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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. Dee

    Stupid article. We are all susceptible to hypocrisy.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  2. n8263

    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 fairer and better place.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  3. Mick

    If a book written thousands of years ago tells me something is right or wrong, then by golly, that's good enough for me. I would never make a decision on a moral issue without consulting a book that contains a story of a talking donkey.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  4. Chris

    All churches (all religious bodies for that matter) are guilty of hypocrisy to one degree or another. Be it over issues like this, or their bi-polar stances on the responsibility of the churches for supporting (or not) past atrocities and criminal activities.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  5. bibleverse1

    The Bible does not encourage slavery. It acknowledges it as a fact of their times. The Bible does not encourage slavery. The Bible say what is sin and what is not sin.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • be

      The fact remains that christians have used the Bible to condemn desegregation and interracial marriage, and to keep women from voting. In every age their INTERPRETATION of the Bible was that these things were sinful and against the will of God. We now look back and wonder how people could be so narrow minded and foolish. History is repeating itself with gay marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      biblical man had no more authority to state what is sinful than you are i do

      May 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      "you OR I do"

      May 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So when God informs slave owners how to properly beat their slaves he was just pointing out that this is what happens,not condoning it. LOL

      May 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  6. Ryan

    I don't think very many people commenting on this page quite understand what it's like to have churches and people you've never met have an official opinion on you - and a terrible, unpleasant one at that. Why on earth SHOULD the lgbt community take seriously the position of people who simply want to withhold your rights? You will be hard pressed to argue with a gay person and win, they won't suddenly say "oh, you're right under section #486.09 of testament #2, I'm a terrible satanic influence - I should not be allowed to marry."

    May 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  7. ed_the_honest

    (CNN) - Terror gripped cities across Syria on Sunday as residents came under attack by shelling and gunfire, opposition activists said.

    Many homes caught fire as Syrian forces stormed Hama, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least eight people were killed in the western city, according to Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition network.

    Explosions were also heard near the southern city of Douma and near a government security branch in the eastern Deir Ezzor province, the observatory said.

    The Syrian conflict has also heightened historic tensions across the border in Tripoli, Lebanon, where at least one Lebanese civilian and one Lebanese soldier were killed Sunday in clashes between factions supporting and opposing the uprising in Syria, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

    The fighting in Lebanon took place between residents of Bab al-Tebbaneh, a Sunni stronghold hostile to the Syrian regime, and Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Inside Syria's borders, the crisis is getting more complicated.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Sargint Rock

      Sadly, you reap what you sow. These poor victims portrayed in the press are the same people who would be dancing for joy on the Golan Heights, if all the fiery destruction and mayhem were raining down on Israel instead. Long Live Israel!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Long live the Reich! Long live Israel!

      May 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  8. ME

    Ignorance comes in all colors.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  9. splasher6

    no they're just RACIST

    May 13, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  10. John

    Sargint Rock that was perfect, thank you. All the hate towards the Bible and anyone who knows it as truth is just their way of allowing themselves to do whatever they want.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • be

      So let's see....the gays are in court fighting for Marriage, Family and Service to country in the military. The religious right are in court fighting to control women's reproductive rights, defend their clergy (all denominations) against illicit se x ual conduct, and defending against the misappropriation of funds. It seems very evident to me who the moral "good guys" are and who the immoral self-righteous are.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      tell us, johnnie boy, does your persecution complex make you feel closer to jesus?

      May 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  11. Joe

    Many black ministers are guilty of spiritual hypocrisy in many areas. They are mostly concerned with themselves and the amount of money they can collect, how big their appreciation celebrations are, profiling in their fine clothing, and remaining quiet when they should be speaking out.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  12. Sargint Rock

    A person of faith and discernment has only to peruse the majority of comments on this site before they see quite clearly the main issue underlying the LGBT issue.It is a God hating, in your face rebellion against anything Holy and those who profess a belief in the scriptures as the Divine word of GOD! Live and let live is not a part of their Mantra anymore. It's more like Live as we do or else! I see no sensitivity for other's view points, just a frenzy for America to CONDONE their behavior or ELSE!! I will not COMPLY!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Miss Kitty

      Been saying the same thing about the religious right for years.... guess when you push, people push back...

