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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. thenyscreenwritinglife

    Why is it only gay and lesbians accountable to the Bible? What about people in this country who divorce once, twice, three times? People who have abortions. People who cheat on their spouses. People who cheat on their taxes. Why is only gay Americans who have to be discriminated for not living up to the religious standard? After all, Jesus spoke against divorce, judging others, finding fault with your neighbor instead of yourself - he spoke out against being a pious hypocrite.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  2. The Angry American

    Its amazing that a group that fought for countless years to gain equal rights and still fights to this day is so willing to turn its back on another group who is also seeking equal rights. Just becasue you dont like the fact that its two men or two woman should hold no bearing on your thought of marrage considering all religion today is based on a being that refuses to show itself and weigh in on the subject. and before you say "but the bible says" the bible is wrong because for one it was written by man, the comandments were written by "god", besides the "bible" is a stolen work anyway for the fact that its copywrited well after "god" stopped "talking" to anyone on this planet. Then to add insult to injury everyone that owns a bible helped someone else steal from "god" when they bought the book in the first place. Heres a few thoughts about just the christian religion. It says Thou shall not steal, lie or kill yet "god" sent the jews around killing everyone to take their lands, women and possesions, bigot. Your so called "god" also sent his "son" to earth TO BE MURDERED, what kind of father does that, not me, if it were me ID STAND IN FRONT OF A MOVING TRAIN TO SAVE MY SON, some god you got there, hes jeliouse, petty, obviously confused on most matters and should be recalled for a "god" thats actually got his act together. oh and doesnt it say that everyones story was written before they were born? That actually means that your "god" MADE SOME PEOPLE GAY AND THEREFORE ARE LIVING AS HE INTENDED so stick your thoughts of what marrage is stright up your backside because your wrong for judging them anyway. and before you decided to comment back, I dont care about your opnion becasue its most likely wrong anyway and I wont take the time to read them.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. MHindin

    Sad. The same people that benefited greatly by the coalition of minorities and righteous Caucasian Civil Right supporters are being asked to vote against the civil rights of one of the minorities who supported them. This is the era of divisive fear mongering to consolidate power of the wealthy such as the Koch Brothers who tried to reintroduce segregationist policy in a North Carolina school board election and succeeded for two years until their candidates were voted out. The "Party of Lincoln" became the party of frustrated segregationist Dixiecrats who were welcomed with open arms into the Republican Party. Lincoln wouldl not recognize the Republican Tea Party.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  4. stjdsj

    “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God ; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” (1John 1:9-11)

    May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      Anyone who copies some scripture as their post is just a brainless lemming.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  5. Shovel Ready

    I really dosen't matter what Black pastors think or say, because 97% of blacks are going to vote for Obama anyway no matter what he does.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  6. Cindy Gifford

    So these "Christians" think that God was on their side in the struggle for equality, but not the side of the gays? Note to "Christians": God didn't make any junk, and Christ told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means you. And this country was founded on equality, not just for those who have already won it......but for everyone.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • jbrunoski

      this country was founded with slaves...3/5
      is not equal

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  7. Deborah

    The Bible does not have any passages to enslave black people. Mr. John Blake, obviously does not know anything about the Bible. It is the Korhan that specifically calls black people slaves.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Humanist11

      So I guess the bible says it is OK to have slaves as long as they are not black. Please clarify for us they type of people god considers useful as slaves because he sure does talk about them a lot. He even instructs slave owners how to punish his slaves for not obeying their masters.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  8. Bruce

    I am surprise that the Black Church is so against Gays from getting married. These same gay people march with them when they were being denied their RIGHTS.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  9. GG

    I want to see the Reverand Jesse Jackson stand up and marry two guys. I'd love to know what Dr. King's position on this would have been.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • MINA

      Dr King would have supported Gay marriage because he wanted everyone to be treated equally.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  10. scoobypoo

    "traditional" marriage is kind of like "traditional" slavery.
    Just because something has been a certain way for a long time does not make it right.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • rightone

      "Just because something has been a certain way for a long time does not make it right." So when people tell me that gays have been around for a long time, i can use your own words against u

