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May 11th, 2012
09:24 AM ET

Complexity in black church reactions to Obama’s gay marriage announcement

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - After the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. first gained wide public recognition in the mid-1950s, he made a special request to evangelist Billy Graham.

King was poised to join Graham on one of his barnstorming crusades, but he would do so only on one condition. He asked Graham to publicly speak out against segregation, a request Graham declined, says San Diego State University historian Edward Blum.

“What Graham feared was losing all of his influence,” Blum says. “For him, personal salvation was primary, justice secondary. For King, justice was primary.”

After President Obama this week became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage, black clergy and churchgoers could be facing a question that's similar to the one that fractured King and Graham: Should my ideas about personal holiness trump my notion of justice?

The answer to that question is evolving – just as Obama’s views on gay marriage have been. Poll numbers and interviews with black clergy suggest it’s simplistic to say that the black church is anti-gay marriage and may desert Obama, as some pundits have suggested.

Equal rights for some people?

Some black pastors take the approach of Graham, who recently came out in support of a successful drive to amend North Carolina’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships.

For them, personal salvation is primary; homosexuality a sin, and so is gay marriage. Their enthusiasm for Obama will be diminished, Blum says.

“It will be, ‘I’m going to vote for him, but I’m not going to talk about him much,’ ” Blum says. “It’s the difference between voting for him, or voting for him and putting out a street sign and making sure your neighbor gets to the poll.”

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Others in the black church say their approach centers on justice.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who was a part of King’s inner circle, says Obama had to support gay marriage because he believes in equal rights.

“You can’t believe in equal rights for some people and yet not believe in equal rights for everybody,” Lowery says. “That includes the right to marry the person of your choice. Equal rights for some people are an oxymoron.”

Lowery says Obama’s announcement was “more revolutionary” than the moment that President Lyndon Johnson went on national television during the heyday of the civil rights movement and called for racial equality, declaring, “We shall overcome.”

Obama’s “We Shall Overcome” moment will force Americans – black and white – to reexamine positions on same-sex marriage, Lowery says.

“A lot of white people didn’t believe in desegregation until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional,” says Lowery, who presided over Obama’s inauguration. “And then they began to rethink it and basically came to the same conclusion.”

Pastor or president?

At least one black minister in North Carolina captures another neglected dimension to the debate. He opposes same-sex marriage but doesn’t like the energy Christians devote to opposing it.

“He’s the president of the Untied States, not the pastor of the United States,” says the Rev. Fred Robinson, who lives in Charlotte. “America is a democracy, not a theocracy. I’m not going to vote on one issue.”

Robinson says some Christians are better at being against something than for something. Christian divorce rates are just as high as those for secular marriages, he says.

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“Our witness is stronger if we actually show that we believe in marriage and lived in and honored it,” he says. “That would be a greater witness than running to the polls to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution.”

The Rev. Tim McDonald, founder of the African-American Ministers Leadership Council, says he opposes same-sex marriage, but he is more concerned about issues like health care, education and jobs.

He's interested to see how black pastors handle Obama’s announcement when they step onto the pulpit Sunday.

“I don’t see how you cannot talk about it,” he says. “I have to. You can say I’m opposed to it [same-sex marriage], but that doesn’t mean I’m against the president.”

McDonald says more black pastors are talking about same-sex marriage than ever before: “Three years ago, there was not even a conversation about this issue – there wasn’t even an entertainment of a conversation about this.”

Polls show that black opinions on same-sex marriage are changing.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in April, 49% of black respondents described themselves as opposed to marriage between gays and lesbians, 14% fewer than in 2008. The percentage of African-Americans in favor of it increased from 26% in 2008 to 39% in 2012.

In 2008, Californians voted on Proposition 8, a measure that would make same-sex marriage illegal in the state, at the same time that they cast ballots for president.

CNN exit polling showed that 70% of California African-Americans supported Prop 8 but that the overwhelming majority - 94% - also backed President Obama.

