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. Ikramuddin Akbar

    @ Ron B
    Your sordid gay mind never stretches beyond hatred against Islam and Muslim, it was not Islam who taught Hitler to kill Millions of jews,it was not Islam who taught filthy Serb people and army to kill muslims,it was not islam who taught White americans to torture and kill Black , it was your gay religion who taught you so and you are paying for that. Shame on you and your religion. You are unfortunate person and sick of mind and body.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  2. Douglas

    More liberal dumping on Blacks. So the Blacks thought liberals were their friends? When the Blacks are true to their Christian beliefs which condemn gay/lesbian cotius, the Blacks are slammed as bigots. What a crock!
    Blacks wake up! The liberals are not your friends. Rev. Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. did NOT support gay marriage! He was a Christian minister. Go ahead liberals hate on him now.
    Blacks stay true to your faith. Don't be bamboozled by liberals selling snake oil to make you question your Christian faith.
    The sinners have been given over to a reprobate mind!
    Best, Douglas

    May 18, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Josh Olsen

      Well the conservatives certainly aren't their (black's) friends. If they were we would have erased inequality under Bush and the previous republican controlled congress. Also, you seem to act like all blacks believe exactly the same thing. Sound's like a conservative mind set to me. Pastors aside, blacks are no more and no less likely to believe one side or the other about gay marriage than whites. Personally I think those perverted christians who care about this need to stop obsessing about what other people do in the privacy of their bedroom between consenting adults. Half of those obsessing turn out to be closeted themselves. If they spent even half that time working on real problems, perhaps the world wouldn't have gotten in such a mess in the economic, medical, environmental, and international arenas.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  3. Praying Bear

    God gave to us His Word which is indeed infallable, to say that the Bible is wrong is to call God a liar. When men want to justify their sin by disregarding the truth because it convicts them, then it shows how far away from Him that we are. To those who claim to understand the Word of God, but wrongly divide the Word of truth and lead those who will not pick up the Bible for themsevles. You are indeed accursed, because you preach another gosple, besides the one that the Lord has given to us. Repent! Turn from wickedness. Jesus warned about wolves in sheeps clothing, but to those who know their Lords voice will not heed them.

    May 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • snooop1e

      Infallibility is a human quality not an inanimate object quality. Gods Holy Word is INERRANT (free from error) God promised that His Church would be free from error, God promised that His Church would be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. You cannot find one verse in scripture where Jesus or any of the Apostles told ANYONE that in order to inherit eternal life they should read scripture. You won't find one place in scripture that lists what writings are scripture. You won't find one place in scripture where Jesus or the Apostles advised believers to read scripture an start their own churches. You won't find one place in scripture where it is prophesied that the Bible will be the sole rule of faith for Christians. You won't find once place in scripture where Jesus told anyone to write anything down. You will however find in scripture where God tells us that the Pillar and Bulwark of Truth is the CHURCH. Did Jesus Christ establish His Church? Are you in that Church? God Bless

      May 17, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  4. Liz

    Forget the Bible for a minute. The argument I hear over and over is "consenting adults". Really? What about consenting adult siblings? Two sisters? Two brothers? Or consenting adult mom and son, or mom and daughter, or........ You could carry this out to it's most ridiculous point. Where does "consenting adult" thinking stop? Help me with this.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  5. rAmen

    New Rule: if you whip the LGBTs with the same bronze age fairy tale the white slave owners used to whip your ancestors with, you are a hypocrite

    May 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  6. Ikramuddin Akbar

    Humanbeings may suffer from Gay-syndrome, as no one even parents know,when they develope this bad habit.If parents keep keen eyes on them and show them and guide them they may go straight.Its a psychological problem.They are humanbeings and needs help,they must not be treated as "UNTOUCHABLES" of India.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Ron B

      Being gay is much better than believing in the krap that islam teaches...... allah is a joke and so is the entire religion

      May 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  7. Ikramuddin Akbar

    Gay culture is a violation against nature,and nature has its own way of punishing who go against nature. Humanbeings, animals and all low creatures have been ceated according to nature.Male for female and female for male.Thats the story of this planet. If all are gays and all are lisbians, what is called generations .heirs,descendants.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • InFormed

      You have a funny name.

      May 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jamest297

      How in the world is it possible to violate a law of nature – PROFESSOR. I have never heard of anyone violating gravity. Or the speed of light. Likewise for thermodynamics. Do you have any instances/examples where a law of nature has been violated?

      May 20, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  8. Ikramuddin Akbar

    No humanbeing is RED,BLACK,WHITE AND BROWN,so there should not be BLACK CHURCH,or WHITE CHURCH.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  9. hrashrh

    Blacks against gay rights should be BRANDED with the word "HYPOCRITE!"

    May 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • RobertC

      A lot of gay people wasted a lot of energy supporting black civil rights before there was any concept of civil rights for gay people. They were beaten up by southern sheriffs and bitten by police dogs along side the black people. Our reward is to be kicked in the teeth. Blacks can rot in Hell. I have no use at all for them any more.

      May 17, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  10. Let Them Hear

    For any Gay or Lesbian person who has felt the pain of discrimination by straights glaad.org/ is the place to go. They have a great track record of recording incidents and fighting against the prejudiced majority and winning! No one should bow down to straights just because they are so insecure about their own lifestyle that they feel threatened by Gay marriage. If as Gay-Americans you are hearing discriminatory comments, by all means contact Glaad.org/ and let them hear from you!

    May 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  11. freedoman

    YES they are guilty, and so is everyone else who claims to be any kind of spiritual person and agrees with such deviant behavior!

    Do you honestly think when we stand before God he is going to let this go, you think he is going to go against his own words?