      May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • hardcase59

      Well stated brother!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Sargint, That is a great explanation of religious wackos!

      May 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      Sarge: We don't hate god. We are ridiculing pompous dweebs like you who claim to speak for god. Now, boy, go home and get your shinebox

      May 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  13. ruemorgue

    Wow. Someone actually admits the Holy Babble promoites slavery and bigotry.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  14. JG

    YES.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • JG

      The so called black church turns out to be a black cult. Who is their Founder? when did it begin? misguided people followers of the haters.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  15. John

    Really that is your argument. You know God exist even as you say that. you are only condemning yourself.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • momoya

      No god being worshiped by humans can be proved more reasonable as any other god worshiped by humans.. God is either allowing billions of people to remain in confusion as to his nature and will, or he doesn't exist..

      May 13, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • JWT

      Personally I'll go with god does not exist. I have no god that much is 100% certain. But there is nothing wrong with people believing that they have a god.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • sam stone

      still on your knees, johnnie boy?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  16. n8263

    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 13, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  17. John

    Lol it amazes me what people can find in the bible to advance their agenda. They try to find one little thing and say see I told you its ok that I commit this unnatural act. Yet all throughout the bible over and over God points out that this is wrong, it is a sin. An abomination even. We all know what is right and wrong, quit seeking after the flesh and seek God . Cant wait to see the hate comments on this one.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • JWT

      You know that it is wrong for you. That does not make it wrong for anyone else.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • mb2010a

      Take your religion and blow it out your butt...

      May 13, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • hardcase59

      He did MB2010a and out popped you!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Sargint Rock

      JWT. With all due respect, you are missing the point.It doesn't matter what we think, only what GOD proclaims and without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit You will never be able to abide by the scriptures. You will only gnash your teeth and rip your garments in a frenzy of retaliation. Do what ever you want with your partners as long as you keep it behind closed doors and not on the village green. I will work along side you, I will fight our enemies beside you, I will laugh beside you as fellow citizens BUT I will not stand idly by as you seek to dismantle the Holy act of Matrimony just to validate your fleshly whims!!

      May 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • JWT

      I am not missing the oibnt at all. Your religious views apply to you and not to me. Nothing in your holy book is of meaning to me. My views on marriage include gays. And marriage was not invented by your brand of christian. For you marriage does not include gays for me it does and my views are 100% as valid as yours.

      Your holy scriprutes apply to you and not to other people who are not the same religous brand as you are. You have no right to push them on other people.

      May 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  18. CincinnArti

    The Black Church?????? What a sweeping, racist condemnation of a "body" that is not one "body".

    May 13, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • shane

      right on.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  19. Civil Union of Sense

    Big Brothers (CNN and OBAMA) are now on a campaign to define religions for all. "The Black Church" article comes after a series on the Catholic Church. I also see CNN is now explaining Mormonism (The Church of Later Day Saints).

    There is something very scary with the OBAMA administration and its propaganda machine CNN, presenting characterizations on religion for political purposes.

    Obama ignores separation of Church and State to use his podium to characterize churches as "Good" and "Bad". The biased message is a "Good" Church supports me, OBAMA. And those who belong to what OBAMA defines as a "Bad" Church are just evil people. Its a message of intimidation, a recurring Obama tactic. Support OBAMA or be outed publicly as evil.

    The Obama message is you better live as I tell you... not as you believe.. OR ELSE !

    May 13, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • mb2010a

      That actually sounds more like the Republican / tea party "My way or the highway..." agenda than it does Obama's...

      May 13, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • lolanicci

      "Obama ignores separation of Church and State to use his podium to characterize churches as "Good" and "Bad"."

      How about the entire government ignores the "separation of Church and State?" If there was a true separation of the two, this debate wouldn't even be going on. What the Church (whichever denomination you choose) believes and preaches and the issue of gay marraiage should simply be an issue of rights, nothing more.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • hardcase59

      Obama is a Nazi!!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  20. Steve

    Who is writing for this "Belief" section? They show so much spiritual ignorance it is deplorable. Its like they came straight from Leno's Jay Walkers or something.Talk about CNN loosing credibility!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Peter

      *losing

      May 13, 2012 at 2:22 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.