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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. Dave

    I've been saying this all along. African Americans should be fighting for the rights of gays. It makes no sense that the very same people who fought for their own civil rights (and continue to fight) would be fighting against the civil liberties of others. American is about equal rights to everyone, not just a select few.

    If if you don't like gays or other people, that's your business. But don't lobby the government to script laws based on your skewed views of freedom.

    If you believe that God is perfect, that means everything he created is perfect. Therefore if you're saying that Gay people are an abomination, you're directly acknowledging that God is not perfect (which is a sin, punishable by an eternity of burning). Have a nice time.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • GE

      Actually @Dave...it was said in Leviticus that the unnatural life of man on man and woman on woman is an "abomination"

      And without wondering your race I will say...being BLACK is by NATURE...being GAY is a CHOICE so no blacks should NOT defend that CHOICE as with defending Civil Rights there is no way ANY should relate that struggle!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Ten

      @ GE that's my point exactly!

      May 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're an idiot. Being gay is no more a "choice" than is being straight, you moron.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      GE, you're retarded.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  2. jpz

    I think we need to step back and really look at this issue. It is just so mean spirited. I do not agree with the President on this issue. I do agree that we should treat evryone with respect but if they wish to marry at the court house I can go with that but in the church it should be the decision of that congregation. Remember, respect goes a long way. Remember the dream MLK

    May 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Lola

      It is only churches in the red neck south that have a problem with it. I suggest that the US let the south succeed as they should have in the 1860's. Then all the ignorant in-breds can move there.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • notatall

      I guess you do agree with the President. Nobody is forcing churches to perform ceremonies for gays, but the ones who are open to it should not be stopped from performing them.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  3. n8263

    Christians should be the least judgemental based on the teachings of Christ, but here they are.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Boobie Miles

      And last time I checked, Jesus didn't say anything about hating gays. That is the Old Testament God, the same guy who burns down cities, demands sacrifice, allows slavery and is a pretty mean Spaghetti Monster.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  4. Steve

    Marriage has been around many centuries before Jews or Christians. Religion really had nothing to do with marriage. It is just like the Christian holidays were not Christian before they coop'd it. This BS about God created marriage for man and woman is only religious propaganda. There were marriages in Greece prior to the year 6800 BC (Before Christ). If you take the time for the creation of the earth as put forth in the Bible, this was occurring prior to God creating this planet. Marriage (or civil unions) is a human right and a civil matter without any input from religion.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  5. Argonaut

    Of course. This is the civil rights movement of our generation. Blacks are just p-ssed off they're not getting all the attention any more, especially since they seem to reverberate to us-against-them mentality and want reparations for everything or a freebie handout otherwise.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Beserker

      So you know that this is what every Black person on the planet wants or are you generalizing. Such a bigoted statement. And you wonder why they feel about you the way they do

      May 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  6. chris

    Doesn't the Bible also say we can stone adulterers??
    When are bringing that back?

    May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Steve

      No, didn't you get the memo, we pick and choose what we do according to the Bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • James PDX

      The new official nickname of Christianity is Cherry Pickers.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  7. curiousdwk

    One question. Why do people believe that the Bible is from some god? If one argues without the Bible, what would they come up with as their response to the issue? This should be a matter of morality and compassion and verifiable truth – not based on someone's faith in one of the many "word of god" with different religions accepting different bibles.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  8. l in nyc

    EVERYONE should be allowed civil unions that are legally recognized by our government. Fine – don't marry a gay couple in your church. Leave marriage to the church. Church and State are supposed to be separate anyway.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Boobie Miles

      Couldn't agree more.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      Exactly. Marriage doesn't have to owe anything to religion. If nothing else, religion gets in the way of both starting or ending a marriage.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  9. Steve

    The Bible was written by a bunch of white men and at least one of them was gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • dc3219

      And I even heard one of them was Jewish.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Ten

      The bible was written by man & instructed by God so it is God's words not man. Have you ever read the bible? There's no human on earth who could've thought to write some of the things in the bible without divine interventions. When you write a book it is published by someone other than yourself & it's the same with God. It was God's words but man published them. You should do some research on how scientist have found a lot of things in the bible to be true even Sodom & Gomorrah.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  10. John

    Are blacks hypocrites?
    YES, YES, YES, YES.
    When I hear pastors continue to support Obama when this trash president delares OK what God called an abomination, they are declaring they side with trash rather than God.
    Hypocrites as hypocrites can be.
    They only support him because he's black. Just as Samuel Jackson declared one day, he voted for Obama simply because he is black. For people to vote base on race, and tell us we discriminate, it makes me barf.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Steve

      You are the perfect example of why religion breeds sickness in the mind and soul.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Ron

      This is one black preacher that is not going to join the OBAMA bandwagon. This was political 100%. Notice he kept mum about it for the first term and only "clarified" his stance during reelection. Seems that the hypocrisy is not just with the preachers.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @John: Put down your buybull for one minute and try to think for yourself here. Now please explain how someone being gay affects you directly?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Lance Kinnebrew