Black pastors who preach in favor of same-sex marriage know they may pay a price if they take Obama’s position, says Bishop Carlton Pearson.

Pearson is a black minister who says he lost his church building and about 6,000 members when he began preaching that gays and lesbians were accepted by God.

“That’s the risk that people take,” he told CNN. “A lot of preachers actually don’t have a theological issue. It’s a business decision. They can’t afford to lose their parishioners and their parsonages and salaries.”

Pearson navigates the tension between the Bible’s call for holiness and justice this way:

“I take the Bible seriously, just not literally,” he says. “It’s more important what Jesus said about God than what the church says about Jesus.”

CNN staff writer Stephanie Siek contributed to this report.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Christianity • Gay marriage • Politics

soundoff (2,207 Responses)
  1. DrDoITT

    I cant change the color of my skin nor do I CHOOSE it.

    Please do not equate your desire for legal recogntion of your perversion with struggles of my parents and their parents generation for legal recognition based on SKIN COLOR.

    get over it.

    Really hurts me when I hear this comparison

    May 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      If orientation is a choice, then being straight is a choice. Fcuk any men recently?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      A perversionis a perversion is a perversion.

      If we allow this, then next we will have besitalist, polygamist, pedoist, God knows what else.

      Protect society's basic building block: marriage!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Tim

      That's funny becasue you probably didn't choose to be straight. Could you choose to be gay? I didn't think so. It is not a choice. Get over that lame arguement.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • John

      Then fight to make divorce illegal, not to stop people in love marry each other. That is exactly what gays want, to be able to marry, you hater. You want marriage but on your own terms only. Marriage is about LOVE, and NOTHING else.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Namedujour

      I guess I don't understand how a group that is so vocal about its history of discrimination can be so roundly discriminatory about another group of people. Perhaps you now feel a sense of kinship with the people who discriminate against you? You kind of see where they're coming from because you share their distaste, just for a different group? I think perhaps you should feel that kinship because you're worse than skinhead bigots – you are supposed to know better. You are not supposed to be as ignorant as they are because YOU are supposed to have learned a lesson.

      But I guess we can only be what we are, no? And this is all you are.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • buttlicker

      If I could choose to be straight I would have.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      John: I put my money where my mouthis. No fault divorce was a mistake. We should go back to covenant marriage or divorce for abuse or adultery only.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  2. Steve

    I rest my case.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  3. GOP RIP

    According to the Republicans, including Herman Cain, blacks are brainwashed and can't think for themselves, so this will have no effect.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  4. Libs Are A Disease

    Gays don't deserve any rights. They are immoral, they hate God and they hate America. Do YOU want someone who touches and licks butts to be touching your kids?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Wow. Libs Are A Disease... and straight people never touch butts? Really? People who live in glass trailers...

      May 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Funny

      you suck dick or eat pusxy as well, don't touch my kids

      May 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • tokencode

      Wow you are dumb... should your rules apply to straight couples as well?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Me

      Will black church punish Obama? The answer is NO! All churches will punish Obama, 90% of all Americans

      May 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Tim

      Straight people lick and kiss butts too, idiot.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • buttlicker

      You think the Str people don't lick butts too? All the nigs can stay home now and let the white guy win. That's what you haters want to happen.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  5. Funny

    It's sooo funny, America. Your black people is going to against others' rights while Jesus is not even black. This is just so damn funny. They may already forget how they were treated as slaves back then. LOL.

    Also, stop finger pointing other countries for their human rights while your own people can't even marry the ones they love. Mind your own business first! FUNNY!

