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. bk

    Well n8263 go buy a device and insert it and see how you like it, maybe your gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Always Knew

    I resent the fact that just because we are black, we have to support being gay? Who came up with that nonsense? So because civil rights helped blacks (please don't forget we had to die, in order for that to happen), we have to support something that we Biblically believe is wrong. I am no longer supporting any Church and Barack can forget about my vote. How absurd, I am black ,so I must support Soddom and Gomorrah. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Sassy

      I should think that rap music would have more to do with the moral decay of society than upstanding, educated and productive gay Americans. That you don't understand their human worth is your problem. Maybe it will dawn of you when your gay children come to you for answers on discrimination and the long history of discrimination. Some of it emanating from your mouth.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Laura

      You people disgust me with your bigotry. Have you not learned anything? You are hopeless.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Doesn't the christian faith say that all humans are worthless without god anyway? So it seems that they are just giving others the same worth they think they have.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      And I resent the fact that christians feel that their religious beliefs must be codified into secular law.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • sam stone

      also, always knew, by supporting equal rights you are not "supporting gays". there will be gays whether or not they have equal rights

      May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom the Piper's Son

      @Always Knew
      O please.. you didn’t fight and die in some war for civil rights. Yes some people died (very few) and they were both black AND WHITE. Do you really think no gay person as died over being gay? You are a hypocrite and a moron.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  3. 2020

    The only one who can condemn is God, no one else. Yet, God loves the world He sent his only beloved son, Jesus to save ALL OF US.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Red

      If that is true, he then filled the planet with gay people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Bob

    What? The bible doesn't just come out and say "black people should be slaves". It's creative interpretation that led to that kind of thinking. The whole "don't be gay" thing is pretty cut and dry.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      And why do you feel that orientation is a choice?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Adam

      Very well put, Bob.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Snow

      ok.. say I go along with your argument.. and say I do believe in your word.. can you show me the passages where it says "cut and dry" that being gay is wrong?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • starman

      However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

      May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Dodd,T

      Love it, Bob!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Matteo

      Orientation may or may not be a choice. It is still unproven. See the American Psychiatric Associations position. Personnally I doubt it is choice. I am guessing some are predisposed somehow towards the behavior and up until recently they were unwilling to act on those predispositions. Just pondering. Anyways I do know that h.o.m.o.s.e.x.u.a.l behavior is a behavior. And giving rights based on behavior is akin to saying the devil or God or nature or whatever made me do it so it's ok. Discrimination occurs when a class of people is prohibited from something based on a charateristic that is not behavioral. In other words being black, or being female.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  5. Art

    Does your non belief of God's word make is word wrong and your's right. Did you created the Heaven's and the universe. Did anybody on Planet Earth create man. Only God will judge;As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • sam stone

      art: how do you make the logical leap from a creator to a being that judges man?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      First, prove that A god exists, then prove that YOUR god exists.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  6. n8263

    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 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Matteo

      And you know that someone does not believe because it is true how?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • n8263

      @Matteo I am not sure what you are asking.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  7. A

    It is sad that blacks don't really understand it (or the majority.) we all are children of god! Duh. So what if people are gay? Why aren't they worried about everything else that's REALLY bad in this world? Like murder? Come on!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  8. n8263

    @Polgie, religous morality is the ultimate in subjectivity because all organized religion comes from man. Everyone takes away his or her own interpretations of scripture and "prayer," which is really just talking to yourself.

    You are confusing communism with atheism. There are democratic European countries that have non-religious majorities and are doing fine, and that is the trend around the world.

    Even if an afterlife is not discussed much in scripture does mean it is not a major factor for those people.

