May 13th, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Across country, black pastors weigh in on Obama's same-sex marriage support

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Washington (CNN) - Addressing his large, mostly black congregation on Sunday morning, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith did not mince words about where he stood on President Barack Obama's newly announced support for same-sex marriage: The church is against it, he said, prompting shouts of "Amen!" from the pews.

And yet Smith hardly issued a full condemnation of the president.

"We may disagree with our president on this one issue," Smith said from the pulpit of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. "But we will keep him lifted up in prayer. ... Pray for President Barack Obama."

And Smith said there were much bigger challenges facing the black community - "larger challenges that we have to struggle with" - bringing his full congregation to its feet, with many more amens.

Days after Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, pastors across the country offered their Sunday-morning opinions on the development, with the words of black pastors - a key base of support for Obama in 2008, that is also largely opposed to gay marriage - carrying special weight in a presidential election year.But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks.

In Baltimore, Emmett Burns, a politically well-connected black minister who said he supported Obama in 2008, held an event at Rising Sun Baptist Church to publicly withdraw support from the president over Obama's same-sex marriage support.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"I love the president, but I cannot support what he has done," Burns said at the church.

In an interview with CNN, Burns predicted that Obama's support for legalized same-sex marriage would lead to his defeat in November.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, an influential black pastor in New York City, did not endorse Obama's views but denounced those who are ready to "watch others be discriminated against, marginalized, and literally hated in the name of God."

"Our God is love," he said.

And like Smith in Washington, plenty of black ministers talked about distinguishing between opposition to same-sex marriage and views about Obama.

"I don't see how you cannot talk about it," the Rev. Tim McDonald, based in Atlanta, said earlier this week. "I have to. You can say I'm opposed to it (same-sex marriage), but that doesn't mean I'm against the president."

Though African-Americans provided Obama with record support in 2008, they are also significantly more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are whites. That may be because black Americans are more likely to frequently attend church than white Americans.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in April found that 49% of African-Americans oppose legalized same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who support it. Among whites, by contrast, Pew found that 47% supported gay marriage, while 43% opposed it.

African-American pastors have been prominent in the movement to ban same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, black leaders helped lead the successful campaign for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and domestic partnerships.

In California, 70% of African-Americans supported Prop 8, the 2008 state gay marriage ban, even though 94% of black voters in California backed Obama.

McDonald, who founded a group called the African-American Ministers Leadership Council, says he opposes same-sex marriage, but that he is more concerned about issues such as health care, education and jobs.

But he 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," McDoland says. "There wasn't even an entertainment of a conversation about this."

In Atlanta, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church - where Martin Luther King Jr. got his start - the Rev. Ralph Warnock addressed the president's remarks near the end of his sermon.

"The president is entitled to his opinion," Warnock said. "He is the president of the United States, not the pastor of the United States."

Warnock said that there is a place for gays in the church, and that "we don't have to solve this today."

Black churchgoers on Sunday appeared split on same-sex marriage, though many of those opposed to it said they still supported Obama.

"It's a human rights issue, not a gay issue. All people that pay taxes should get ... the same privileges and rights," said Terence Johnson, a congregant at Salem Bible Church in Atlanta.

At Shiloh Baptist in Washington, Shauna King said she does not support same-sex marriage, but that she respects the president's decision on it.

"I think he was very honest in what he was saying and personally he decided to do that," said the 38-year-old mother of two. "As individuals, we all have to make that decision for ourselves."

"I believe it speaks to what America is," she said. "That we all have different views and are respected for our views individually."

Black opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2008, Pew found that 63% of African-Americans opposed gay marriage, 14 percentage points higher than the proportion who expressed opposition this year.

On Friday, a handful of black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and former NAACP leader Julian Bond, released a letter supporting Obama's position on same-sex marriage but expressing respect for those who disagree.

"The president made clear that his support is for civil marriage for same-sex couples, and he is fully committed to protecting the ability of religious institutions to make their own decisions about their own sacraments," the letter said.

"There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community," it continued. "As a people, we cannot afford such division."

But the letter itself was an implicit acknowledgement of discord within the African-American church community on gay marriage.

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.

The Chicago-based black minister 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 calls 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."

In Obama's interview with ABC this week, in which he announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, the president talked about squaring his decision with his personal religious faith.