    May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • rg145

      There is a difference between not letting a group of people marry and purposefully killing innocent civilians in the name of G-d. Both are terrible, but one is clearly worse. We will continue to fight against the second one, and we should.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Funny

      live in their own box, typical Ameerican

      May 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Nonsense

      Americans need to grow up and quickly. Using religious beliefs to vote in and out leaders is exactly what the Sharia law is to the middle eastern countries. You cannot afford rights to a people as long as they obey your religious position that is insane and you cannot expect a President to vote based on his moral beliefs because again that would be insane. For if we were to vote based on our believes guess what, half of you on this posts would be in jail, or had your hand or some body part hacked off or worse be stoned to death. Face it no one on this post no one I do not care what you believe in racist or liberal, man or woman. You have sinned in more ways than one, you have lied, cheated, stolen, had extra marital affairs even just thinking about it is a sin according to the Bible. But thank God for his mercy because if I were him you would all burn, I know I would... So simmer down and stop being divisive. The current climate in American politics is to be blamed not on Obama or Mitt but on the American people you are the drivers of the current division in politics STOP IT! AND grow up!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  6. jay12312

    Blacks will vote for Obama no matter what he says or does.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Funny

      and dumb people will vote for republican no mater what they do

      May 11, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Get Real

      I read a poll of young blacks. They were supporting Obama 76 to 1 over Romney. Young white voters by contrast were closely divided.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Mkat2

      Exactly! NO discussion about the Nat. Debt, Economy, Foreclosures, Irag, Afghanistan, our soldiers being killed every day & THE MOST IMPORTANT issue is, gay marriage, dog carriers & college pranks! Little wonder we get the kind of leaders we have! ONCE AGAIN, the 'Media' is directing the mindless public's opinion, just as in '08! Good Lord people, wake up & THINK for yourselves!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  7. Jeremy

    Who cares what the church thinks about anything? Some day America will leave this silly nonesense where it belongs, in our species primative past. I can't get over how far behind other civilized nations with respect to social issues. It would seem that an over-abundance of relgion in America, along with 30 years of gop cuts to education has left America lagging far behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to these issues.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  8. Maff

    I agree america is a "democracy" (republic) not a theocracy. I agree Obama is the president of the united states, not the pastor of the united states. I dont agree with how he tries to use the Bible to justify his political beliefs and policies though. He obviously doesnt read the Bible. Everything he was ever quoted from the Bible is mainstream scripture that even atheist are familiar with. There is so much more content in the Bible that gives context to these mainstream nuggets that are half-hazardly use to justify their decisions. Example: using the Bible to justify raising taxes on the rich– this is clearly a pastor of the united states move.

    Next, I have a problem with these gay rights articles always trying to piggyback MLK. He was a christian and believed every word of the Bible unlike these contemporary ministers quoted in this article

    May 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      The bible condoned slavery. Do try to read the ENTIRE bible. NOt just the parts that justify your selfish views.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Maff

      Todd,
      I wont be ignorant enough to say that the slavery part was the only part that you have read. But it seems that way.
      You only prove my point. You have given a nugget. You have no context... and this is why you remain ignorant. If you have read the entire Bible or even the majority of it, I suggest you read it again to gain understanding. The Bible in no way condones slavery. God did not invent slavery, man did. God didnt invent judges, kings, and government. Man did. God only allowed it, and gave provisions and rules concerning these things. If you had any understanding at all, you would understand that. The whole theme of the Old testament is "your way" or "Gods way". God allowed us to go our way in hopes that we would be humbled when we realize that out way sucks

      May 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Tim

      Nice try buddy. If you had read the Bible and actually paid attention you would be an atheist.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Maff

      Tim,
      I have read, and do read the Bible, daily. I'm not an atheist. Im intelligent enough to recognize the truth when I see it. You will find out for yourself, and that is certain. No need to argue about it. Even if I had no belief in God– lets say I have read the Bible, but Im agnostic. My point is still valid. MLK was about equal rights among the races. He was a Christian as well. Bible believing christians know what sin is. They dont pick and choose what sins are still in, and which ones are outdated.
      And about Obama, I feel for him. He is in a tough spot, but he obviously isnt handling his Job and faith consistently. On gay marriage, he is president, and hey, I really cant argue. On taxes, he is pastor... here I have a gripe.
      Be consistent, and dont use nuggets of scripture to make a point(that goes directly against scripture)