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • mbal

      And don't forget the tradition of not allowing women to vote, the tradition of banning interracial marriage, and the tradition of treating blacks like 3/5 of a person.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "So when people tell me that gays have been around for a long time, i can use your own words against u"

      Yes they have been around for a long time, it's been documented in over 1500 other species. What the expert also proved that what was written about gays and lesbians in the past were done by bias and prejudice people, that includes the bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Dan

      And just because you want it to change doesn't mean it should.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • arun

      Just because something has been a certain way for a long time does not make it WRONG either. Things do not need to be change just because they have been a certain way for a long time. Have we carefully thought and researched why things were a certain way? Are we moving in the right direction (progressive) or just going in opposite direction (regressive) and foolishly labeling it as progressive.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • LinCA

      @arun

      You said, "Just because something has been a certain way for a long time does not make it WRONG either. Things do not need to be change just because they have been a certain way for a long time."
      The traditional marriage will not change. Heterosexual couples will still be able to get married, even if we no longer discriminate against homosexual couples. They will still be able to raise their kids as they see fit. The will still qualify for all federal and state benefits. They will still be able to get a divorce.

      Even churches will still be able to discriminate and not be forced to accept, or perform, same sex weddings.

      You said, "Have we carefully thought and researched why things were a certain way?"
      Yes. We've also established that there aren't any negative consequences of same sex marriage.

      You said, "Are we moving in the right direction (progressive) or just going in opposite direction (regressive) and foolishly labeling it as progressive."
      We seem to be heading in a regressive direction. One where it is acceptable to openly hate, and discriminate against, a disliked minority.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  11. dontknownada

    I am of the belief that God enabled me with a mind and free will. Otherwise, Christianity would be science/ fact. However, its clearly based on Faith, not things you can see, smell, touch, or taste. The part I find most entertaining, is how the majority of the people on here, Athiest or Spiritual (in any form), spend more time and effort to discredit or undermine the people that don't agree with them. Try spending just half that time learning your own mind, body, soul, and spirituality and you might find yourself moving forward in the world.....amazing thought huh?

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

      Nope.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  12. 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 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Amber

      Well said, n8263!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  13. Frank T

    Well said DJ, totally agree

    May 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  14. JS

    Wow...a lot of strong opinions...I have to admit I'm disapointed in the black church community's response to marriage equality...ironically, Coretta Scott King was a marriage equality advocate but none of her children (with the great legacy they represent) have picked that up from her. Given the high rate of HIV infection in the black community, and what we know about black men and women on the 'down low', I think the community has a deeply conflicted issue within itself about gays being able to live openly so I'm not surprised to see/hear this. I can only hope things will change...

    May 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Amber

      It seems that is the case – and I am equally disappointed. I hope everyone opens their minds and hearts regarding the rights of others.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  15. Katie

    The sad truth about many people that claim to fight oppression and wish for equal rights is as simple as this; they don't wish to truly abolish oppression they just want to have the power to be the oppressor.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  16. Craig Doug

    Hypocrisy within the Black community? I'm in shock...this is something new...

    May 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  17. Rod

    Black church-goers have taken the very one thing they have in common with any run-of-the-mill KKK member and ran with it! The NC referendum not only sttripped gays from getting married, it also denied them any possibility of a LEGAL common union to protect their rights. What does that has to do with the Bible? White and black BIGOTS finally found some common ground and stuck together.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • zzzzz

      All these minorities are steeping over each other to be the "better" and "special" minority and be accepted in "common" society by bigot white males. I am white and I am for affirmative action, but if people want to oppress other minorities, they deserve what they get, starting with many "white women":
      – Feminist women that still think they are better than minorities because their white, and see many of them in "women-rights" charity work my wife does.
      – Black's and Hispanic, that hate other minorities and mostly base don religion: Muslims after 2001 got the best of it.
      – Gay community that does not care about minorities (some proud Republicans). A good example are the "spoiled once", like Elton John,with "a great statement on SB1070 in AZ. Not realizing that the only reason they have power is the money they posses.
      – Hispanics not liking blacks...
      – Hispanics (Catholics) still not liking Jews (Jesus killing blame)
      – Jews not liking Muslims and some how it was OK to discriminate and "profile" them after 2001. They have forgotten how Jews were labeled Communists 80 years ago and prosecuted based on the "label" : Jew.

