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. Doobie Doobie Doo

    I don't know why people care that much. Why do some atheists follow Christians around like little doggies? How can you be offended by something you don't even believe exists?

    May 12, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      your ignorance is what offends us

      May 12, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo


      What kind of a statement is that? Your naturalist views and complete hypocrisy could "offend" me. But I have more important things to worry about.

      Enjoy your world of moral relativism. I'll choose a different path thanks.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Doobie Doobie Doo

      Such is Life! Little dogs following the Big Dog's doggies waiting for scraps!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Bark bark bark!!!!! Bark bark bark!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Woof woof WOOF!!!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Heather

      @Doobie Doobie Doo:

      > Enjoy your world of moral relativism. I'll choose a different path thanks.

      Unless your "path" is absolute adherence to every part of the Bible, your "path" is "hypocrisy". I'll take moral relativism over hypocrisy any day. It takes a moral relativist to make the leap from "the bible says I can sell my daughter into slavery" to "it's the year 2012 and we don't do that anymore".

      May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  2. Disappointed

    Wrong is wrong..Sin is Sin! One Sin is not worse than another. Why are there no big issues trying to ban lying and stealing or adultery? This whole debate is so ridiculous when you think about it on a personal level. But it makes since I guess to people with an agenda to make themselves look like "good" Christians by .attacking someone else they don't agree with.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Who ever said lying and cheating were OK?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Rock

      It must be nice to live a black and white life.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  3. Rainer Braendlein

    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 11:23 am |
    • happyfrenchman

      What a load of abusive and discriminatory self righteousness... BS. I am sure you don't see any problem with that load of manure you just dumped.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Namedd

      it is honestly funny to me that marriage isn't that big with blacks anyway . most are single moms now . I read the bible nobody gets to heaven .

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Rainer Braendlein

      Manmade churches are secular revulsions of emtional stimulus and are against God's Truths!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Heather


      What about the versus in the Bible that tell me to smite my neighbor for working on the Sabbath or wearing blended fabrics? What about the one about selling my daughter into slavery? Are those literal as well?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. Ang

    Why does CNN even have a "Belief" section? It's a complete joke!

    May 12, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Disappointed

      So they can sell those ads....

      May 12, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Teri

      Clearly, so that Atheists will have a forum to try to convince us that not only do they have a higher IQ that ALL believers, but that they also no more about the word of God than ALL believers. Yet, every time I read the comments I notice a sad bunch of the same old talking points.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  5. happyfrenchman

    I think black people are fools for believing in the christian church. It was used for years as a weapon against them. Now they think it is somehow for them. Their preachers are like traitors... look at MLK. Most of the black preachers of his day told him to shut up and get to the back of the bus. Don't upset the applecart. Religion is all about money. The preachers are making their living off milking their sheep, black white, red, yellow. the money is green. The christian religion was the religion of their master. It was used for years to enslave them. It is beyond me how any black person could follow it, much less foist it on his or her brothers.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • JoeShmoeTheGreat

      Says the happyfrenchman which is an oxymoron really lol.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • happyfrenchman

      Yes, the name is always the first thing they go for when there is no other argument to be made.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  6. allenwoll

    Again we experience the crimes upon the people perpetrated by Organized Religion - Regardless of who, black, white, whatever. . ALL for power and money ! ! !

    May 12, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  7. Klaas Jan

    To answer the question posed on the front page: Blacks are the most racist group of people in the states.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  8. Tom

    And let's not forget the anti-miscegenation laws. The Bible was held up to argue for those, too.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  9. JesusIsNotReal

    Bible was written by simple people who have nothing to do with any god. We don't even have any evidence to suggest that any god exists. Those who wrote the bible created all kinds of rules to govern society to separate themselves from everyone around to create tightness in the group so that when it came to defending or attacking others it would be easier to evoke the feeling in the people that they are doing it with the help of supreme being... IT's so obvious, yet people today still believe that the bible is actually the word of god.. you dumb people

    May 12, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Scientists once held the view that the world was flat and that it was the center of the universe.......Stupid scientists