      May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  9. Boyd Gordon

    The Black community will support President Obama no matter what. I think his stance on this issue will increase the conservative Christian community turnout for Romeny though.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  10. John

    This is silly. A POTUS may have his or her own opinions but that does not translate into law, so 'support' is only support. What are blacks gonna do, vote for Romney or sit on their hands while Romney wins? C'mon, they have more brains than that, even the church-goers among them. For the record I'm so-called white (and NOT gay), and it doesn't faze me a bit. I am glad our Prez has courage behind his convictions.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  11. YADA YADA YADA

    Like there are no black gays?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • missalex01

      THE QUESTION IS WHY IS CNN SO INTO MAKING EVERYTHING ABOUT RACE WHAT A BUNCH OF SORRYAZ**Z! Forget me patronizing now your stupid website. I guess no one is watching your programs so its all about making Blacks hate Whites, Whites hate Blacks, Hispanics hated Blacks, HATE HATE HATE, DEEEAMMM is there a lawyer out there who can sue the media for this crap??

      May 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  12. Shannon

    “A lot of preachers actually don’t have a theological issue. It’s a business decision. They can’t afford to lose their parishioners and their parsonages and salaries.” ....we have people following the word of these preachers and then I read this. It is very disturbing to think how many times in our history people have not taught their followers to do what is right. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are love God and thy neighbor. Are gays and lesbians not our neighbors. They have families, they have jobs, they pay taxes just like the rest of the Nation. How can you stand for civil rights on one side and deny a right that should be given to gays and lesbians. Remember that they are AMERICANS and deserve the same rights! Obama took a stance on what he believes is right, maybe the people we trust our spirtual beings with should do the same!

    May 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Hayden71

      You're absolutely right. Jesus said love thy neighbor.

      The problem is that you're saying that "love" means to agree with someone on their life choices when Jesus clearly taught that immorality is wrong.

      I love my neighbors, but I in no way condone their immoral choices.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  13. pandorashope

    The "Black Church"?. I would be a better piece if the article described the individuals by their religion first and then indicate that they are a part of a church community that is traditionally attended by African Americans. I wonder if I should call my church a "Mexican Church" or a "Russian Church" based on the individuals in attendance. Pure ignorance. I gather he is describing many Baptist, Methodist and other Bible belt religions that have congregants of many ethnic backgrounds. What is the name of the "Black Church" he is referring to? I have never heard of it.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • VH2012

      I can understand your position but your input is pointless. There's nothing wrong with calling "Black Churches". What should we call it, "Churches with dark-skiined people whose ancestors come from Africa"?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Tim

      Maybe you should attend New Life Church down here in BR, La. Then you'll understand the term 'black church'.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  14. Tex71

    Maybe the black church will lead the way in bringing the Christian religion into the 21st century.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  15. DAVENYUSA

    I think Obarry, in his never-ending quest to get any vote he can scrap up, has pretty much phuqed himself on this one.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • momoya

      I think differently..

      May 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • GOP RIP

      Are you here all week? You're the best comedian I've heard in a long time. ROFL

      May 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • DW

      I'll bet you've been call a d.u.m. b dork a lot haven't you!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  16. Keats

    Why is it punishing? Should they just vote for him because they share the same color? Or should they vote for him because he represents their beliefs and solutions for the country? Punishment is a resoundingly inane word to use. The perspective of this network is not in touch with the middle of the road...wherein most reside.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  17. Andrew

    "I desire mercy, not justice", saith The Lord Hosea 6:6 Funny how Christians forget this important point.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Donald

      The Bible and Christianity says to love sinners not love sin. While Christian have compassion for others that does not mean accepting sinful lifestyles. Jesus taught sinners to repent and change their lives.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Hayden71

      Convenient how you only quoted a partial verse...

      It actually states,

      For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
      and (acknowledgment of God) rather than burnt offerings.
      As at Adam, (they have broken the covenant);
      they were unfaithful to me there.

