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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. rojopa

    Blacks will support Obama no matter what he says because he is one of them, or at least half.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • George Will

      obama bombed africa and supports gays. blacks love Jesus more than the president

      May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  2. George Will

    Democrats invented the laws against both interracial marriage & freed slaves owning guns. They also created Jim Crow. This lead to the destruction of BLACK WALLSTREET, KKK lynchings. Thank god the Radical Republicans ended that. I'm always worried when Democrats talk about marriage.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Truth

      Right, it's all the democrats fault. It's a good thing the republicans came along and elected the first Black President then isn't it...

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Daniel

      And then when the democrats came out in support of the civil rights movement the two parties funneled into each other and switched places. So what's your point? I'm always concerned when conservatives talk about history.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mike

      Truth, learn to read and you will find that it was your party that started down this path WAKE UP for the love of God. Oh wait the lib scuym hates god. So sorry you all live such empty lives. Sad you cant see that

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • c

      Where in the world did you get these pearls of wisdom?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jack Kieser

      I think the important thing is that after JFK was elected, the parties switched; the "Republican" party that was home to Lincoln became the Democratic party after all of the conservatives, racists, and protestants fled to the Republican party out of fear of the "degradation of America". So, simply saying "Democrats did X, Y, and Z in the past" OR "Republicans did X, Y, and Z in the past" is meaningless when talking about events prior to JFK, since the party names are wrong. So, in short, stop trying to misinform, you disingenuous swine.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • DB

      Oh, please. It's amazing that people like you still believe you're being witty or clever when you remind us about the Dixiecrats.

      We know all about the Democratic Party's legacy down South. But you can't change the fact that in the 60s, the party made it clear that the white supremacists weren't welcome in the party any more. And what happened to the Dixiecrats after that? Well, they became Republicans, of course.

      The Democratic Party shed its legacy of racism and oppression decades ago. The Republican Party shed its legacy of progressiveness and equality for all a CENTURY ago, and then picked up the mantel of racism and oppression that the Democrats discarded. That was the cornerstone of Nixon's "Southern Strategy." You know it, we all know it...so save yourself some embarrassment and don't try to bring up the Dixiecrats again.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  3. starman

    People used the bible to enslave black people, people used the bible to fight against their freedom in 1850, people used the bible in 1950 to stop integration and now the people who were subject to those terrible injustices use the exact same bible against civil liberties of a different set of people. The key is the terrible bankrupt morality of the religious (with their arbitrary list of evil rules that one must follow based on reward or punishment), they are nothing but drones to their church handlers.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Mr. Guest

      Other people used the principles of compassion and justice put forth in the Bible to bring down slavery.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  4. Mike

    CNN is trash, your anti religion war is growing old. You are falling to the depths of h3l1 SHAME ON YOU

    May 14, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • M

      *snoring*

      May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Nate

      You just validated all the stereotypes, fail.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  5. jon77

    soooo....what you are saying is there are no black gays.....or are you saying that all black people are anti gay marriage?? or are you just trying to make up ranedom shyt based on a few people?? yeah number 3 sounds about right

    May 14, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  6. GAY ART

    My gay ASS is tired of supporting people on welfare and WIC.... GET A JOB, GET EDUCATED, MIND YOUR BUSINESS. YOUR religion has nothing to do with MY lifestyle. Kiss my butt.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • jon77

      article...insult to black gay, insult to black people....once again...white people continue to tell the story of black people LOL....why dont black people tell there own stories so all this BS Biased reporting can stop

      May 14, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • GAY ART

      can we go back to segregation? pretty please... I do miss the separate water fountains

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Onlovesside

      Racially and diversity challenged. Get help!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  7. Too Much

    Bottom line.....people in the majority will be cruel to those in the minority...regardless. People are people, white, black, or whatever.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  8. The Record

    Let's examine which side of History Christianity is on:

    Shape of the earth – Flat to Christians for hundreds of years
    Slavery – Okay by Christians for over a thousand years
    Race – Believed Blacks were inferior for hundreds of years
    Interracial Marriage – Believed mixing races was evil for hundreds of years

    Being on the wrong side of history again after a record like that? Priceless

    May 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Mike

      Lets look at what side of life you are on, Loser

      May 14, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Lets look at what side of life you are on, Loser"

      The side with the real facts on the subject like: The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      You're side doesn't even have any REAL facts, especially since the bible has been proven not to be an historical document. LOL!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • The Record

      Nice comeback Mike, you sound so smart, if by smart you mean "smarts" as in "your logic and truth smarts my tiny brain".