    Over and over when I talk to Christians about their religion, especially when the topic of doubt comes up, almost always the first thing that comes back is how he or she can not imagine living life believing it will all come to an end when they die, and then how meaningless they think life would be if that was the case. Over and over, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, young, old, male or female, it does not matter.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  9. Norbert Mayr

    When I emigrated to the US in 1965 I settled in North Carolina. Back then it was illegal (by state law) for people of different races to marry. The Civil Rights movement changed that, along with many other things. Now it seems, as though the fine people of North Carolina are moving full steam back into the past. Shame.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  10. David Ellis

    Years from now, when we look back on these times, we will equate the gay struggle with both the black struggle and the women's struggle for equality, and those of us on the wrong side, especially those that had to fight for their own rights, will bury their head in their hands from shame.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Secure

      True Christians will never waiver from the guidelines God has given in the Bible. But, it will be only a few.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Kenneth

      No, rigid ideology knows no shame.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Secure

      Kenneth, as people quickly fall away from specific guidelines of the Bible and replace entire belief systems with "the Golden Rule" even a BELIEF in God at all, will be considered "rigid ideology"

      May 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Lillie

      @Secure: Man WROTE the Bible. God didn't.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Art

      There are no Gays being lynched. No gays are bombed on buses. There are no gay being shot because of who they are and nothing is being done about it. It is totally unrelated

      May 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • tracy k'meyer


      May 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Wow art what world are you living in?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Farrod

      That's just f$#$%ing stupid. Will you be equating the 'gay struggle'i with the holocaust as well?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Lillie

      Have you ever opened a newspaper Art? You're so entirely wrong, it isn't even funny.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Lillie

      @Farrod: Considering gays were persecuted during the Holocaust, then yes.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Robert

      sodod and gemora all over again. the freaks and perverts are taking over and the dead head tree hugging liberals thinks its normal. in the Bible " in the last days .whate is considerd wright will be considerd wrong. and whate is wronge will be considerd wright. These are the last days!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Secure

      Lilly, if a person is a Christian, then yes, we believe the Bible was written by man, and inspired by God. Seems that every religious debate is stopped by someone yelling "There is no God!"

      May 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      First, learn to spell.
      Second, get some professional psychological help. People have been prophesying that they are living in the end times since Jesus. In fact according to your bible, Jesus said that the end times would come to pass in the lifetimes of his apostles.
      Third, prove that A god exists, then prove that it's YOUR god, then we can talk about the validity of the bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Secure

      Hawaii, prove that gravity exists. I can't see it, so i don't believe in it. Its stupid to believe in something you can't see right?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      I have dropped a pen from 1 meter in the air. Run the numbers on the time it took to fall, and calculated the acceleration at 9.8 m/s^2. This is a direct effect of gravity that is testable by any person anywhere on the earth. Gravity is testable, verifiable, and predictable. Gravity is science.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Thanks for showing your ignorance by the way.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Your assumption that I don't believe because I can't see is completely idiotic. I don't believe because I have not seen one shred of evidence that a god exists, so there's no reason to think that there is.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Secure

      lol, thank you for the test, tho i hope you didnt actually sit at your desk and do that b/c you would have looked pretty ignorant yourself. So, your test also proves that things/forces exist that we can not see with our eyes. YOu come across an mansion complete with elaborate details/ craftsmanship and a well tended thriving garden in the middle of the desert. What if i tried to tell you a baby built it? What if i told you no one built it? I would look pretty stupid. And that SCIENCE!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      I don't see your point in bringing up a mansion in the middle of a desert. Maybe you should actually say what your trying to say.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  11. Alva Jones Jr

    The "Black Church" has come under a lot of fire recently about the conservative ideals its members hold while typically voting against them. I assume the story continues to be framed this way because these people are in the majority, but more focus should be given to those who uphold both their faith and the humanity of others.

    I'm fortunate to know that many of these people exist and find no conflict in their god or their love of their neighbors. Here in N.C. where Amendment 1 recently passed, there were several members and leaders of the faith community who vocally opposed the discrimination inherent in the amendment.

    Instead of asking if this group is being hypocritical just say that they are, because it is obviously the case when one group would use the same collection of ancient texts to marginalize a group in a similar way as itself. People claiming to come from a place of love with their critiques would never accept the same from people who would deny them the right to marry people of other races because the Bible said it was wrong.

