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. ohsilly

    Obama could begin lynching other blacks, and they'd still vote for him.

    Alas, American blacks are hard core racist and vote based on skin color ALONE

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

      And you would know this as a fact because.........???

      May 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  2. blessedgeek

    Using unverified conjectures to connect non-existent "missing dots" to prove an opinion.

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

    Let them get married. If a man like kissing, screwing, or loving another man so be it. No matter how nasty or perverted that may sound but it's their life.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • edwardo

      We all know that all heteros are not nasty nor perverts. bahahhaha

      May 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • JK

      @ edwardo- Well if hetros are poking each other in holes that are not meant to be poked in then I guess your right.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Will


      You don't realize that heteros also commit sodomy on a regular basis? Are you naive or just stupid? In any event, maybe your problem is that YOU need to be poked in the rear. It might relieve you from some of your stuffiness! No pun ntended.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  4. Fake god

    The church is good for those low-educated gullible black people. I bet Pastor Long Dong would agree with me.

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

      I'm not black but have friends who are. And I, and many of them, are highly educated and I believe and worship God. Many of them do not. It's never been a matter of education.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • JK

      So I guess you're very educated? Not.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  5. zaphod

    what happened to my post

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

      It's right here

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

      You probably had banned words in it, so it didn't post.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Ford

      Probably the same thing that happened to mine

      May 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      I ate it.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  6. total nonsense

    Churches, black or not, HAVE NO RIGHT or BUSINESS in this, MARIGAGE HAS NOTHING TODO WITH RELIGION. it is a LEGAL CONTRACT BETWEEN TWO ADULTS. how HARD it that to understand? Instead ot stiring up more trouble, religious peoples so go get medical help. Mental illness can be treated and controlled with medication. RELIGION IS A PROVEN LIE. GOD DOES NOT EXIST, NOW LIVE WITH IT.

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

      @total nonsense- and being gay isn't a mental illness? Lot of us believe it is. You have your beliefs and we have ours. Now go get tested.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      *** JK

      @total nonsense- and being gay isn't a mental illness? Lot of us believe it is. You have your beliefs and we have ours. Now go get tested.

      The scientific community says that it is not a mental illness, but we know you bible thumpers
      dont go in for science much.
      The only reason you know gravity works is because you fall down alot.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Rob

      You have it backwards. Religion has everything to do with marriage and the goverement should not be in the churches business. That is the true seperation of church and state. The state can give all the benifits it wants to every civil union (should be defined by two adults that are not brother, sister, mother, father or cousin.) Time to get government out of the marriage business, which is the way this country handled marriage until the 1800's.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  7. vinobianco

    interesting article! bold but good to suggest that people may need to stop using the bible as a shield and have to think for themselves in order to defend what is right and wrong, DESPITE their religion

    May 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. ReadYourBible

    King James Version: Ephesians 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Ephesians 6:6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; Ephesians 6:7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Ephesians 6:8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. Ephesians 6:9 And ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  9. Chris B

    I never realized there was a "black church."

    May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      Why not ?
      We have a "white House".

      May 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  10. Ismail

    The Bible is corrupted with European influence. white folks marry their men to each other. And, let whoever wants to follow them do so. enjoy life, because hell just might be your final resting place, I say "might" becuz only God knows.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      Don't follow your stupid prophet, but become a Christian.

      Lousy Muhammad presumed to be judge of the mankind and if he would life today, he would indeed kill the gays.

      Jesus, the Son of God, did not judge the sinners, but offered deliverance by his gospel.

      First at Judgement Day God, the righteous Judge, will judge little Muhammad and all other sinners, which insulted God and harmed their neighbours.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  11. Joe Peterson

    A superficial understanding of the issues......oh well.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. edwardo

    What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  13. justin opinion

    99.99% of religious people are hypocrites. And I'm not too sure about the rest.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • total nonsense

      100% of religious are seriously ill and need medical attention.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Amy

      Because you know all of them personally. I'm impressed.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • justin opinion

      I don't know you personally Amy. But if you're a christian or jew I'm 99.99% sure you're a hypocrite. You got a cross or religious symbol? You're a hypocrite. You tell lies? You're a hypocrite. You work on the sabath? You're a hypocrite. You don't take your child to be stoned to death by the towns people for being lazy or a drunkard? You are a hypocrite. You oppose slavery? Hypocrite. You eat pork or shellfish? Hypocrite. Shave or cut your hair? Hypocrite. Believe in evolution? Hypocrite....

      Need I go on?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  14. tony

    Organized religion operates fundamentally the opposite way of democracy. So if democracy is freedom, what does that make US Christianity?

    May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  15. Naz

    Misquoting and misusing scripture to enslave people hundred years back does not justify the acceptance of unnatural behaviors or wrong and distructive life style!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  16. n8362

    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 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  17. Eric G

    Do any believers still accept the Adam & Eve story as factual?

    The story states that they had two male children. That brings the total population to 4. 3 males and 1 female. If Adam and Eve only had the two children, where did the next generation come from? One posibility is that the story is not true, and thus there were other people around for Cain and Able to mate with. Another possiblity is that the story is true, and the boys must have had children by mating with their mother.

