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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. Mike

    Democrats enslave the blacks....and take for granted their vote.....

    Do black Christians really want to support the party that advocates killing innocent babies???

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      If you're talking about abortion, virtually all abortions are performed either while the fetus is not viable as a "baby" or to save the life of the mother. A fetus turns into a "baby" when it can survive outside of the womb with a standard (or in some cases of premature birth, extreme) level of infant care. The former does not kill a "baby" and the latter saves lives of mothers, wives, sisters so that they have the chance to continue to support their families (you believe family is important, I presume, and would not deprive a family of a mother unnecessarily) and possibly successfully have another child later.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • ChrisCintheD

      Call the police if you know of someone killing babies!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  2. RayinHawaii

    To make an analogy between gay rights and civil rights is ludicrous. When I walk out my door, I'm wearing my black skin and I take on all that comes with it in our society. A gay person, no matter what race can hide the fact they are gay,unless they make it known. I have no choice, I can't hide my blackness. Doesn't matter if I'm wearing a hoodie or a business suit.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah but black people can marry people of other races or of the same race if they want. Gays cannot marry who they want to.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • bflojoe

      The point is that gay people shouldn't have to hide. the only reason some do is because of all you haters.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • chipndale

      Very weak argument.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Uh... I don't know how many gay people you've met (since you can't tell, I have a feeling you've met a lot of them and don't even know), but there are a lot of gay people that can't hide how gay they are. Also, the fact that one can hide a personal attribute doesn't allow society to discriminate against that person for the attribute (e.g., the Jews under Hitler).

      May 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Derek

      Apparently you cannot seem to hind your ignorance either.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Derek

      So Ray, you're in support of a government that makes one set of rules/laws for one group, and another set for a minority group. How do you reconcile this irregularity with your own struggles for equality as a black citizen? What is your definition of equal?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  3. Chris

    I just want one person to tell all the gay/lesbian people in this country that they don't have the same rights as everyone else. Will they stop asking gays to pay full taxes? I doubt it. The part that I honestly cannot understand is that do these idiots actually think that banning the right of gays to get married will make them disappear?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  4. Ted

    With 73% of black kids born out of wedlock it seems they aren't too keen on marriage of any kind.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Chris

      zing! (funny but true)

      May 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Derek

      Boom! Great comment!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Ted, it wasn't black folks that broke up their families. Maybe you should read your texts a bit further to find out why the family unit was purposely kept apart.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Ted, maybe you should read your texts a bit further to find out why the family unit was purposely kept apart.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Mac Smith

      Ted,
      Where did you get your statistics? 73% -- my word!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  5. carlyjanew6

    http://www.Hear-The-Truth.com

    May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      http://recoveringfromreligion.org/

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. noel

    Adios to Obama the sodomists' best friend!
    OBAMANOS!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  7. Golden Girl

    If a black person who is opposed to gay marriage still votes for Obama just because he is black they aren't being hypocritical as long as they openly admit they are voting based on race. Hypocrisy would be saying they vote for Obama because they agree with his policies.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • DB

      Y'know, it's possible to disagree with someone on one issue but agree with them on enough OTHER issues that you support them anyway.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Chris

      The right for gays/lesbians to vote is not the only issue in this election.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Chris

      oops, meant right to marry, not vote. d'oh

      May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  8. Rosemary

    Only Liberals are ignorant enough to believe that White People are the only ones who are bigotid and prejudiced.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • shawn

      Learn to spell!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • bflojoe

      bigotid?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  9. shared_gum

    This article makes some good points. But I do think that Obama voicing his support publicly will help the black community bridge this gap long term.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • chipndale

      Agreed.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  10. Canopy

    Whats the scripture that says leave the judgements to the Lord?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Judgements, yes. Calling it acceptable though is completely out of character for Christians.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Derek

      Who cares? Democracy means being free to adopt any religion, or none at all. Asking Christians what they think simply gives them another platform to start a war or disadvantage another group. If anything, take away their tax free status for advocating politics on the pulpit.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  11. Greg s

    Now that the Blacks have balked at Gay marriage be prepared to face the Gay onslaught, Now there comparing the Black struggle for equality from slavery to there right to marriage, Man, not only that, But beating the blacks over the head with it.