"We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others," Obama said, referring to his wife, Michelle.

"But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule," he said. "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."

- CNN’s John Blake, Chris Boyette, Meridith Edwards, Dan Merica and Stephanie Siek contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Gay marriage • Politics

soundoff (3,700 Responses)
  1. lyd

    Where the he// do they get these fking numbers? The immoral media is tryoing to convince us that half the country supports this abominbation, when we Americans know that 98% of us would never stand for it. This is why it was voted down in every state when placed on the ballot. Onama is toast.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      yeah.....lyd.....continue to believe that 98% of the nation shares your bigotry. strength in numbes, eh? especially for cowards

      May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • TR6

      @lyd:” we Americans know that 98% of us would never stand for it. “

      Fortunately your kind of Americans only make up a small part of the US voting population

      May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      also, that bit about misspelling obama's name. what a cutting political commentary. congrats on getting them synapses to fire.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Larry

      Why do you care what two consenting adults do? Oh wait did your daddy or grand daddy wear a hood in the 50s and 60s? Back then god was "against" interracial marriage and now hes ok with it. BUt now he has time to care what two loving adults do in their own relationship?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:09 am |
  2. rj

    I don't understand the president stated his thoughts not america thoughts and just accept it. I feel as though there are much more pressing issues to bring to the table but of course the ideal mind will bring up gays getting married as a way to stir crap basically if he not president we go back to complants regardless and we must not forget ppl hes human not God and at the end f the day humans make errors or may not a error but state what they think so I and for him all the way and I feel as though whats the big deal if you dont want to marry them you dont have to and side bar i wish ppl will count how many people are preaching and teaching the word who behind close doors are gay, drinker, thieves, cheaters, liars, witchcraft and etc yet we judge this guy for stating how he feel look at your surrondings including in your church and im sure some top positions would be questioned

    May 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  3. anthony stark

    Christians, black Christians of all people, will make this an issue when there's so much more at stake? You people disgust me.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • rj

      I feel the same way so much more to press an issue about

      May 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  4. Wade

    We need a John. F. Kennedy of our time and I am afraid neither Obama nor Romney come any where close to filling those shoes. We should be inspired instead we are fed hate and divisiveness. We need to think about our children instead we sell out their future enslaving them to debt so we might live large today. If there is a sickness in America then we are the cancer. We all have become to focused on what we want as individuals and not what is good for all of us. Remember the old saying. Together we stand divided we fall. Friends America is falling. Is marriage really the issue of the day?
    All of us better wake up.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • NME

      For a Stormfront troll, you sure are trying extra hard today. Your momma's dead I guess. Sad.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  5. Willard

    Only in America can people campaign for the right to stick their willy into a hole where digested food comes out of.Call me whatever you want.March from Cleveland to Zimbabwe.I will always know it's gross and will never accept it.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • AmericansAreLunatics

      You don't have to "accept" it. Just butt out of other people's business. That's all. What is so difficult to understand about that?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Korndog Lobstertail IV

      Because you are more bigoted then we are...

      May 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Bill

      You do realize that man sticks his wee wee where a women pees from, right?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • ricktcarr

      Awesome response..

      May 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      Think about it a lot, do you Willard?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • rj

      LMBO how immature.. If thats all gays do is stick other gays i guess we should jus limit gay marrriage to lasbians only and america will be the best ever cause now pervs can get life off two women. The LGBT community pay the same taxes and contribute alot to the community inside there own as well as outside and faught for the same rights and now they getting somewhere and america say its not right yet its right to date and be marry and most churches a percentage give heavy to the church and participate mmore the the othe lay members and some churches they maybe the same ones ppl run to for donations or funaiser. You say sticking in the ass but its not only men in the gay life are you serious.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  6. Nicole Chardenet

    I guess civil rights are only for *some* Americans. How quickly some black Americans have forgotten their own history. Shall we vote on whether the South should be allowed to re-enslave blacks? Anyone?

