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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. 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 7:34 pm |
  2. Jeff from Columbus

    I think its an insult to honorable black clergymen everywhere to group them together with the likes of Al Sharpton. Simply because he shares the same skin color?

    Sharpton has a LONG history of unethical, disgraceful, self-centered behavior. He's an extremely disreputable and dishonorable person.

    I think CNN owes an apology to all the good African-American clergymen across the country for this ignorant assault on their character.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  3. be

    The perverted christians who keep reducing marriage to their genitals are disgusting. Marriage should be more about what is in your heart rather than what is between your legs. No wonder our divorce rate is so high.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  4. Guest

    If Obama came out and said he was gay, the blacks would still vote for "one of their own". He's one of the worst presidents ever, yet that doesn't matter to most of them. What a shame. Mindless followers without thinking for themselves.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • James AL

      This coming from someone who is obviously not black and have no clue as to how African Americans think. We are not a monolithic group. Most black people are not single issue voters and will decide our vote based on a host of issues the candidate supports that we, indiviually, count vital to our own wellbeing.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  5. PJ

    I hope they realize what a great man Obama is and help to make sure he has another term to complete the great work he has started. He has done more positive moves in his 3 years than the whole 8 years of Cheney/Bush/

    May 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Dan Jones

      Positive? You are kidding right? Stole 4 trillion dollars from the country, supports the gay agenda, made a mess of foreign affairs, alienated our allies and embarrassed our troops by apologizing to terrorist. He is a looser, all the way.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  6. bannister

    Why show Al Sharpton? Why not show another, lesser known preacher who is also active in the black community? Al Sharpton does NOT represent all black preachers. Between his sordid, sensationalized past and his current full time gig with MSNBC – he's had enough face-time already.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  7. Really?

    Black people of faith need to return to the party of Lincoln and freedom of opportunity. How do so many forget that the democratic party was the party of slaveryand repression? What has the democratic party done to benefit any of us? No jobs, we're losing our homes and the democrats are worried about making sure gay people can get married? The republicans speak for family values, smaller government, and a better economy. These are the same things most African-Americans want. It's time that more African-Americans made their voices heard in the GOP.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • JohnW

      You cannot possibly connect the Republican party of Lincoln to the one today. It is ridiculous to talk about the democratic party of 1865 as a reason to become a Republican today. Absolutely ludicrous logic.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  8. 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 7:30 pm |
    • Kiss

      Yet the people of israel were slaves longer in Egypt then blacks were in America

      May 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Dan Jones

      You display your ignorance when you quote Old Testament scripture to a New Testament church issue. It would be like quoting instructions on horse care to the owner of a Race Car.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • JohnW

      Amen brother, and whosoever does not obey this law shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      @Dan Jones, People quoted new testament condonations of slavery earlier. They're there. But what's really rich is your rebuking someone for quoting OT scripture condoning slavery when most of the biblical verbiage used to condemn ho=mos-exualtiy also come from the OT.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  9. Peter MacDonoug

    I knew this would backfire, lol

    May 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Obama will win and gays will have marriage rights soon. LOL back atcha.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  10. MidWestern Boy

    From my observations, the vast majority of the African American community would support Mr. Obama no matter what his political positions are, on virtually any subject. Mr. Obama is "one of them" and that is all that matters at this point in time. Had a national election between a black American and a white American occurred 50 years ago, the whites would have blindly supported "their candidate" as well. Whites have politicallty matured over time, as blacks will in the future.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  11. dubrats

    i don't care what obama is for or against, i care about the failed policies,waste and corruption going on in washington....he will never get my vote.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ron

      yeahhhh!!!! we don't want your vote!!! o by the way if any policies have failed it was because your GOP did not cooperate...they rather see idiots like you fail, than help the man steer this country...GOP got you believing...they will do a better Job for you...wow are you really that stupid...how well off were you when Bush was in office...for 8 years...think about that

      May 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • JohnW

      Gosh, now why do we think some of his policies and initiatives have failed? You don't suppose any of it had to do with the GOP, who would do anything to limit his success, regardless of whether or not they were hurting the american people, do you? Nah....couldn't be....GOP wouldn't do that....they're the party of Jesus.......

      May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Bob R

      Well if that's all you care about than surely you never voted for Bush, right?

      Oh yah, my bad. He was white.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  12. yankeenot

    WOW! You mean there is really some churches left up North? I thought all you Yanks were lifeless thugs without religion or morals? AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • TAK

      Well there's black churches left up north. See, you bigoted southern rednecks have more in common with blacks than you thought.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Kiss

      Not as amazing as your ignorance,

      May 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • yankeenot

      Darn right N

      May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • redneck.not

      You are an ignorant hick, aren't you.....

      May 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • yankeenot

      You are a gay black, arent you?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  13. Jay

    ROMANS 1:18-32
    Everyone should read this.
    "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all GODLINESS and WICKEDNESS of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been CLEARLY SEEN, being understood from what has BEEN MADE, SO THAT MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave him thanks to him, but their thinking BECAME FUTILE and their foolish hearts were DARKENED. Although they claimed to be wise, they became FOOLS and EXCHANGED the glory of the immortal God for IMAGES made to look like mortal man and birds and reptiles.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  14. OrlandoCPA

    Let's focus on the social issues because they are what is most important – not crime, not the economy, not heathcare, not social security. But what people do in their bedroom.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  15. AndyDaniel

    Although proposition 8 was defeated in California by 52%-48%, I don't know what the gay population of California is, I'd guess 5%. The point is that if it were a "gay agenda" issue the vote would have been 95-5. This is viewed by straight people like myself as a civil rights issue, and I can't remotely see any justification for denying this right.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  16. Peter, Toronto Canada

    Let us accept and respect one another for who and what we are.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. 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 7:19 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Wait? So you think it is wrong to vote your conscience in an election? religious people should be hypocrites by acting like they are not religious to help shape the way you think this country should be at any religious peson's peril?

      LOL, so whose the immoral one again?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • be

      I would say the immoral ones are the ones who have to go to court to defend their pastors against illicit se x ual acts, or for misappropriation of funds.....Gays on the other hand are going to court of fight for marriage, family and service to country. I vote for what appears to be the moral minority.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Gaius Caesar – Roman Emperor who succeeded Tiberius and whose uncontrolled passions resulted in manifest insanity; noted for his cruelty and tyranny; was assassinated (12-41

      May 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • n8263

      @Gauis, do you think it is moral for Muslims to impose Sharia Law? Most Christians find that to be unethical, but what you are suggesting is no different.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  18. b4bigbang

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

    RON PAUL folks, RON PAUL !!!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  19. Wilder Napalm

    Lest we forget we are all God's creation. To hate another is to hate a part of his creation.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      And if part of God's creation is sick or has a cancer, you cut out the cancer.
      G a y behavior is spiritual cancer and should be marginalized politically, legally and socially.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      G a y behavior is *physically* bad too.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  20. dan

    Americans are tolerant. They support civil unions and traditional marriage. The states, from California to North Carolina, have not supported gay marriage. With those numbers, Congress can't and doesn't support it, so civil unions are the answer. The "let's be clear...my position is evolving" routine is not in step with most Americans.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @dan-
      Actually Dan, while it may not be "in step with most Americans", the 'my position is evolving "routine"' is exactly what should be expected from one who is intelligent, educated, and open-minded. You can't progress if you're unwilling to change.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:27 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.