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. JL Taylor

    I do not think that any man whould pick the door that says you will be forever looked down upon by other men
    in your community or in many cases condemned to death by standing laws both regilious and man made. We
    must continue to strive for a community which allows all of gods children to live with dignity and free from

    May 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Jill

      Gay, black men with compromised immune systems who smoke medical marijuana must be arrested – it's a Federal Law.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  2. Dan Ari

    They follow the same reason each immigrant group turns against the groups that come afterward (see: Cuban immigrants on Mexican immigrants). We got ours, so we will assimilate and turn against others.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  3. paul nelson

    Whenever one uses the Bible as the source of their opinions, they are saying, "I am not smart enough, independent enough, brave enough, or educated enough to form my own opinion."

    May 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  4. John

    So, gays are to sit in the back of the bus because they are different?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    All people need to return into the confident community with the Lord, the Eternal God, which has made heaven and earth. God gave us a maximum revelation of his love by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God gave his precious, beloved Son for us. Jesus has borne our sins, when he died for us on the cross. He gives us a life of righteousness in the power of his resurrection, if we believe the gospel. This all becomes metaphysical reality for us by the sacramental baptims, which was not invented by the pope-rat, but by Jesus Christ himself, who is God and was a modest carpenter in Galilee. Jesus is man and God at the same time. He is the one, who reconciles us with the Eternal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Gayness should not be promoted and legalized by permission of gay marriage. Yet, I don't hate gays or 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 1:29 pm |
  6. Wade

    Most blacks are racist to the core. Sometimes it is for pride, sometimes for defense against what they see as mistreatment and sometimes it is because they were taught from early on never to trust a white person. That is just the way it is. I know I worked with inner city kids all my life. The sad thing is that some of their fears are justified or were for their parents. Now they have a HALF BLACK president and he could wear white robes burning a cross and hanging fellow blacks and they would still vote for him. They have no morals, no integrity when it comes to Obama.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • SMH

      You can't be serious?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • JL Taylor

      Thank you for your well informed statement about all black people. I am 57 years old and I have been a black
      man all 57 years and did not know that I could only be charged with having morals and integrity if i voted for
      a white man.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Christian

      If your expertise on black people is derived form working with inner city kids, then you are racist to the core, for you are forming opinions on an entire race of people based on your interaction with a certain demographic of that race. Your assertion that blacks have no integrity when it comes to Obama is dead wrong. Maybe you choosed to work in the inner cities to justify and your racist beliefs. Why don't you volunteer with black organizations that do not share Obama's values before making such moronic comments.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  7. JoJo

    my imaginary god is better than your imaginary god!!!

    May 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  8. 4real

    They will put any and all personal beliefs aside and vote for him anyway for one obvious reason

    May 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Christian

      So, if your assumption is right, does that mean that every white person who ever voted for a white president did it for one obvious reason?

      May 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  9. 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 1:28 pm |
  10. M M M

    Nice try CNN – the one major flaw in this theory is that on the one side it was the white man's interpretation of the Bible's view of slavery whereas all races agree on the Bible's stance on gay marriage

    May 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • saopaco

      All races huh? Not even all christians apparently.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Rock

      Nope...there are many people in this world that do not adhere to the bible. Once again trying to disprove bias with more bias...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • M M M

      why is the debate over gay marriage only relevant now? where was it 200 years ago?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Kandric

      Where was the debate over the imposed slavery of African in the 1600s? Gay rights have been an issue longer than you realise, they were an issue 2000 years ago. 2500 years ago, before your Jesus supposedly walked the earth. Christianity just squashed it when it overtook Roman religion, mostly on the foundation of pederasty which was falling out of favour at the time anyway...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  11. rand

    "A similar approach to the bible was used to enslave their ancestors" ........what the heck is that supposed to mean?? Not the bible but......... an approach????

    May 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • ME II

      I think it means that the Bible can be interpreted in many ways, such as, for or against slavery and for or against gay marriage.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  12. God's Old Dreamer

    In the End is God much the smae way in the Beginning was God! We are in the middle of 2 book-ends! As a Serpent I know of God and am duly bound by God's Will to affirm God and God's Truthfulness! God is very real and God will never be for yet against the deniers but rather God is for those who hold their Faith in God beyond the reaches of those deniers who bewail and bemoan God to be but a myth and not worthy of worshipping! Such liars of True Faiths do test the Faithfull and yet fully faithfilled! The deniers of God want and need your favors' contriteness of disorderliness to uphold their wrenching emotions' covetedness that wreaks of ungodliness morals and dishonorable scruples!