    May 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • ricktcarr

      What a way to compare apples to oranges... let me guess, Harvad?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Lisa Baxter

      Indeed! It is ironic, at best, that blacks should withhold the same rights that they enjoy from anyone else. The fight for civil rights should still ring quite clearly in their ears. From this article, it appears that the black vote is restrictive to a "black agenda"..which is??? For the record, I have several black gay friends. I think this article is therefore a misrepresentation of the whole picture.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • sam stone

      how is it apples to oranges?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  7. kate

    "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and caring the cross."
    Sinclair Lewis

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  8. Joe

    iin other words.... We don't agree with him at all, but because he is black like us, we will vote for and support him. I think I get it now.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Ken Patterson


      May 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • ricktcarr

      Joe shoots, and scores!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Jesse

      How stupid...did you read the comments? Most of these people are saying we should wrestle with this question, but not allow one simple aspect of argument to make our decision.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Frend

      Dems will vote for Obama because he's a Dem. The color of his skin just doesn't matter a hell of a whole lot, but it helps for those who cannot see past the melanin.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  9. Korndog Lobstertail IV

    I am sure all the Black ministers will support Mittens Romnyford IV...LOL

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  10. richie

    obviously you know nothing you couldn't even answer the question. you hate blindly without reason.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  11. happyfrenchman

    That preacher Emmet Burns from Baltimore needs to hear it from his congregation. He is nothing but a bigot. A goddaned holy bigot, but a bigot nonetheless...

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Arran Webb

    Who will have the babies?

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. elvis costanza

    If black churches are so invested in denying gay people basic rights, then let black churches lead their congregations back to a time NOT SO LONG AGO when it was open season on black people, by law. Stunning hypocrisy!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  14. Ira

    Who gives a crap what the church says.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. norma jean.

    I really feel sorry for a fine president for whom its "Hell if you do and Hell if you don't". Try though he might, a very fine young man....our president ...trys to do what he and the majority of citizens seem to want and then has to put up with nay-sayers who sit back doing nothing but ranting against him ,There isn't a one of you complainers that would DARE be in his place and try to keep the people happy with a little help here and and little destruction there....It's a snake pit out there....just who do you think you are that all you can do is complain. Who died and made you king??? Shut up and let the man get a job done!!!!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • luckjoe

      Obama is not and never willl be a fine president. He is a socialist who as stated whe will stand with the Muslims. (read his book)

      May 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  16. Susan

    Wouldn't it be awful to be stuck as a progressive/liberal feeling minister in a church whose congregation wouldn't give you the time of day if the Bible didn't say so?

    May 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  17. 57dec58

    Its a amazing how people thinking ..I too don't believe in same gender r to be marriage it...but am more concern about the future of our children...education ..crime..economy ...the state of our country will be...not who sleeping with who...that is one reason I left the all black church...politics have no business in church..I have a choice God Almighty give me that ...not man...just as Obama has his opinion that's his not mine..Truth believe know thyroid serve God not man...

    May 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Susan

      ...and likewise Church has no business in politics. I won't support a government or a church that mettle in the affairs of the other.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      here's the thing, 57, the government is licensing it. the government has to provide eq

      May 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      57dec28: here's the thing. the government licenses it. the government has to provide equal protection under the law to it's citizens. if you disagree with two people of the same gender being marriedt, your church (if any) can discriminate any way they feel is pleasing to their god. but the government cannot do so.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  18. AtreayuJah

    I am NO part of this world, and neither should you." Those are the words of Yeshua. And yet, followers of Christendom are arguing over the decisions of this government. Why? If you are a lover of Yahweh God, why are you even delving into worldly politics? If it doesn't affect you, and it shouldn't, then why worry? Here's what irks me. You call yourself a "Christian", and yet your actions and doctrines refute it. Yeshua (Jesus) was not affiliated with any part of politics when he was around. When asked to be King, he turned it down saying that his kingdom was NOT a part of this world. Neither should his followers who claim to love him. True Christian's don't vote because you know that this system and government is overseen by Satan. Christendom holds to Pagan traditions enacted by Constantine and Babylonian gods! Here's a hint..if you want to judge others on their decisions in life, start with yourself and your so-called faith. Stop listening to these money-hungry pastors that go to school to learn the Bible when if you are truly called by Yahweh, then you don't need a theology based college that all preachers and pastors go to. Here's a hint...research! Christmas...pagan, Easter...pagan..the cross...pagan! Yeshua died on a stake NOT a cross. So before you whine about decisions Satan's government makes and you claim yourself as a follower of Yeshua, you need to do your research. You are to be NO PART OF THIS WORLD. You pay back to Ceaser what is Ceaser's (Pay your taxes) and follow the laws of your government, because many laws are guidelines of the ten commandments. Other than that, politics are not of Yahweh. Jesus wouldn't touch politics. PERIOD!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • AmericansAreLunatics

