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. GodPot

    Humans in America deserve equal rights and access to their own government. The only issue here is a Christian agenda to label gays as something less than human so they don't have to share. Why not try to pass a constltutional amendment to make gay's three fifths of a human, you know, show everyone what you are.

    May 11, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Crom

      Good one!

      May 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  2. loop

    Why is a Democrat POTUS advocating the creation of more "Santorum"?

    May 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Nodack

      I'm just as healthy as you. I am the happiest person I know. You speak only for yourself. Don't claim to know what is best for everyone. My dog is an Athiest and is happy and healthy too. Shame on you.

      May 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  4. Kathryn Harlan

    Obama may be black, but he has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FOR THE BLACK AMERICAN!! With the highest unemployment level, higher than even hispanics, he is dead silent!! And yet he stands up for gays and illegal aliens...too funny..Its pretty clear he takes the black American vote for granted... Why not...he is black, but that is all he has in common with the struggles and beliefs of black Americans and if they want to follow him based on nothing but color then they deserve what he gives them.. NOTHING!! He knows he has your vote for free!!

    May 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • mandarax

      What specifically would you have the president do for black people?

      May 11, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Nodack

      Nice try.

      Not buying what you are selling.

      May 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • sam


      May 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • RhomneyBus Geometry

      Romney may be white, but he has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FOR ANY AMERICANS BUT HIMSELF!! Its pretty clear he takes the racist white evangelical American vote for granted. He knows he has your vote for free!!

      May 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Snow

      well thats quite a logic for equal rights and responsibilities.. Just because the president is of one race, you want him to do special favors for them?

      would you have accepted if a white president passed laws that helps whites only?

      Think, for godsake, before you spew!!

      May 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  5. Paul

    Why don't my comments post?

    May 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Eeesh

      word filter, it'll catch stuff like consti.tution and va.gue, etc... look for bad words within words, but a period, space, dash or something between it and it'll get through.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • CNN moderator

      We don't like guys named Paul.

      May 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  6. Eeesh

    For a community that has endured a lot of hardship and still faces quiet a lot of discrimination to this day, you would think that people would see the power of hate and try to change it instead of joining it. Unfortunately a large part of that community has decided to use hate for their own nefarious purposes and still discriminates against potential allies.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • mandarax

      Religion may have provided an effective way to empower and inspire the Civil Rights movement. These are the side effects. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: religion poisons everything.

      May 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  7. Steven Rodrigo

    What a biased article. Where is the interview with several of the priest that CNN themselves said that they are outraged by Obamas position and not only from conservative black priests but liberal ones as well. Roland Martin touched on this on Wednesday with Wolf Blitzer but apparently there is absolutely no follow-up only damage control in support of Obama. Pathetic.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Snow

      It is an opinion piece.. not a news article..

      May 11, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  8. crossword

    Yep, all church going Black folks vote for Romney or do a write in for Rush.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  9. LWJR

    The CNN editors hope there is no Black-Lash against the new Leader of the Sodomite party, Barak Hussein Obama. Any African American Preacher who can sign up for that agenda should throw their Bible away and pickup up a copy of Origin of the Species or the Communist Manifesto. Compromise is born in politics and the desire to have influence and not face persecution.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Huebert

      Have you ever tried so.domy it's a lot of fun.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • GodPot

      Boy, you must be so well read and informed and know so much about this, it's hard to understand why you can't even spell "Barack"...

      Just go put your tin foil hat back on and re-duct tape your windows closed, you add less than nothing to this discussion.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • mandarax

      Interesting that LWJR equates the Communist Manifesto with On the Origin of Species. Ridiculous, but interesting.

      May 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Silly Wabbit

      LWJR likely stands for "Lynchings With Junior" one of the more popular series of southern childrens books. You can find them right next to the abstinence only & pre-teen maternity self help books in their local librarys...

      May 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Snow

      Also funny that people like LWJR support and follow the evangelical leaders who mere months ago urged people to not support Romney as he is not a christian.. but suddenly are retracting their god's definition of mormon and are going behind Romney in droves.. what gives? 🙂

      May 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • mandarax

      Silly Wabbit is funny!

      May 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  10. latino3

    we all knew, that sooner or later obama was going to come out of the closet

    May 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • GodPot

      Is that where latino1 & 2 are hiding?

      May 11, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  11. TJ

    LOL LOL bible LOL LOL

    May 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  12. Christian Girl

    Obama is opposed to everything the Christian church stands for. The Bible states" If you aren't for me, then you're against me" If black Christians, or ANY Christians, vote for Obama, they are against what the Bible stands for. Period. End of story for me.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • sam

      Please don't vote. Or breed.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Huebert

      @Christian Girl

      The bible is a work of fiction sweet heart.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • lroy

      Yeah girl, I'm evolving too. My opinion of Obama is radically escalating from nausea to totally disgusting. Happy Mother's Day.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • The Christian Plague Is Ending

      It's a good thing the Christian church won't be standing for too much longer.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Catholic Priest

      The only thing I stand for is when my alter boy is finished...