    May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • ME II

      Just out of curiosity, if God created everything then why doesn't it say, "Before the beginning..."?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  13. Steve

    Wow, did they really compare the current plight of the gay community to terrible atrocity of Slavery?? That is not only ridiculous but wildly offensive. Where is the condemnation and outrage?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Your spin is fail!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • phoenix

      You know I'm really tired of this line of thinking. While slavery was a terrible thing, it no longer exists in the US. It's fair to make comparisons to slavery to make a point for civil rights oppression. Nobody is drawing a big equal signs or saying this civil rights issue is just as terrible as that civil rights issue, and really isn't the point. The point is that it's a civil rights issue, which concerns how man treats man, and we should all stand for it even if we're not the flavor of the week (blacks, women, gays, etc) because perhaps next time we will be

      May 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • rand

      You are so right Steve....it's crazy.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • ME II

      I don't think the article is saying the two plights are the same, just that the two arguments used to deny civil rights are comparable. It is comparing the arguments, not the situations of those affected

      May 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm |

      THANK YOU STEVE! The "Slavery & Gay COMPARISON" is just a trick for the people to enter into Trickery Maticulous Strategic Dialogue, inorder to ease the conscience of the majority,and inturn to make way for the "Abomination that causes Desolation"... A modern sodom & gomorrah/mystery babylon in the making, by law! But hey, its going to happen anyway... What has happened to our world? satan. Next best thing to do, when the time is right, find safe haven elsewhere.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Ron

    Scripture has always been used for both good and evil. People can use it honestly and honorably to help teach good and helpful principles that teach us how to live with each other appropriately.

    On the other hand, evil people can use Scripture to misdirect and evilly influence people just as we see today with fake ministers, Atheists and Jihadists alike.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  15. Engineer in Raleigh

    Good to see all the political correctness and affirmative action is paying off.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • ME II

      Don't you have a plantation to run?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Abdur

      Sep07scott rickenbaker This is an excnlleet introduction and explanation of the Bible. I have often tried explaining what Gods Word was about but I never felt that I was doing it the best. This article IS the best I've read for preparing a person to recieve the message that our Father wants us to hear.

      October 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  16. LadyOcean

    Religion isn't the problem. Misguided, ignorant people are the problem.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Nothing is more effective at keeping people ignorant and misguided than religion.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Not all religions. Mostly Christianity, Judaism and those darn Muslims.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jay

      Nice try, but it is both. Religion was born from misguided ignorant people. Both remain strong to this day. All hail human progress 😀

      May 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  17. dennis

    The Bible also tells us Satan knows every verse of the Bible, and his most powerful weapon is to put verses in the hands of his Devel Worshipers to use those words to Satan's Advantage. Just like in the Garden, The Snake told Adam and Eve, "Ye will NOT surely die if you eat of the fruit". Now John Blake lies about the verse "Slaves Obey your Masters" as a LIE to say this verse was used to "enslave" Blacks! How preposerous! The Bible was not justifiing Slavery, we are admonished to obey those who have responsiblity over us, like our Father and Mother, our Boss at work, or the Officer over his enlisted men in the military, or as American Citizens to pay our Taxes to President Obama. Oh, how deceitful our Enemy to Morality is! America is being lead like sheep to the slaughter by the tyrants of evil. America is being lead away from God, and surely to death by Liberal Liars!

    May 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So in the bible, when God calls for Genocide,slavery and pedophilia through r@pe he was just testing you? You are a cherry picking christian which means you are NOT a real Christian.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • slickmick67

      The talking snake? Really? Even most biblical scholars agree that's a metaphor, please do not embarrass yourself like that. All Christians are cherry pickers. They'll use tidbits of god's "laws" to persecute those who do not practice their Bronze Age religion. While applying these "laws" to others, be sure to practice ALL of them, including:no shellfish, no swine, no work on the sabbath, no wearing clothes of two different materials, stone disrespectful children, etc. Please don't mention Jesus, as I'll have to ask you to refer to the 4 gospels and find even ONE time he speaks of the issue at hand.I defend your right to your faith, but please leave the rest of us alone, we're good.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  18. thes33k3r

    Supernatural thinking is the mother of all confusion.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  19. Klaark

    Why wouldn't they turn? Black people are humans, humans are not very nice.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • JohnQInCrazyFlorida

      I see you did not sleep through the logics and reasoning class

      May 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  20. John

    Is this question even fair to Blacks? It seems insulting in that it portrays the Black church as hypocritical for being aligned with conservative christians. Whatever.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Are you joking? They ARE being hypocritical. That's the whole point.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Fozzyspeak

      I would consider it a fair question. I once asked a group of 3 black youths why they were making fun of 2 gay guys when it was them in the same situation 50 years ago. Their reply was "because we can" It wasnt some conservative values mumbo jumbo.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Chuck

      EXACTLY, John. Great post.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • JoJo

      conservative "christians" in general are hypocrites.......whether they be black or white.......but black ppl discriminating just shows how weak minded they are......not all black ppl are like this.........but it seems "religious values" is just another way to be a bigot nowadays

      May 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • JohnQInCrazyFlorida

      I am black and after listening to all this I have 3 words to shout at this: FEEBLE MINDED HYPOCRITES

      May 12, 2012 at 2:57 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.