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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. 2tor

    Is CNN guilty of Hypocrasy?

    May 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      No one is guilty of hypocrasy. It's impossible. The churches are guilty of hypocrisy though.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Hank Tuesday

    I never heard of the "Black Church" I do not believe that is a religion. I know of the catholic Church and the broader Christian religions (protestants, Baptists, Evangeliicals, etc), and the Jewish religion and Church of Latter day Saints and of course the Mulsim religions and Buddhism.... But I do not beliebe there is a black religion –

    Now in the christian religion, gay marriage is a sin and not recognized – End of story. No amount of media stories and protests are going to change thousands of years of chriistian teaching – that is for God only – not political activists. Asking Christians to endorse gay marriage would be akin to asking Muslims to rewrite their Koran (sorry for misspelling). Neither is going to happen – the Koran is the Muslim sacred book, and the teaching of christ against gay behavior and gay marriage is a part of Christian teaching and belief – Christians can toleraste all other religions, and they do - but do NOT insult Christians or Muslims by asking them to change their fundamental beliefs...I love the point made here... Don't force the gay agenda, don't expect me to change my belief in Gods word.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • use your brain..

      catholic church isn't a religion either,, it's a pig sty.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • pat carr

      "Christians can toleraste all other religions, and they do"

      They do???? What planet are you living on. On earth Christianity is NOT tolerant of other belief systems

      May 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  3. Mike Douglas

    For those that don't know, I'm the only white man to ever make a black woman moist. My opinion matters on this subject

    May 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So then you are like half the population on the Earth? How did you all come together into one body?

      May 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • JohnQInCrazyFlorida

      You go Mike, u are the man!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  4. Alfonds

    African Americans want Obama to be back in the saddle so bad, but, enough is enough!!. I'm thinking that black people would still vote for Obama, even if he was caught in the act of adultery or would find out that he himself was terrorist. Wake up people and tell it like it is.!!! What part of no do you not understand. Retain your dignity while there is still a chance.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Back in the saddle? So he's not currently our President?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  5. david

    the difference is that slavery and jim crow were civil rights struggles. being gay is a lifestyle that most people have some control over. i will never be in favor of people consciously doing anything that encourages and promotes bad things in society.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • use your brain..

      You are nuts!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • use your brain..

      you are a n–u–t! Lifestyle? Controlled?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • sam stone

      david: does it make it easier to discriminate if you call it a "llifestyle"? tell us how being gay is a choice. or, how being straight is a choice, for that matter

      May 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • sam stone

      "i will never be in favor of people consciously doing anything that encourages and promotes bad things in society"

      Like speaking for god, david?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Good to hear david, so when will you be hating on people who chose the christian faith to perform evil?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • pat carr

      foolishness. religion is a lifestyle you have control over. being gay is biological

      May 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • JohnQInCrazyFlorida

      OOOOKKK! Now I am waiting for the black church, right-wing ninnies, and so call conservatives to come up with "The final Solution" to America's gay problem. I am sure with your reasoning you and your type will try to spin some logic into such action. Blacks were mistreated and deprived of their basic civil right as a citizen. I am sure at the time there were 'good god fearing, true American" like yourself that saw nothing wrong with that. As a very str8 citizen, not that it matters, whomever I chose to be with is no ones business and I do NOT CARE to try to force my belief on other citizens. Gays are citizens of this country and are human beings also; therefore - they must be afforded the same right as ocitizens. I am sure some folks in the South are still lamenting the passage of the law that allow for citizen to marry outside their race. Those backward folks are just like the Taliban and then ultra-conservative islamic morons what would like to take us back to the dark ages. They are like different sides on the same coin. If you doubt it listen to what they are advocating for their community. How many abortion doctors have being killed and some are now living in fear? How many innocent citizens and been killed or maimed by these right-wing idiots? I travel to many other countries and can say without any reservations - AMERICA IS A WONDERFUL COUNTRY. People like you and your religions zealots would like to make this country hell on earth for some citizens as what happened to blacks during slavery and after the civil war

      May 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  6. Mike Douglas

    This article is a joke like the black church and every other religion. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu's, they're all jokes.

    How can there be so many gods? Someone is wrong. Their gods have as much of a chance to exist as Santa Claus.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • eric

      Exactly. Its fake people...

      May 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Trevor

      And that may very well be you...didn't ever cross you mind did it? Self absorbed and so sure of yourself...if you're right then we'll be all "even" at the end of earthly lives won't we? We'll all "turn to dust" and neither of us will be able to "trump" the other. But if peoplo of faith are right, you my friend are not going to be too happy in about 50-60 years. And, you need not worry about people of faith "pushing it in your face"...they'll have a joy that will bury any thoughts of wanting to "stick it to" all non-believers. In addition, you won't need anymore "burden" on you than you'll already have.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • dnokc

      Dear Mike, I know it does not mean much to you but I pray for you. You see for those of us whom believe...whatever we chose to call our maker, that is where true HOPE lives. We do not wish to harm you in any way, but we resist and stand strong together in your attempts to redefine society. Do not think you can divide us simply because we call our maker by different names, or that we may be of different physical make up.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      LOL, Divide you. He doesn't have to do anything about that. You religious apes are tearing each other apart!

