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. Arran Webb

    Things are going to get weird. If the gay population increases greatly due to their children being socialized into being gay – nature verses nurture debate – we could end up with a time where there are not enough babies being born for them if they wish to have families. So there will be women who are employed as breeders for gay couples on a large scale. Whole towns built in the mid-west of just women employed as breeders.Living in houses lined up like chickens in a chicken farm. Do we have that already?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • nojusticed

      No at this point we have plenty of breeders, if what you say is actually a possible side effect we would be doing the human race a favor by reducing population.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • StarIceScream

      Gays should not be indoctrinating their kids into the 'its ok to be gay' system.
      These poor children are mentally abused already.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Sockifyable

      Dude. You're sorta crazy. Like...weird-crazy.

      –but seriously, we're nowhere near running out of unwanted children being surrendered to states worldwide. That cup overfloweth. But that's a totally different issue...

      May 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Got cynicism?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      I wish your mother had swallowed.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Barock Oblahma

    Im surprised black people didnt riot when they found out gays are no longer illegal.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Abe Lincoln

      Stop government sanctioned terrorism against gay medical marijuana patients. – Hypocrites.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Tread

      These gays were dancing in the street where I live, when Oblahma announced they are no longer illegals.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • nojusticed

      Your right, what the point of black churches without riots? Some people are just lazy.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  3. iqueue120

    Well, maybe black people DO understand the difference between being black and being 'gay'. One is a physical characteristic, and the other is a perversion...
    Too bad that 'gays' constantly use black people hisotry for they own agenda.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  4. tony

    Atheism instantly and simply solves all the wild contradictions in the bible. Far better than any even vastly qualified theologian can

    May 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  5. Bert BigDongler

    And here is another factoid for those Obama sychophants in the media... if you actually paid attention to what our courageous President said, he basically said nothing – "leave it up to the states". In other words, he took no real stand, and voted "present", as he has done his entire political career, in effort to garner as many votes as possible.

    So it seems your messiah is just another run of the mill pandering politician. Who would have thunk it, eh?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • El Flaco

      According to Harris Polls, 25% of all Republicans think that Obama is the Antichrist. "Bert Big Dong" is apparently one of them, because he refers sneeringly to Obama as "Messiah."

      May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Gaping Dragon

    Why bother using slavery? Blacks have enslaved themselves in a thug culture.
    They have no one to blame but themselves.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Ronin

      Are you honestly comparing dressing up in hoodies and cursing, to 400 years of getting forced into labor and getting beaten on a daily basis?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Gaping Dragon

      No Im comparing drug dealing, gun violence, and avoiding education at all costs.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  7. CJ

    Finally, some honesty, fearless of accusations of 'racism,' to the black churches. Not only do they foster bigotry towards others, they mentally enslave uneducated black people at the lower end of the socioeconomic stratum.

    Feed the poor. Good. Hate people not like you. Er bad.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Carl

      Why does this administration terrorize gay medical marijuana patients – Hypocrites.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Ronin

      We wouldn't want Evangelicals to get the wrong impression about giving to the poor though. That's too close to socialism. That's just wrong to them.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • sam8131

      So black churches are racists and bigots now according to the tolerant liberal left? I guess only liberals can have an opinion without being labled.

      Remember, anything except the economy.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • nojusticed

      I think the white churches are in the same boat.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  8. bubba

    What an idiotic article written specifically to inflame. Way to go, CNN. Every day you get further away from what made you great 2 decades ago. Then you were a tough as nails NEWS group, now you're just a web based tabloid

    May 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  9. n8362

    Imposing your religious superstition on others is immoral.

    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 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • GopherIt

      Thank you.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  10. alyarby

    This gay marraige debate remains nothing more than a distraction - from the fact that Mr. Obama and his team have one horrendous record of zero accomplishments. NO ONE is better off now than they were 4 years ago, except for the increasingly large collection of people who contribute nothing and do nothing anyway. Now those people are gettin' tax refund checks for taxes they didn't pay. But gay marriage, free birth control, the war on women etc etc etc is simply a diversion - because Obama has absolutely nothing whatsoever to run on OTHER THAN making things a whole lot worse.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Rashataur

      It's not a distraction to the portion of the population that pays taxes to give monitary benefits to straight couples that they themselves do not get. I have the perfect way to make gay marriage popular with tea party conservatives... Raise their taxes to cover the benefits of marriage that they get and lower the taxes of gays and lesbians that do not get those breaks. Watch all the Tea Partiers come in line real quick when they're told that their taxes will go up.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Oh there have been many accomplishments....just accomplishments that you probably don't support.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  11. Eric G

    What is the position of the church on incest?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Watnen

