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. DDXS

    That's right happyfrenchman, see John 3:17. "For God did not send his son Into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.". Save the world from what? Sin... Do ou believe that?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • happyfrenchman

      No i do not... the bible is a work of fiction. A collection of stories, edited and cherry picked over centuries. If you refuse to see that, you have faith which seems to be less offensive than just saying you are being deceived.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • DDXS

      You're right to believe or not believe.

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

      Yes, it is my right to not believe, but how do you have the right to try to enforce your beliefs on others... ? And bear in mind, there are about a hundred different denominations of christianity, and about another hundred different denominations of other religions, in this country. The argument against gays is purely a religious argument. And it may be news to some, but not everyone believes in that fairy tale.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  2. Sugarmama

    these staffers at CNN NEED JESUS

    May 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • LinCA

      ... like a fish needs a bicycle.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  3. TheBandit

    How quickly they forget what it's like to fight for civil rights. – that is until it's government check time...

    If gay marriage is banned, we need to re-instate slavery and trading of blacks.
    That way we can reminid them of what they didnt have...what they had...and then lost again due to their own bigoted voting.

    Then...while the big corporate machine is on a roll...womens rights will be removed too... Then we'll all eventually be slaves because some people are too stupid to vote for equal rights of all.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Kristene

      "All men are created equal" will not sink into conservative brains.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Dave From Philly

      So you would blame less than 15% of the entire American population on gay marriage being banned? how many gay black people would put back in slavery?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Vendetta

    How is it possible for anyone to make the illogical leap from gay marriage to polygamy and incest? I'm gay and I strongly oppose both and having said that...what do polygamy and incest have to do with each other? Seriously people, put on your thinking caps.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Joey

      It is an adolescent talking point. Usually they mention animals and all sorts of combinations of relationships to degrade the TWO CONSENTING ADULTS argument.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  5. Dave From Philly

    What black pastor's say in public is different from what many would say in private. I have many people in my family that are pastors and others that at times were preachers and some of them could care less about this issue. Yet they oppose it publicly.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Clara

      Cowards who have never rocked a boat a day in their life.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  6. happyfrenchman

    The bible is a work of fiction. Neither Matthew, Mark Luke or John ever met Christ... (look it up christians). If it were a court of law, it would be hearsay. Stop forcing us to believe in that which is easily disproved except for the fervent wishful thinking of the "faithful".

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Dave From Philly

      David McCough never met John Adams but he wrote a book on him. I would not say his book was fiction.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • happyfrenchman

      Dave McCough didn't claim Adams rose from the dead and was the Son of God either.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Dave From Philly

      Yes, but Jesus's brother John also wrote a book in the Bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Clara

      John Adams never offered everlasting life for a dollar.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • DDXS

      So, you don't believe in The God of the Bible? Ok. Great... thanks for posting. why don't you just say that?

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

      Excuse me but if you told me Moe Larry and Curly wrote books in the bible, there would be just as much evidence.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Sugarmama


    May 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  8. rsjohn

    Once again another ignorant person writing about Gay marriages on CNN. Do people not read the bible when it is talking about servants. And there is no where in the bible where it talks about blacks being slave nor servants. This guy must be a supporter of gay marriages.

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

      Can you give a logical reason other than "Its written in bible" and "god disapproves" as to why gay marriage is wrong and should be banned?

      Also, give a logical reason why and how does it effect YOU what a couple of gays do by themselves

      May 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Mike

      If God created all of us in his likeness and image then how could he create us gay? On the other hand, we are to love one another as we love ourselves and we were created different to put that premise to test.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Adam

    Hello??? What are liberal's arguments for why incest or polygamy shouldn't be legalized?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Snow

      umm.. both are supported "cut and dry" in bible.. what is your argument for banning it then?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • YeahRight

      Scroll down idiot, it's been answered or is your reading comprehension really that bad. The fact you keep asking the same stupid question proves you're clueless on this subject.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Al

      Adam, why are you lobbying for incest? Personally, I don't care how many people you want to be with... but your own family?!? Ick!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. markiejoe

    You might want to ask these black pastors if they know what the phrase "on the down low" means. It is the lifestyle they have fostered among the black men for decades with their anti-gay preaching. And it's prevalent.

    Sad. Very sad indeed.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  11. xponential

    So the black churches are okay with hsi stance on abortion which is murder, but not gay marriage. Talk about cherry picking.

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

      No they are not

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  12. Marcio Pelegrini

    Jesus commandment is love one another NOT to get rid of his Holy Scriptures.
    He is holy. and no adulterer, gay or lesbian will be on heaven. It is clear as crystal...
    no "literal reading stuff" CNN gay staff and simpathizers.
    DSM-IV is calling

    May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  13. Adam

    The liberals premise for why gay marriage should be legal is that any loving, consensual marriage should be legal.

    So under that argument, why shouldn't polygamist or incestual marriages be legal?

