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. wrm

    You mean 90% voting instead of 98% or whatever it was? Yeah, because that number wasn't already skewed for the wrong reasons. What's another layer of irrational nonsense?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  2. Balanced99

    There are religious laws, man made laws (criminal and civil) and then there are the ones we can't control – the laws of nature. While mankind has evolved further than any other species, at some point, we need to ask ourselves where our arrogance towards the laws of nature will take us.

    Try looking at some of the issues we face with the laws of nature in mind. I'm not saying, by any means, that only the strong should survive or thrive, but how many issues are growing from bending too far away. With all the social programs we've created over the last 50 years, with continuous increased spending.... Here's one idea to chew on.

    We continuously increase our spend per child on education – and keep falling behind. Over the same time period, we've continuously created more and more welfare programs to support people who couldn't/wouldn't support themselves, giving more money when they have more children. We used to look down on teen and out of wedlock pregnancy – a natural social pressure – we now give money to.

    The last time I moved, one of the movers, in his mid twenties, was bragging about his six children with six different women. Three things I feel fairly certain about – 1.> This guy wasn't bright (nor good looking). 2.> Any woman that allowed him to get her pregnant (see point 1), 3.> Any children produced – high likelihood they're not going to be too bright either. Destined to be challenged by genetically and parentally. Children dropped off for the schools to raise and the taxpayers to pay for (subsidized housing, welfare, foodstamps and no tax dollars paid by them towards their children's education.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Reality tells us that gay is natural. How else would you explain the fact that many creatures on Earth have a portion that is gay. Also, being promiscuous is natural.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • volitionx


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

      Perhaps gay, lesbian, promiscuity could actually be the work of the devil?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  3. Karen

    I'm a gay, black, woman and I have a medical marijuana prescription – why am I being terrorized by Mr. Hope/Change?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • sam8131

      Because you fell for his lies. You are a gullible, gay, black, drug addled woman.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • 3vilmonkey

      You're pathetic.

      May 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  4. cloudi9


    May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  5. cloudi9


    May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  6. ansrc

    Hmmm. Speaking of hypocrite... how about people who pick and choose which alternative lifestyles and marriages are "right" and which are not acceptable. For instance, if you accept gay marriage, them logic says you should accept things like siblings getting married, or polygamy, etc. Essentially if those are consenting adults, then What is the difference??? You can't pick and choose which alternative lifestyles you agree with.....either the concept is right..or it is wrong.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • phoenix

      No, that's a fallacy. If there was a "slippery slope", it's that we came up with the concept of marriage in the first place. Mother nature gives jack s**t about "marriage".

      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Johnny


      Totally right .... what religion accepts polygamy !!!!!!

      ....... oh yeah Romneys

      May 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Same goes for christians. The virgin mary was ony 14 when she was knocked up. Bible also preaches other instances of pedophilia, r@pe and genocide.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • volitionx

      Agreed. Gays like to draw the line where THEY feel comfortable, to include their lifestyle and exclude lifestyles they think are extreme. They do what we all do–include our own beliefs into the "acceptable" category, while putting other beliefs that are too far away from ours in the "unacceptable" category. We can all think whatever we like, and I disapprove of gay marriage, and not on religious grounds, either. It's going too far for me, and I don't care what anyone thinks about my opinion.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Allen

      I don't really care if siblings and polygamists want to get married. That's their issue, not mine, which is the whole point of the whole pro gay marriage stance. Who are you to tell two (or three, or four, or whatever) consenting adults what they can and can't do with their personal lives if it has no impact on you whatsoever? It's not like people are pushing for the church to recognize it either. They're asking the government to recognize it.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @ansrc- "Essentially if those are consenting adults, then What is the difference?"
      Good job! You hit the nail on the head. It IS nobody's business what two consenting adults do as long as no unprovoked force is involved. It's also nobody's business what any of us do, with our lives or our bodies, as long as there is no unprovoked force involved. Welcome to liberty and freedom.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  7. JOSIE

    Religion an instrument to control and construct the mores of society has also been the source of discord throughout history.
    In the name of religion the crusades, great wars and even today religion divides and wreaks havoc around the world.
    Religious leaders enrich themselves on the "mites" of the poor , misinformed and uneducated.

    What and whose religion right or wrong?