      Perfectly fine, as long as it's male/female.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  12. Peter

    cnn makes it look like religious people are hypocrites and that religion is horrible.cnn tries to brainwash and tell you everybody who disagrees with gay marriage are horrible people and that theyre not on the right side of history.they also brainwash about the elections by telling you obama is in a commanding lead so independants and reoublicans dont go out to vote cause they know they dont have a chance.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ronin

      It's not CNN who is making religious people look like hypocrites. It's simply because religious people are hypocrites. Most Religions (except maybe Islam) are based on acceptance, and peace. And yet Christians constantly blast gay marriage, are pro-death penalty, and are some of the most bigoted racist anti-muslim people in America. That's the definition of hypocrisy right there.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • steven harnack

      They don,t, but if you read it that way it must be because, in the smarter side of your brain, you know that it is so. It's not CNN that makes religious folks look that way, they are just reporting what those "religious folks" are saying. Don't blame the messenger.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Rob

      Lumping people into catagories is a short cut to thinking.
      I believe CNN is trying to convince people that if you don't agree with gay marriage, you are filled with hate.
      Nice job of reporting the news. We have lost true news over the past three decades. Now we have news that would make Joseph Gerbils happy!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  13. Keith

    I am tired of hearing about this gay marriage stuff. North Carolinians voted against Gay Marriage in our state and thats it. Its our right as a people to vote for what we want. Gays have it made now. Gays flurish in the work place because nobody wants to offend them, afraid of getting sued for discrimination. Nothing is stopping gay people from living together the way that they want. The president says he approves of gay marriage to get the gay votes and their supporters. By doing so, I believe it may hurt him come this november. We shall see.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • zach

      Actually it is not your right to take away the rights of anyone else. How ignorant of the rule of law are you?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • CJ

      I'm very tired of hearing about illiterate bigots inflicting parochial views on teh nation, but I have to endure it, as we're in a nation.

      Get used to it. Straight people like me will push this until you realize how immoral these views are.

      People who see things your way would have 'voted' to continue slavery too. We changed you then. We'll change you now.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Ronin

      Are you actually mad because you can't abuse gay people any more? Don't get me wrong, people do vote for their laws. But man, some of you people in North Carolina are quite backwards.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • steven harnack

      You guys voted to seceed from the Union too, how did that work out for you? Don't you people ever get tired of being on the losing side of history?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Tom

      And it is high time my tax dollars went towards supporting MY life, the welfare of MY family, and MY children and not some straight couples' families and their rugrats. It's about justice and not just about YOU believing that YOU have the right to determine MY civil rights and opportunities to be justly treated in my country. Just because bigots voted to discriminate against a certain group certainly doesn't mean it will stand. Blacks should know this.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  14. Sockifyable

    (New page. Still no answer!) Question for the Christians out there...

    What about the rights of churches who have no problem sanctifying a union between two men or two women? Of which there are many in the United States. By acting "to protect marriage" aren't you abrogating their right to exercise their free conscience?

    No one is going to make churches that do not wish to recognize a given marriage as sanctified declare that it is so. However, by forcing laws like Amendment One one group of Christians is telling other, differently minded Christians that there is only one way to interpret, practice and preach the Bible.

    I thought the idea of a state church is exactly what the Christians among the Founding Fathers took a vocal stand against (and granted they weren't all Christians)?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • it is

      Good Question. dont assume that the rght of churches to teach what they beleive will be safe. It is being challenged up here in Ontario RIGHT NOW!

      Re those "churches" that accept gay "marriage" follow the same nominalistic self-intereted lip service to truth as everyone else who swallows the bait of media, political and activitst agendas.


      May 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Rob

      To bad American's truned over the marriage business to the government in the 1800's to try and stop interratial marriage. Then it took even more power in the New Deal. Government should not be in the marriage business. Then churches can do what ever they want. Marry LBGT people or not. That is between each person and their maker, if they believe in one. Before the 1800's it was the church that deceided who it could marry. Sure would be nice to get back to that, they way the founding father's intended and got married them selves.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Rob

      Also, you didn't quite hit the mark. LBGT orginzations are trying to force the national organization of my church to accept LBGT persons as elders and pastors. So it does have affects that people don't realize.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Kandric

      Prayer does one of three things.
      1. It changes things.
      2. It means you should wait longer because whatever you pray to tells you to.
      3. It doesn't change things because that is whatever you pray to's will, and it shall be done.

      Waiting does one of three things.
      1. It changes things.
      2. It doesn't do anything for a while, then it changes things.
      3. It doesn't change things, because things were not meant to change.

      Prayer is the same as waiting.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • CJ

      Funny then how atheist kids are normally well balanced, healthy and happy. While christian kids are usually ignorant, bigoted and overweight????