      Oh, you think that mainstream american "christianity" has something to do with what Jesus said? There's your mistake. These people have NEVER cared about what Jesus said. If they had, they wouldn't have genocided the entire continent in the first place. Founded on genocide, built by slaves, committed first and foremost to money – no, this nation has absolutely nothing to do with God or Jesus Christ – that's pretty obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Jenna

    I voted for Obama last election.There's no way he gets my vote this time around.His contempt for white people has become far too obvious.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • AmericansAreLunatics

      What exactly are you talking about? An article about black preachers disagreeing with Obama prompts you to claim he doesn't like white people? Based on WHAT, exactly? He hasn't done a single thing for black people since he got in office, but that's not enough for you? You want him to, what? Denounce the existence of black people altogether? Reinstate chattel slavery? God, you people.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Susan

      ...This demonstrates yet another reason why we are failing as a country. Obama hasn't changed since you voted for him the first time. But if you were inaccurate as to why you voted for him the first time but know better now then I pitty you and the country.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  20. Stand For What's RIGHT


    What is ironic is that these people still groan under the whip of slavery.
    I read their groans and complaints in the news and shake my head in disgust at their unwillingness to release themselves from this slavery..
    This slavery is mental slavery. They are chained, mentally and emotionally, to the bigoted cults of their religion.
    The exact same religion that was used by whip-wielding slave-owners to justify their hatred of dark skin, of a foreign people they had enslaved by force.
    Yet these descendants of those slaves never escaped the mental and emotional slavery of the slave-owner's religion.
    The chains are still there.
    They chafe and bruise and break their bones with hypocrisy and bigotry and racism, just like for those long-gone slave-owners who also were slaves in this way.
    Mental chains of bigotry and delusion. Emotional chains of group identlty, of hate, of false comfort, of having no ability to think for themselves because they were born into this slavery.

    It is slavery born of ignorance, of indoctrination, of the brutal emotional "beat-downs" of their own family members and neighbors.

    Born into this slavery, or caught and sold to the slave-owning churches from outside the group, these people have no hope for freedom.
    They have had their hope for freedom stolen from them, covered over with lies, fooled into thinking their chains are freedom, that their chains are made of hope.
    But chains are chains.
    They remain slaves who have been brainwashed to refuse freedom, brainwashed to refuse real hope, brainwashed to fight against anything that goes against their slavery!
    Religion has made them slaves that forge the chains of their own bondage, their own servitude to the bigoted delusions of their religion.
    How can I blame them in their ignorance and seeing the delusional strength of their mental chains?
    I do not hate them. I very much want them to be free and happy to the greatest extent possible.
    But I do not have anything but words like this to saw away frantically at those chains...those chains upon my brothers and sisters no matter who they are or what they look like.
    I attack their chains over and over with my words of truth, of honesty and compassion. I use much of my strength and love to attack the chains that destroy their lives and warp their minds. I spend hours of my life doing this for them.

    And no, they did not ask me for this. Such slaves as they have become would never ask for freedom because these are chains upon their minds and emotions. The chains are always disguised, always made of lies, and are almost unbreakable.

    Yet I try. I seek their freedom from the lies they cannot break, the lies they cannot and will not fight.
    I seek to release them from their mental slavery even as they attack me for daring to even touch their chains.
    It is very sad and horrifying to see the sheer scope of what I am attempting to do.
    I have shed tears more than once over the plight of those who are mental slaves to lies, to bigotry based on lies, to hate born of fear and ignorance.
    But I will keep hacking away at those chains. I can do nothing less if I want them to be free. And I do. Very much.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • AmericansAreLunatics

      Will you marry me?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Stand For What's RIGHT

      Not if you have a pen1s.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Frend

      I think someone just got friendzoned.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Yepyep

      @ Stand For Whats Right did you get permission from your white liberal Massa to post this piece of S H Y T..

      May 13, 2012 at 10:43 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.