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. Lion of Judah

    Hey you gays, let say they gave you the right (Which as a believer I hope never), are you going to support the muslims for 4-5 wifes right? Where is the limit? God does want everybody to love each other (But not the way you practice). And when we say we are against it that does not mean we hate you. You are playing with the words, but believe me God knows your heart. And God s words are not something that you can bend, they are like a building blocks to guide you. So either you accept or you leave. And I praying right now that each and every one of you will find your path in His blocks. And do not for get God Loves You no matter what you did, doing or will do, as long as you come back to him. May God bless America and Americans.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • tbrnotb

      Another believer in hate! No pearly gates for those who cannot grasp love and forgivenes. Remember Mary Magdaline?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Bad Puddy Tat

      Sorry, i called your god,
      the line has been disconnected.

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

    Blacks typically don't think things through enough to care about this.

    90% will vote for the O-Man, no matter what. He's black, and that's good enough for them.

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

    Haha, you communist J ews that run CNN are still playing Americans against Americans. You're masters of division. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick and the book, and you've perfected it.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Fearless Freep


      That would be The Republicans.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  4. tbrnotb

    Hypocrisy...plain and simple. After all, God did so much to free the black man from discrimination. Only took 2,000 yerars. And the bible is full of a lot of old and oudated scriptures. The question is, if Jesus was around today, WWJD? You know the answer....forgiveness and love.
    How very un-christian to be a homphobic black person.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  5. Dan

    This is exactly why religious dogma will destroy us as a nation. Blacks and other minorities should rise above religious beliefs and unequivocally support the end of any discrimination. The KKK used religion to discriminate against blacks and jews. Now right-wing nut jobs are doing it with gays. And why do most religious people get to pick and chose which tenants to follow? The bible clearly states that if you work on Saturday (the Sabbath) you shall be put to death, same if you cheat on your spouse. Yet I am sure that blacks or religious nut jobs who hate gays have also cheated or work on Saturdays. There are soooo many outdated things in the bible. Like what about women attending church? That was taboo in the bible, yet last time I went to a black church there were not only women, they were singing and dancing. I am sure that the bible frowned upon that too. Religious dogma is just that.... DOGMA.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  6. JesusIsNotReal

    God of the bible is an evil fictional character.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Jeremy

      Whether or not you believe in God is up to you but make no mistake: He believes in you. And good luck on judgement day when you're held accountable for these kinds of comments.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      *** Whether or not you believe in God is up to you but make no mistake: He believes in you

      You must talk to your imaginary friend often.
      Help is available.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  7. seedenbetter

    Blacks are still bound in slavery....the religion of their masters. Christianity was used to legitimize slavery and abuse blacks. Any black who is a Christian is still in bondage along with all Christians.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  8. PA Voter

    Nothing biased about CNN with this story now is there.....LMAO.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  9. ralph

    The answer to the question in the subject heading is really quite simple: God did not sanction slavery in the beginning like He did the proper form that marriage should take. Right from the start God declared that marriage is between man and woman. It's that simple.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • tbrnotb

      Splitting hairs are we? Again, how un-christian of you.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • ralph

      I don't see how that is splitting hairs. The Book of Genesis is quite clear about the fact that God, in the very beginning, set down the perfect pattern for marriage – man and woman, joined together as husband and wife. No mention of slavery, no cultural or societal bias. He declared, by His actions, that man and woman are to be joined together and that family is the paramount unit of His eternal plan.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • MajorCrisis

      Sorry Ralph but if you are suggesting that things said earlier in the Bible are more correct than things said later in the Bible you have 2 problems: You are all alone in thinking that. No one has ever suggested that revealed truth is rankable by the point in time at which it is revealed. The words of Moses are just as serious as the words of St. Paul, and certainly Jesus trumps them all. Secondly, if you really want to be historical about it, slavery is justified right in the first books of Genesis which mention slaves as common possessions of the Jews. You don't have to wait to St. Paul to hear a biblical acceptance of slavery. If you are going to be a literalist, at least read the book you are trying to say you take literally.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • ralph

      It's not an "earlier, later" thing at all. It's a "beginning" thing. A rule change earlier in a baseball game is much different than a rule establishment before the game even starts.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • MajorCrisis

      Oh, you're right Ralph. "Beginning" and "earlier" and the regulations of baseball are clearly Biblical principles of interpretation. how silly of me.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Doobie Wah

      God did not sanction anything.
      That book was written by ancient man, for ancient man.
      It has no place in modern society.