      Notice I have put in brackets what the prophet Hosea has emphasized.

      The verse you have chosen actually goes against and not for what you are trying to state.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      So Donald, does that mean you are against divorce? How about eating shellfish? Wearing mixed fabrics?

      Seriously. Have you actually read the bible? Cover to cover?

      Yeah, didn't think so.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • ABarker

      Andrew –

      Just as an FYI, the verse speaks to sacrifice, not justice. It's in Matthew 9:13 and goes like this:

      But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

      The other individual is correct – God instructs us to love people, not sin, and most of us do. Most of us try to love all people for who and what they are (the good side) and in spite of who and what they are (the bad side) but that doesn't mean that we can or should support what we know to be wrong.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Hayden71

      Todd in DC said,

      " So Donald, does that mean you are against divorce? How about eating shellfish? Wearing mixed fabrics?

      Seriously. Have you actually read the bible? Cover to cover?"

      Man Todd...the fact that you're using old and worn out arguments like that shows your lack of understanding in the bible.

      God was leading a nation of people through the wilderness and gave them these instructions to protect them both morally and physically. He was teaching them the principle of "separation" from a corrupt world around them.

      Your ignorance of the bible in no way diminishes from it's value in society.

      The fact it's being cast away is a pretty simple explanation for the corruption and unashamed immorality we're seeing in this day and age.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Hayden71

      ...and Todd...one more thing.

      I don't like mixing polyester with with fine wool.

      It makes suits look tacky and cheap...is that wrong?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  18. RoseMcB

    Younger generations of African Americans have more sense than that. They are not going to make their decisions based on a single issue. They, as a group, are unlikely to vote Republican in diametric opposition to their own best interests as a class, and they are far more tolerant and inclusive than their parents and grandparents. The same holds true for the younger generations of all ethnicities. The kids coming up today are far more educated and informed. "Gay" doesn't hold the same stigma for them or instill the kind of fear born of ignorance and misunderstanding that their parents suffer from.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  19. MIchael

    I do not think that Obama's position will affect those African-Americans who consistently vote. However, those that do not vote consistently could be turned off by his position and choose to stay home.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Howard

      THE OBAMA STOOGES KEEP TELLING US HOW 'COOL' OBAMA IS ... WHILE HE CONTINUES TO LIE TO US, STEAL FROM US, AND PLUNGE US DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO DEBT !!!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • DW

      @Howard – And what do you think the Romney bully is going to do? Take your middle class out of the spectrum give all the perks to his rich friends while taxing the poor twice as much. Aren't you tired of these self serving so called patriots stealing you life away. Romney tells bigger lies then Bush. He's in it for nothing but the power and to get richer. Open you s.t.u.p.i.d eyes and see what these right wing thugs are doing.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  20. Hayden71

    Bishop Carlton Pearson said...

    “I take the Bible seriously, just not literally”

    That's just the problem...we have a "so-called" bishop who can interpret the bible whatever way he sees fit, and then justify whatever behavior he deems to be acceptable.

    Personally speaking, I choose to take God at His word (anything else really calls Him a liar) and if that means I lose popularity or am persecuted, then so be it.

    When life is over and we have to meet God, does it matter if we received the applause of men?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • satan

      You take god at his word because your ignorant and a sheep. You probably question everything else in your life except religion. How dumb can you be?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Hayden71

      "You probably question everything else in your life except religion. How dumb can you be?"

      Seeing that you have no idea who I am, you just showed your own ignorance by making a statement that you can't substantiate.

      The true fool is the one who in arrogance and stupidity rebels against his maker and "hopes" and "thinks" he's right, because he has nothing to validate his claim that God and his Word are a figment of somebody's imagination.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Tim

      You take Genesis literally? LMFAO! Read a frickin physics or biology book (for Christ's sake).

      May 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Hayden71

      Tim

      Can you tell me what the main theme is throughout Genesis?

      If not you're ranting is ignorant at best.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:41 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.