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. useeknfind

    The Bible used to justify slavery? What nonsense! Abe Lincoln, a Christian, was the leader who abolished slavery. The Bible was the first book he learned to read. And William Wilberforce, a Bible-reading convert to Christianity, was the one who led the abolishing of slavery in England.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Read your history, and do try READING. The bible justifies slavery

      May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • GAW

      Abolitionists also used the Bible to justify their position.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Danny Denton

      The Bible never justifies slavery. Jesus did not come to correct every earthly wrong. He did not come to be an earthly king (John 6:15). He came to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save mankind. The scriptures tell people who are enslaved to live a sacrificial life in order to convert their masters. The scriptures give direction to those who find themselves in a state of slavery. This does not equate to a justification of slavery.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  2. Danny Denton

    Mr. Blake,

    When Satan came to tempt Jesus, the main weapon he used was a twisted view of scripture. You have followed his lead. I will not argue the fact that Southerners used a twisted view of scripture to support slavery, but how in good conscience can you forget to mention that slavery was ended primarily because of the work of true Christians who had the correct view of scripture. Inspired by his devotion to God, William Wilberforce spearheaded the Abolition movement in England. After its success there, the movement spread to the United States. Ever wonder why South Carolina seceded even though Lincoln said he would not emancipate the slaves? It was because they had seen what had happened in Britain and they were afraid that it was about to happen here. Read the lyrics of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic". This song summarizes the spirit of the Christian Abolitionists and correctly prophesied the coming of God's wrath against the evils of slavery. I am sure you know all this Mr. Blake. Given that, how could you write such a twisted account? Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, another follower of Satan, would be proud of your report.

    Danny Denton

    May 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So Christians during the times of slavery have the only correct interpretation of the bible? Nice attempt at spin to sweep the demons under the rug, but even an 8 year old knows better.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • ME II

      Only Nazis make references to Nazis.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • hellodollyllama

      It is religion which requires a willful rejection of reality and proven fact - in other words, delusion, the most dangerous form of mental illness. Atheism is a sign of mental health.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I can see. It made you delusional.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • GAW

      Please avoid bumper-sticker posts and try to write a sentence or two and then work yourself up to a paragraph.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • GAW

      btw If I read the read the word delusion and its variants one more time I'm going to puke.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • skytag

      Believing that doesn't make it true.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  4. hellodollyllama

    Where was all this hand-wringing about hypocrisy when Romney took multiple positions on virtually every issue, and when the Republicans slammed Obama about 15 times for pushing programs which Republicans actually supported? CNN has become a joke - you're just doing the GOP's job for them. In an election year.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  5. mslisac363

    This is a waste of time. The black church doesn't care about this bull.. And no they want let this stop them voting for a black. White people are so stupid. No I'm not black but no lots of them.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • mslisac363


      May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  6. Sammy

    CNN you are nitwits. What are you singling out the black church for when this is a sin in every Christian church, not just the black church you idiots.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Ron B

    The BIBLE says its OK to own slaves....... The BIBLE says it's ok to beat your slave as long as they don't die within 2 days..... BACKS are HYPOCRITES

    May 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  8. Godoflunaticscreation


    May 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  9. Ndlily

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

    Answer–because black or white, or pink with purple polka dots, we are all at heart people, with the same inherent flaw. We always want an other, and at our base, we can only define ourselves by what we are NOT. Religion does not change that; it intensifies it. There is no enlightenment in religion, just a different set of blinders

    May 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  10. The Truth

    A black church judging equality?? Wasn't it Supreme Court laws that help the inequalities of the blacks in 1957 Brown vs. Board of Education; Plessy vs. Ferguson; 1963 when Gov. Wallace refused blacks the right to register and obtain an education – when civil rights were the issue for blacks and all of America? Why would blacks not afford the same equalities to all men of creed or color, including gays and civil marriages.... Martin Luther King must be rolling in his grave.

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

    This is what the LGBT lobby fundamentally misses: MLK didn't get conservatives to change their view of the Bible; he appealed to them from WITHIN their existing view of the Bible.

    it was precisely that MLK could appeal to conservatives WITHIN their own understanding of the Bible that made the civil rights movement effective – appealing to the Hebrew prophets & passages like Gal.3:28 & Philemon.

    There are no such passages for the LGBT cause – which is why the many in the African American community who are socially progressive but theologically conservative cannot side with the LGBT.

    Read David Chappell's "Stone of Hope." It exposes the mistaken premise of this article.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      The civil rights laws weren't passed by appealing to conservatives. The conservatives opposed them all the way through.

      Meanwhile, the Old Testament says that prost-itutes should be stoned, but Jesus befriended them. Conservative Christians are the Pharisees of the modern day and do not follow Jesus's actual example at all.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • James

      The correct term would be Republican not conservative.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Russ

      @ johnfrichardson: we can argue the politics of it, but you can't argue this...

      1) conservatives who still hold to the SAME view of the Bible have a different view on civil rights. MLK did effectively reach them WITHOUT getting them to change their view of how to interpret the Bible (hermeneutics). Cone is wrong there – at least.

      2) Jesus welcoming prost.itutes did not mean he affirmed prost.itution. He still called people out of their sin. And if one thing is clear, the LGBT does not want *that* kind of affirmation.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Russ

      @ James: I disagree. Conservative theologically is not the same as conservative politically. Jesus was absolutely conservative theologically (even appealing to singular words as fully authoritative from the OT) – but he was a radically progressive socially.

