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. Keith

    I do believe.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  2. achepotle

    However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

    May 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • God

      That's right. All you good white Christians get out there first thing tomorrow and round up as many slaves as you can. I COMMAND IT!!!! Slavery is good. That is my word for today.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  3. God

    So why aren't all those people who are against gays getting married also protesting about straight people getting divorced? Gays gettin' married is evil but gettin' dee-vorced is A-OK. And shouldn't women still be considered the property of men? Yeeeeehaaaaaw, y'all!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Funny you mention that since most of the mainstream media "family values" guests in the past week have spoken of the gay marriage issue as "further eroding" family values, citing the ease of divorce as the first erosion of family values.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • be

      And interestingly enough divorce among the gays that have married is remarkable low.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  4. No judgement here

    As Americans we are so quick to judge people. Quoting bible verses about Gods intent, but no one truly knows, and just maybe God changed his mind

    May 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      How about there is no god, there was no god and there will never be a god?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • God

      I'm sorry but I really don't exist. Anyone who believes in me or the tripe written in my name is a weak-minded sheep incapable of thinking for themselves. "Flock" is really just a name for a bunch of mindless sheep.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • scallions1

      I thought Christians believed in love, but it sounds like they believe more in rules. I still can't figure out what difference it makes to anyone if people who love each other get married. If you believe marriage builds a foundation for society, isn't it better to have families of all types? I have known some horrible hetero marriages that should never have happened, but society says that's okay. Instead of relying on pseudo-divine messages in an ancient book, make decisions on your own feelings and what you know is true.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  5. A Serpent's Thought

    Is it righteous for a self-professed Christian to be in favors of the fruits of sodomy to be and become married?

    May 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • be


      May 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • JD Nelson

      um...self professed doesn't count. i can say i am a millionaire, and choose to believe it, and it doesn't make it so. Christianity has many sects that define what "True Christians" believe. So self professed doesn't work. God reconciled could.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • be

      Ummmmm....even many of the traditional "sects" are on board with gay marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Reality Checker

      "Traditional Marriage" was originally an exchange of property with women treated as property.

      So what is the modern day definition and purpose of "Marriage"?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ JD Nelson

      Still, are you in favor of seeing the fruits of sodomy to be legally married?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • be

      What is the heck is a 'fruit of sodomy?" You perverted Christians who try to reduce marriage to the genitals are disgusting. Marriage should be more about what is in your hearts rather than what is between your legs.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      righteous or not, it is equal rights. so, you can wrap yourself up in the bible and claim your bigotry is endorced by god, and use all the euphemisms you wish, but is is still bigotry

      May 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • sam stone

      "IT is still bigotry"

      May 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  6. be

    The religious right are in court fighting for control of women's reproductive rights....fighting to keep their pastors (all denominations) out of jail for illicit se x ual conduct.....fighting over misappropriation of funds. Then on the other hand, you have gays fighting in the courts for Marriage, Family, and the right to serve their country in the military. I'm not pretending to know the mind of God, but common sense should tell us who the "good guys" are in this debate.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      You people are all the same. You generalize, exaggerate, and misrepresent the right's opinion on virtually everything, and wonder why the right doesn't want to compromise! In this comment, you say they are looking to "control" women's reproductive rights, yet you fail to mention the 2 main points your opponents would easily use to consider you completely biased: 1) Health insurance doesn't now include covered contraception on a universal scale...you want the govt to mandate that (which in itself means you want the govt to force insurance companies to provide that free), and 2) No one is trying to take away that right on this issue...you are trying to force (again) the govt to mandate insurance companies to do this, even those that are religiously against it)

      ***And you consider the right trying to control that by leaving that up to the individual company.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ be

      I take it then that you support the marriages of all sodomites?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • be

      hormones are medications that can be used for many things.......they should not be denied patients just because you believe a "pill" is evil. Birth control pills in a celibate woman can prevent her from developing ovarian cancer. Yet your type believe that people who don't share your beliefs should be deprived of that treatment. Nice.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  7. dan

    Gay marriage is just not something the average American wakes up thinking about each day, unlike the economy and our national security. There continues to be the sense that President Obama is focused on dividing America whether it's class warfare or some sort of cultural war. I understand these distractions keep the focus off of other things, but it doesn't seem to serve our country. A president who could unite our country and not focus on our differences would be a breath of fresh air.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • be

      Right....because civil rights are so unimportant in America.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Obama ran on the platform of being neo-political, and lead with a nationwide tour of bashing republicans. Throughout his Presidency, he has continually sought to compare his ideals with the country that we know to be more center-right, and villianize those that don't share those ideals.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      dan, I'm sure if you woke-up every morning to a country that didn't allow you your freedom it would be on your mind.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Really-O?