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

      The children of polygamist will inevitably fall to the welfare rolls. Plenty of men have been prosecuted because they could not afford 22 children and 5 wives. Especially when they insist that the women stay home. Incest gives us disabled and down syndrome babies. Next question.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "The liberals premise for why gay marriage should be legal is that any loving, consensual marriage should be legal.
      So under that argument, why shouldn't polygamist or incestual marriages be legal?
      If you can work out the legal details regarding division of property, custody of children, etc., and you can ensure that all persons enter into a polygamous marriage of their own free will, there should really be no reason to prohibit it.

      The risk of birth defects in offspring of incestuous relationships, is enough reason to prohibit marriage between closely related individuals.

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


      Better exercise the ole' brain a little bit more before you start to form arguments. Down-syndrome babies? How about no babies in gay relationships? That's an argument against gay relationships. We don't have any laws in place to limit households. We're not China. So that's no argument against polygamy. Next weak argument?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "How about no babies in gay relationships? That's an argument against gay relationships. We don't have any laws in place to limit households."

      Keep showing how clueless you are on this subject. Social science has shown that the concerns often raised about children of lesbian and gay parents—concerns that are generally grounded in prejudice against and stereotypes about gay people—are unfounded. Overall, the research indicates that the children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ from the children of heterosexual parents in their development, adjustment, or overall well-being

      May 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Allen

      We live in a Judeo-Christian society people. Most of our laws are written from that religious philosophy. Everyone is talking as if plural marriage is part of Christianity. It is not. Jesus said that we were to have, but one wife/husband. So in keeping with our history, that is why a law defining a "marriage" as between one man and one woman is well within legal precedence.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "We live in a Judeo-Christian society people."
      No we don't, you moron.

      You said, "Most of our laws are written from that religious philosophy."
      While some may have been influenced by it (it's hard to prevent as so many legislators can't seem to shake the inane beliefs either), they are not based on religion.

      You said, "Everyone is talking as if plural marriage is part of Christianity. It is not. Jesus said that we were to have, but one wife/husband."
      Who gives a rats ass what your imaginary friend said?

      You said, "So in keeping with our history, that is why a law defining a "marriage" as between one man and one woman is well within legal precedence."
      Nope. Your fairy tale has no place in a civil society. You are free to live your life by it, but you better keep that nonsense to yourself.

      May 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  14. truthsayer

    Why didn't CNN give a few examples of how the Bible promotes slavery? Sure the Bible mentions slaves, who were servants and were never treated poorly.
    How can someone who believes in God, reject what the Bible says?!?!
    This is why the Bible says no to lean on our own understand, or not to change the Word of God to fit our own beliefs, if your a true Christian than you should understand gay marriage is wrong. That does not mean you hate gay people, it just means you don't support the idea of two people from the same gender getting married.

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

      21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
      23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

      25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

      27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Essie

      There are plenty of religious texts around. Why did you choose the bible? Because of your geographical location. That is why. You were born into a country where Christianity was the norm. You would have fallen deeply into religion no matter which text it was if you have the propensity in your brain for religion. You could just as easily be arguing just as strongly for Mohammed if you had been born in Saudi Arabia. What I'm saying is that you would have fallen for anything.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      The bible states that you can beat your slaves as much as you want, as long as they don't die within 2 or 3 days of the beating it's all good. Does that sound like proper treatment to you? Does that sound like being just a servant to you?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  15. dav

    The fact that blacks are racist is no new news.comrade obama just brings it out more.bye comrade obama 2012

    May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  16. Marcio Pelegrini


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


      May 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  17. Ok Now!

    There is no orientation in being born Black or Asian or any other race. There is no orientation in being born male of female. It is what you are and to delude yourself into thinking that you are something else is a mental condition

    May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Ok Now!

      male or female

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

      So you are just stupid

      May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Ok Now!

      Why dav.........can you do better than just name calling?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  18. Phil

    blacks hate the gays.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  19. Marcio Pelegrini

    to compare behavior with race and slavery is typical of a retarded.

    or big money, political pressure. We will ever accept the disease as natural and especially as acceptable to God.
    wasn't even accepted to men years ago on the DSM-IV

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

      Funny. A lot of the racist remarks I hear tie back to how certain minorities act and speak not just how they look.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • ick

      The use of the word retarded as a noun is typical of a retard.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  20. happyfrenchman

    The whole "christianity" vs gayness is fraught with hypocrisy. Why doesn't CNN do a piece on that. Where did Christ say anything about gays? He specifically said love your neighbor as yourself. Don't throw stones. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.... These christians (black or white) are huge hypocrites and they get a pass...claiming they discriminate against them out of love and compassion. Cmon CNN. Cowards.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Ok Now!

      Go and sin no more...Was also one of his greatest hits.....

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

      18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

      4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
      6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

      The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
      9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

      13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
      14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
      The Little Children and Jesus 15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

      The Rich and the Kingdom of God 18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
      19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
      21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

      22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

      26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

      27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
      28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
      29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."

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

      I don't get it JM. 1 story was about a judge, another about a tax collector, and finally rich people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
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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.