      May 12, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      it wasn't the scientists you idiot.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • it is

      Actually, These "simple" people were just as, if not more intellectual as we are today. They were CERTAINLY more intellectually rigorous. They disn't have TV to be programmed by, nor the internet where halfwits post their foment. They actually had time to formulate reasoned positins and to deeply ruminate and discuss the truth. There stories were not whipped out one evening, but carefully crafted over many hundreds of years in dialg with histoical events, both on a grand and personal scale, to encompass the entire spectrum of truth. Use your brains, if you have any.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Gottheball

      Ah, here, boys and girls, is the answer to our prayers. JesusIsNotReal is an authority on God and the bible. So I'm dumb, and you're not? So the Jews were simple people? They were? Truly? A race that has produced some of the greatest scientists the world has ever known but, according to you, they're simple people. Or! Are you saying today they are brilliant, but their great great grandparents were idiots? Yes, that makes a lot of sense. We should all listen to you, right, genius? In case you didn't know - and you don't - regardless of nationality, roughtly half the greatest scientists in the past few centuries have confirmed their belief in God. Even Einstein cited Him numerous times in his writings. But Einstein was a simple person, no one to be believed. You know better! Get lost, moron, or come back after you've won a Nobel Prize in relativistic physics.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  10. vernonfueston

    A sad day when CNN drops even the fig leaf of objectivity and openly accused the black church of hypocrisy for its belief in the Bible.

    And on the question of basic rights, please folks, accept the fact that the gay community is seeking a major social change. Sell the idea rather than denigrating anyone in opposition A backlash to the ham-fisted tactics and legally questionable tactics that the gay community as used to get its way has manifested itself in 32 states with anti-gay marriage laws and amendments on the books. I am ambivalent on this issue, but I'm constantly alienated by the tactics I see from the advocates on this question. Sell you point of view in the marketplace of ideas and stop the attacks and end runs.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • IT

      I agree with this poster

      May 12, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Jarsbait

      It's not really a major social change...it's recognizing the equal protection under the law granted to all citizens. As there are privileges and rights associated with marriage, denying those to any citizen based wholly on who they love is discrimination.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Rock

      The point is simply that in the black community gays are, and I will use your word, denigrated at a higher rate than any other community in the U.S. If it is stemming from the bible, it is wrong...not that the black comunity is wrong for beliving in the bible...Don't trivialize this issue. The bible can be interpreted in many ways, and to ever interpret it in a way that oppresses people is wrong...period.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  11. Alan

    Religion is not happy, unless everyone else is feels miserable about their self.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • it is

      Then you have no genuine experience of religion. You have not gotten past your own illusion of yourself

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  12. Fred Dekker

    CNN, you are shameless, compassionless, an d have no problem wh ori ng yourself out to ANYONE for the sake of a few reader hits on your webpage. What a foul article to write. You obviously care less about bla cks and understanding their history than any politician in washington. Shame on you for using the sla very card in an inappropriate and illogical way. May you suffer nothing but personal tragedies and disappointments in your life for doing so, and feel even a tip of the brunt of the pain your article and mindset has caused the black community. F you CNN, you ra cist sons of bit c hes. B urn in he ll with Strom Thurmond and other people like you.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • yearofmonkey

      Man, you need help. Google: mental problems, help and put your zip code as well. You should get few helpful links.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • wrong side of the bed

      Oh ya,Playing the" burn in hell "card.Classic!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  13. mike

    i will never read the bible b/c its hard to swallow such bs when you hear it

    May 12, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • it is

      Ya, Love your neighbor, Truth is God, Real BS – moron

      May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought


      Are you the one who will eat anything? But not b/s? What gives? too much indigestion and gas?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  14. Bob Lewis

    Here's a suggestion: Stop reading that fairy tale crap. Use your intellect and ability for rationale thought to make up your own mind and stop living according to nonsense written by ignorant cavemen thousands of years ago.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  15. charlie daniels

    If you are a christian, you are best not to get involved with discussions like this on a forum with unbelievers. It's like mixing fire and gasoline...nothing you can say or do will keep the flame from igniting.

