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. 0user0

    It's sad Afrakan Americans are even christian to begin with, our original spiritual teachings were replaced by "Christ" ...worshiping a white man ? ... really? ... no offense but doesn't it seem odd when you question Afrakan American behavior when almost the entire population of AA here in America are brainwashed like the rest of the idiots ... a poor race that's been enslaved then beaten and discrimitated but people complain about the "violence" and "crime" ... and to make matters worse ... santorum wants to convert the entire nation to christianity ... isn't that ... "mental slavery" ... you know the same thing the banks have been doing .... the same reason why the WTC was attacked ...

    May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Spartacus

      Perhaps converting to the religion of their masters and clinging to it even after they were freed was not the wisest choice made by the black community. Maybe they didn't really want true freedom after all.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Allen

      Jesus wasn't white, you !diot. He was from the Middle East. Guess what color those people are? So blacks are worshiping an Arab, just like you are.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  2. celucienljoseph

    Reblogged this on celucienljoseph, Ph.D.– Scholar, Intellectual, Cultural Critic.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. Tiw22

    I support a gay marriage ban because gay marriage is just plain wrong. Marriage has always been defined as a union between a man and a woman. If we allow gays to get married then we have to do the same to people who want to marry their pets.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  4. Brad Cuff

    I Just wonder how many black men on Sunday listening to gay-bashing (No.1 sin) have just been to the "Club" the night before with baby No. 20 arriving in nine months.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Adam

    All out war has been declared on Christianity.

    Liberals want to talk hypocrisy about Christians and what the Bible has to say? The Bible has not one single endorsement of sin in the entire book. Liberals, however, want to tell us to be all inclusive... unless you disagree with liberalism.

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

      War? You have no clue. In this country are you being prevented from being a Christian? Are your churches being burned? Are you being denied housing and employment because of your faith? Are your bibles being confiscated and destroyed?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Janine from TX

      Their bibles should be confiscated and destroyed. Maybe only then can people put down the divisiveness. Religion is nothing but a decisive crutch. People can be spiritual and have values without the crazy stories came up with in the bible. It has no more validity than Grimm's Fairy Tales, yet people are willing to die and kill over the bible. BS.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  6. Dakota2000

    A Black church has nothing to say about "equality" if it has an all black congregation. Period.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Chuck

      wow, pretty dumb post. you want to join a black church? i am sure they'll let you.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. James

    Blacks being hypocritical? Never seen that before...

    May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  8. Jay

    Great article! I've wondered the same thing for years.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  9. jay

    WOW WOW WOW ...What our ancestors went thru (slavery) is the same as not letting gays get married....YOU MUST BE A FOOL!!!!!!! WOW...Blacks were slaves, could not get married for a few centuries!!! I don't care about who gets married or not but don't ask us Christians to repudiate the Bible...if SO ask Muslims to repudiate the Quran!

    This is rediculous

    May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Spartacus

      What was the nazi symbol for blacks to wear again?

      The gays got a pink triangle...before being gassed and burned. So yeah, other than murder, discrimination and being forced to hide who they are since...forever...I guess black people endured pretty much the same or worse treatment than gays.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Allen

      You missed the point entirely. Passages in the Bible were used to justify the practice of keeping slaves. Other passages in the Bible are now being used to justify the banning of gay marriage. The point of the article has nothing to do with slaves getting married – it has to do with slavery itself.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  10. Spartacus

    Im cool with them running up the bible defense of this discrimination.

    Just as long as when discrimination against gays is upheld as the law of the land all the black get back to work in the cotton fields for no pay.

    Hey, its in the bible....

    May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  11. olga79

    Let the one without sin cast the first stone.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • worktolive

      As a Christian I am not casting any stones but I will not vote yes to sin whether it is abortion or gay marriage. I will never let my grandkids be taught this is a "normal" lifestyle.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  12. ton

    Well it's obvious what side CNN is on with the gay marriage thing isn't it.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  13. Balanced99


    Republican hypocrisy? I'm an independent and I've never, never seen the republicans reach close to 20% of the hypocrisy of the left – this subject specifically included. Obama has flip/flopped more than once on the gay issue now – for nothing but political gain. However, the left (and their media partners) say his position has 'evolved' (again?). Had a republican changed – attack articles galore!

    Do me a favor – other than those who preach family values and then get caught cheating on their spouse, what hypocrisy have you seen from the republicans? Please list. I could fill five pages from the left (just from the last 4 years!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  14. David in NC

    Total hypocrisy. The lack of empathy and understanding being show here by the black community is abysmal. However, as an atheist I'm not surprised that religion has poisoned the well once again.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  15. n8362

    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 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Lying to yourself is the only way to become a wanna be atheist.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Sockifyable

      Uh, I'm an atheist, but I'm pretty sure plenty of religious people believe in what they participate in. Maybe you should leave your computer room and go talk to people in the real world sometime.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • n8362

      They believe out of fear and insecurity.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  16. blackginger

    tell me why african americans are always picked on.... no matter the subject, our names always come up. why?

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

      Maybe because they are excluded and most of the time racist to other group.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  17. Lunie Jean


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

      Please stop trying to compare the lifestyle of gays with women and blacks-we were born this way-you were not. You are living a sinful lifestyle same as people living together, commit adultery, etc.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  18. ReadYourBible

    The Bible is very clear; "Jesus" (The Faithful Word of God) Pay for you, all you have to do is asking forgiveness with no doubts, then he gives you the holyspirit and with that anointing of his spirit you'll be able to commence a new life as well contain your self from sinning against God.

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

      well, if it's all BS it doesn't matter how clear it is, does it!?

      try thinking for yourself

      May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Minu13

      There is nothing remotely stating in the bible that all you have to do is except Jesus. In fact, Jesus states that you do not have to believe in him but at the least believe in the very works he does. The fact remains that Jesus is being used as a scape goat so self proclaimed believers can live in any manner that they want without having any repercussions for their lifestyle.

      Its not about believing, its about doing. What does James say? He will show you his works which shows his faith. Many people of today are "faith" only without the works to back it up. Faith without works is dead.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      You've said this a lot of times, now.

      Maybe you'd like to elaborate what is unhealthy about atheism? I'm not aware of any health consequences being linked to atheism.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • just sayin

      The wages of sin is death. God bless

      May 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Kevin

      Does this mean that I need to teach my cat about Jesus?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • One one

      Atheists don't tell children that god sends them to hell to be tortured forever if they don't follow their beliefs.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • just sayin

      Your cat already knows. God bless

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      You just did. God bless

      May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  20. Amy

    It's been forever since I have looked at CNN. Wow. I didn't realize blacks were being used for every argument there was out there. I thought being gay and being black was mutually exclusive. (I guess unless you happen to be both.) I'm a conservative, single-mom who probably lives under the latest "poverty line." All of this talk about any of this is crap. What really matters? "Deuteronomy 30:19: .....I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." (Make decisions that are full of life – not death. When you're feeling sorry for yourself because someone isn't giving you your fair share, look around. Someone always has it worse than you.)

    May 12, 2012 at 12:40 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.