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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. Common Sense

    The irony the cursed decendents of Ham legalizing what got them banished and cursed to begin with

    May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      did you just use the blacks are decended from Ham argument? the same argument used to justfiy slavery? really?
      oh i get it, trolling right? has to be.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Huebert

      You don't actually believe that. troll.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  2. ObamaJoe

    Absolutely not,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  3. dreamer96

    Some churches promote sodomy of the wife as an acceptable form of birth control...Some Catholic Bishops even use small boys......

    May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Godislove

      But yet they do not represent the true love of God but what they have done is created their own religious views.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  4. Lily

    KKK ... created by Democrats.

    Democrat Senator Robert Byrd ... Grand Cyclops of KKK ... longest serving congressman in history re-elected until he died a couple of years ago. Too big to fail? Surely there was someone else that could have done his job.

    Democrats know how to keep the black vote. Blacks are a very forgiving people and just want a little help. Democrats give them that .... very little help.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • History

      You realize that Democrats and Republicans at the time of the civil war were ideologically opposite of what they are today right? The Southern Democrats were considered the conservatives of that time(wanted to keep slavery and preserve the "old America", promoted small government and big business like cotton, sound familiar?). The progressive North was championed by the Republican Party headed up by Abe Lincoln who would go on to make radical social change as well as support big government (he used it to reclaim the south, doesn't get much bigger than that). So shut up and inform yourself of history before you open that ignorant mouth.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  5. jk

    Well, I guess if the blacks are not happy about it, they can vote for Mittens.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  6. mike

    I don't see Black People flocking to ROmeny or the Repubs anytime soon...honestly older Blacks may have issues but younger ones wont care....But come on he's the first black president of the United States are they really gonna let this issue affect ..for that matter are any Americans going to let it affect them...hello no jobs, crappy economy on top of millions of other problems.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      And all those problems created by republicans!

      May 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  7. letushelp

    Usually we have no problem with gay people. This ugly circus only pushed gay people, black, hispanic people to the stage that everybody hates. Ironically, they are not the one who profit from this circus at all. Actually it does not add nothing to their rights and benefits. Everybody loses because the finance model by "finance leaders" is doomed to fail, while the gay, black, hispanic are used as the shields to defend for this finance model, doomed to fail. Who profited from this circus? Propaganda workers like Hilary Clinton's daughter, which is a career as profitable as hedge funds.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  8. TXJack

    @ JohnQuest

    Point taken.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  9. For Clarification

    What a lot of people (conveniently ? ) neglected to hear is that Obama said he is in favor of Gay marriage but it should be left up to the States to contend with that issue. Didn't anyone catch that?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • meccano

      We already know it's a state issue, but he clearly setting the stage to allow states to act against DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • buttlicker

      Most of my friends in NC are planning to move away to other states now. We don't want to be here anymore. NC will suffer not the gays.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Because like civil unions a few years back, the concept of gay marriage is still REVOLVING for all of us including the gay community! Therefore, it shoudl be handled by the state level and not the federal level! As they say, you have to creep before you walk!

      May 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  10. JOhn Holmes

    Liberals did again. They made the election about gay marriage. LOL Stupid idiots are voting on an issue that affect like 2% of the perverts. They fall for it every election. No wonder all Democrats are on welfare.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • J.W

      I don't think that that is true.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • trex

      ....so, I see that John Holmes' only surviving body part is YOU, a complete D CK !!!!!!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Stupid idiots are voting on an issue that affect like 2% of the perverts."

      The experts have proven you wrong and they are not perverts only prejudice bigots use that line. he American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      May 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      lets see NC introduce a vote on something that is already banned and its the libs that are making it an issue? too funny.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  11. pchow

    If you came upon a foreign planet, landed your spaceship and got out. And all you saw was a wall socket and a plug, would you come to the conclusion whoever created it wanted the socket to go into the plug?

    Or would you be an IDIOT and think that the two sockets should go together?

    What did the creator intend when he created?

    And would you final decision be AGAINST WHAT THE CREATOR INTENDED?????????????

    You can joke all you want, but think about this!

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

      The smart plug would cut off his wire before sticking it in.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • C. Braden

      So what you're saying is that you've never gotten or given a BJ, because that would be against what the "creator" intended for those particular body parts?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • AL In Palm Beach County, FL

      does it matter if there is no POWER?

      If there is no power, who would you (alien) know that what you did would work?

      Your logic needs specificity because now, you take this into philosophy and with that, you'll be called an "elitist".

      May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Chris

      If you'd look closely men have a socket where plugs can be placed.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "If you'd look closely men have a socket where plugs can be placed."

      brilliant response, i dont care who you, thats funny right there.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  12. faboge

    I think Romney is buying champagne, hes practically guaranteed a win with the Independents now more likely to vote against Obama

    May 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Do you really think so? There's still enough delegates left for Ron Paul to run the table is a historic fashion! So Mitt better not celebrate too soon!

      May 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  13. AL In Palm Beach County, FL

    I am a CHRISTIAN and yest, a BLACK MAN. I am married to my wife whom I have known for 8 years. LIKE I SAID, I AM A CHRISTIAN.

    I know a few things but I'm no PASTOR. One of those few things I know is this:

    SALVATION IS PERSONAL

    I can't save you, you can't save me. My actions dictate where I will go after all of this. Since my neighbor's actions don't have any bearing on my marriage and my marriage doesn't need anyone to defend it. If your marriage is so weak, that you need a law to defend it, YOU NEED JESUS.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Follix

      Sorry I don't believe in fairy tales. Any good neurologist will confirm you that Free Will doesn't even exist.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Interesting assertion follix. That would play well into the theology of God in the bible. Since it is his will that is ultimately done.