      First of all you are ignorant to call Obama black. He is equally white as he is black. He is bi-racial and not black at all. Why are Americans calling our president black? Is it because of the stereotype that bi-racial children are considered black? Stop being ignorant Americans its so shameless.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • notatall

      John, what you don't realize is that President Obama is a Christian....that is, a follower of Christ. Jesus Christ said nothing against gays.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Ten

      The issue here is that blacks do not vote for Republicans in general so if Obama was white a lot of blacks would still vote for him, just like they did with President Clinton. Blacks view Republicans as the enemies & lack the basic component of loving others & helping which is what is instructed in the bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  11. Jessica White

    Its strikes me... That to question the bible is referred to as "inciting hatred", that those who wish freedom in their own right to live and worship as they see fit, feel so vehement toward allowing others those exact graces.

    Hypocrisy? I say YES. Too much for too long.
    My challenge to all the anti-christs out there preaching against free will... Who are you? I'm not gay, I don't need to ask my gay BFF, I don't need a bible or a preacher to think for me, I need only to know what I expect for myself and then grant those same rights to others.

    Free Will. Its not yours to take, limit, control, dictate to, enforce, enslave, or slander.

    Universal Human Rights. Well, Universal says it all ... Huh?

    May 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  12. James PDX

    Why are people using the Bible to support any idea? It's based on the premise of a perfect god who is all powerful and all knowing. The God in the Bible makes mistakes all of the time, but Christians just pass it off as "God having a plan" or "Working in mysterious ways." But a perfect being can get any result he wants instantly by definition. He doesn't need a mysterious plan. So if there are two ways to do a thing, and one of those ways leads to suffering, pain, and eternal damnation, and the other is perfect and without anything negative, clearly the God choosing the path of suffering and damnation is either quite fallible or a sadist.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • dc3219

      Clearly you know more than God. Congratulations sir, now lets see you turn some water into wine.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • sickandtired

      I dont think even you know what your talking about..i guess you had a private conversation with God on his mistakes and he admitted to them...i see

      May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • John

      Or better, walk on water!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • James PDX

      I'll go you one better, sirs. Let's see God turn water into wine. I'll wait...

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Boobie Miles

      No way man, if you're going to do something cool, God-related and completely within the realm of possibility (total, absolute sarcasm), make it rain frogs! I want to see that one!

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • James PDX

      So which part of my argument are you three refuting? Are you saying a perfect, all-powerful being cannot do anything he wants, or that suffering and eternal damnation is a better choice than no suffering and eternal damnation? Or are you just saying that God works in mysterious ways and proving my point?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • dc3219

      Come on now! Your taking the fun out of this. If he just did it all the time, it wouldn't be miraculous. Besides your the both you and him, make extraordinary claims. And if I'm gonna have faith in one of you. I'm not picking you.
      But that's just me.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Steve

      Did anyone see wine turned into water? maybe someone wrote that it happened 2000 years ago, but who to say it is the truth. You can not believe everything you write.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • James PDX

      dc3219, I have made no extraodrinary claims. I stated 2 things. 1) A perfect, all powerful, all knowing being, by nature, can accomplish anything he chooses; and 2) no suffering and eternal damnation is better than suffering and eternal damnation. Again, which of these are you refuting?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • notatall

      That bs is not coming from Christians. It is coming from a growing US "Christian cult" that says things Christ never said. When you know and follow Christ, you will be able to identify the pagans taking over this country in the name of God, but not the true Christian God.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Ten

      God does not lie & he does not make mistakes! He is perfect in everyway, shape & form. The next perfect human being is Jesus Christ. The only people who makes mistakes & are imperfect is every human-being on this earth. His words are used because he is very relevant & what he says matters first & foremost. It's not meant to hurt people, he says things because he loves us & knows the consequences of our actions even if we don't understand them. I don't know what god your talking about but the GOD I know is not what you stated.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bwahahahhha! He is "perfect in every way", but there's a second-place winner?

      What a bunch of idiots you are.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  13. sickandtired

    If you dont know what you were born as, then you need some psychiatric help, so you can figure it out..your either male that stands an pees or female that sits and pees..if you can't figure that out...your a sorry person

    May 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bizarre

      @sickandtired,

      Are you in the 5th grade? Maybe as you get older you can do some research on gender identification problems.

      (Maybe next year in the 6th grade they will teach you the difference between "your" and "you're" too.)

      May 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • James PDX

      If you don't know the difference between your and you're, you're a sorry person.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • sickandtired

      I am in the ninth grade and even I as a kid know the difference between a man and a woman, you adults are the ones that are stupid

      May 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • notatall

      That has nothing at all to do with two people getting married.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  14. dc3219

    DNC – There is no difference between a man and a woman..... Oh wait, their is. Now that's discrimination. You mean one can bear children and the other can't. Sure their are exceptions, but come on we've made 2074 page bills before.