    This is absolutely and totally wrong, if God doesn't approve, there is nothing and I do mean nothing anyone can say to make it right!

    If God says it's wrong, it's wrong, and he says something even worse than that, the almighty calls this deviant lifestyle an ABOMINATION, now look that word up, there's nothing good about it, nothing!

    Justification and compromise won't get any of us into Heaven, shame on any church and any christian who doesn't stand for what God says to do and to believe!!

    Yes, they are totally hypocritical!!

    May 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Ike

      I don't think you know what hypocritical means...

      May 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Phil

      Freedoman missed the entire point of the article. I honestly wish there were a test you had to take before getting certified to vote. It would glean out a ton of morons like this guy.

      May 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  12. No Fairness Here

    A prejudiced majority with discrimination on their mind should never be placed in the position of judging the Human Rights of a minority or making decisions about them, such as Gays and Lesbians! That is why we need Federal legislation to protect these minority citizens and their rights that should not be infringed upon.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  13. Peggy

    What Black churches do not address is how many absentee fathers and unwed mothers they have in their communities; how many of their members are supported by their drug dealing mothers, children, and grandchildren. I lived in the midst of that kind of community and asked for help from the local Black ministers and not one would stand up! How easy it is to be soooooooo self-righteous about gay marriage. Give me a break.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  14. Putting Things Straight

    The argument of some here has been that marriage has to stand between one man and one woman. Yet I don't see that changing at all due to this matter. They go on to say that it all boils down to procreation. Yet straights will most certainly continue to procreate just as they always have. And so will Gays and Lesbians because they are not impotent and are most capable of reproducing. They can have children and do many times and they also adopt and make wonderful parents, and even laws allow for them to! But if that is what straights fear, that mankind will stop if Gays are given the right to marry, then that is a very Lame fear and Completely Unfounded. Don't they realize that straight people are still in the majority and will keep the human species going? But Gays and Lesbians will also contribute by procreating as they feel led, let's not forget! So, quit using that as an excuse to not grant people who work hard, pay their taxes, vote, and who choose to love rather than hate, the rights you currently enjoy. Remember, many straights do not choose to marry either or if they are many simply do not want to have children; others choose to be celibate, so go after them First if you will!

    And another lame and false excuse is what we often hear from straights in that what's next? A man marrying his cat or dog, etc? Please people! Stop that already and quit showing your straight ignorance! You don't know how ignorant that makes you look each time you say something like that. The laws in this country, for your information, do not allow for such marriages so put that kind of trash talk away already. Don't fear the changes of the twenty-first century. Embrace them and show others that you do not hide behind Biblical passages that most certainly do not apply to the business at hand according to learned theologians.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  15. 4holiness

    this article is misleading.... African American struggles are not to be compared with gay lifestyles.... African Americans are a race of God created people, gays choose their way of life which is not ordained by the God of Heaven, Yahweh...

    May 16, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • The Same Struggle

      Surely you know better than to make a statement like that or should. The Gay lifestyle is not a chosen one anymore than the straight one is according to science, medicine, and theology. Many of the leading medical associations have already concluded that this is so. Those offering reparative therapy for Gays trying to turn them into straights, something they were not born as, have failed miserably and more with those they tried to convert. truthwinsout.org/ministry-exodus-international/ Why? Because those methods do not work anymore than trying to change the color of one's skin.

      You should also realize that Coretta S. King equated the plight and fight for Gay rights to that of what Blacks went through in their struggle for civil rights. She was an educated, learned woman whose husband was most famous. Yet she embraced Gays and Lesbians. Research that and you'll find out how much! So, quit just saying things to belittle and denigrate other people. You should be ashamed of yourself for speaking about other Americans in that manner without fully knowing what you are talking about.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  16. Durval Afonseca

    Leviticus 20:13

    New International Version (©1984)
    "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • FoxFox

      Deuteronomy 25:11-12

      11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

      For all the women who support the hate of gay people, raise your hands...

      May 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Phil

      Make sure to kill yourself because you're wearing clothes of two different fibers. Then make sure your daughter is also killed, because she probably isn't a virgin (few daughters of crazy religious fanatics are).

      Quoting Leviticus is beyond stupid.

      May 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  17. Willam

    1 John 3:11 "We should love one another." (NIV).This is to say that I as commanded by God through His son Jessu Christ I am to love everyone but that does not means to me to accept his ways that are not in line with the will of God.Love one another as I have love you. This commandment stick out to me on this subject. Now lets take a close look at Leviticus Chapter 18. Lets not play game with the word of the Lord.So many have done the job of twisting God word to meet and justify their wrong. Is it now time for Christian to come forward and deaclare their faith in the true and live God Eloim and Jehovah. Now help me under why we are relating to this matter as a race issue. The body of Christ is the church not the race or color of individual skin.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  18. Rob

    It's just as credible as if CNN based a story on themselves...and claiming the clerk in the mailroom of 25 years is the next CEO if he works real hard!

    May 16, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  19. Locksmith

    If the blacks ever wanted to know and feel what it was like for opposing whites in the 60s during the civil rights movement, now they know.

    And don't say this is not true, or "different" or that it's not about equallity.

    Because it is, and the fact that people don't see that (blacks), drives my point home.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  20. HWB

    “It’s so unfortunate,” says James Cone, one the nation’s most influential black theologians. Are you kidding CNN. Cone is no more authoratative or influential in the black theologians as David Duke is to the KKK. Collective salvation is a cult belief. Only CNN would put an amature up and call him the most influential black theologian. What an IDIOT for a news organization.

    May 16, 2012 at 8:50 am |
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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.