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

      Follix...you need a course in logic. In spite of our neurological connections, we still feel things subjectively and make decisions thereby.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • No name

      Genius, you actually need a good lawyer! Last time I checked Jesus was not one.... Get your mind out of that book man and get a real life.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Godislove

      @ Follix but yet neurologist are not God & they'll tell you that no one fully understands the brain. Didn't you get up freely to possible go to work today? Did you get to choose the type of car you desire? Didn't you get to choose which male/woman you'd date or marry? Don't you freely get to go on vacations? Do you freely get to go wherever you please because it's your decision? Did you choose whether you believer or not? Didn't you choose whether you'd write on this forum or not? There you have it free-will.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "There you have it free-will."

      did god know you would make those choices? does god know the choices you will make for the rest of your life? does he therefore already know your 'final destination'? therefore 'free-will' is merely an illusion as your life has already been pre-determined in a fixed future.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  14. eifeldude

    I am straight white male, Obama has my vote! Obama 2012!

    May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • JOhn Holmes

      So you're a stupid white male.

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

      Nah, your a F a g.

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

      "Nah, your a F a g."

      Emotional Maturity is defined as: the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  15. JOhn Holmes

    Blacks will vote for Obama no matter what. They are not smart enough to know any better and they are all racist. Skin color is all that matters to them.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • meccano

      We already know that there are black Republicans and black social conservatives within each party. It would seem to me the racist unable to look beyond skin color is the person you find in the mirror.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • AL In Palm Beach County, FL

      So, what you're saying is that all those white people who've been voting for white presidents never had the sense to know better?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Godislove

      You need to stop making generalizations about black people because you do not know every black person. Also, you're not black so how can you speak for the majority? Just for the record the majority of blacks vote for Democrats period, no matter what color they are so your argument is flawed. If he was a black Republican the majority of blacks wouldn't vote for him because a lot of blacks do not agree with their politics.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • C. Braden

      So you insinuate that every black person is stupid, and you think that THEY are the racist ones? Wow.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • just sayin

      Actually John, skin color appears to matter to you.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • james

      Yes we will. I guess white folk will vote for a white man lol. You are an idiot

      May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • No name

      I agree, get that hood off that head already.... Obama will wipe his butt with what's his name... And you know what, you are probably one of those idiots that re-elected Bush..... Yeah you are a genius alright

      May 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      yeah, you are trolling right? anyone who moans about a entire race being stupid and not knowing any better and then accuses them of being racist has to be trolling.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  16. Richard

    The core black religious group is more conservative than whites of the same religious persuasion. Because of this, they will likely turn away from a man whom they perceive as flouting God's laws or going directly against biblical teachings. For the average person, Obama's "evolution" of thought might just be perceived as flip-flopping.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  17. just sayin

    Christians are many colors and bigotry is jsutified in the name of their Christ.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • JOhn Holmes

      And you're bigoted against Christians so you're just as bad.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • just sayin

      Actually no, I have no issue with people and their beliefs as long as they don't impose on rights and freedoms of others. If people want to flap their arms int he air and look up into the sky, more power to them. Just don't impose your delusions on me.

      So back to Christians being bigoted in the name of their Christ.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • just sayin

      You see Christians are free to hate gays or whatever they want to hate in the name of their Christ. Where they go wrong is when they use pwoer to impose it. Not sure if you understand this? Perhaps too much blood being drained from your brain to something else John?

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

      Christians believe in the Bible, and what it teaches. It is not our place to judge, but it is not our place to stand by and watch society go down the same path as Sodom and Gomorra.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Richard

      Bigotry implies pre-judgement. People know what gays are, they understand how they act, they know what marriage is. They don't see a logical or moral fit. No bigotry, more like thoughtful disdain.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      so richard but people respond to gays and gay marriage with hatred, not thoughful disdain, thats bigotry.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • just sayin

      jsmoulder

      Christians believe in the Bible, and what it teaches. It is not our place to judge, but it is not our place to stand by and watch society go down the same path as Sodom and Gomorra.


      Nothing wrong with what you believe. However when you impose your view based on your God./Jesus moral law, then you are part of the Christian Taliban. And I suspect you ar ea proud Christian Taliban

      May 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  18. John Andrew

    Is it not an issues that, while the President has one black parent, that he is not African American in the sense of a shared history with the victims of slavery or the champions of civil rights? It seems to me that the big breakthrough in racial equality will take place when the descendant of a slave owner becomes President...

    May 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • No name

      It is absurd to say that the president is not African American, specially when his father was "hello!" African, like 100% African, how many of you can claim that? Seriously! The majority African Americans are NOT 100% black, that's right you got some white in you after all.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  19. GauisCaesar

    I think the majority of the black vote will still go to Obama, although this issue might stop many from voting at all

    May 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • QTMomma

      I just feel that the majority will vote for Obama regardless. I mean, abortion (murder) is a sin and religious blacks voted for Obama overwhelmingly. Obama knows this – it's the only reason he said it. He's doing exactly what Romney is doing – reaching for the middle. He knows he can't argue on economic grounds so he's using social issues to "scare" people to him. "The economy is horrendous but look at what those unenlightened people are doing" he says.

      If Romney is smart (oy) he would focus only on the economic issues – pounding them daily into the American people's minds. Are you better off? How's your budget. Are you happy with the economic way things are going? NO, then vote for me to change it!

      No offense to any one but social issues will never get changed until you change the hearts of men and women toward God. Until then it won't matter about social issues. We can't legislate morality but we can stand up for what's right. We do that by changing the hearts of people to a loving God.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  20. leelanau

    "But polls and pastors indicate that it's not that simple".......Yes in the black community, race trumps all.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:29 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.