      Liberty is THE founding principle of the U.S.A. You may think other things are more important to you personally, and that's your right, but putting liberty on a back-burner is, well, un-American.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • sam stone

      It is Obama who wants to push a culture war? Puhleeeeze.......if the repubs wrapped themselves in the bible any tighter, they would not able to breathe.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  8. Jacob Mathews

    Seriously? This is what president need to talk about? Spend more time talking or rather fixing the economy Mr President.
    Or is your are so desperate to get votes for re-election that you want to bring this gay issue to forefront?

    May 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • lol

      lol seriously who cares about civil rights lol

      May 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Rich

      Yep, it's all Obama is talking about. From now to November he will cover no issue other than gay marriage, I'm sure, just like he's talked about it non stop since last election, right?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • rationalfew

      He's not talking about it Fox news is the one making a big deal out of it.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  9. Voice of Reason

    Face it folks, religion doesn't do anyone any good. To me, it seems as though an evil force wrote this bible stuff, maybe the bible is the word of their so called satan.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jacob Mathews

      If this is how the thought process of the majority of americans , that they will put down bible. The country is destined for hell.
      More calamity will fall in this great nation.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Your name is "voice of reason?" You hypothesize that no God exists but that the evil spirit which would have been created by this God does exist. Very logical. I also take it you are a historian and consider the world prior to Christ to be the utopian society. The strongest is the best, mercy is for the weak, and captured civilizations should all be sold into slavery. Very logical!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      You make no sense, go eat your dinner.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Fish Flakes

      This has crossed my mind as well.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  10. London

    I watched Don Lemon and civil rights leader, Joseph Lowery talk about Obama’s support of Gay Marriage and Obama’s opposition in the Black Church. Just as initially black people could not conceived of a black person being president and put support behind Hillary Clinton – myself included. Slowly but surely we recognized the possibility.

    The black church, community and our nation must shed antiquated ideas in order to move towards progress and equality for all. Historically, the lives of African American in this country have been one filled with devastating adversities. We are discriminated the minute our black skin walk into a room. As a result, to survive, we have been be conditioned to “ Imitate Life”.

    As a people we will never get to the mountain top by embracing old ideas. President Obama, our next President of this United States did the right thing!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • OneFineBlonde

      Really, London?

      You're a black person but in 2008 you couldn't conceive of a black person becoming president and therefore you put your support behind Hillary Clinton at first?

      I don't believe you. You're not black. Every black person in America jumped behind Obama's campaign at the very first moment they heard about it.

      You're a white liberal trying to tell black Christians how to feel. And you're not even a Christian, so your post was just thinly disguised propaganda.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  11. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Thanks for calling probably 80% of the world delusional. Glad to see you are a practicing liberal, who thinks that 80% of our country who are religious are bad for wanting to tell you about our religion, but you get to insult us and consider us inferior in mind and logic. We also appreciate you speculating that the whole of religious people are truly only fearful of dying, obviously blind (because of our logic again). Also, thanks for expecting us to be hypocrites in our religion by shedding our deeply held beliefs because want us to vote your way. We thank you for being so open-minded, as liberals are always accused of being.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • n8263

      @Caesar, you are not bad for wanting to tell others of your religion, what is bad is imposing that religion on others.

      Do members of the Flat Earth Society have the right to be offended by the truth? My intention is not to insult, and religious people do not have a moral right to be offended.