    Go Mitt Romney

    May 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  15. imright

    when gay men no longer require medical intervention late in life for rectal rejuvenation and can give birth through there penis's.. I'll agree that nature intended this as lifestyle as "natural" BTW just because we see it in animal behavior doesn't mean anything, it's a tool in evolution to reduce the population. Born this way? sure... I agree with that, but at least call it what it is..

    May 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • CMH

      Yea, just because it happens in nature does not mean it's 'natural'. Oh...wait....that's exactly what it means. You should record yourself saying these things out loud so you grandkids can be amazed at how ignorant and bigoted their ancestors were.

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

      What it must be like to have such a twisted view of things. Good Luck whith that when you face the final judgement.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Boobie Miles

      Wow, final judgement? Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times and enjoy the ride into the 21st century. God is a myth.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • sickandtired

      right God is myth, just like oxygen, the fact the world is round, electricity...the planet pluto...just about anything that you cant see is a myth...brilliant understanding of the world around us

      May 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Boobie Miles

      @sickandtired
      Actually champ, all of those things are visible on some level other than your God. Thanks science!

      May 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Ten

      @ sickandtired, so you truly believe that everything in the universe created itself? The clouds, the moon, sun, stars, trees, humans, animals & etc. If you as a nonbeliever believe in the cause & effect theory, you understand that we all couldn't have come from nothing. It has to be a cause & we didn't just transform ourselves to be designed the way we are where humans are able to give life.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why do you conclude that 'we" came from some invisible being?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  16. joe the plumber

    what else could be expected from a whole entire race that dedicate 90% of their time planning how to rob others and shoot each other.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Nodack

      You embarrass yourself and the human race.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • John

      No Nodak... he is right!

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  17. Steve

    I find it interesting that the article focuses on the possible hypocricy in black churches, when the hypocricy is across pretty much all religions no matter what creed, color. Religion generally is a system of exclusion, of creating a "we are better than them" way of thinking, which deteriorates into a "they'd better do it like we say, or they're going to hell" situation. Despite repeated passages in every holy book in the world that we as humans are not in a position to judge, but that we should leave that to our dieties, we want to get into other people's business and bend them to what we think is right, even though there has never been a single passage in any holy book that says, "Hey, Fred, you've got God's OK to be judgemental, biased, and bigoted." If you believe in the final judgement, then let God take care of it and mind your own business. All these people want is to have marriages that allow them to have families in which they can visit loved ones in the hospital, raise good children, and be an integral and accepted part of society. Why is that so bad? No. I'm not gay. I'm just tired of people being so nasty, all in the name of being "Good CHristians". Jesus would be appalled.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Johnny Orlando

      Your idea that religion is exclusive shows your ignorance on world religions. Most religions were not created as a way to distinguish themselves from others. They were created because they saw a unique way to interpreting spiritual beliefs. Religion is INCLUSIVE. It defines a group by what THEY believe, not what they believe in opposition to others. Any general education course on religion at a community college would have taught you that if you would have bother to have gone to college.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Jessica White

      *LIKE*

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  18. 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 1:58 pm |
    • elflander

      What incredible insight you have into the minds of others.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • sickandtired

      i guess getting aids is unreality as well...

      May 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • n8263

      @elflander, thank you. Many people agree.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @sickandtired: Anyone can get AIDS regardless of se.xual orientation.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  19. achepotle

    Leviticus 25:44-46: "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life

    May 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Nodack

      Yeah religion. Let's make up whatever we want and pawn that off as the word of god.

      "And then when you have fallen and shall cease to be no more you will find that the kingdom of heaven was all made up and your whole life was dedicated to a god that does not exist and you will just be dead."

      Nodack 22-3

      May 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Ten

      So you do know that slavery used in the bibical times are different than what the white slave master's tried to implement. God did not say to it was okay to beat, hang, & mistreat people. People in the biblical times offered themselves up too to pay off debt & their family members as well, this did not include the acts of which you're trying to refer to. So do not try to misuse his words without reading the entire context. Also, it had nothing to do with skin color as well.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  20. ruth

    I can not believe any Religious person in this country is for gay marriage....and if obama says that he is for it .....then all he wanted was the money for his campaign and the vote in his pocket by saying so!!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      How does a gay person being gay affect you directly? This is not a choice they have made regardless of what you think. This is the way they were born. Read some scientific studies before passing judgement.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Nodack

      If so many are against it and it was such a risky move for Obama, then him making the statement for political reasons to gain money and support makes no sense. Is it possible he said it because he thought it was the right thing to do? Of course you will say no. If you hate Obama then no matter what he does you will see it in the most negative light you can think up.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • What?

      What are you talking about? More people are against gay marriage in this country than for, so how does he make more money? On top of that, Romney publicly stated he is against gay marriage. I thnk he is doing it more for making more money for his campaign than Obama.

      Honestly, you are an idiot. As most Americans are. Keep voting in people who don't give a crap about yu.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • James PDX

      Jesus said not to judge others, and God gave us freewill. Where in there do you find justification for preventing gay marriage?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:07 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.