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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. uncle tommy

    Pray for obama so you keep Affirmative Action that was started just a few years after the Civil War, Pray that your Food Stamps, Unemployment, Disability Check, Social Security Check keeps coming. Hopefully them mean ole Face Book Millionairs won't move out of the country so they will keep your no working, lazy, free loading butt up.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • bill

      man all this stuff was around during George Bush's tenure, and all the presidents before him

      Must be a right wing republican. I bet if Fidel Castro said he was a right wing republican, you would vote for him. Its just how you are.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  2. Ann

    Black people and their pastors choose race over their own principles.. what's new here? African American Democrats did this in 2008 too when they voted in block for Obama over Hillary.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  3. Namedd

    It seems that with so many African American males ending up in prison and most of the families without a father , gay marriage is not an issue they should be concerned with . They will support the president and will not vote for Mitt though. I cannot understand the hypoicrisy myself . Multiple baby daddies is ok ? The church cheers amen at the hatred and bigotry they should know well . It's like a Jew hating blacks after they themselves have been hated . Just don't get it . Personally I am proud of the president . I didn't vote for him last time but I will now. Did find it amusing since the announcement he has raised over 3 mill. I know many black gay men and they have a hard time . Sad their churches have turned their backs on them . Shameful

    May 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  4. mrpbnh

    Best saying ever "North Carolina.... Where you can marry your cousin...Just not your gay cousin"

    May 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • bjd1020

      The only reason its funny is because its not true, you cannot legally marry your cousin in the state of NC, just like the rest of the states in the union.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  5. d

    Don't like it? stop voting for it! how hard is that?

    May 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. mr. butters

    Okay, so this might have been out of context. They may just be praying for him in general. But when they say Pray for Obama, why? He isn't gay, and despite his support the country isn't going to suddenly allow gay marriages. I very much doubt peoples views will change simply because the president showed his support. So why pray for him? As he forever tarnished his soul because he supports gay marriage? Aren't there other people who have done worse crimes that need those prayers? It just seems like such a joke to say pray for someone who supports a sin, not even taking part in it.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • bjd1020

      They pray for Obama because a free lunch is more important than their fatih in god.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • livingwater

      Christians should pray that God will have mercy on this land full of sin and corruption...

      May 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • sam stone

      oooh, "land of sin and corruption".....pretty scary, for those that believe in sin

      May 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • zach smith

      We pray for him, because we are commanded by the Holy Spirit to pray for all of the leaders of the world.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • zach smith

      also to "support" sin, is to take part in it.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  7. Whitney

    They are not going to vote for Mitt Romney.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  8. stanknasty

    Black people will continue to vote democrat and for Obama... even if they bring back slavery. Now that's commitment!

    May 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • bpadraig

      Herman Cain included?

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

      Is that you Wade? Go back to Stormfront. They are needing you to suck their d1cks some more.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  9. bjd1020

    LOL....ni99ers....need I say more.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • trex

      .trailor trash.......need I say more?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Ronda Williams

      No you shouldn't. You already exposed your ignorance.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • bjd1020

      at least I paid for my trailor.....and didnt expect someone to give it to me for nothing

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

      This is too easy a shot. What a lame and weak troll.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • bjd1020

      And im not sure why youre all upset, Im just calling out my homies, aint ok for me to say ni99er if im black????

      May 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  10. stanknasty

    Basically Obama is saying to the black community, "You will vote for me no matter what I do. Even if I totally disrespect your beliefs, values and family".

    May 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • bpadraig

      Marriage isn't a "belief" the church didn't invent marriage, the STATE did.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • viaquest

      thats the dumbest thing i have ever read on here, which makes you the ..what ? Marriage existed long before any state and is directly related to religion maybe you should at least act like you read at least one book.. ever..

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

      The Roman state made marriage a function of the state which is what it is today. The church blessing your marriage is a complete after thought. Pre civilized cultures did not have marriage as you call it.

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

    Debates about demographics/faith aside, I highly appreciate the fact that these pastors are having a rational and civil discussion about the Presidents views, as opposed to the "white evangelicals".

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

      You mean now that you agree with them, they all right with you?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Kita

      to stanknasty; no. I don't agree with several of them if you read my comment correctly. I'm just glad they're expressing their disagreements/views in a calm fashion as opposed to the likes of Rand "I didn't think the president's views could get any gayer" Paul or the self-styled "religious leaders" who go on about how the gays are "devalueing marriage".

      May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  12. bpadraig

    The Black church, like the white church, spews hypocrisy and bigotry in the name of their dead god.

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

      So, because Christians consider it wrong (due to thousands of years of history), we are labeled as bigots and hatefilled creatures, though this gay marriage fight has been ongoing for less than 50 years! Smart people we have here in this country. Always ready to insult their forefathers!

      May 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • bpadraig

      Your forefathers not mine.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      thinking it is wrong is not bigotry. using the force of the government to deny people rights based on your religious belief is

      May 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  13. achepotle

    I suppose it is time to revisit the whole 'blacks" issue..it is pretty clear in the Bible that slavery is cool, and black slavery in America is the "traditional" slavery. Don't be angry, I'm just thinking about what is best for Jesus.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Ronda Williams

      What scripture do you have that backs that up?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Traditional slavery? I'm guessing your history books only go as far back as the 1800's?

      Also, slavery in the Bible is not based on skin color or money, but on debt. The Bible refers to Christians as being slaves of God. So, yes...the Bible does condone slavery...just not the slavery you think is the "traditional one." Also, please educate yourself on history, since it is obvious you don't know it!

