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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. mchambers_64

    POTUS canny get any more gayer.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven
    And powerful

    May 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • josh1

      you keep posting that, while is definitely and scientifically proven to be incorrect.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • just sayin

      @josh1
      The two wonderful Truths have never been and can never be proven wrong. Quite the opposite of your opinion. You may want to think for yourself instead of parroting so called atheist trash. God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • josh1

      Well, I could easily bounce the ball back by asking you to prove that it does work... I won't. However, if you had an open mind, you would not be afraid to ask questions. I don't belief that I necessarily have to be an atheist to belief that prayer does not help with earthly problems. Why do you think I am not thinking for myself, are you thinking for yourself? Can you answer why people that pray, get sick just as often as people that don't pray. Do they recover faster? No...

      May 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  3. Civil Union of Sense

    Its all about attack, Attack, ATTACK.. Divide and Conquer. power, Power, POWER.

    Break Religion and you will have one Nation.... THE OBAMA NATION !!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • CA Liberal

      COOL.....can't wait.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  4. josh1

    Oh, and where is the outrage about divorce? Or is that a little too close to home?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  5. josh1

    The only people who should argue that being gay is against Gods will are those that:
    1) Do not belief in evolution
    2) Think eating scrimp is as bad as being gay
    3) Do not do anything on sundays
    4) Belief in talking snakes
    5) Would belief a murderer if she/he says that God told him/her to murder his/her kids.
    6) This list could go on and on.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  6. Hollyp

    Good job Obama, you have just turned a lifelong democrat, into a republican . You have lost my vote, because you are pandering to the world and are going against God's principles. I pray that he will forgive you!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • josh1

      So, your number one criterium is gay rights, and you are willing to give up on helping poor families, supporting education, equal tax rates and other democratic values for that... Seriously? Because you think god is against gay people???

      May 13, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • josh1

      I hope you realize that by switching parties over this, you now stand for all republican decisions.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • demrules

      Good try and weak! You were no more a democrat than the moon was the sun yesterday. Just like any Republican you tend to try to distort reality with deceptions to try to get others to hookup with your cause. I know psychology pretty well, and you fail miserably at it with the "once democrat- now republican" con!

      May 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  7. Dee

    This might be true in a few black churches but I guarantee this will not be an issue for President Obama. The Ministers in church this Mother's Day will certainly bring their Congregation together and will not let one issue distract from voting for this President.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  8. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS–

    "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions are supposed to obey the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-s-ex unions not same-s-ex marriages.

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay se-xual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex se-xual differences. Some differences are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male....

    May 13, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    May 13, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • 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 13, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • josh1

      No, prayer does not change anything. Multiple studies have tested this and nothing, absolutely nothing, indicated that prayer helped/changed anything. Google, or search on pubmed.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • just sayin

      The declarations of demons do not alter Truth. God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Emmaleah

      It does seem that the facts maintain an anti-religious bias. Those devilish, demonic facts... with their truth and all. *eyeroll*

      May 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  10. Yepyep6598

    animals next, little boys that will be ok I see it coming

    May 13, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • YeahRight

      "animals next, little boys that will be ok I see it coming"

      You're stupid posts shows you don't know anything about this subject. Animals and children can't consent moron.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  11. mymother'schild

    My octegenarian mother, a Midwestern, educated, farmwife, is as amazing a Christian as I've ever known. She exemplifies the best in humanity, and her thoughts regarding gay marriage are:
    It isn't a question of choosing Christ or President. God is open and loving to all of His people. It's a good idea for the nation to be respectful of its diversity and supportive of good Americans. Pray to God for better understanding and vote accordingly. Children are starving in the world while some "Christian" Americans are concerned about people in love – really?!

    May 12, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  12. n8263

    Using religion as an excuse to deny others civil rights is wrong. It was used by whites to oppress blacks and now a majority of blacks are using it to oppress gays. This is wrong.

    It is amazing Christians still post comments to blogs like this asking why non-believers hang out and try to show them the truth. We are not trying to deny you of some god's riches (as someone posted earlier) any more than we want to deny you of Santa's Christmas presents. We are trying to wake you up and in so doing make the world a better place.

    May 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Nimrod Techen, Oregon

      That's our problem in the States.
      Quite frankly, during the last 37 years I've been living here, I haven't seen nothing but history repeats itself (politically-speaking).
      It is amazing that most folks here still relate the States to Christianity.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:11 am |
  13. 123lily

    Lets let gays marry so we can move onto polygamy. I dearly love three ladies and believe it is against my civil rights not to be allowed to marry all three.

    May 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • momoya

      Agreed.. If it's good enough for most of the heroes of the bible, it's good enough still.

