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. tony

    I drove by at least a dozen different philosophy atheist meeting houses just on the way to work today. All with billboards with cute little sayings outside designed to falsely influence me and my children. And they hold collections inside, to raise money for more meeting houses, influence political elections, restrict other peoples rights, mess around with accurate school text books, cover hug, un-productive organizational costs and publicize lots more sayings.

    Oh, No wait a minute. . . .

    May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • iqueue120

      Sure, they don't rise money... and don't follow a political/economical agenda.
      Two words:
      Obama – Hollywood.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. CalCitizen

    The only way African Americans will not support Obama is if he becomes a republican.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Rachell

      The only way racist white folks will support Obama is if he becomes republican.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |

      Or embraces being half white as much as he does being half African...

      May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

      @Rachel – Because the only white folk who did not vote for Obama were racist? So, the black folk who voted for Obama were "color" blind?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Johnny

      ^^^^ This is why I don't vote, too many of you to cancel out.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. thetruth

    Dems getting real nervous after recent poll showing Mitt 50% and Obama 43%...and the down hill slide is just beginning....I think this kinda answers what the public thinks of Obama's views.....as the numbers get worse for Obama watch the hate posts go through the roof....it's nice to be tolerant....

    May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Kandric

      An AP poll 3 days before showed Obama with an 8 point lead. A Politico poll two days before that had Romney leading by 1 point...different polls on different days have different outcomes.

      Overall, Obama has polled 1.2 points higher than Romney, across the board.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  4. whitetrashintellectual

    This is about the dumbest analysis I have ever read in the entirety of my life. I would consider a 3rd graders analysis of the state of the global economy in higher regard.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    The commandments to stone sinners of the Old Testament were meant verbatim but of course Moses was aware of his own sinfulness and knew that God was a God, which did not seek the destruction of the sinner, but his salvation. Only persistant sinners, which did not repent after several exhortations, should have been stoned. This is equal to the exclusion from the Church today. Stoning has been replaced by the exclusion from the Church. I would never harm a gay outside the Church, but offer the gospel towards him, by which he could be delivered from his sin. A gay inside the Church I would exhort and if he did not want to repent I would promote his exclusion. I am aware of my sinfulness, but seek God's salutary Grace every day.

    Gayness should not be promoted and legalized by permission of gay marriage. Yet, I don't hate gays of hinder them in any way. It is only that they have to stay outside Church, because inside Church are delivered people. A delivered man cannot be gay or at least should be on a way of healing.

    Every sin is an act against the principle of love towards God and the neighbour. Actually God has predetermined a certain wife for nearly every man. A single pious man should wait for his predetermined wife in abstinence up to the day, when he encounters his wife and marries her. A gay man is a man, which has totally lost the control of his body. A gay man is a man, which is totally controlled by the lust of his body to this extent that he even desires men. This is the total denial of the love to his future wife, which God actually wanted to give him and the total denial of the belief in God's love, who wanted to support him with a wife. If we answer God's love with total lechery, we sin. Sin is the opposite of love towards God and the neighbour. Yet, dear gay, exactly for such a sinner like you God delivered his beloved Son. Should not this convince you of God's love, who wants to take care of you and to give you a wife and everthing else, which you need?

    The verses of the Bible against ho-mos-exuality are meant verbatim. Yet today in the concrete handling of certain cases patience must be applied.

    We can imply that yet at Moses' time a gay man was not stoned immediately, but exhorted several times, before he was punished. If someone repented, he was forgiven and admitted again into the community of God's Chosen People.

    The equivalent of stoning at Moses' time is the exclusion from the Church (the Church is the successor of God's Chosen People) today, if a church member is not ready to repent from a heavy sin. The exclusion takes place first after at least three attempts of rebuke (by a singel church member, by several church members and by the whole congregation). Like stoning the exclusion from the Church can lead to the total destruction of the body of the church member in the worst case. A church member outside the Church has got no protection against evil powers.

    Basically a ho-mose-xual person can not remain in the Church. If he or she wants to remain in the Church, he or she has to repent. The Church is a place, where sinners can be cured from their maladies or where are people, which are already cured.

    Every true Christian is always aware of his own sinfulness and knows that he overcomes his sinful body only by God's Grace in Jesus. Hence, a Christian will not judge sinners, but offer the gospel of restoration towards them. In the Church there are people (sinners), which have accepted God's salutary Grace. If someone rejects God's offer of healing, he should stay outside the Church.