    I'm not a big fan of leading non believers to Christ through online forums as there is a lack of human interaction that is needed....not to mention it creates more hatred towards a christian than helps Gods cause. Lastly, combining old testament with new testament is not good. One is new law, the other is history of old law.

    Remember, Jesus hung out with "sinners" He didn't hate them....he hated their sin. And we will all be judged for our sins. He is a loving God but a just God. Christians pointing out that fact aren't judging anyone....they are telling you what will happen if you don't repent of your sin and leave it. That isn't judging.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • uriah

      #Truth Jesus will always be hated by unbelievers, the word is also meant to strengthen the righteous. Faith comes by hearing. The word doesnt stop for unbelievers it will always be spoken.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • JM

      I don't know. When he lived, Jesus was loved by the 'sinners' and hated by the religious because he loved the sinners and exposed the hypocrisy of the religious.

      My favorite parable is The Great Banquet. That's love; that's the type of heaven I look forward to (where all of us will be together and where there will be no more hatred).

      15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

      16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

      18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

      19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

      20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

      21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

      22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

      23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

      May 12, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • James

      Thanks for the advice, Charlie.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  16. kathy

    I don't get how these 'christians' or whatever they want to call themselves can allow religion to determine what the government can or cannot allow you to do. Do you realize that this will not change the love that people have for each other, regardless of whether you approve of it or not? Take the hood off your heads (yes...I said that) and understand that gay people should have every right that you or your family has...bet if one of your children or family members came out and told you they wanted to marry the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with you might change your narrow-minded bigogtry in favor of love and support of family.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Alan

      Because they are like Nazi's, they want full control of the world.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • MajorCrisis

      Kathy, you are obviously a kind and well balanced person, but you underestimate the depth of evil. These people who defend an irrational hatred of gays using religion are just like their predecessors who defended the horrors of slavery turning a blind eye to obvious, sickening human suffering. Over history this kind of creature has maimed, killed and broken the lives of millions. They are the greatest accomplishment of Hell: To fool some of God's people into citing God's word to justify disobedience to God's commandments. They may be fooled, but Heaven is not.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Hakosukajd

      While all people should have the exact same rights under the law, this isn't what the gay marriage lobby is fighting for. They are fighting only for THEIR inclusion into the protected status of state sponsored marriage. This is the fundemental difference between the civil rights movement of the 60's and the current movement. You won't find the gay lobby inclusive of polygamists (3 people can't love each other if they so choose?), those who choose to marry those in countries not currently accepted by law (try to marry someone from Thailand), or those who would choose to marry relatives (sure, most find it gross....but isn't that the argument so many Conservatives base their ideals on in regards to gay marriage). The reality is ANY CONSENTING ADULT should have the exact same rights to declare literally ANY OTHER CONSENTING ADULTS as their significant others in the eyes of the law. Is that not how the basis of civil rights work? While MLK's I have a dream speech focused on black and white, do you think he objected to including Asians, Indians, Arabs, Persians, etc as his focus for equal rights? Would the gay marriage lobby say the same?

      May 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  17. Spangler

    The word 'abomination' is used 65 times in the OT and 2 times in the NT. The only named abomination in the NT is Luke 16:15 where Jesus calls the love of money an abomination. Many more speeches need to be given about this one.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Disappointed

      Amen......Money is the real God!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  18. bill

    woof, woof!

    May 12, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  19. mike

    another reason why the "miracles" in the bible are myth and there is no possible way religion is true because they could have proved it right by now. but still no evidence. but there is plenty of evidence showing why religion if myth just like greek mythology..there is other mythologies. but others cant think for themselves and its sad.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  20. GoSitInTheCar

    Likely voters...Romney 50, Obama 42....gulp. Keep up the great work Barry! Did you hear Mitt pooped his diaper in the yard when he was 1! Go after him! Send out the human cowbell Wasserman Shultz some more!...we need more cowbell!

    Obama 2012.....because you're a victim of something!

    May 12, 2012 at 11:14 am |
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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.