    The fact that the Bible is even being injected into political debates shows how backwards the system is. People are deciding others lives based on their own narrow understandings of their own religion instead of carving out a belief system for themselves that allows free though and equality.

    The Human Rights Campaign has a short article illuminating the work faith leaders have done in our communities to expand peoples minds about what should be a common sense issue. I've included the link below.


    May 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  12. bk

    We don't need a President telling us to accept gays or how we should think, the bible does that for us and its a union between a woman and a man to make one flesh. Everyone knows that hole is for exit only. Come on people.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Secure


      May 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Kenneth

      You may not like the plumbing, but you cannot deny the heart, the love or the commitment. Gay people have been marrying for ages. They didn't need and still don't need the blessing of the black community or any community to seal their affections. They will always marry with or without government or religious approval.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • sgurdog

      Wow, 2 threads where you copy and paste what the preacher implanted into your tiny pee brain.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • SeilnoigileR

      I love how you let a book tell you 'how to think'. A book that you think is true because it claims itself to be true. The sheer lunacy is astounding. Try reading Revelations – it's like hearing someone describe a bad acid trip. True of course, because it says it is...

      May 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  13. Adam

    The fact that many people believe the Bible is pro-slavery is great evidence for how uninformed, uneducated, and lazy many people's beliefs are.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It is widely established by biblical historians that the bible is in fact pro-slavery.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • oldpatriot

      the bible is pro-slavery – even to the extent of selling your own daughter into slavery and the rules that must be followed by the slave owner to stay within the good graces of good!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Adam

      Study your Ancient History regarding slavery, people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Snow

      It is funny that those who assert their position do not seem to have followed their own advice, nor are they inclined to reaffirm their position with evidence.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • starman

      No???? "However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way." (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

      May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  14. mylez mariucci

    this isn't even a fair comparison.....the slavery experienced in america is not the same slavery that is ok'd in the bible..... so that right there mutes this whole point...there is no hypocracy....slavery ios still ok by today's standards.....

    May 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Adam

      Way to know what you're talking about.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • oldpatriot

      indentured servitude is still slavery, regardless of how fine you what to slice things the truth is that the bible has support for slavery including rules for slave overs all over it – including the new testament – Exodus 21:20 fr example.

      "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but if the slave lives for 2 or 3 days the slave owner will not be punished."

      But it only applies to foreigners – not jews – sounds very progressive to me!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  15. dc

    Gay is not a skin color. CNN quit trying to compare the two. You just like to stir the pot.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  16. Anomic Office Drone

    Oppressed populations tend to become oppressors. It's similar to the way children from abusive households can be bullies. The US grew to be the kind of imperialist nation that it freed itself form in 1776. Israelis put Palestinians in ghettos and deny them citizenship. The Catholic church has discriminated against in this country since we were still colonies, now the Catholic church attempts to censor anything it doesn't agree with. The list goes on and on.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  17. rla

    Guess what it is not all about the narcissist Obama.. They can be black and have a point of view can't they or must they toe the Obama line??? At least in the view of the faux media

    May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  18. frank

    answer to the headline: YES

    May 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • i see dumb people

      Frank...next time dont spend so much time actually explaining why you wrongly and ignorantly answer yes to a no question!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • i see dumber people

      This is comment section. There is no requirement to explain ones opinion to your likling.

      I for one agree with frank.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  19. Dodd,T

    I didn't know that Black poeple were the only ones that are against gay marraige (as this article seems to insinuate)

    May 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • gosh people

      There also the ones there calling hypocrites just because they dont agree with redefining marriage. Last time I heard this was an issue across the country and party lines. Why isolate this group out. CNN stirring the racial pot!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • i see dumber people

      The article doesn’t say they are the only ones. It offers the opinion (backed up by a famous BLACK religious author) that black churches are hypocritical. Why hypocritical you ask? Because blacks claim discrimination and racism left and right then turn around it are acting bigoted themselves.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  20. BICARO


    May 14, 2012 at 3:55 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.