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.

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"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. truth


    May 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  2. Marco

    Well, I'm a black man. But I can't support this. I'm voting for Romney and lettin all my folks know too. They can make their own decision.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      why can't you support it?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Sam Stone –
      I've read many of your posts and I believe we're of like minds. I just have to say...your fights with Spencer Fisher ROCKED!

      May 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • stan

      Ditto, Thanks Marco!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Marian

      Do your thing, man. I'm a Black woman and think you're being incredibly stupid.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • rick

      you go Marco! vote Republican just because of the stupid prejudice with the gay rights! I hope you and your folks have good jobs and income cause it will hurt when it s time to take it in the "rear" from the republicans. Also, using your same criteria, white people should have never voted for an African American President and white people should not have fought for civil rights for minorities! You are so ignorant.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  3. JOSE0311USMC


    May 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Reggie from LA

      Oh please. BS rhetoric. First and foremost, he is as a bright and is as thoughtful as he represented during his campaign(s). Fools and the hopeful voted for him because of the color of his and their skin. Anybody paying attention (which most African-Americans were seeing that he had/s a message of substance) would realize that he was the right choice no matter what skin he wears. As far as I am concerned, those who've turned their backs on him for this can take their votes home or give them to your candidate JOSE. You'd not get my Semper.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  4. enricorosan

    It is all about the economy not morality. If gays are allowed to get married there will be billions of dollars to be made in the catering services. I am totally against it on moral grounds but the hell with morality if there is money to be made catering sodomites and lesbians. I am willing with wide smiles to provide them with my home decorating service.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  5. leftoutinamerica

    If the Black leaders don't stand with God's words, they stand against it. When are they going to see the Democrat Party is not their GOD. It is the problem, not the solution. If you preach that it is a human right, then can ppl marry their family members, can they marry underage children? Where does it stop. Stand up now before it is too late. Abortion, gay marriages, then what is next? The churches are letting the people down. Marriage is between a man and a women. It doesnt matter what Obama's girls have to say about gay marriage, he should be man enough to teach them the Biblical meaning of marriage. Do fall for the secular world who hate people of faith. It is time to stand up for morals and values and strengthen the family units, not destroy them.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  6. WDinDallas

    Al Sharton probably has a boyfriend on the down-low.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  7. Think About It

    O.K, so blacks are in such a hurry to oppose and perhaps oust their first Black president on only ONE issue! Well, go ahead then. You know it will cost You in the long run as the Republican alternative isn't going to lift one rich finger to help you folks and you know it! How Soon They Forget the struggle they underwent fighting for their civil rights! What if the white majority had said No to the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Huh, Blacks? What then? Would you have been happy with that decision so that you could still retain your second class status? Well, neither are Gays and Lesbians, my friends. They are people too and Everyone is Equal under the law and under God. Where is your Christian sense of compassion? Can you be so divisive as to just pick and choose just one issue out of the rest and try to get rid of the only black president you've ever had? Is that your main goal? Romney just Has to be loving it and salivating to get to Washington and to turn around, be thankful for your vote and then do Nothing for you! Will you help give him that chance? Think about it.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • stan

      lame, lame, lame... go find a job..

      May 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Lets Repeal It

      You're right, Think About It! I very much like the idea! Let's all push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be repealed because it doesn't go far enough to include Gays and Lesbians and see what they'd do. The other possibility is to amend it so that it does include them. After all, What's Fair Is Fair!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Truth Hurts

      The Truth hurts, Stan! But we know that's all you could come up with in your lame-thinking brain as you are already in that mode. But facts are facts, friend, and rich Romney would not dare lift one wealthy Republican finger to help you folks and what's more, You All Know It since that's a foregone conclusion. But continue to choose continued wealth for the rich over a President For ALL people. You'll finally get it when it reaches your job and your pocketbook!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  8. I have a Dream!

    When everyone in my country is free to marry their choice.

    When my cousin Tom has the right to marry Fidel Castro and when Rosy O. D can marry Ellen D.J and when Ellen' cat can marry portia d a

    May 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  9. lefty avenger

    Rev. Wallace Charles Smith is a racist.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  10. makesnosense

    Emmett Burns, a politically well-connected black minister." Says who? The hubris of these ministers. Instead of bloviating on gay marriage, maybe Burns should spend more time focusing on the dire plight of young Black men in his Baltimore community, who seem to be murdering other Black men at record pace each year. Now that's hypocrisy!