      May 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Thepacific

      I agree. Polygamy is a matter of consenting adults. States should not nose in.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • pittpainter

      that could be an interesting debate. however misogynistic polygamy would be the center of discussion. most importantly, that is not the debate at hand. talking about polygamy is not talking about gay marriage. such a talking point is a straw-man argument.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Emmaleah

      If marriage is relegated to the arena of contract law, which it should be, then your desire to have a multiparty family would be possible. I'm all in favour of adults all having access to the same rights.

      May 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  14. stop the fighting and laugh a little

    Obama's Gay Friend – Why Barack took so long to accept gay marriage

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvApDOyv5bQ

    May 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  15. cj

    Tell all your black friends in November that you voted for Obama, but when you walk into that voting booth in November, it will be our secret that you chose Romney. And when you walk out, tell them all you voted for Obama, because if you don't, you'll be harrassed and ostracized. It will be out little secret, just between us!

    May 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • momoya

      And you're so proud of that childish mentality why?

      May 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  16. Polli

    Gay marriage is an act of oppression to the one being abused. Strictly speaking it opens up doors for old diseased men to come to yur door to date your 12-13 year old or younger on the profession of "Love". Shoot them. Tell your children to be good and believe in a God who will protect them from this evil, just as he will protect us from this Abomination known as Barack.

    May 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • pittpainter

      you cant be serious as a person. you say to be a "good christian" and "shoot gay people" you then apply this same mentality the US president?! what's wrong with you?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Strictly speaking it opens up doors for old diseased men to come to yur door to date your 12-13 year old or younger on the profession of "Love"."

      What you are describing is a pedophile and children can't consent. Stop being so lazy and actually research this subject so you're posts don't seem so stupid.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Emmaleah

      You sound seriously unwell. Please stop advocating violence and death against my people.

      May 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  17. HappytoNotBeGay

    Read another commenters post just now and totally agree. Liberties versus rights are the issue here. And gays have all the liberties expressed to all others in our Nation. So shut up and go be gay and happy.

    May 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • pittpainter

      is there something wrong with the phrase, "have your civil liberties and be silent"?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • YeahRight

      "And gays have all the liberties expressed to all others in our Nation."

      Gay couples DO NOT have the same rights as straight couples. DUH. I bet if we denied you all these rights when you are married you'd be posting a different answer. You're prejudice isn't founded on REAL facts.

      Tax Benefits
      -–Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
      -–Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members.

      Estate Planning Benefits
      -–Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate.
      -–Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
      -–Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
      -–Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse – that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.

      Government Benefits
      -–Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
      -–Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
      -–Receiving public as-sistance benefits.
      -–Employment Benefits
      -–Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.
      -–Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
      -–Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
      -–Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.

      Medical Benefits
      -–Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
      -–Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.

      Death Benefits
      -–Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
      -–Making burial or other final arrangements.

      Family Benefits
      -–Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
      -–Applying for joint foster care rights.
      -–Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
      -–Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.

      Housing Benefits
      -–Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
      -–Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.

      Consumer Benefits
      -–Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.
      -–Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
      -–Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.
      -–Other Legal Benefits and Protections
      -–Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
      -–Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
      -–Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
      -–Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
      -–Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
      -–Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  18. bill withers

    Gay relationships should be discouraged. This is what I teach my children. I am an elementary school teacher.

    May 12, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • pittpainter

      maybe you should teach them HOW to think and critically examine situations instead of filling their heads with bias discrimination.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Gay relationships should be discouraged. "

      You should not be a teacher since your prejudice is not based on REAL facts. The 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 13, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • josh1

      Well, shame on you. This is why the American education system is falling so far behind all other western nations! And I mean this.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Emmaleah

      So, how does it feel to know that you are teaching at least 10% of those children that they are not worthy of happiness and teaching the other 90% that the 10% are subhuman and unworthy? Are you really okay with that? Because if you do such a thing, you are psychologically abusing and damaging the children in your care.

      May 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Hanford Searl Jr.

    ... As a LIFELONG "White" person, I say isn't-IT-tragic how-OPPRESSED-we've BEEN?!? LMAO!!!

    May 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  20. savethechildren

    DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY.
    Immigration, tolerance, and especially assimilation are being used against the white race.
    ll this immigration and intermarriage is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries.
    Anti-white is called anti-racist, but it leads to the disappearance of one race and only one race, the white race.

    It is white genocide, future with fewer white people in it.

    Let's protect white children before its too late. Gay marriage is a second issue as undesirable as it is.

    May 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • momoya

      Gay marriage is not undesirable.

      May 12, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Emmaleah

      Whiteness is under attack, not light-skinned people. Whiteness, the construct that elevates pale skin above dark, needs to end. What light-skinned people do with themselves after the end of Whiteness is no one's problem but I suspect that some day we will all (again) share a smaller range of skin colours. The only reason to fear this is bigotry.

      May 13, 2012 at 2:49 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.