    If my workmate, classmate, neighbour, etc. outside the Church is a gay, I don't have to judge him, but treat him friendly offering the gospel by word and practical love.

    The only problem is, when gays want to be church members, without abandoning their sin by the releasing Grace of Jesus. This cannot be accepted, because the Church is the proper place, where are people, which are reconciled with God. Someone, who keeps on sinning, is not reconciled with God and doesn't belong to the Church.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Sockifyable

      "Gayness should not be promoted and legalized by permission of gay marriage."

      Like I just said to you a few pages ago...it's totally legal to be gay in America! We are not Pakistan.

      Also, citizenship in America isn't determined by people's standing with the Christian faith. So, what Christians believe should not have anything to do with the legal grounds for civil marriage.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Johnny

      Hmm guess the church looks away when it's a 8 year old boy.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      I find it insulting, when you equal Christianity and Islam.

      Christianity is truth, Islam is lie.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. God Loves All!

    including sinners such as I and all gays included.

    He wants us to be right with him!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  7. JL Taylor

    A careful study of the historical relationship between mankind and relgion yields a common patterrn.
    All religious systems contain rules and standards which are subject to interpretation by the people
    in power or those who enjoy the most privileges. The privileged call themselves conservatives and
    resist change and they call those who push for change and more inclusiveness liberals or declare
    that they are going against God. The only commom theme in all religions which has move the quest
    of all men and women to live with freedom and dignity forward, Is do unto others as you would have
    the do unto you.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  8. Jay

    I do not beleive religion to be hypocracy. I think it is all about interpretation and understanding. It isn't hard to warp something into backing up what you are saying.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  9. blackginger

    it's funny how religion creeps into politics. Be careful, church and state should never mingle. God gave us the ability to choose between good an evil. No religious group or society should legislate morality. if we try, there is great danger. the term or word marriage is derived biblically. change the word. if you are a christian, remember that the bible states that God loves the sinner, not the sin. If you are a christian and read your bible, there are many sins, hating, lying, cheating, adultory, selfishness, fornication, etc, etc.... repent , repent, repent

    May 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  10. A Muslim

    Elijah Muhammad said it years ago – The Fall of America. This is so laughable – a man “marrying” a man; a women “marrying” a woman. The Devil is rejoicing on how he has fooled men and women to believe in this “Gay marriage" garbage. The final revelation to man – The Holy Quran – needs to be read by mankind to get Gods last warning to us. In the Quran, God warns that He will give you what you want in this world, but you will not have a share in the good life of the hereafter! God says he will forgive mankind as he likes but we must sincerely repent our sins. The enemy of mankind, the Devil, is working hard to dupe us into not follow the divine words of the Quran. May God forgive us all and protect us from the schemes of our open enemy, the Devil; Amen.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Rachell

      TROLL. lol nice try though.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bob

      You need to stop reading that book it is full of hatred and lies.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      The worst enemies of mankind are Islam and Catholicism. They are both anti-Christian.

      Muhammad was a lousy fraud, which presumed to be judge of the mankind. This idiot would indeed kill the gays today.

      In contrast Jesus Christ offered love and deliverance to the sinners. God wants to deliver gays from their gayness.

      First at Judgement Day God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) will judge lousy creature Muhammad and all other sinners for the real sins, which they committed.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • A Muslim

      "Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians - whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve" (2:62, 5:69, and many other verses).

      "...and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, 'We are Christians,' because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (5:82).

      "O you who believe! Be helpers of God - as Jesus the son of Mary said to the Disciples, 'Who will be my helpers in (the work of) God?' Said the disciples, 'We are God's helpers!' Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved. But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed" (61:14).


      "If only they [i.e. Christians] had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course, but many of them follow a course that is evil" (5:66).

      "Oh People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of God anything but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a messenger of God, and His Word which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him. So believe in God and His messengers. Say not, 'Trinity.' Desist! It will be better for you, for God is One God, Glory be to Him! (Far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs" (4:171).

      "The Jews call 'Uzair a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is but a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. God's curse be on them; how they are deluded away from the Truth! They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of God, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary. Yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him! (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)" (9:30-31).