      May 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  7. SS

    We'd all be so much better off without religion

    May 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Wayne

    It's more about the capitalism in the religion that really screws things up. To make money you need power, to get the power you need converts, to get the converts you near fear. Most all religious are founded on this principle. The basic teachings from the Masters were not created by religions. Men took these teachings and warped them to fit the business, money, power, models. If people tore down their 'temples, mosques, and churches' and simply lived by the basic doctrines of their faiths, we'd probably have heaven on earth.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Religious Scholar

    I never heard of the "Black Church" I do not believe that is a religion. I know of the catholic Church and the broader Christian religions (protestants, Baptists, Evangeliicals, etc), and the Jewish religion and Church of Latter day Saints and of course the Mulsim religions and Buddhism.... But I do not beliebe there is a black religion -

    Now in the christian religion, gay marriage is a sin and not recognized - End of story. No amount of media stories and protests are going to change thousands of years of chriistian teaching - that is for God only – not political activists. Asking Christians to endorse gay marriage would be akin to asking Muslims to rewrite their Koran (sorry for misspelling). Neither is going to happen - the Koran is the Muslim sacred book, and the teaching of christ against gay behavior and gay marriage is a part of Christian teaching and belief - Christians can toleraste all other religions, and they do -- but do NOT insult Christians or Muslims by asking them to change their fundamental beliefs...

    May 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • steve

      religious people have bought into all the other fiction, why stop now?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Yep....

      Thank you Religious Scholar.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      no one is asking christians to change their beliefs. we are just asking that marriage equality be provided to all adults. "render unto caesar....." and all that stuff.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Christians can toleraste all other religions, and they do...."

      Really, Religious Scholar? Then what is the purpose of evangelism, if not to convince people to accept your version of god?

      May 13, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    May 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • ian

      Pray in one hand, poop in the other. See which fills up first.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      funny how your ilk says prayer changes things but the church is always trying to raise money. Did you inform them that man's evil money which they use to change things can be replaced by prayer?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Will

    It is no secret that the black population was also responsible for sending California gays to the back of the bus. As a community we have no love loss for those that are so willing to yell about discrimination and then turn around and throw another group under the bus. The needs of tthe black community fall of deaf ears now with the community, and that is their own fault...hypocrites to the core and their church leaders liars at best.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • ian

      Ironically it was the higher black turn-out in support of Obama that made that happen, as the two things were voted on at the same time.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  12. Skeeve

    Church is guilty of hypocrisy, black, white, pink or green with red polka dots. It is essentially a diffing characteristic of this organization, always was always will be.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  13. Jim

    People have been interpreting the Bible to forward sick views for centuries.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  14. 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 12:25 pm |
  15. Worship Poseidon

    Allah would destroy Jesus in a fight. Even Buddha would too, despite his obesity. What a along haired sissy girl!

    May 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  16. Worship Poseidon

    What about the part in the bible where Jesus does that black guy?

    May 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  17. WillyBC

    Let's just remove the word "Black" from this headline ok?

    May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • use your brain..

      agreed, remove it and now it reflects truth

      May 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  18. Ollie Stovall

    Martin Luther King Jr's right-hand-man, Bayard Rushton, a black Gay man, organized the history changing "I Have A Dream" march on Washington. HIS dream was that after Black equal rights were achieved, the country would also move towards equal rights for Gays. Shame on African Americans for not helping Gays, many of whom risked their lives too in Civil Rights protests and marches.

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

      Thank you Ollie. Thank you. This is the truth. Julian Bond will even speak this one. And yet, most black people are only interested in a limited awareness of our history; I didn't learn this until I was well into my forties. . .and you know what. . .this as well as the role of Diane Nash and other prominent black women in the civil rights movement made me have less respect for Dr. King because I believe he rode on their backs, received the glory because he was a good speech maker, and they, like good women, had to stay in the background. Today I say, F the black church and its backward views.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  19. 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 12:18 pm |
  20. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Black or White church, they're both guilty of spiritual hypocrisy when they talk about family values and the sanctuary of marriage and yet there are 1 out of 3 diviorces in this country. The Bible isn't the place to "cherry pick" .

    May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • use your brain..

      most important,, 'Good' comes from good people and that includes atheists. The bible and jesus have zero to do with creating a good, people need to wake up and start evolving. Only then, will we have a peaceful and caring world.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Trevor

      Brain- You're correct the Bible didn't "create" anything...its a book revealing the God's word...but since Christ is God and God created all things to include all things "good" to include Atheists you're incorrect. Yes, people need to start "evolving" which really means to start maturing and stop making it all about serving one's self which is the way of this world. Start serving God and to obey his commands and his perfect will...starting with his greatest command is to love others as they would love themselves and to serve others... Sinful people (thats all of us) will never "get it right"...its impossible on our own...that's precisely the reason for faith and reliance in God.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      trevor: that is an awfully big claim to make. support it.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:50 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.