      The problem for conservative Christians is that they've allowed partisan politics to wag the dog – when Jesus calls them to a much more nuanced position.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  12. Adam

    I guess gay marriage supporters think that if they tell this lie loudly and often enough, people will start to buy it. The fact is, the form of "slavery" that the Old Testament regulated and tacitly condoned was nothing like the slavery of the American South. It was much more like indentured servitude. It was a way of discharging a debt obligation in a time long before bankruptcy courts and credit ratings. In addition, the Old Testament stipulated that slaves be set free every 7 years. This isn't a "modernist" reading of scripture. It's there in plain black and white for anyone who cares to read it, and there were biblical scholars in the 19th century who pointed it out.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • ME II

      The plain black and white you mention is only for Israelites. For non-jews, slaves were personal property and permanent.

      "You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly." (Leviticus 25:45-46)

      May 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      @Adam You can tell YOUR lies again and again till you beleive them, but you aren't fooling anyone.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • markdonna7

      @ Adam God bless you. You are right stand for truth.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  13. sethyee

    Funny every liberal will scream how they are not racist, but the second us uppity minorities don't know our place and dare disagree, you see another side of people. Please CNN tell minorities what we need to think about social issues.

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

      Your brain is constant spin. You need to be studied for your mental illness.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Really-O?

      You don't see the gay rights as a civil rights issue?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • ME II

      What "place" are you talking about? The article, correctly I think, asks the question as to whether black churches are being hypocritical? Disagree, if you want, it's a question. Why do you disagree?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • SOCAL

      With your use of the word "liberal" and "screaming" both in the same sentence it sounds as though you are already being told what to think on social issues by the FOX news media

      May 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • skytag

      Give your hatred of liberals a rest. The article isn't about liberals, and if you're a Christian such mean-spirited comments are only further evidence Christianity is a fraud.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  14. just say no

    Im voting for ron paul, even if i have to write him in im tired of the democrats and republicans who are both bought and sold by the banks

    this whole gay marriage thing is a non issue to get people to take their focus away from the REAL issues, like the federal reserve robbing us all.

    its time to shatter the false left/right paradigm

    May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  15. cas

    Someone's conservative views have direct correlation with their broad worldly view and intellectual depth which are the result of combinations of education, individual's sense of curiosity which forces them to seek answers rather than regurgitated norms. This is what I like to prefer to breaking from one own's bubble.

    I am Somalian, and looking at the education level of many people in my country, it is almost hopeless to make them question some Islamic teachings, so they are conservatives for most part.

    Blacks, which I am part off are generally more conservative, the reason why I believe blacks don't go for the GOP is simply weighing the racist agenda of the GOP party and the conservatism views blacks have.

    One speaks directly to survival, ideological comfort comes second to a party that adopts policies to genocide you...

    May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • tsoho

      I'm curious ...
      What exactly is the "racist agenda of the GOP party"?
      And what GOP policies are aimed at genociding anyone?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • skytag

      tsoho: I wouldn't say the GOP has a racist agenda as a party, but people who seem to have issues with blacks seem much more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. Many of them like the idea of whites being in control of the country, and they seem utterly unconcerned when issues affect blacks disproportionately. Racism within the GOP is a subtle and complex issue, but it's clearly an issue.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  16. JOhn Holmes

    LOL. Liberals did it again. They made the election about gay rights. An issues only 2% of the pervs care about. Guess it gets peoples mind off the fact that Obama destroyed the country and nobody is working.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • kas

      one word for you....IDIOT

      May 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Kandric

      Actually, over 50% of Americans support it, but sure, round down to the nearest 2%. That's valid...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • JR

      That sounds like a Romney Repeat. Can you tell me how Obama caused the problems we are in? Just because those who are rich say, give us more money and we'll help you out, doesn't mean you have to believe them. Like a marriage, it takes two, hence it takes more than just Obama to have driven our country to where it is. If the economy (water) rises too fast, you are bound to have a dike or two break. Slow and steady (like a diet) will last much longer and cause less lasting problems.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • skytag

      Right-wing troll does it again in attacking liberals instead of discussing the issue.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  17. Larry

    The bible never endorses slavery or teaches that slavery is good. Slavery was firmly entrenced in past cultures and the new testament bible was not concerned with destroying cultures, but redeeming the soul. The very essence of Jesus teaching, however, does transform the individual which in turn can change culture.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jay

      Just keep lying to yourself.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  18. sudarsha

    We all require the right to live our lives in a way that does not limit the rights of anyone else. Whose rights are being limited by same gender marriage? Who benefits? Who is put at risk?

    Perhaps it is time to examine what is going on in our own heart before we endeavour to minimize the heart of another.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • phoenix

      But it makes some people feel... uncomfortable. 🙁 Therefore it must be illegal.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  19. Cinchy

    On a completely – sorry – unrelated note... when will CNN provide tools that allow for the searching and sorting of blog posts? They are way behind.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  20. HendersonNV

    What is a Blackk Church? When I sit in church I see People. How about a church in a Blackk community? So is there a different "Blackk" Bible?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Kevin H.

      That's the first question that I'd ask too! I think all churches are green.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • skytag

      I understand what he means by that, and I accept that you don't.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
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