    To the believers out there, please let me know if my thinking is incorrect, and why.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  18. Donna

    CNN you SUCK! What a left wing piece of trash your network and website are. I only check it out to see what stupid inflammatory crap you have to say. This tops them all. Taking the WORD OF GOD and twisting it to suit your Obama supporting role in today's twisted society. Obama "comes out" in support of gay marriage . . . wonder if that Hollywood campaign fundraiser was in the works before his big "announcement". What a bunch of crap. Hollywood is as rotten as CNN. Romney 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      Donna ... This is one of the best comments I've read since a long time. Bless you!

      May 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • McCookies

      Completely agree. What kind of crap is this article?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Kandric

      CNN is the most unbiased news agency in the United States. That doesn't mean it doesn't lean a little left, but it's fairly close to center.

      Fox News is the most biased, followed by NPR and MSNBC, in that order.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Amy

      Kandric what are you smoking? CNN is unbiased? LOL Have you even watched Anderson Cooper in the last 24 hours?

      May 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Kandric

      I said "most unbiased." Please read more carefully.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Amy

      Okay – "most" unbiased? What are you smoking? The whole article (and ever article) is spun.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Amy


      May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • JK

      Great post Donna. I'm black and will vote for Romney just because of this recent flip flop. So contrary to popular belief not all of us vote just because of skin color.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Kandric

      Amy, you are reading an opinion piece. I've read just as right biased pieces in the religion blog.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      Donna, you suck.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  19. Doobie Doobie Doo

    I love how atheists follow Christians around like little doggies.

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

      I love how christians continually feel persecuted despite centuries of close alliance with those who rule. And I love how they need to 'defend' their rights by denying them to another group that does them no harm. And I love how the church screams about the evils of gay marriage yet did not excommunicate one pedophile priest or member of the third reich.

      We do not follow you. We would not give you a second thought except that we have to live on the same planet with you and you feel that you need to make rules that even non-believers must respect and follow.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • tony

      You are confusing co-existing, with following.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • total nonsense

      Us Atheists, love to study beleivers of lies, who after century still beleive a great magicien in the sky created everything and watch your every move. Look arround you, religion is ONLY PAIN AND SUFFERING nothing good has ever come out of it EVER. You want a god, here it is: Dumbledore, you want jesus, here it is: Harry Potter, you want the devil gere it is: Voldemort.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Anoymous

      We follow them to try to keep them out of politics, God forbid some Jesus freak becomes dictator of this country.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Amy

      Total Nonsense – Not ONE good thing? Not one? Because you know every Christian and every church that ever existed to be able to make that statement credibly. I'm impressed with your all-knowing assuredness.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Woof woof woof!!!

      May 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • justin opinion

      That's because atheism and theism are symbiotic. Like bees and flowers. They need each other to survive.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Dino Droppings

      We are not following you,
      you keep yapping at our feet.
      You all need muzzles.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  20. abqTim

    Yeah, well it was also the Christians who fought to stop slavery. So whatever. Pointless. Today everyone knows what's right and wrong. Gays can hang out but they can't get Married because marriage is for producing one's genetics...period. Send gays to another planet and that planet is DEAD. No reproduction!!! It's a dead end. Pass laws for gays but don't mess with my marriage and don't call my marriage gay cuz it's not because we reproduce as nature intended. Call it gay union or whatever just don't mess with the LAWS that currently govern what my loving wife and my family have. Obama really changed his values at the last second just to try and win...spineless.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Eric G

      If marriage is only for reproduction, do sterile couples need to be denied marriage? What about older couples that are beyond reproductive age? Do they need to get divorced?

      Light travels faster than sound. This is why other people may think you look bright, until they hear you speak.

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

      One usually doesn't find out they are sterile until after they try to have kids. So they tried and unfortunately couldn't.
      Obviously gays are unable to have kids from the get go...how obvious. You seem to be the name caller here...why am I dumb for stating my opinion? Hater. I just want separate laws, but you just called me names...nice.

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

      "Marriage is for producing one's genetics???"

      Marriage is a legal construct. Genetics are a biological construct. You can reproduce (I am guessing that's what you mean by 'producing one's genetics') without getting married. And you can get married without having to reproduce. Or you can do both. Or you can do neither.

      Marriage is marriage, no matter who does it. Gay people don't use "gay gasoline", to drive "gay cars" on "gay freeways." And even if they did by some stretch of someone's warped imagination, that still would not affect your driving, your gas, your car, or your marriage. Not one bit.

      Besides, States like North Carolina are the ones that are messing with the laws that currently govern marriage. So much for limited government.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • justin opinion

      "Today everyone knows what's right and wrong."
      That's what they said 10 years ago, when they invaded Iraq over WMDs and 9/11 connections.
      That's what they said 100 years ago, when they owned slaves.
      That's what they said 300 years ago, when they burned people they thought were witches.
      That's what they said 500 years ago, when they said the earth was flat.
      That's what they said 1,000 years ago, when they stoned women and children to death for disobedience.
      That's what they said 2,000 years ago, when they nailed people to crosses for not obeying the religious rules of the day.
      That's what they said 5,000 years ago, when they sacrificed virgins for rain.
      That's what they sad 10,000 years ago, when they pooped in their own drinking water.

      Yeah, we got a good track record of knowing what's right and wrong.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Eric G

      Name calling? I was stating my opinion. Trying to have children is not what you stated. You completely ignored my question about senior citizens getting married?

      Psycologists say that those who display ho-mophobic tendencies are those trying to conceal their own ho-mose-xual desires.

      Why are you so offended by my opinion? You really are quite sensetive, aren't you big guy?

      May 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Laila

      God told man and his wife to be fruitful and multiply. Period.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:36 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.