    The fact that the majority of Americans are against it does not bother the left leaning media at all, its what they want and they will shout the rest of the country down if need be.
    Wrong,
    It only works for a short while then comes a back lash.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      It's actually unclear what the majority of Americans believe on the topic. It's so close to a 50/50 split that no one can definitively break the tie. 20 years ago, though the split was closer to 35/65 against, so time and tide are on the side of the gays, not you.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      the majority should not have control over the freedoms of a minority

      May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • FlyontheWall

      Black people commit fornication with alarming regularity......this is a sin the bible says is comparable to being gay, yet they dont seem to be banning and stopping fornicators from getting married, or up in arms that everyone is fornicating.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  12. arun

    I have no problems with gays if they minded their own business and let me mind my business but now they have turned militant. They no longer just want to do their thing. They want to take over the educational system and "indoctrinate" all kids about their lifestyle. They want to aggressively lobby and influence the Govt to legislate their lifestyle choice on the rest of the people. And they do it deceptively with victim-hood and civil rights stance. There is nothing civil rights about hijacking a term and changing its definition. It is like breaking into someone house and demanding civil rights to be able to live there. This is militant aggression most deceptively wrapped as civil-rights issue. Yes, I have no problem with their lifestyle but I have problem if they want to be in-your-face militant about it and stand on my toe. They are intolerant bunch posing as tolerant and one day the remaining society will regret to have appeased and indulged them to the extent they did. Unfortunately it would be too late because by then they would have taken over the education, administration and Govt and we would be living in an officially gay state where you cannot express an opinion that does not agree with theirs. Gay Totalitarianism – here we come!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • sane

      You, my friend, are warped.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Derek

      They pay taxes, can vote and have a voice. You're saying because they are gay they cannot talk to children?

      You can't hide your children from the way the world really is. If anything, you should educate the children and expose them to as much diversity as possible. A gay person cannot make another person gay, no more than a black person can make another person black. Your fears are based in bigotry.

      Perhaps if you would have traveled a bit in your life and had been forced to see other lives and views, you wouldn't be such a closed minded person.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      i know i was so shocked when that gay couple down the street came to my door and tried to force me to be gay!! i am sick of them jamming this down our throats!! i am being sarcastic, you need to get out more

      May 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • MikeM

      You got it right. Comparing race struggle with the gays wanting not just tolerance but total acceptance is an insult to Blacks.
      We all have inclinations and thoughts that are immoral, but we try not to act upon them. We certainly don't ask others to approve of such.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      If you don't want gays in your church, go and kill them. Just let me know when and where so that I can get the cops there to arrest you. Then you'll really know what being a bee-yotch is all about.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Tom

      REALLY? WOW!! Put down your crack pipe!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • chipndale

      I would be surprised if you actually know a gay person. Otherwise, you would retract the majority of what you wrote. marriage is a legal binding contract between 2 conscenting adults. A religious ceremony does not a marriage make.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  13. Chipster

    They're guilty as SIN!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Derek

      Religious "sins" are not laws. Nor should they be. Sounds like selective morality to me:

      "So many Christians try to rationalize this but it is clear that a true follower of Jesus can neither divorce someone nor marry someone who is divorced. There is an exception to the rule, however. If spouse commits adultery, divorce is permissible. On the same token, the Bible also says that anyone who obtains a divorce and marries another is in adulterer. Remember that 80% of this country is Christian yet we have a 50% divorce rate. A majority of divorces are a result of irreconcilable differences, not adultery, which implies that Christians are again practicing selective morality. How many Christians are working on a second, third or fourth marriage?" -Chris Thiefe

      1) “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 & Mark 10:9).

      2) “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9 & Luke 16:18).

      3) "Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery" (Matthew 5:32).

      4) "...whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her" (Mark 10:11 & Luke 16:18), which applies to women as well (Mark 10:12).

      http://www.evilbible.com/christians_are_hypocrites.htm

      May 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • David

      So what's your point Derek? Very few people follow these laws and they are getting fewer all the time

      May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  14. David

    Black people will do NOTHING about Obama's decision to endorse gays. What choice do Blacks have? Are they really going to rebel and vote for a white Republican? Obama could anounce that he is gay himself and ALL Blacks would STILL vote for him. Enjoy your gay President Black people, he's all yours

    May 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • RdWhtNBlu

      Chris Rock: "Who's more racist, white people or black people? Black people because we hate black people too!" It's the definition of urban sprawl. We keep running from them, they keep running from them too, eventually we are gonna have a two hour commute back to the city for the job coming from the safe mansions we keep building as they keep turning old white neighborhoods into ghettos. Have a nice day!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  15. Frank

    Everyone is guilty of hypocrisy in one form or another. Whether it is blacks opposing gay rights but supporting Obama, or the NRA opposing Romney until he became the Republican nominee for President, or whatever else yo can think of.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  16. independent

    Assuming this is a Civil Rights issue, which several State Suprieme courts have stated, it would be hypocritical of Black Churches and Pastors to denounce the President's position.