      You would not be hypocritical for shedding your superstition.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      Gau: what did n8263 say that was liberal? Or, are you one of those folk who lable everything that you disagree with "lib"?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  12. n8263

    John, what you described is the same type of experience people of conflicting religions all around the world claim. Why is your claim any more valid than theirs? I would submit you changed by deciding to love your neighbors and if you had explored Humanism instead you would have had the same result.

    Why did you choose Christianity verses Islam or any other religion? Technically you can not prove them wrong either, and there is just as much personal testimony and evidence supporting them as Christianity.

    Also technically you can not disprove the Tooth Fairy, and as many children will testify there is an awful lot of evidence suggesting she exists. Do you also believe in the Tooth Fairy since technically you can not prove she does not exist?

    May 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • OneFineBlonde


      If you had the courage to investigate the many precise prophecies which were fulfilled to perfection by Jesus, you would understand why Christianity alone is true.

      But you either lack the intellectual curiosity or the courage to see that you are wrong. Christianity is true. It is self-proving. All other "religions" are just man-made schemes.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  13. rick

    i always had a big issue addressing this clown as Rev. but now he really crossed the line. the sad part is that people like him are unfortunately very influential on "followers". why can't we just leave ANY religion completely out of the gov't? Besides, as someone already pointed out, try living following the bible! LOL

    we are so arrogant...we tell other nations and religions how to treat their people but we don't see what's going on in our own backyard.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  14. Segeny

    Of COURSE the black community will continue to support ObaMao. Not only is he a Dummycrat, but more importantly he is black (or at least half black, the only half he promotes). Principles, religion, common sense are not even on their list of reasons to vote for him – – the only real criterion is that he is black. Racist much?

    May 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Toby

      Segeny, what's your point? How many whites voted for McCain simply because he was white to keep Obama out of the White House? Judging by your comment, you were probably one of them.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  15. God

    Jesus: Love thy neighbor.
    Tea Party Jesus: If thy neighbor is different, hate them with all thy might.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  16. Realist - 1976

    I want to say one more thing ... The vast majority of us were born to Christ, But a lot of us lost faith when Jesus started to hate.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  17. really

    lets see Obama supports gay marriage and Romney was a bully in High school . Its time America elected an independent President.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  18. JOSE0311USMC


    May 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  19. be

    So let's all go back to the traditional meaning of marriage then.......one man and one woman......of the same race.......of the same religion.......of the same socio-economic background.......in which the woman now becomes the property of the man......Ahhhhhhh....finally......back to the traditional meaning of marriage.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Reality Checker

      "Traditional Marriage" was originally a business deal and exchange of property.

      Women were treated as property (and still are). Essentially women were slaves.

      At some point "religions" usurped marriage as a method of controlling the population by controlling the women.

      "Traditional Marriage" is a myth.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  20. A Serpent's Thought

    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 weak in vile and wicked sensualisms' ways!
    5. The weak recruits of sodomy are brainwashed with repetativity in vile Acts of animalistic 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
    8.The new recruits are easy marks and willing to be led by their sodomite peers!
    9. Sodomite vanities are in their actions portraying the religious to be the fools in order to break down the new recruits God given fences in their minds eyes!
    10. Any sodomite will protray the godly of God to be the social misfits when the real misfits are the sodomizers!
    12 Sodomy cannot grow without new recruits!
    13. Do not give in to any sodomizer who tests your God given fence of rationalism to veer away from sensualistic acts and actions of the sodomites' kinds!

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

      blah blah blah – your bigotry is showing.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • lol

      lol at a self-confessed mentally ill child molester handing out advice on moral behavior lol just lol

      May 13, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You are a seriously demented sad, sad, sad little person.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • kris

      go f"""k yourself..you apparent dont know anyone who is gay with the garbage you spew.. the gay community protects and takes care of its own and others who need our help..we are children of a loving God like everyone else..we as couples want our relationships acknowledged and respected.. you have no clue want we will not endure..being refused at a hospital when your mate is ill..not being allowed to see them because you not considered family..have the real chance of losing everything you built
      in life together...the beyond expense of legal partnership currently things everybody doesn't seem to understand and takes for granted... human rights are equal rights!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      Serpent: You apparently use the bible as a suppository.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Ronda in Houston, TX

      You are sick. Please go to the nearest health facility and check yourself in.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:23 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.