    So to simplify my life I shall treat others as I would like to be treated — From the poem Abou Ben Adam "just write me down as one who loves his fellow man."

    May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • sam8131

      Sounds like you like to follow the greatest commandment of all? Of course you just like to pick and choose so you can justify everything else. I'll bet you really don't follow the golden rule though you just like to think you do. But it's a good start, at least trying a little.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • volitionx

      I agree that religions can be destructive, but just don't go thinking that they're the only destructive force in society. Communism is plenty destructive. So is laziness. So are drugs. So is self-obsession. So is ignorance. So is lust. So is envy.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  8. JeffreyRO5

    Blacks like to have someone else to look down their noses at, so they don't feel like they're the low man on the totem pole. Gays and lesbians fill that need. Most discrimination stems from the insecurity of the discriminator.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Spartacus

      I thought we had all agreed to start using fat people as the universal punching bag in the 90's since it is actually a choice. Can we please get back to that standard?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Nare

      Good point. You see that phenomenon between AA's and Hispanics too.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Allen

      I agree with Spartacus. Down with fat people! The revolution start's at noon behind the Arby's on Main Street and Walker Ave. Afterwards there will be cake and punch served in the Sunset Room at the Airport Hilton. Be there or be square.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  9. John P. Tarver

    Perpetual slavery is nowhere in the Holy Bible and is a Dutch construct from New Amsterdam. Perpetual slavery was introduced in Charlston after Dutch slaves were sold into Endentured Servitude for 7 years. After their release these Blacks used modern technology to prdate the Indians and a decision was made to adopt the Dutch model.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Prayer made Jesus straight. Before that he sucked off all 12 apostles. Balls deep Jesus.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • pat carr

      Hello Theism is destructive for humans and a waste of time. You are right, prayer changes things. changes normal people into delusional fools!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  11. Godoflunaticscreation

    They are against gay marriage because then all the priests will marry their altar boy toys.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  12. One one

    I believe that gods came from man's imagination. However, I recognize a lot of people believe in gods and all the lore associated with them.

    I assume it makes them feel good to think they have a personal relationship with THE all powerful creator of the universe who loves them and will protect them.

    Their beliefs and values are aligned with god, therefore they must be 100% right.

    When they die, they get to go to heaven for eternal bliss.

    Finally, they have the satisfaction of knowing all those who doubted them will suffer god's eternal wrath.

    In the end, religious belief is really all about ME, ME, and, ME.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  13. sam8131

    Wrong side of history? Tell me about the debauched history of Rome? How did that turn out? Show me a stable country that practices this immoral behavior and survives today? Wrong side of history, right. Tell me more.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Lol, you and non-sequitors. It's a love affair isn't it?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Well Christianity seems to have survived thus far, even though it will soon be gone, and the bible preaches pedophilia, r@pe, genocide....

      May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • pat carr

      The netherlands, for one. And Christianity IS immoral. take a look at your bloody past

      May 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Alex

      Rome domination last for a thousand years. It culture and achievement affected western civilization even now. US has only been a superpower in the last 70 years. So trying to compare US to Rome is really reaching.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  14. phoenix

    It's 2012, and I can't believe we're still citing fairy tales. There's a whole section on CNN dedicated to this. It's actually influencing policy. Really, it boggles the mind.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  15. gavin

    telling someone they can't get married in a free country because it is against your religion is like telling someone they can't have a donut because you are on a diet.

    i understand people have the views they live by and that is great with me i think religion is a beautiful thing. to embrace something with the passion that people do is amazing and living your life by those teachings does show how much of a good person you are. however i also think people need to step away from all that and realize you made the choice to live you life that way. not everyone chooses to believe in the same things as you and we cannot change who we fall in love with. i hope that noone ever pushes their view on you or makes you feel like you dont deserve to live happy because of that.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Listening

      Gavin, I don't think anyone could have put it any better. Thank you!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • volitionx

      Your statement is shortsighted. Our society has codes of conduct for all sorts of things, including marriage. What if someone really wants to walk around naked in public? Apparently, you'd allow it. How about marrying a dog? You'd allow it. How about two 10-year-olds marrying? You'd allow it. How about walking around covered in fake blood? You'd allow it. How about police wear jeans on Fridays? You'd allow it. See? Our society's codes of conduct often make sense, even when NOT based on religion. You can't be so libertarian that you'd let anyone do anything they wanted to do at any time.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Allen


      "What if someone really wants to walk around naked in public? Apparently, you'd allow it."