      May 11, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • gay guy


      May 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Huebert

      @gay guy

      You're still trollin' I see.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • gay guy


      May 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Huebert

      You're not cute enough for me.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Knowing

      Your opinion is very important to you and only you.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • sam stone

      He is not elected to be a preacher, Christian Girl, he is elected to be president. We are not a theocracy. Now, back on your knees, B.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  13. PJ

    I sure hope they don't punish him. Obama will go down in history as one of our greatest Presidents and it will be sad to see the first Black President be a one term President because of Black people.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • gay guy


      May 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Kool Aid


      May 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  14. Selfish Ignorant Angry Racist Sycophant

    My God is real, so you all must obey me, I mean him. Even though two loving people want to spend their lives together I think it's icky so I will not stand for it. I want equal rights but only for those people I consider my equals. If we don't stop interracial marriage now the whole country will be cleared of God fearing whites in only two generations, all our children will be brown. My point of view supercedes anyone who disagrees with me. As long as i'm not discriminated against then discrimination doesn't exist and it's just a bunch of pansy colored whiners. I'M VOTING FOR MITT ROMNEY!!!

    May 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Selfish Ignorant Angry Racist Sycophant

      What? No one agrees with me? I know all ye Christians do, we're brothers in arms in the war on reason and reallity, stand up and be heard like the pale pompous bitter parasites we are!!

      May 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      If you took the time to read the Bible, God created all the races on the 6th day and said it was good.


      May 11, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Curious...

      Where does the bible say that? And what day did God create women if he created Man on the 6th day...

      May 11, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Kool Aid

      You know, since women were created from a rib...does this mean they are made of ribs, and we can eat them with some BBQ sauce?

      May 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  15. T1

    This is what the bible says about Gays..Romans 1
    Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
    Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
    And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
    Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
    Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
    Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    Please leave your coments. What do you think about this.. Is man right... or is the creator right?

    May 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • GodPot

      " Is man right... or is the creator right?"

      You mean is man right... or is man right? Your bible has about as much divinity in it as the moon has cheese.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • PJ

      Get over it. Jesus wandered with 12 guys and I am sure there was some "love" among them. I visit the Holy Land yearly and convinced Jesus would be disgusted with the narrow minds of American Christian Fundamentalists.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • T1

      In that case...... the moon has alot of cheese... We as people do not morally stand for nothing.... F it just go thru life an do what u want.. Live how u want... But in the time of judgement.. I would love to see your face crack... Cause man played creator...

      May 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Huebert

      No such thing as a "time of judgement" either.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • T1

      To each its own... But to me... Gay marriage is a bad example for our children who our raised by us adults... by 2035 all young gay people are old gay people.. We will see how they prepare for there judgment day... WE WILL SEE.. ONE thing is for sure... you will die....

      May 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • T1

      BY 2035 all young gay people are old gay people.. We will see how they prepare for there judgment day... WE WILL SEE.. ONE thing is for sure... you will die....

      May 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • GodPot

      "We as people do not morally stand for nothing"

      You are absolutely right, we as people do not morally stand for nothing, we stand for human wellfare, all of us, not just the idiots who think they have special suites reserved in the afterlife.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • GodPot

      "ONE thing is for sure... you will die...."

      Well, seeing how there has never been a single human on the planet who hasn't in all of human history, it's a good bet that you, me and the "gays" will as well, so no surprise there.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • gay guy

      Dont blame us gays for Obamas stupid pro GAY MARRIAGE THING, I DO NOT WANT GAY MARRIAGE, IT IS A HORIBLE SIN

      May 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Huebert

      @gay guy


      May 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • CNN moderator

      @ gay guy – did you accidentally the whole thing, again?

      May 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • DSLYNN433

      Actually our founding father like Washing , Jefferson, Franklin and other hated organized religion, that’s way they had separation of church and state not to protect the church from government but to protect government for the church.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • just sayin

      George Washington (you spelled the father of our countries name wrong !!!!!) had his own family pew in his organized religion church. Thomas Jefferson was so enamored with the scriptures that he offered his own edit. Franklin by all reports was hedonistic but not without sympathies to his fellow patriots beliefs. Try thinking for yourself instead of parroting the drivel of others. God bless

      May 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  17. Weiser

    Rev. Wright says there is no problem in the church of hate.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  18. Argle Bargle

    Of course they will. Christian churches ARE all about love. (cough, cough)

    May 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • matthew2818

      So if I don't agree with you, I am all about hate?

      May 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  19. nc1965

    You Tea Party people should concede the Presidency now. Obama's only 18 points from clinching the electoral college.

    Besides, he will win NC.

    Obama leads with women – 65%

    Obama leads with Hispanics – 70% (a month ago), now 80%

    Obama leads with b l a c k people – 96%

    Obama has white male support – 42%

    May 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • jeff

      Dream on kool-aid drinker. See what the polls say in November. The poll that counts.

      May 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • gay guy

      Excuse me! Obama only has 25% WHITE SUPPORT, 75% of whites support Mitt Romney, AND IN AMERICA THIS ELECTION DAY WHITES WILL MAKE UP ABOUT 78% of voters and WE ARE SENDING OBAMA HOME, WATCH AND SEE HONIE

      May 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Kool Aid

      @ gay guy – driiiiink meeeeeeee

      May 11, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  20. Snoozie

    “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.”

    And that is one shining example of why religion is such a pain in the A..

    May 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Crom

      Yes, I noticed that too but haven't got around to addressing it. When these religious welfare queens prefer a steady stream of money and ego stroking instead of doing what's right, then I guess we can all see what sorts of morals they follow, eh?

      May 11, 2012 at 6:11 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.