      May 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • John Blachford

      Prayer is what you fill your time with while you are waiting.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  16. MAQ

    II take offense that a societal or personal struggles that are the result of going against God's law and laws of nature are constantly being placed side by side with the struggle of an entire race of people who were captured or sold and brought to this country against their will. These are not the same and are not comparable.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  17. illmatico

    It's gonna be a tough one for the black church. Either vote for a supporter of a lifestyle or a Mormon. It's a lose/lose situation.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Ronin

      I don't think it's as tough as you are making it. Blacks can overlook one choice about gays getting married I imagine and still vote for Obama. They can't overlook a Mormon who actually believes that until the 1950's, blacks could only get into Heaven as slaves. That's a little harsh even for Mormonism.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  18. M

    Marriage is a right?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Suzette

      Why does this administration support gay marriage, but they terrorize gay medical marijuana patients – Hypocrites.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Kandric

      Marriage is a legal contract between two consenting adults. It is a legal right afforded to all US citizens under the law. Presently that right is denied to a minority population, which our republic is supposed to prevent.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • El Flaco

      Marriage is definitely a right. What government can forbid marriage?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  19. Kandric

    Rainer Braendlein,

    If the Christian bible is to be taken literally, please let me know when you stone your next adulterer. You're free to believe whatever you want, however. The issue that arises here is that you are using your religion to take away a person's freedom. It is my right to sin and be judged by your god. So let me sin and worry about it on "Judgment Day." Give me the same basic human rights as you have, to marry the person I love. Then, if your god damns me to hell you can smile down on me from heaven.

    I suppose you still support slavery, as the Christian bible says it should be allowed. Does seeing an interracial couple make you vomit? You know the argument against interracial marriage was largely a religious one. Fortunately people eventually realised it was an issue of basic human rights, not religion.

    Religion and state are separate for a reason. Religion in general, not just Christianity, has a history of oppressing the minority. Denying them basic human rights such as access to freedom, food, water, medicine, marriage, etc. So your church can exclude whoever you want. Your Pastor/Priest/Preacher can refuse to marry two men or two women because that is their right.

    Do not deny me my right to marry. You are just as hypocritical as the religious blacks mentioned in this article for denying rights to the minority. Just because you believe something different from me does not mean you should have more rights.


    Please prove beyond a reasonable doubt he exists. Then your argument is valid.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Hitchens

      The wages of sin is death. The examples cited in the Bible lay out the definitions of what sin is and what the penalty for the crime is to be, in a graphic, detailed and specific way. This is done so that we may face the final judgement without excuse, knowing the fullness of our individual sins and what we are deserving of. We avoid judgement by recognizing our sin, repenting of our sin and turning to the one who bore the entire penalty for sin on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ. The adulterer, the immoral, the drunkard even the liar have killed themselves whether or not they are executed. It is all a matter of time. All will die and after that the judgement of God. To avoid eternal death, the second death requires a sincere repentance and changing of ones ways. Can two ho mo se xuals marry? No it is an abomination that will lead to perpetual sin.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • sam8131

      You are right and all knowing, he doesn't exist oh most knowledable one. You come from an ape and you are nothing, a blob with no purpose and no future. You are just a worthless bunch of cells, mostly water, ramdomly arranged to form a rational thinking being. Although in your case just a dysfunctional mass of sheep cells. I guess there is nothing wrong with destroying your worthless hide since nothing has purpose. If it feels good do it. It sure would feel good to add some copper and lead to your diet.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Kandric

      Hitchens, you are allowed to believe whatever you want. Your church can do whatever it feels is right. Your religion says being gay is a sin, then don't allow it in your church.

      My religion believes gay love is equal, even superior to straight love (though I don't believe it's superior, personally, just equal). So I ask the same rights that you have. Let my church marry me as your church marries you.

      Sam8131, I'm hurt.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  20. Mike p

    This is why the Bible, and region in general, appeals to so many people: because they don't conform to the Bible–the Bible conforms to them. Religions people throughout history just make things up and say things are not in their holy scriptures when they most certainly are, and they'll tell others' that, "you must be reading the wrong book" or some solipsistic garbage of the sort. I think YOU are reading the wrong Bible, if you have even picked it up to look at it at all! (Leviticus 25:44-45) " 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," (Ephesians 6:5) " Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. There are SO many justifications for slavery in the Bible. Christians are such jerks-off because so many of them have no Idea what the hell they are talking about.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • sam8131

      Does it mention black in there or did I miss something?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • sam8131

      Where in that statement, interperted thousands of years ago, does it say God approves of slavery? It simply states that if you are a slave, obey and fear your master. Where does it say black people should be slaves? Where in the bible does it say one should make people slaves? Liberals= selective hearing, slective reading and lack of understanding. Spin everything to justify their immoral, unethical, and unprincipled behavior.

      Anything except take responsibility for their behavior. Deny, deny, deny, distract, distract, distract!

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 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.