      Yes, I would. I see no reason to be so Puritanical in this day and age. This isn't the 1600's. Besides, it's not like anyone has anything on their body that you don't have. Feeling uncomfortable and/or being offended by nudity is immature, really. It's like a classroom full of kids giggling because someone said "wiener."

      "How about marrying a dog? You'd allow it."

      Yes I would. That's your problem/decision, not mine. It doesn't affect me and it doesn't have anything to do with me.

      "How about two 10-year-olds marrying? You'd allow it."

      No. They're not legally adults. Once they're 18 they can do whatever they want. That example is invalid.

      "How about walking around covered in fake blood? You'd allow it."

      Yes I would. Moreover, there's no law preventing anyone from doing that right now anyway. Ever heard of Halloween?

      "How about police wear jeans on Fridays? You'd allow it."

      No problem there either. Besides, there's plenty of plain-clothes police officers who do this every day. Either way, that's a departmental thing, not a legal issue. There's no law preventing it presently.

      "See? Our society's codes of conduct often make sense, even when NOT based on religion."

      I beg to differ. Our codes of conduct are often times ridiculous and left over from a bygone era where a woman showing her ankle (or wearing pants, for that matter) was "scandalous." Granted, I agree with the assertion that social rules do not need to be based on religion to exist.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • gavin

      thank you @allen for speaking on my behalf the points that this guy was trying to make those are specific situations the only two things i would disagree with would be the 10 yr olds and the dog thing (wth) because in the ten yr old case they are not consenting adults and the dog cannot conset to be in a relationship i mean have some common sense.

      May 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  16. RonnNC

    Off the subject as far as content is concerned . . . but I'm getting tired of the misuse of the word "hypocrisy.' Every time we face a contradiction in our lives that we have trouble resolving, we are not being hypocrites. To be a hypocrite you have to pretend (at some level of consciousness) to accept one option while secretly acting on the basis of another.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  17. jack

    Hipocrrsy is found in all churches. Each church and it's "book" is a philosophy but people choose to take that which agrees with their own. The parts that one does not agree with is just "discarded". The problem is that someone else may accept those parts and you can see where this goes. Picking and choosing is not a belief in the philosophy and by justifying the discrded as a story and or parable is unacceptable. If you can not believe in the whole, whats the point?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  18. 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 12:59 pm |
  19. 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 in daily life. 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 12:58 pm |
    • Kandric


      Please stop spouting your nonsense.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • nru

      Leviticus 25:44-46 –

      maybe I should just buy you unless you are an israelite

      May 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • everlast

      How come you can spew nonsense but you won't let anyone else share their opinion? Sounds pretty hypocritial to me

      May 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • pat carr

      Such Drivel. but that's OK. i don't condone the christian lifestyle either

      May 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  20. johnfrichardson

    Social conservatives are itching for the culture war to end all culture wars, because they think Jesus will come down from heaven with a sword sticking out of his mouth and make it all better. The sorry little fools. They are heading for the dustbin of history.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • everlast

      Jesus loves you

      May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • sam8131

      Sounds to me that radical liberals are the ones fighting for changes and distracting us from the real problems facing this country. i believe biden and the chief b00b raised the current topic of discussion. But true liberals have a diffiult time telling the truth so it is expected. Spin it baby!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • pat carr

      "distracting us from the real problems facing this country. i ". And conservatives? trying to push these "issues" as if they were what is needed to fix the nation. get real and get out of the 14th century

      May 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Harry

      Naw, they know there is no God they just want to control people.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • matt in nw


      Jesus loves you

      That and $3.50 will get you a cup of coffee from a hottie at your local coffee stand.

      If Jesus was real and working as intended there would be no starving masses, wars over what name and aspect of 'god' is correct. In biblical times, resurrections were a dime a dozen, thousands could be fed from a basket of fish and a couple loaves of wonder. people could live hundreds of years with nasty sanitation.

      The lessons Jesus would have taught if he were real would have been Mathematics, the Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, ... you know the important basic foundations a 'creator' would need to know to bring thing into being in the first place......funny the bible has no insight into any of this.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:21 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.