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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.

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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. TAK

    I'll say this about the black churches and about the southern megachurches (actually, I'll say it about all churches, why discriminate?)... Why are these churches still tax exempt?! They're places where they bombard a captive audience with their political will.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • innkahoots

      Per my previous post ! Who is anyone to dictate how we indiveduals live our lives?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  2. BigdaddyUSA

    How about what white pastors think? Why does the dirtbag media always push the race card?

    May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      How bout who gives a fuk what ANY pastors think?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Patricksday

      If you were a minority of any kind you would understand. When your born into the ideal American family with two parents you see things from different eyes, and cant understand why they dont do as well as YOU have, so you label them loosers and some how less than you. If you think there are no race issues in America you have your head stuck in the ground.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  3. Aristocles

    Al Sharpton doesn't represent the true feelings of the black community. He's the pawn of the white liberals. He's their mole inside the African-American world.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Patricksday

      What are the True feelings of the Black Community since you have your fingers on the pulse.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  4. red

    test

    May 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  5. yasmine

    Please...its all part of the population reduction plan to wipe out people...it is a holoacaust and your Hitler is bill gates, and the elite of the western world...everything placed.in media iq a distraction to the fact that your government is slow.killing you all

    May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  6. 4real

    They will put an and all personal beliefs aside and vote for him anyway, for one obvious reason.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • madrep

      Totally correct.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • yasmine

      It's called eugenics and its in full effect...your governement is slow.killing everyone using food in order to reduce population

      May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Ginamero

      I have zero doubt that every bl @ ck person who voted for him last time will vote for him again....for one reason only. Most B1goted group of people around today. Other than those self hating lefty liberal W h1tes. He could pull his pants down a take a steaming shat on the lawn and they would shout Amen!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • ELECTRICITY 1

      @Ginamero.....Are you also saying that every white person that didn't vote for Obama, won't vote for him this time for the exact same reason? ..... IJS

      May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  7. paul

    lz granderson wants to marry anderson cooper.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • danabashed

      that would be a match made at Heaven's Gate!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Robert

    It's always interesting to read all of the negative comments about the bible and God on these posts. Yet, all people eventually believe in God...the moment they are dying. I will pray for you people.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Robert

      You said, "Yet, all people eventually believe in God...the moment they are dying."
      I guess if you believe one bullshit story, why not the next, right?

      You said, "I will pray for you people."
      And, as usual, because you seem to be hopelessly incapable of doing it for yourself, we will continue to think for you people.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Rina

      Even if it was true that people thought of "God" or a God-like figure or heaven or a "better place" or whatever before dying, IF I do, my God will be of my own making not yours. Mine will be letting married gays and lesbians enter the pearly gates (or wherever), that is, if they have done unto others as they have done themselves.

      YOUR God is mean. Mine isn't.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • TAK

      Ding ding ding! Robert is today's winner! He gets the prize for dumbest post of the day. Congratulations Robert.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Patricksday

      a God of Love and Compassion, not the old Testament God who is always angry, jealous, vengeful, and not someone I would want to spend eternity with. Let the "Christians Haters" have that God, or Devil that has been used to control people for far too long. I will take the Merciful God of Love who created me, a PERFECT child of God.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  9. danabashed

    This Roffler hair styled Vidal Sassoon buffoon Al Shrapton minstril will say anything to get Oboma re-elected!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  10. 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 7:39 pm |
  11. BigdaddyUSA

    Reverend my butt, who cares what the racist bigot has to say. He's a joke.

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

      more messages of love come from excretions from my sphincter than what blows from the lips of buffoon and minstril Al Shrapton!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • yasmine

      It's called eugenics...anything in the media from the latest celebrity news to so called Islamic.terrorists is just a distraction from what is really going on...your great government is slow.killing you all through your food supply...do you think all the chemicals in food revolves around money?? Its something very sinister going on in the world today and its more clever than Hitler

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. John

    Save the BS. The black ministers are walking the fence. No guts. No glory! They despise those anal-penile sinking penetrations, but they love OBAMA. Guess they love it both ways.

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

      That was funny...and well said. 'Sinking' lol

      May 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  13. A Serpent's Thought

    @ 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."

    Yo here it is and no there it is tactile subversions meant to display rather then portray one's vision is your way(s)! Let me write it once again, "Do you believe that the fruits of sodomy should be and/or become legally married?"

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

      Your question doesn't apply to people who don't believe in what you believe. Please figure out how to rephrase and try again.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Rephrase? Sure!

      "Is it governmentally right for them to allow the fruits of sodomy to be legally married?" OR

      "Is it religiously right for the fruits of Sodomy to be married in the eyes of God?"

      May 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Krissy

      Keep trying.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  14. 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 7:37 pm |
    • Kiss

      If you don't believe in religion then you don't believe in marriage you can't have it both way's, unless you really want to take down churches and religion for your own agenda

      May 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Lily

      Do you believe in Freedom of Religion? Because you sure don't sound like you do. Maybe it's you who wants to impose YOUR beliefs and worldview on other people.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • n8263

      @Kiss, marriage has become a secular institution and there are many social and legal reasons to get married. For example I know an atheist who got married so that his wife could join him and live in America.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Krissy

      @Kiss: If that's the case, then marriage itself is in direct conflict with the separation of church and state. YOU can't have it both ways.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • n8263

      @Lily, unlike many religious people I have no interesting at all in deying people of their civil rights.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • n8263

      Let me take a redux, unlike many religious people I have no interest at all in denying people of their civil rights.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • innkahoots

      To allow another individual, or are group of very loud,very well fianced individuals to dictate how you live your life according to there beliefs, is a sin agianst mankind. You are actually closer to your allmighty then they, If you believe in the golden rule. Wealth, and or, how much money you give to a organized religon, does not get you to heaven. It is what you got and how you help others with it, is what gods love is all about. His image, dont ya know? How far we have straid. Sad..

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  15. dscon

    OK..........CNN from the pulpit?
    You are protecting this dope and strange!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  16. Ben

    As I hesitantly evolve to support gay marraige, not church gay marraige, I hope we can respectfully disagree with those on either side of this issue. This is a difficult one for most Christians.

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

      Well said!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Yes it is difficult because Christians are retarted. Really, they are.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  17. The Central Scrutinizer

    Gays must not marry or I will have to marry ice-cream.

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

      Looks like someone came from Kentucky!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Doobie Doobie Doo

    There's nothing Christian about Sharpton. He's a political stooge.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  19. Just another thought

    Another very racist headline

    May 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  20. watdouno

    all religions are the framework of man!...man's word on describing the spiritual...man is flawed so then is the Bible (the spirit is not) and any book which denies two loving & consenting adults to be together are simply flawed words on a page, get over the fact you believe it is the holy scripture... and if it truly is for you!, you damn well better follow everything in to the letter and not just smorgasbord the items you like, till then back off the same smorgasbord item you do not like.

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

      BOMP...you're wrong.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:55 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.