      I can go on an on, but bottom line is all this minorities must realize that the goal should not to become "whites" best friend (dog), but creating an inclusive society for all.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  18. DJ

    I love how people still cling to the Bible as though it were penned by God himself. The Bible is a book written by man.
    It is also a book that contradicts itself thousands of times over. If everyone would just accept each other as they are and try to be good people, the world would be a much better place. If only we caould act as once species, moving towards a united goal. But alas, everyone has to be against something, serving their own agendas. I hope the planet wipes us all out. We truely are the worst creation on this planet.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      Yep, no need for organized religion, just follow the golden rule.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • brandi

      'tis true, dj.

      i was saying the other day over some tasty margaritas that the world could actually be this truly happy place...we could easily solve problems in life if (so many) people didn't put power and money and self-serving ways above the greater good. we could share the planet with other species...learn to respect animasl and environment and actually live harmoniously with nature...but we don't because it comes down to personal gain and personal wants and what can i do for "me me me".

      "but what's in it for me?"

      "therein, sir, lies the problem with the world."

      i'm ashamed of our species, as a whole. we treat people that "aren't like us" as lesser beings; we've done nothing but make a mockery out of nature; we turn our heads from the suffering of others and go about our daily lives, and the horrors we commit on animal worldwide is a sad and tragic thing.

      someone wrote something about bears the other days...and how bears are threatening to humans. i laughed. there is no bigger threat to bears, to rhinos, to forests, and to other humans than humans themselves.

      hug a pig. don't eat him.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • brandi

      'tis true, dj.

      i was saying the other day over some tasty margaritas that the world could actually be this truly happy place...we could easily solve problems in life if (so many) people didn't put power and money and self-serving ways above the greater good. we could share the planet with other species...learn to respect animals and environment and each others' differences and actually live harmoniously with the entire planet...but we don't because it comes down to personal gain and personal wants and what can i do for "me me me".

      "but what's in it for me?"

      "therein, sir, lies the problem with the world."

      i'm ashamed of our species, as a whole. we treat people that "aren't like us" as lesser beings; we've done nothing but make a mockery out of nature; we turn our heads from the suffering of others and go about our daily lives, and the horrors we commit on animal worldwide is a sad and tragic thing.

      someone wrote something about bears the other days...and how bears are threatening to humans. i laughed. there is no bigger threat to bears, to rhinos, to forests, to the oceans, to other humans, and so on and so forth than humans themselves.

      hug a pig. don't eat him.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • KL

      Show me where the Bible contradicts itself.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  19. bettyboop33

    There is nothing stranger than one minority discriminating against another minority.
    "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me." by Martin Niemöller

    May 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • zzzzz

      Yes, and after September 11. 2001, we let the "hate" separate us .. , as it was in 1920-30 in Germany. That must stop if we'll move forward: "United we stand" is the big joke.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  20. PandoraDoggl

    Even with a literal reading, the Bible doesn't support the kind of slavery that existed in the 17th – 19th centuries. The slavery that existed in the Roman Empire during the time Paul wrote Ephesians was indentured servitude. It was a condition a person sold himself into in order to pay a debt. No one was a slave by birth or by kidnapping. Slaves still received wages under this system and could buy their own freedom – in fact, they were encouraged to do so by Paul.

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

      Thank you for your lucid comment.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • n8263

      So your all knowing god was unable to foresee all the types of slavery?

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

      In some cases this might be true, but you have a severe misunderstanding of history if you think that all Roman slaves were just indentured servants. And yes you could buy and sell slaves in Rome.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • zzzzz

      Paul instructed "slave" to obey master ... correct ? and that is the only one...

      May 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ozymandias71

      And yet Jefferson Davis (president of the Confederacy) always justified *confederate* slavery using scripture. Trying to dance away from it now is pointless – history is replete with religious reasons for every kind of discrimination.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:48 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.