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mike

      Liberal = double standards, liers, cheats, Spend Spend Spend what you dont have
      OWS = Los3rz – Social trash wanting a hand out for nothing. GET A JOB
      Obama: Destroying the country and the great divider
      Dem Party: Pure insanity, communist, socialistic scu2m
      Trying to destroy Captializm because you cant do anything on your own. Need the goverment to handle your feble minds

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mike

      Try reading the second post you lib scuym

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • The Record

      So I point out real positions taken by your Church anf faith, and you fight back with a rhetorical list of "Liberals = Liars"? Wow, I think I gave you too much credit thinking you would understand my use of the word "smarts" which means "Cause a sharp, stinging pain: "the wound was smarting". I wanted to explain because I'm sure the joke went over your head, which isn't hard when you and many of your ilk have them stuffed firmly in the sand.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Scott

      And since communists were atheists, all atheists are communists who ran gulags and murdered millions. Got it.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  9. JustBeNice

    Ref comment from 'The Illuminati' – a rare voice of reason through the babble and sickening hypocrisy of the American 'religious', a term they have turned into an expletive. To quote a rather famous American, one of your founding fathers, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

    May 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • This Just In

      Try reading and studying a bit more – your quote is out of context. What John Adams wrote was this: "Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamatic I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell." Adams' point was that without religion, the world would be "Hell". Nice try.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Mike

      cant expect a lib to read, they only listen to the state run media.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Glen

      Another example of a quote taken out of context. Here is the FULL quote:
      "Twenty times, in the course of my late Reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible Worlds, if there were no Religion in it"!!! But in this exclamation I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly [Adams' boyhood parish priest and Latin school master]. Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell."

      May 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • JustBeNice

      After a career in international politics, I tend away from anything 'mainstream'. History is rife with reasons why religion ruins everything (that might or might not ring a tiny bell). Although I'm skeptical about your objectivity, you may wish to view, in its entirety, the Intelligenc Squared debate on whether religion is a force for good in the world, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kuzYwzGoXw. If you can view it with an open mind, you should find it provocative, if nothing else.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  10. Harleyxx

    These Black religious leaders have no moral backbone. They have tolerated adultery and fornication in their churches for years. That is why the black community is in such a horrible mess. They will now condemn Obama out of one side of their mouth and tell their parishioners to vote for him out the other. They are the very definition of hypocrisy.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  11. Biki4Real

    Well.. I know that in less than 20 years.. I will most likey be arrested for my beliefs because others will call it a "hate crime." based on what I read on this board, I don't think people would say it will be a good thing too. Christians are being arrested in europe for saying anything on the matter. I'm not agaisnt gay people who are not christians getting married.. if the majority of americans want that, I will respect the decisions the people of this country. I am blessed to be living in a country where people can vote. But.. I know that I will be sent to jail someday for it. And you know what.. it doesn't matter matter if that happens to me because the day I accepted christ, I knew I will be hated and beaten for it. Cause Jesus promised that it will happen to us because a servent is never higher than the master, and if I claim he is my master.. and he was killed because people hated what he was saying.. i know I will be killed for it too.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  12. Rabbit One

    hypocrisy is not really the right word – we need to calm rhetoric in dealing with diverse beliefs – this historic moment is not a cause to bash components of the diverse churches – instead it is a national moment for equal opportunity – whereby we legally should make it so that gays and all people including three-ways have a space in which to marry should they desire it – and receive the tax breaks and whatnot that come with it in this country – also the non-marrying people of the world deserve tax breaks that are fair too – for example we should not be penalized for rejecting marriage as a false materialistic bondage that has nothing to do with anything expect jealousy and control and self-indulgent public ceremony

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

    Blacks can be bigots just like Whites can. I learned that a long time ago growing up in Chicago.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Flamboyant

      You must have gotten your butt whoop. sorry man

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • JoJo

      Flamboyant: Yes, more than once by the Blackstone Rangers and other nice African-American gang members with knives, and guns.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  14. Rumpel Stiltskin

    Black hypocrisy on everything?

    May 14, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  15. Arthur

    Its funny how most black kids are born out of wedlock yet they claim to be so religious! Not to mention events like when preachers like Jessie Jackson have babies out of wedlock with their secretaries!

    May 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • paul

      Yeah, nothing even close to that happens with whites.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Maff

      man please. One thing you dummies will never understand is that just because someone claims to be Christian, then sets a bad example, does not mean that all Christians are that way. Furthermore, Just because someone believes in God, does not suddenly make them more than human. They still make mistakes.
      If you the first person that come to mind when you think "black christian" is jesse jackson... then you are simply ignorant

      May 14, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  16. Arthur

    Its funny how most black kids are born out of wedlock yet they claim to be so religious!

    May 14, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Onlovesside

      All others are quickly catching up....and their numbers are not impressive at all either...It's an American culture problem...not only a black problem...lest you laugh...a decade from now all shall be in the same boat. Instead of wasting your energy on negative hate racial speech...why can't you be a better person and make this usofa a better place???

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  17. Unit34AHunter

    Answer: "yes."

    May 14, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  18. johnmenacherjr@rocketmail.com

    Wow when did i wake up in a theocracy? Give it up already or move to Iran. I really dont give a rar's ass what CNN Says about me or anyone else or about my president and my rights.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Rumpel Stiltskin

      He's your president? Make him cut the debt then.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  19. Heinz Doofenshmirtz

    Just another example of religion, using words written in another time by mere mortals, to justify a cause that cannot be justified.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  20. jorgesedano

    well. The blacks use the same close mindedness today that they accused the white folks that owned slaves of. when will this hypocrisy end? Help me out here?

    May 14, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Onlovesside

      Blacks are monolithic? ALL of them are close minded...even the ones fighting for your freedom? Deep racial hate...get help!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:20 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.