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

    Christ threw the money changers out of the temple... and he was dead within a week. They were making money using the temple as a flea market. And when Christ threw them out, it hit them right in the pocketbook. It was the priests who had him killed. Because he was a threat to their livelihood. Once he was dead, they moved right back in and any preacher today is an inheritor of that proud legacy.

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

    First of all, why is there a "black church"? We have black churches, black colleges, black TV channels, yet black people are constantly saying the country is racist against them.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Doobie Wah

      Why do we have a white house ?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  12. steve

    More racial baloney. Slaves mentioned in the Bible were of all races. People have always taken advantage of others in one way or another.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • MajorCrisis

      You are right about the nationality and race of slaves in the Bible, but you miss the point. If it is acceptable to enslave 1 race, it is acceptable to enslave any race. This is not baloney.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  13. Jamie

    All of this arguing and bickering over silly fairy tale books.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • John

      yeah, a book you most likely never read..

      May 12, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • tbrnotb

      Amen, brother! You'll get the same lessons from Aesop's Fables!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • MajorCrisis

      Sorry, but this is a response that I can not follow. Just because some people, of evil intention, have used religion to hurt others is no reason to argue that all religious ideas (and books) are worthless. I share in you disgust and exhaustion dealing with people who justify their hatred with religion, but, as many people here have written, the truth of religion lies in its message of Love for all– both God's love for all of us and His desire that we all love each other. If you are not talking about mercy, forgiveness and unconditional Love, you are not talking the language of Christ's religion.
      Please don't judge religion by the way some very un-religious people choose to use it.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Jamie

      *** John

      yeah, a book you most likely never read..

      I have read the bible cover to cover.
      Its not even historically accurate.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Meki60

    as usual. CNN is full of it

    May 12, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  15. stan

    Stupid people misquote scripture all the time. But this one is clear: Man + woman = marriage

    May 12, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • happyfrenchman

      Where exactly is that in scripture?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • tbrnotb

      And tell me where it says that exactly, Stan?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • jedrothwell

      No, the Bible does NOT say 1 man + 1 woman. It favors polygamy. Read it!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      How nice for you Stan, you have your own version of the bible.
      Is it autographed ?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  16. LolDems

    Vocal bible-based opposition to slavery was much more successful and widespread than the minority slaveholders arguments. John Brown, a fundamentalist preacher, resorted to violence in a partially vengeful motivated uprising against slavery. There were many Christian voices against the practice of slavery in the predominantly Democratic South including the Roman Catholic Church, Methodists, Mennonites, and Episcopals to name a few. And of course, Wilburforce, an evangelical Christian, is largely credited for bring about the abolition of slavery in the British empire. Those who narrowly focus on select passages in holy books and ignore the practice of slavery for economic, security, and nation building see only a small part of the picture.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  17. cnn get an education

    cnn. there is no parallel between black civil rights and gay people. your logic is remarkably flawed. a black man or an asian man or a native american man, they're all still men and should be treated as such. a black woman or a latina or a white woman, they're all still women and should be treated as such.

    two dudes shacking up is absolutely different than a man and a woman of different color getting together. in the later case, it's at least still a man and a woman. in the former it's... well this is all common sense. in order for one to make the argument that gay rights is the same as black rights, one would, at some point in his remarkably ignorant logic, have to take the position that at the end of the day there is no difference between a man and a woman.

    American news media = a couple really bright people. a huge number of idiots

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

      no difference at all, unless you are declaring gays and lesbians non-citizens, or worse, non-people.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Jarsbait

      really?, unless you are declaring gays and lesbians non-citizens, or worse, non-people, your post makes no sense.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Spangler

      One discrimination is based on race and the other on gender choice of marriage partner. While not the same, they are similar enough to both be civil rights issues.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • cnn get an education

      lol, what? of course there are differences. have you never taken a biology class? or a psychology class? (did I step through some kind of wormhole here?)

      you're saying a man can carry another man's baby? that a woman can impregnate a woman? that the average man is the same high quality nurturer that the average woman is? come on dude...

      May 12, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Clark1355

      What happened to love all of gods children?

      May 12, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • tbrnotb

      Does your God know you've made yourself judge and jury? Tsk-tsk!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • cnn get an education

      nice. the generalized arguments with no relevance to the comment they're in response to, as well as the barbs thrown speak volumes. VOLUMES.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  18. Terminatus

    The Bible is simply put, the most historically significant collection of stories that mankind has ever known. It has shaped philosophy, politics, art, science, religion (obviously), and culture. In the hands of the literalists however, the Bible is a weapon to destroy, to humiliate, to segregate, to hate, and to kill. The problem is NOT the Bible. The message of Jesus was quite simple, beautiful, and true....LOVE and FORGIVE. But, the fallible nature of mankind has twisted the message to serve its desires.