    May 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  11. Dennis

    As Romeny should say "Marriage has been between 1 man and 1 woman since 1904"

    May 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  12. Marvin Smith

    I don't understand how a person who has (and still) experiences discrimination can be in support of something that is discriminatory. Gays deserve the same rights as every other tax paying American.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  13. joel palmer

    It appears that religion is strictly for the feeble minded

    May 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  14. bpadraig

    In the end the Republicans can't even beat a pro-gay black man with an Arab name–Lovin it!

    May 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  15. rec

    Oboma is not going to waterdown the churches morals EVEN IF HE IS THE FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Dennis

      The church has a long history of morals...Polygamy, pro slavery, discrimination, fraud, and genocide.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      Don't forget pedophilia.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • sam stone

      the churches can keep their bigotry masquerading as morality. the government should not discriminate

      May 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  16. Realist - 1976

    Keep in mind, just because President Obama supports gay marriage, it doesn't mean it will happen overnight. "Gay marriage" will eventually happen regardless who is in charge. It might take many more decades, and it probably should, even in i am strongly in support of it. I know not everyone is yet .. and i stress "yet", but I always felt that Civil Unions were a strong middle ground until we as a country can accept full gay marriage, which will happen eventually. I'm somewhat disappointed that the president took the stance so blatantly, but at the same time, I'm very happy that he was honest, which is far more than can be said about the other guy... And I don't think Romney is a horrible human being, just misguided, without structure, and just saying anything for election points .... Obama took a stand on what he actually believes in, and it was obvious from the start. Good for him for being honest, even if i feel that "civil unions" are where we should stand for the time being... until the far majority are comfortable with gay. Thanks for reading.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  17. ziggy2

    LOL Ah, expediency! Of course black churches will find a way to support a black president over a white Mormon candidate.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  18. A Serpent's Thought

    If ever the USA had a perverted preident it's Obama! His stand upon sodomizers getting married has been diluted by his narrowminded stance that the gay and lesbian crowds are nothing but liberal minded sodomizers that are doing nothing wrong! Here's the puke about such idolizers of sodomies vile and wicked usurptions!

    1. Gays and lesbians are the fruits of sodomy
    2. Sodomy is a wicked and vile Act of unrighteousness!
    3. Anyone who sees no harm in sodomy are fooling themselves!
    4. Sodomizers recruit the waek in sensualisms' ways!
    5. The weak recruits of sodomy are brainwashed with repetativity in vile Acts of wickedness!
    6. Sodmoizers are not truthful with their recruits and they lie about many things regarding sodomy!
    7. Recruits of sodomy are from many branches of society and the new recruits are easy marks and willing to be led by their sodomite peers!

    May 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • bpadraig

      Troll much?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Jason

      You need help.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • ziggy2

      A Serpent's Thought
      Hmm, what gospel are you reading? My New Testament mentions nothing of the sort.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • James

      1. Shrimp is evil
      2. Shrimp is evil and eating it is an act of unrighteousness
      3. Anyone who sees no harm in shrimp are fooling themselves!
      4. Shrimp eaters recruit the waek in sensualisms' ways!
      5. The weak recruits of shrimp eaters are brainwashed with repetativity in vile Acts of wickedness!
      6. Shrimp eaters are not truthful with their recruits and they lie about many things regarding shrimp!
      7. Recruits of shrimp eaters are from many branches of society and the new recruits are easy marks and willing to be led by their shrimpdomite peers!

      Leviticus 11:9-12
      Deuteronomy 14:9-10

      May 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • moses

      You are a sad, ignorant, little person. I actually feel sorry for you.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  19. presidentofthechurch

    I'm still trying to figure out which church Barak Obama was elected president of.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Michael

      You'd think this was a free country?

      May 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jacob Mathews

      Jeremiah Wright church which advocated to DAMN America.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Youd Think

      Yes Michael, one would think this was. However, when we see more Republicans and blacks wearing the hammer and sickle so closely on their sleeve one just has to step back and wonder. I suppose the next thing for the black church is to ask people to convert to Mormonism. That would not surprise me one bit.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  20. Michael

    Gay marriage? An issue? Seriously?
    Who cares?

    May 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC


      May 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC


      May 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jacob Mathews

      Gay Union is a wicked lifestyle.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Look Around

      Jacob, honey child, I'll tells ya bout a wicked lifestyle. You need goes no fudder den de po lice stations all over de country to sees some of ah pitchers der. Now, dat goes ta shows we's pretty damn wicked too!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      jacob: 'wicked lifestyle" or not, it is equal rights. if granting people equal rights bothers you or your god, too bad

      May 13, 2012 at 11:53 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.