      May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • TPN51

      And I suppose stoning people and cutting off their heads is OK. Who's the misinformed one? The Quran is as distorted as the Bible or the Torah. They advocate violence against their own followers. demand allegiance to one being (God), (Mohamed) or whatever. They promise you everlasting life but Hell on earth. It's an illusion of mass proportions. So please don't quote you ideology to validate you misconception.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @A Muslim

      Don't bother us with your foolish Koran-rubbish, made-up by little Muhammad in a hot Arabic cave, when he suffered from delusions.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  11. iqueue120

    Who can honestly say that 'gay marriage' does not affect the whole society?
    If you start giving beer to kids in school and kindergarten, would you later surprise to find out that the alcoholic population has grown?
    Well, maybe they were always 'closeted' alcoholics. Maybe they were born that way...
    If you start showing 'gay behaviour' in every movie, tv show, headline... and now political discourse, what do you think it will happend. You see, it's already happening.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Nare

      that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life

      May 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • iqueue120

      Nevertheless, true.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Kandric

      Societies where alcohol is responsibly introduced at a younger age, such as France and Germany, have lower rates of alcoholism than the US.

      What is happening is more love and acceptance. That's never a bad thing.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  12. jstout511

    "Civil unions"? Okay. "Marriage?" No way!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Sockifyable

      Civil marriage is a social contract that grants legal kinship to two parties.

      Sacred marriage is a contract between two folks and their god or gods.

      Since I don't think anyone in America is interested in giving the state the authority to bless or invalidate sacred marriages there's no reason for that distinction to be a point of contention.

      Civil marriage should be available to any two US citizens interested in joining finances and visiting each other in the hospital.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Rob

      Sorry, we already gave it to the goverement in teh 1800's.

      "Since I don't think anyone in America is interested in giving the state the authority to bless or invalidate sacred marriages there's no reason for that distinction to be a point of contention"

      May 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  13. HenryMiller

    "Why would the black church cite scripture to exclude gays when a similar approach to the Bible was used to enslave their ancestors?"

    Not that I know much about the Christian bible, but it looks like you can justify just about anything by cherry-picking it. Millions were killed in the Crusades, millions more in the Thirty Years War. Millions of the original inhabitants of the New World were killed. All because the Christian bible said it was okay.

    Compared to all that slaughter, the issue of who marries whom is pretty insignificant.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      But the Christian Bible did not say such evil was ok. The Bible does not become invalid simply because evil doers cherry pick. I believe that is the gist of your argument, but it may have become lost along the way.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • blackginger

      let me say, that the bible does not specially point to african people as the only people who were held in bondage . slavery in the bible was not race based. social, yes....gain some intelligence.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  14. RJ

    "‘These people were against you.’ They would have lynched you. "

    Yes, that is right, of course, every person who believes the bible and is a Christian would have done what ignorant/racist people of the past have done. On what basis do you say that Mr. Cone, oh that's right, the color of my skin... so, explain to me again what racism is and why what you're doing isn't racist?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  15. J-Off

    Well I think we can all agree, the real crime here are those tacky gay pride parades.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  16. alex

    We, the Christians of the United States of America, are without sin so we can cast stones at anybody that is different than us.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Jay


      We, the Christians of the United States of America, are without sin so we can cast stones at anybody that is different than us."

      You are a Troll.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  17. Johnny

    The whole political system is full of hypocrisy ... are you realizing this now?!?!?

    20+ years I've heard president candidates say/promise these four things constantly, fix/better education, improve health care, stabilize social security, and improve the economy. And gay marriage is an issue?!?! This is a civil rights issue, gays are asking for the same rights has hetero couples. They are not asking my permission, your permission, the governments permission or what you think your definition on what is gods word.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  18. Rachell

    Yes it is hypocritical and here's why they don't care – people are generally looking out for their OWN self interest. I know black folks that don't like gay people. I know racists white gay men. I know republicans who look down on people accepting assistance from the government until THEY NEED IT.
    Then there are the folks out there who care about equality for all whether the person looks like them or not. To those folks, *hat tip*

    May 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  19. eideard

    You speak to a Republican point of pride and jealousy. They would love to take credit for having invented hypocrisy. But, Christians beat them to it.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Sockifyable

      Wait, aren't most Republicans Christians? Derp.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      Nonsense. How do you define hypocrisy? Your definition probably concludes that Christians can't sin at all, and that is childish.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
      • eideard

        Christians might say that. Not I.

        May 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  20. sybaris

    1. Religion itself is a hypocrisy

    2. Religion and civil rights do not mix

    May 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Hitchens

      If it was not for the Church there would be no civil rights.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • matt in nw


      If it was not for the Church there would be no NEED FOR civil rights.

      There fixed it for you man:)

      May 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
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About this blog

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.