    Unfortunately, not everyone who reads the Bible understands the manipulation of its texts, its complicated history, its blatant allegory, the hypocrisy of certain passages, or the politics of Jesus' era. These are the folks that scare the CRAP out of me!

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

      the message of Jesus was evil... the request to love him more than your family or friends is evil, the idea that some will suffer eternally in hell just because they didn't see any reason to believe in this contradictory story about him for which there is no other confirmation of outside of the bible... JESUS and the GOD of the BIBLE are EVIL.

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


      Having grown up in the church, I don't think a lot of church goers actually read the Bible. I thought it was all about judgment and following rules. When I grew up, I read it and realized that Jesus was most critical of those who didn't love others like God had loved us or who didn't have mercy on others in the same way that God had mercy on us.

      It is supposed to be Good News...

      May 12, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Terminatus

      You sound as ignorant and twisted as those that would use the Bible to commit evil acts. Secondly, go occupy a classroom and get yourself educated about the historical life of Jesus and his amazing teachings. Thinking you know what's up doesn't replace a real education on the subject you speak. Troll.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • JM

      Why is that evil?

      Do you expect your kids to love you more or less than their aunt or uncle?

      The Bible says "every perfect give comes from above". He gave us life, love, family and friends. He wants us to be grateful to Him for these gifts.

      Not that I do this; I'm just saying. That makes sense to me but we like to hold tight to stuff here on earth. It doesn't work though. People die. My mom died of a massive heart attack. I have hope that I will see her again. This life ends; there's a lot of sadness here. I hope this isn't it.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • André

      The bible IS the problem. It literally says in many passages that ALL GAYS must be PUT TO DEATH (stoned to death). How dare you say, then, that the bible is not the problem ? You are either: 1- an idiot, or 2- someone who hasn't read the bible.
      I suggest you read this evil book.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      JM, I love my parents and my family more than any fictional character... end of story , AND NOBODY IS GOING TO FORCE ME TO LOVE OTHERS MORE THAN THE ONES I DEciDE TO.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • tbrnotb

      Hey Andre! You cannot cherry pick the verses you believe in....it's all or nothing!

      May 12, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • André

      Tbrntb, why do you think I said it's an evil book ? I'm atheist by the way.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Feed Your Head

      I needed a book to repair my car.
      I went to the library and ripped out different pages from different books, and made my own.

      According to my new bible, i have

      The tail lights of a caddillac
      the bumper from a buick
      tires from a ford
      the hood of a chevy
      and a horn from a volkswagon.

      Thats what your bible is.
      A collection of junk put together by design to control how you think.
      You should see the parts they left out, or edited.
      It started with The council of Nicea, but when the Catholic church
      got ahold of it, they had a field day with it.
      They have been tampering with the bible since 370AD.
      They "own" you.
      You are not very smart.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  19. bwes

    God loves all but hates sin. What is sin, whatever God does not want us to do. Who sets the rules for sin, God does but man does not. The fact is that everyone has and still does sin. Once a person asks God for forgiveness then his/her sinful ways should be minimized and the person try to live the right way. We, gay and straight alike, struggle with the ways of the world and our own selfish desires. This does not mean that we should give up and do whatever we want to do. Forget arguing over politics and laws and seek the will of God. If you want to find the will of God then you must establish a personal relationship with God. Do not completely trust anyone else except God. Once you and only you seek the will of God and submit to it, you will not fret about what kind of "human law" is established. remember, God is infinite but humanity is finite.

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

      Well said. Hope the humanity pays attention.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. JesusIsNotReal

    if you believe in the Bible you are one dumb individual..

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

      And you are completely ignorant..

      May 12, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      John, it is the believers who are ignorant that they are a part of a cult. You believe in BS.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • steve

      It's dumb to make generalizations like that.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      Well, if you believe that fictional stories are real then you must be dumb.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • clintfort

      Interestingly, the Bible foretold that you'd think that (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). And it also says that God chose many "dumb" people to believe this for a purpose (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). The fact that God is one step ahead of you on this might warrant some personal research on your part. Just a suggestion.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • JesusIsNotReal

      clintfort, lol you are another example of dumb... your claims are another proof how dumb are those who believe in this nonsense.. I can also write a story and claim it's from GOD and in which I will claim that many people will disbelieve it and those who will will claim that those who do believe in it are dumb.. GROW a brain..

      May 12, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • vnouvelle

      The only dumb person I'm seeing right now is you.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:46 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.