    Picture a gay person who believes in one God, believes in Jesus Christ, is a good citizen and community member, has adopted someone else's unwanted chilld, and wants to marry his/her partner. Why not? There are lots of people who call themselves Christians who condemn and judge the aforementioned gay person. Many of these people get remarried every few years, and the Church hierarchy somehow finds a way to annul and ignore all that went on before.

    Where is the hypocracy?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Oneorbetter

      Independent you are right! So many people want to judge if we were all living according to the bible (children would not be born out of wedlock, fornication would not be going on, adultery). There's so much all of the churches (white, black, baptist, catholic, presbyterian, petecostal, etc...) they would be empty because the parishoners/members are doing their own fair share of dirty deeds.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  17. arun

    I have no problems with gays if they minded their own business and let me mind my business but now they have turned militant. They no longer just do not want to do their thing. They want to take over the educational system and "indoctrinate" all kids about their lifestyle. They want to aggressively lobby and influence the Govt to legislate their lifestyle choice on the rest of the people. And they do it deceptively with victim-hood and civil rights stance. There is nothing civil rights about hijacking a term and changing its definition. It is like breaking into someone house and demanding civil rights to be able to live there. Yes, I have no problem with their lifestyle but I have problem if they want to be in-your-face militant about it and stand on my toe. They are intolerant bunch posing as tolerant and one day the remaining society will regret to have appeased and indulged them to the extent they did. Unfortunately it would be too late because by then they would have taken over the education, administration and Govt and we would be living in an officially gay state where you cannot express an opinion that does not agree with theirs. Gay Totalitarianism - here we come!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • christina knight

      I guess you survived that meteorite that destroyed the rest of your kind (dinosaurs) 65 million years ago.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Josh

      You are the textbook definition or "Paranoid". Stop watching Fox, go out side and enjoy some nature for 10 minutes...

      May 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Greg s

      Agreed!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • gotstosayit

      I would not consider Gays militant at all. They pay taxes, raise families, and contribute to their communities, so shouldn't they have equal rights? That's all that is wanted, just equality.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • independent

      Black takeovers,
      Jewish takeovers,
      Catholic takeovers,
      Female takeovers,
      and now Gay takeovers. We have heard this before.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • KL

      Agree with you 100% arun as do the majority of your fellow Americans.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • WASP

      @arun: i'm more scared of the crazy christian doomsayers, then i am a gay person. the ones i've met were really polite and friendly; however the church can't have that out of fear of change......we all know if you don't change you become extinct.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Oneorbetter

      Arun, don't worry when they are in the history books they will get one paragraph if two and then they will say that was their histoyr the same as they do with black people.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  18. JimHungSF

    Martin Luther King stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” African Americans who have no qualms about discriminating against LGBT people have seriously lost their way. If you're not willing to embrace universal equality, you don't have a right to demand it for yourself.

    The bible condemns all sorts of things that conservative black ministers would never dream of advocating against: eating of pork, shellfish and non-kosher food, wearing fabrics with blended fibers, being subservient to your master, etc. It is a work of fiction, historical and prehistorical, that has been edited and rewritten numerous times over the millennia, by MEN. One of the primary significances of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hamadi Library discoveries is that they contained early versions of bible texts, revealing some of the many edits the "good book" was put through to fit the propaganda angle of the editors. The Roman emperor Constantine oversaw one of the most extensive rehashings to create the Roman Catholic church in the 4th Century. The bible is no more the word of God than the Betty Crocker cookbook is.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • phearis

      I really like your comment and agree 100%.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Josh

      I second what phearis said.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • noel

      Beleive what you will, but MLK Jr. was absolutely NO GOD either. So let's not deify the man. He was a good man, but no more or less. Let's keep politics out of the pulpit. Please pass that on to the late Jerry Fauldwell, Al Sharpton, & Jesse Jackson. They are like cops who commit crimes, worse than the perpetrators!!! Btw-The Bible is clear on sodomists.
      OBAMANOS!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Byteme

      'Nuff said! 🙂

      May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Joe

      Don't compare the bible to Betty Crocker. Unlike the bible, her cookbook contains universal truth you can rely on. If you follow the recipe, you get the intended result. Not so in the bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  19. Matt

    Of course there is hypocrisy. Obama could take a dump in Al Sharptons Cheerios and pee in Rev Jackson's orange juice and they and the entire black community would still vote Obama.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  20. slap smacky

    what a bunch of snot nose pin heads – get a job you twits – oh yah you can't because of the crappy dictator you slober over

    May 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • wow

      um..all black people are unemployed? i for one, am not.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • DB

      wow:

      I think he means all the LIBERALS who don't hate gays like he does.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Patrick

      You need to "slober" over a spelling book or two.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:14 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.