefits
      -–Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.
      -–Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
      -–Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.
      -–Other Legal Benefits and Protections
      -–Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
      -–Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
      -–Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
      -–Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
      -–Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
      -–Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.

      So since you don't think these rights are so important how about we take them away from you!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • JM

      I don't think the world is anymore "wicked" than at other times in history. Nineveh? Sodom & Gomorrah? God has mercy on the world. Read Jonah lately? Jonah wanted God to nuke "the sinners". The entire point of the story is about how God loves us (although we in the church act more like Jonah than God in our lack of mercy or lack of understanding that 'we' didn't deserve God's love/mercy either).

      13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

      4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

      15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

      16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

      18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

      19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

      20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

      21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

      22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

      23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

      May 13, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • YeahRight

      "It is by natural, divine law that marriage is between one man and one woman, 'til death do they part! To act otherwise is patently wrong."

      That's why the divorce rate is at 50% and most of those are Christian couples and based on your bible that is adultery. Yet you're not trying to block their civil rights now are you. What a hypocrite.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  16. Cerulean

    This is the problem with religion today...people literally following a man-created book. The bible was written by MAN, not GOD. Which is why these same people can't explain why indigenous people deep in the Amazon who never heard of Christianity are condemned. Why, because they don't have a "holy" book to pull scriptures from?
    Anyone who clings to the notion that they are do-gooders, they are righteous, they deserve to go to heaven because they read bible passages written centuries ago by a white man...need to examine what spirituality and faith really is. It's not from a book.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • JM

      'what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse'

      That is why Native Americans understood that there is a Great Spirit w/o some white guy coming and teling them.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • mandarax

      I don't mind at all that something is written by man (though preferably men and women). Man has written some amazingly insightful works, the bible just isn't one of them. Religious texts are humanities first and worst attempts to understand the universe.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • ever4lasting

      Cerulean
      You are so right , it is like a wealthy man who will never really know what it is like to be rich, Or an educated man who has not acquired wisdom. The bible was put together by parts and if they really do some checking they had monks fill in where needed. God did wright the bible. They picked and chose what went in it, that is why their is so many discrepancies and contradictions.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  17. Sarcastro

    I'm waiting for the black bigots to start demanding gays only count as 3/5 a vote.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  18. ever4lasting

    Oh! yes guilty as sin. The same bible that was used to discriminate them, now they are using it to discriminate another group. The bible is intended to be used to spread justice, love, equality and acceptance. All though it is not being used for that. It is a tool to be used for control, hatred for others that do not follow or believe, used to judge, which I though GOD only had that right. They would like to talk about a marriage between one women and one man and yet they are the biggest group that do not marry and have the largest amount of children born out of wed lock. So before anyone should judge another you really need to take some time and see what you do.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • how silly

      thankfully, it was good people who tamed religions. Imagine if we didn't?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • God help us all.

      “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

      3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

      =======================================================================

      2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

      But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

      9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

      11 “No one, sir,” she said.

      “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

      May 13, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • how silly

      well, God help us all... that's explains why everyone else's f-arts smell so bad and yours doesn't.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • YeahRight

      "2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

      But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

      9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

      11 “No one, sir,” she said.

      “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”"

      Everyone knows the story about Jesus and the woman about to be stoned by the mob. This account is only found in John 7:53-8:12. The mob asked Jesus whether they should stone the woman (the punishment required by the Old Testament) or show her mercy. Jesus doesn’t fall for this trap. Jesus allegedly states, let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. The crowd dissipates out of shame. That story was not originally in the Gospel of John or in any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes. The story is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Nor does its writing style comport with the rest of John. Most serious textual critics state that this story should not be considered part of the Bible.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • DH

      Your words are truthful and accurate. This nonsense is one of the reason's I left the church. They need to clean up their own house and concentrate on why all these babies are being born out of wedlock and why most of the father's won't pay to feed or cloth them, that is if they bother to stick around at all.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Cerulean

      I agree. I live where there is a large black community; I have indirect ties (my mother is of Afro-Carribean descent). This is the same group who cannot keep their families intact, whose men do not stick around and whose women remain perpetually single with children. The same people who lament about their blighted neighborhoods, drugs, single mothers, welfare, lack of good jobs, etc. And this story wants to highlight those who follow a book written by Middle Ages white men?

      The black community has a huge problem, because some of them think keeping themselves forever separate from the rest of the population (they are only 12%-14% of the American population) is the way to survival of them, and they are struggling because of it. Many of their homes are broken and it is magnified even further because they make up a small portion of American population. Religion isn't going to help the plight of the black community if they're literally following the Bible and not accepting people in their own culture that are different .
      In my opinion, blacks cannot afford to condemn the gays amongst them who otherwise may work, raise families, be educated, be true assets to a broken system. Literal interpretation of a bible will not help them, or anyone else. Especially if all you have to do is step right outside those church doors and seeing trash strewn around, people sitting around on their porches all day not working, bars on business windows, single mothers walking around with babies with nowhere truly safe to go, dropouts peddaling drugs and women. The black community should stop condemning their own people, stop perpetuating the broken family, clean up their neighborhoods...stop using religion as a crutch.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  19. Janine from TX

    Just goes to show that formal religion is total BS. Put the bibles down people, and think for yourselves. We all know what common decency is and that all people should be treated fairly and equally. Simple as that. The bible makes no sense at all, yet people keep flocking to it like flies to you-know-what.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • how silly

      it's because they all fear. and if they claim they don't – they might be the next terrorist.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • JM

      Jesus' teaching is all about love and mercy. He is harsh only to the self-righteous religious hypocrites. Unfortunately, I don't think most people actually read the Bible. They parrot what they think it says.

      "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." (Golden Rule)

      "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach."

      May 13, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • how silly

      jesus was no jesus. It is, as was, good people who do good deeds and that includes atheists.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  20. how silly

    someone below claimed the pope states 'gay is not a sin'.. proof these catholic people are delusional.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • how silly

      and they used logic claiming to be called a drunk, you don't have to drink. How primitive these statements. If the pope claimed 'gay' as a sin, then he'd be calling over 80% of his priests sinners. Yes, they practice, educate yourselves. Seminaries and rectories are 'gay bath houses'

      May 13, 2012 at 10:25 am |
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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.