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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. Animenut

    When one does the right thing you always gain more than you lose.

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

      I really hope that that is true.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  2. Joesnopy

    The Church need to get out of politics. It is just wrong and stupd. So why are our families in a mess but you go to other countries whom have accepted it for year families are in much better shape. So please stop blaming the gays for our mess. Our mess has everything to do with greed. Like the Bible says Greed is the root of all Evil.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  3. Meki60

    ya, ya, ya, he's got that arrogant finger in the air again.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  4. Stephanie Williams

    If the black churches purnish Obama they are hypocrites. You can't turn a person away because of what they believe. If Jesus turned people about because of that we will be in BIG trouble.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      PEOPLE, WAKE UP, CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT OBAMA IS DOING ?????? OBAMA DO NOT SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE...HE IS SAYING THAT HE DOES TO GET THE GAY VOTES....DUH..DUH....DUH.....OBAMA IS DOING THE SAME THING TO HISPANICS, I WON'T DEPORT ILLEGALS IF YOU VOTE FOR ME....I WILL GO AFTER STATES WHO TRY TO DEPORT YOU IF YOU VOTE FOR ME..........IS ALL ABOUT THE VOTES......POLITICS.....

      THE SUPREME COURT IS GOING TO BANNED ALL GAY MARRIAGES AND OBAMA KNOW IT...HE CAME OUT IN SUPPORT OF GAYS JUST BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT RULING WHICH IS COMING SOON IN JUNE.

      THE SAME WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, THE SUPREME COURT IS GOING TO RULE FOR ARIZONA, AND OBAMA KNOWS THAT...BUT HE IS GOING TO PRETEND THAT HE SUPPORT ILLEGALS....ANYTHING TO GET THE HISPANIC VOTES AND GAY VOTES.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      you dont think he doesnt already have the gay vote jose? really?

      May 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  5. THERESA

    OBAMA ISN'T GETTING MY VOTE! SUPPORTING GAY MARRIAGE WAS THE END OF HIM.

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

      I doubt that he was getting your vote to begin with.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      You wasn't voting on him in the beginning so stop it. I think you people need to stop hating. I am so glad I came out of the dark by hating gays. I dare me! I can say now, I DARE ALL OF YOU FOR HATING PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY ARE GAY.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      THERESA, are you saying that Some Americans can and should be discriminated against, and it is wrong for the American President to protect the rights of All Americans?

      May 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      Good for you, Theresa! It's high time bigots stood up to be counted!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • KATHY minneapolis

      SEE YA!!! lol

      May 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Pam Robison

      Why, Theresa, what harm is it doing you? I am genuine with my question. If it is doing you any harm then I understand your comment but please educate me.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • rhofwi

      You know, I feel the same way about Abraham Lincoln...freeing those slaves! Not voting for him either!!

      May 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THERESA--OBAMA SUPPORT FOR ILLEGALS-MEXICO--REFUSING TO SECURE THE MEXICO BORDER-GOING AFTER ARIZONA-ALABAMA DID IT FOR ME.....I WAS GOING TO OVER LOOK THE GAY MARRIAGE THING..

      May 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "REFUSING TO SECURE THE MEXICO BORDER"

      border agents are up by thousands, deportations are at a record high, more are being stopped actually at the border than ever before, budget for the border control is up............ how is it again that he is refusing to secure the border?

      May 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. NC Mom

    Live and let live. Who are we to judge others? Mind your won business and your own marriage. Every household should have the same rights.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THE LAST TIME I LOOKED, THE MAJORITY STILL RULES IN AMERICA...NORTH CAROLINA, THE MAJORITY SAID NO TO GAY MARRIAGE ..

      May 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      you need to look again jose, its isnt majority rule in the US

      May 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • rhofwi

      @JOSE0311USMC

      As a gay woman I'd like to say good. Marriage should be between a man and woman only. Why the hell are people fighting for something that doesn't work 50% of the time. Let the straights keep it!

      May 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      LOOK, WHAT WE SAY DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE....THE GAY ISSUE IS IN THE HANDS OF THE SUPREME COURT......GAY MARRIAGE WILL BE BANNED IN JUNE BY THE SUPREME COURT...NOTHING OBAMA CAN DO... SAME THING FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION., ARIZONA IMMIGRATION LAW WILL BE UPHELD. ILLEGALS START MOVING TO CALIFORNIA.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Jim

    WHY are there "BLACK" churches? Is there some different belief system that requires the church be referred to as black?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • N'dege

      Because slaves and free blacks were originally not allowed to worship in white churches, so they created their own. Another instance of a system set up by and for white people that now white people complain about and call 'reverse racism'. Educate yourself, really.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  8. Sagebrush Shorty

    So if I vote for Romney because he is white then I am a racist. But if blacks vote for Obama because he is black then they are not racists? Hmmm......

    May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • snuffy1972

      Now you get it. Apparently in this crazy, shook up, liberal world; racism is a one way street.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      GREAT POINT..WELL SAID...THE MAJORITY OF BLACKS VOTE FOR OBAMA JUST BECAUSE HE'S BLACK, A FACT...

