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)
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    August 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  2. Name*gmoore

    If only Christians understood what the CHRIST came to teach us love is what matters probably 3 or 4 of his disciples were gay if you read carefully. He never spoke. Against. Love. marriage is the highest. Expression of love 2 people can share & may God bless our courageous. President

    July 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  3. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

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    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
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    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

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    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

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    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

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    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    June 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm |

      click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL, hopefully soon they'll block their IP address so they can't post this garbage anymore!

      June 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  4. meakstaxservices

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    May 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  5. Doindia

    Here's where to register to vote by May 21 – See link on page – http://www.ProofTheyAreRelated .com

    May 15, 2012 at 5:28 am |
  6. Nyarlathotep

    Barry has done exactly two things correctly in his entire first term:

    1) Repealing "Don't Ask/Don't Tell"
    2) This endorsement of marriage rights for gays, however lukewarm an endorsement it might be.

    With so many wrong or flat-out disastrous decisions (see: Solyndra, Stimulus 1 and 2, ad nauseam), I suppose he'd make two good ones just by the law of averages. Congratulations, Barry. You got these right. Now get out of Washington.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  7. John

    I wish God Almighty curse the President to overlook at his nation christian principle IN GOD WE STAND. we don't he might be a gay. As a strong supporter of Obama in my house we have picture of Obama, Cups, T-Shirts..etc. All have been drown and burnt to show my disappointment. Long live for Mitt Romney. Americans vote for Romney if you don't want God to curse your Country.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Nicole

      you are a complete. there is this thing called 'religious tollerance'...If you think Obama should not support the gays then screw you, you obviously have NO idea that we live in the 21st century and it's time for some social changes. You shouldn't have burnt your merchandise, I would have bought it all, because unlike YOU i supported Obama in 2008 and I will support him again in 2012. Sure, you go ahead and vote for Romney, I'm sure you'll love it when he increases taxes on the middle-class.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:46 am |
    • Julie

      John there are 6 chapters in the bible that speak of gay sin there are 360 chapters that speak of hetero sin, so while your disgarding obama wear disgard yourself. Unless you are sin less. If your black, don't speak of Mr. King and what he died for, you don't deserve to reap anything of what Mr. king stood for.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • ronrok

      Hello the country is cursed already! I'm not gay nor do I support that cause but when we sit quietly and pretend everything fine with all social evil going on proves something is wrong with our Christianity. Perhaps it is our sanctification. Some of the brothers hate their brothers (Christians). Do they know that are in living in darkness and are blind (1JN2:9-11). As oppose to what we say, we do and or silently condone a gospel of hate and because of that we are cursed (Gal1:9). Thank God our justification & Righteousness is the action is an act of God (imputed) and not an act man. Perhaps there is a lesson in this, a Sunday morning message. "We see how we really are, not how we think we are" Maybe "There is room for improvement"

      August 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  8. Bisoncookie

    Please watch this, consistency or political moment?

    OBAMA VS. OBAMA (Fox News)

    Watch: http://quienesobama.com/?p=2352

    May 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  9. Hehe

    convince people to vote?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  10. Praying for President

    I am grieved by the tragedy of this President to openly endorse immorality. Gay Marriage is an oxymoron because Marriage by definition is the covenant of a man and woman. Tragic that we have devolved so much as a society. But we continue to pray that our President will no longer be deceived and will FIGHT for righteousness. Praying forward...

    May 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "I am grieved by the tragedy of this President to openly endorse immorality. Gay Marriage is an oxymoron because Marriage by definition is the covenant of a man and woman."

      The experts around the world disagree with you. 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." There is nothing immoral when you are born gay and have a loving respectful relationship with your partner. What is immoral is people like you that continue to fuel the hatred and bigotry towards this group that aren't founded in REAL facts.

      By the way your religion didn't invent marriage, it was in place long before Christianity.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Praying for President

      You said, "I am grieved by the tragedy of this President to openly endorse immorality. "
      The President standing up for equality places him above all others. It is far more immoral to deny your fellow citizens equal protection under the law, then it is to love someone of your own sex.

      You said, "Gay Marriage is an oxymoron because Marriage by definition is the covenant of a man and woman."
      You really should get your head out of your ass. There is no such definition. The discussion is about civil marriage. Whatever you religion says about the religious marriage it is entirely irrelevant.

      You said, "Tragic that we have devolved so much as a society. But we continue to pray that our President will no longer be deceived and will FIGHT for righteousness. Praying forward..."
      Keep praying. We'll keep doing the thinking. In the mean time, keep your fairy tale out of the lives of rational people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • House

      In the U.S. marriage is the tax system. That is immoral to steal money from American Citizens gay or straight.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  11. The Truth Teller

    All I can say is if the Black church goes against this Brother , The back Lash from the Blacks who do not share there mind set would be more than they could bare ! No longer will they be given the free pass and respect that they have enjoyed all these years will be gone ! Trust Me on this no longer !!

    May 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  12. JD

    If anyone decides not to vote for Obama because of any one thing they deserve the flip, flop Republican for president as a result. It is a stupid way to vote for someone. We all knew the President supported gay rights and he has done so since the beginning. The actual endorsement is NOT a surprise folks.
    You think you will do better by voting for Romney and the Right or not voting at all, go ahead. I guarantee you will not be happy with either.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  13. Rev in VC

    So.... now gays and lesbians need to sit at the back of the bus?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:32 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things-

    May 14, 2012 at 4:30 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 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  15. chechinis

    obama shall gain the world, and lose his own soul. (if he do not "change" his mind.)

    May 14, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • Hehe

      middleman? why do people need middleman to Jesus or God?

      May 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Frank Godon

    “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.” – America is not a democracy – it is a republic – too bad educated people think wrong.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  17. Andrew

    Don't be hypocrites black people. Its worse than just being racist.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  18. max33334445555

    I am not an obama supported but he had to take a position after biden brought it up. he chose the right one. a president should be for equal rights regardless of external forces.

    probably wont vote for him but dont think hes a bad person. so far a mediocre president but not nearly the worst.

    going to be a choice between 2 parties that no longer have the peoples best interest in mind.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  19. william

    I think the truth is in the numbers... some 95%, or more, of blacks voted for Obama in '08, and no issue will change that. Black overides everything for these folks, apparently,even as it would be seen as racist if whites did the same thing. If the reverse was true, the republicans could have run Mr. Magoo against Obama, and with 95% of the white vote, Magoo would have won in a landslide.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • CNNguest001

      We're no longer a totally white country, and one party made an effort to better enable minorities to vote, despite the RNC's best attempts to keep that from happening. Would you vote for a party that is trying to keep you from voting? That's why that old dude lost.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  20. CA Liberal

    I think divorce is the no.1 threat to marriage. Not gays wanting to be equal.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Perversion is a crime not a right

      May 14, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • momoya

      ho.mo.s3.xuality is not a perversion.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:39 am |
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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.