      May 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Corwin7

      Um...maybe you should look up "in America" and then apologise for being an idiot! The country was created in 1776. How far back do you suppose the history books should go?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  14. SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

    good on you Rev. Al Sharpton if there is a god that smiles then he's estatic.
    its a human issue that needs to stop being an issue....

    May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  15. stanknasty

    Obama has not values at all... how can anyone believe this fraud. He will say anthing for a vote. And black people get smacked in the face by him and they will still vote for him. Where is your dignity. Can anyone take advantage of you blacks and get away with it?

    May 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • trex

      ..........Fox much?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Romey does the same thing on all the issues to whites

      Where is the dignity of white people when Romney is caught flip-flopping? Just because someone goes against one of your beliefs does not mean its a slap in the face. HOPEFULLY, you are voting for a candidate based on more than one of their platforms.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • steveo

      This was evident when Gen. Colin Powell (a staunch conservative & Republican) flip-flopped in favor of, and publicly endorsed Obama in 2008. Now, try to tell me that that wasn't hypocrisy fueled by racism.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Corwin7

      No if they were that easily manipulated into voting against thier own self interests they would all be Republican trailor trash like you! Face it...Blacks are much SMARTER than you.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  16. A Serpent's Thought

    @ JWT,,, "They are sure not going to hurt anyone or anything. Remember your religious rules do not apply to people who do not follow your particular brand of religion."

    Religious rules? Mine? What the hell are you telling me to be part of? I am the perverts worse nightmares! I am the Serpent who wants to place blame where it should be placed which is upon those who seduce people into becoming sodomizers of ill-will sensualisms! Sodomy cannot grow unless it recruits others into their sodomistic stables and these recruits are brainwashed into believing that sodomy alright by their imbecilic repetetives to break down a potential convert's god given fence against such vileness and wickedries!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • lol

      when was the last time you got laid lol

      May 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • bpadraig

      Are you a cartoon or a comedy writer?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • jk105

      You don't fool me. Gays paid you to pretend to be the right wing's point man and make them look foolish. Correct?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Agnostic b-tard

      dude, get your wife to blow you. You'll feel a lot better and have less aggression.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • JWT

      I will make it simple for you. Troll that you are. Each relgious group has it's own rules. Not all christians follow the same rules. The rules of each relgious group do not apply to people not of that group. One religion is not better or more right than any other religion.

      For you to not engage is right. For gays to engage in it is right for them. For you to tell them that they are perverts is a classic pile of bs.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  17. To those of you who say you won,t voted for the President, because of his stance on gay's marriage should be ashame of yourselves. JCarol

    People whose family have suffered from salvery and Jim Crow days should be ashamed of themselves. Therer are Three little girls that died,,people were beatenn and hung in Alabama and Mississippi so that people who had been denied the right to vote could vote. This is the time to say I disagree with the President's choice, but I am more worried about my social security checks,the economomy and flip-flop mitt then worrorying about who is sleeping with who. People who are living the gay life it is their choice and they will have to answer to God when they meet. Just like the who are married made a covenant with their spouses in front of God, yet they womanize sleep around with other women brake their vowsThe repug-nicann are so focused on getting in a woman's medical care ( which should be between a woman and her doctor) cuttng medical care for people who need iit,cutting our children's education and cutting social security, All they want to do is make their rich friends richer and the middle class poorer. They hate Obama is in the White House so bad they would do any thing including destroy America.I will vote democratic as long as I live. Mitt is the worse thing that could happen to America. He has no tact with dealing with foreign countries. He will have us in another WAR

    May 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Call it what it truly is,,,,,, the marriage of perversionistic sodomites pure and simple! Yes, God calls such vileness and sensual wickedries as being abominations against the long held throne of one man and one woman marriage rings!

      May 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  18. SLAYER

    I just wanna say that I find it hysterical that the left ran with a story about Romney 50 years ago from when he was in school.I would also like to say that I find it even funnier that they spent 2.4 seconds reporting on our President listening to a racist pastor for 20 years.Obama is being celebrated for publicly accepting gay partnership.His announcement was calculated, contrived, and completely manufactured.I'm not gay, but if I were, I would be far more offended by someone who uses my lifestyle to garner votes than someone who flat out opposes me.Barack Obama is a snake dressed in a suit.The end.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • the end?

      lol you never began

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

      You are rigth Slaver, you are a mature person in politic

      May 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  19. lyd

    I hear a lot of hipocrisy coming from these black pastors. To them it's color before God.

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

      They have no moral compass....they are sell outs. They won't take a stand. They will have to answer to it...

      May 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  20. stanknasty

    Never have I heard such bigotted comments on Christianity.... don't worry you all will get a free banana when the immoral left wing nuts get into government. Prop.8 was voted by the people but one judge throws it out? excuse me! The people's vote doesn't count for the left wing nuts. You all don't believe in Democracy – you believe in mob rule.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Rina

      Google why it was thrown out by 2 judges and get educated. If it was left up to transient personal opinions of the few voters who do vote (on any given day) to protect our civil/equal/human rights, we'd ALL be in trouble.

      Remember there are gay people who married in that brief time before Ca P8 was passed, who are still married. Everyone is surviving in California in spite of this. How about those Lakers?

      I love being an American because there is always hope that the system will be fulfill its honorable intentions. I

      May 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • danieljsf

      Puhleeze ... the vote in favor of Prop. 8 was mob rule in action. "We hate gays, so we are going to deny them their civil rights under the law." Thank goodness we have a judiciary to stop the likes of you from trampling on others.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:16 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.