      May 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      Who cares, vote for a snake if you want to, don't hate. Obama is white and black ignorant people. His mother is white as flour and dad black as my shoes. But...........because that black is there you hate the man. What a bunch of morons.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      RACISTS IS A 2 WAY STREET...........MEXICANS ARE THE MUST RACISTS OF ALL HISPANIC GROUPS....HOW DO I KNOW ?? I KNOW MANY OF THEM.....I'M A HISPANIC PERSON...P.R.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  9. Chris Honry

    IT'S NOT COMPLEX AT ALL !!! RACISTS who vote for someone because of their color will not switch because he's a gay supporter, RACE TRUMPS ALL for RACISTS. Time to admit your racism, church goers! Hallelujah, Amen, tell the TRUTH! (God is listening)

    May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      Stop playing with GOD. You are the haters and you know it. Your ancestors are haters and treated people like crap, they are most likely in hell for doing it. So get off of your high horse. You are the most evil people in the world you haters.
      I hope Obama is president again and ship all of you to the moon.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  10. junior

    darn

    May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  11. Dan

    The reality is that the majority of blacks do not vote at all.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      DAN, TELL THOSE BLACKS THAT DON'T VOTE THAT WELFARE WILL BE ENDING AND I GUARANTEE YOU THEY WILL GO VOTE.........SHOULD OBAMA TELL BLACKS THAT MID RODNEY IS GOING TO END WELFARE ???

      May 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      Can you prove that? That is such a dam lie Racist.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      Tell Hosea that he needs to read more. There are more whites on welfare moron, not blacks. Now kiss my black ass

      May 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THE FACT IS THAT ALL OF US ARE RACISTS......WHITES ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES...PUT HISPANICS-BLACKS IN A POSITION OF POWER AND THEY TOO WILL BE RACISTS.......BEEN TO A MEXICAN STORE ?? ALL EMPLOYEES ARE MEXICANS...HOW DO I KNOW ?? I GO TO MEXICAN STORES A LOT... I LOVE TACOS..

      May 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  12. MsRepublican

    It's sad to read all this hate and nonsense. Some hating our President because of race, his right to free speech and belief, yet they believe in their freedom to speech or belief. On this page is you have Christians and non Christians spreading hate, hoping for a man's downfall, to smear. This is AMERICA land we LOVE... Stop the hate, it gains nothing,.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  13. t3chn0ph0b3

    Please. What are they going to do? Vote for Romney? I don't think so. Worst, they'll stay home and not vote, and people who do that get the government they deserve.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Stephanie Williams

      WHY ARE ALL YOU STUPID PEOPLE saying that blacks are on welfare when there are more WHITES on welfare than blacks? You call blacks dumb and you are the most ignorant people in the world. Why? You hate people because they are darker than you are. But, you bake your ass in the sun to get our complexion. HYPOCRITE JEOLOUS IDIOTS! I love being black, my golden brown beautiful skin is awesome. LOL!! Flour face vein showing idiots

      May 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  14. JOhn Holmes

    Keep packing that fudge and voting yourselves into poverty. LOL Democrats are so stupid. Scraping the bottom of the barrel begging for votes.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  15. Zorg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=We3d039Yi8k

    May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  16. ObamaJoe

    =========Probably the most important difference to highlight is the change in man's relationship to God. In the Old it primarily involved external religious ceremonies. In the New it is an internal matter for the heart, beginning when a person is born again and being demonstrated in a righteous life, and witnessing to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  17. anythingbutobama

    No way. As long as it's a black president, the black church will support him, no matter what he said and what he did.

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

      a baby for the future,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THAT IS TRUE...BLACKS WILL VOTE FOR OBAMA NO MATTER WHAT HE DOES....AND I'M A HISPANIC GUY, I'M NOT RACISTS...

      May 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "I'M NOT RACISTS..."

      you other comments expose this for the lie it is.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  18. Franky

    Joe Louis said it best, when asked why as a blackman he wants to serve his country,

    "America's got it's problems, but I think Hitler is the man to solve them."

    Whether most blacks agree or don't agree with gay marriage, the GOP looks down on blacks and marginalizes their concerns so why would they ever vote for them. The GOP tries and most ignorantly blame minorities for "deficits, bad schools, and sees them as social ieeches" when this couldn't be farther from the truth , the vast majority of social services go to whites because this country is 70% white but I digress, the point, they are going to be running to the people who have fringe elements of racism. I'm not saying all GOP members are racist but if they were which party do you think they would belong too?

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

      I would agree with you, Franky. The exclusion and stereotyping of my party toward the Black, Hispanic or even the Poor among us is sad. And most on this page are probably not even registered to vote… but only want to spread the HATE.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  19. ug

    These are the views of a lib...the b la c ks won't vote for the pervert plain and simple.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  20. Funny

    How come sarah palin is not running for president? I would totally support her!!!!!

    If she is elected. I'll have so much fun watching news everyday! News will become comedy!

    May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • KATHY minneapolis

      I would support her too,just to laugh at how stupid she is.

      May 11, 2012 at 1:59 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.