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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. mike

    President Obama has put more minorities in chains than any other president of this country. It is shameful that Barack Obama can justifyibly be tagged as the "food stamp president". Trying to be Robin Hood and robbing from the poor and redistributing does not help the long term health of the poor. When this wheel of misfortune stops, the poor and elderly will be the ones that will suffer the most as there will be no money from a bankrupt government.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  2. 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 7:50 pm |
    • JOhn Holmes

      Einstein disagrees with you.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • robrodriguez

      Doesn't matter how you cut it, someone's moral are always being imposed, whether you agree with them or not. Even if you don't believe or have faith, you morals hold the same weight as belief made by and for men.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • n8263

      @John, Einstein was not religious.
      @Rob, I do not impose my beliefs on anyone.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  3. JOhn Holmes

    Blacks are super racist. They will vote for Obama no matter what. He could kill their children and the blacks would still vote for him.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • yasmine

      He is killing their children.and.everyone's. 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 7:51 pm |
  4. Mike

    I sure hope Obama is not re-elected.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  5. WARREN

    2 TIMOTHY 3 VERSES 1-9 TELLS YOU THE STATE OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN AND ROMANS CHAPTER 1 BEGINNING WITH VERSE 24-TELLS YOU THE STANCE OF GOD ON THE ISSUE OF THE GAY LIFE STYLE (CUT AND DRY).........GOD SAYS I CHANGE NOT I'M THE SAME YESTERDAY,TODAY AND FOREVER...............EITHER YOUR FOR ME OR AGAINST ME....PASTOR'S DON'T BE LUKE WARM TO SAVE YOUR TAX STATUS ITS BETTER TO LOSE YOUR MONEY THAN YOUR SOUL..................................HOW CAN ANY GOD FEARING CHURCH THAT BELIEVES IN THE TRUE WORD OF GOD SUPPORT SOMEONE (PRESIDENT OR NOT) WHO TAKES A STANCE AGAINST THE WORD OF GOD..........OH I FORGOT THE PHARISEES CONSPIRED WITH THE GOVERNMENT TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH WITH LIES AND DECIET........ THATS WAY I DONT GO TO CHURCH ANYMORE BECAUSE THE CHURCH HAS SOLD OUT TO BE POLITICLY CORRECT......WHERE ARE THE MARTYRS THAT ARE WILLING TO STAND TO THE DEATH FOR JESUS!!!!!JESUS MADE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE BY THE TURTH..........IF CHURCH LEADERS ARE UNWILLING TO STAND FOR THE TRUTH EVEN THOUGH IT'S NOT A POPULAR TRUTH THEN WHAT HOPE DO WE HAVE....PEOPLE THINK WE'RE ALL HYPOCRITE'S ANYWAY, SAY ONE THING DO SOMETHING ELSE........JESUS WARNED IN REVELATIONS ON HOW HE WILL DEAL WITH CHURCHES THAT MOVE AWAY FROM THE TRUTH........IF OBAMA IS WILLING TO MAKE THIS MOVE THEN WHAT NEXT..........INSTEAD OF TALKING ABOUT GAY MARRIAGE WHAT'S HE GOING TO DO TO FIX THE ECONOMY..... CREATE JOB'S KEEP COMPANIES IN THE US THATS WHAT'S MORE IMPORTANT.........KEEP THIS IN MIND ITS NOT MARRIAGE THEY (GAY'S) REALLY WANT.... IT'S THE DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE THEY WANT TO CHANGE AND AFTER THEY'RE DONE WITH THAT THIER GOING TO MOVE TO SOMETHING ELSE THAT THEY WANT TO CHANGE............IT'S THE POWER THE GAY'S WANT AND AMERICA IS GIVING IT TO THEM ON A SILVER PLATTER.............REMEMBER SODOM AND GOMORRA AND WHY IT WAS DESTROYED BY GOD BECAUSE THEY TURNED FROM THE TRUTH WE'RE QUICKLY ON OR WAY THERE IF WE'RE NOT THERE ALREADY.....WE'RE KICKING GOD OUT OF AMERICA AND YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN GOD TURNS AWAY HE'LL GIVE YOU OVER TO YOUR ENEMIES .............

    May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • LinCA

      It is much better to be thought a fool, than to use Caps Lock and remove all doubt.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Jay

      PREACH IT! WOO HOO!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Jeff

      You asume your god is my god ...not!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Some of what you say is worthwhile Warren, but get rid of the CAPS.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • JWT

      what a load.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • WARREN

      LinCA- FIRST OF ALL IT TAKES A FOOL TO KNOW A FOOL- CAP LOOKS IN YOUR SCREEN NAME (HUM)

      JEFF- NO ONE SAID MY STATEMENT WAS FOR YOU-AND WHY ARE YOU ON A BELIEF BLOG (HUM)?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  6. Holly in CA

    It is so interesting to hear these Christian leader rationalize their support of Obama and/or his positions despite Biblical teachings. It's simply diabolical.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  7. 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 |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Being a pervert is not a right.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Phil

    I find it sad that with all the struggles black had to fight for they are not fight for rights for gay people. You disgust me.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • WARREN

      FIRST OF ALL THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT ARGUMENTS I'M BLACK BECAUSE I WAS BORN THAT WAY .....I CAN'T CHANGE IT NO MATTER WHAT I DO ......WHO I SLEEP WITH IS A MATTER OF CHOICE IF I WERE GAY AND DECIDED ONE DAY I NO LONGER WANTED TO LIVE THAT LIFE STYLE I COULD CHANGE AND NO ONE WOULD EVER NO THE DIFFERENCE........ NO MATTER WHAT I DO PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS NO I'M BLACK I CAN'T HIDE THAT.....GAY PEOPLE DON'T HAVE TO GO AROUND TELLING PEOPLE THAT THEY'RE GAY IF THEY DON'T WANT TO.........BUT I DON'T HAVE THAT LUXURY BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO NO I'M BLACK AND I DON'T HAVE TO TELL THEM NOTHING.....SO AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED THE CIVIL RIGHTS COMPARISON IS RIDICULOUS .....IF THEY WANT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR PLIGHT THAT'S UP TO THEM BUT DON'T COMPARE THIER FIGHT TO MINE...(NO COMPARISON)

      May 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  9. blake

    Apparently the pastors sited in this article are black first, Christian second. Too bad.

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

      Cited, not sighted

      May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Curtis

      What else do you expect when society perceives them first as Black then as Christians?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Tim Benjamin

    hes the biggest piece of garbage. he doesnt deserve to be on the front of CNN. he wants to create racism.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  11. Mike P

    "It's more important what Jesus said about God than what the church says about Jesus."

    I think that in this case it's most important what Jesus said about marriage: "Have you not read that in the beginning God 'made man male and female' and 'for this reason a man leaves father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh'?"

    "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."

    How can these pastors ignore that Jesus' teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself" comes from Lev 19, which is smack dab between the prohibitions against gay relations in Lev 18 and Lev 20? There is no conflict between loving your neighbor as yourself and prohibiting behavior that God says is sinful - rather, the two go hand in hand.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  12. Ronald Reganzo

    Obama stepped in it. He has laid an egg to stroke the egos of 1% while inciting 80% to mobilize against him. Smart Barry, really smart.

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

    Who gives a flying f... SCAMerica is the dumbest nation on earth. The real issues are that SCAMerica is filled with corruption from corporations. Everything to do with the Stock market- is filled with larceny, SCAMerican Government is one lie after another. The Federal Reserve is simply bubble making machine. SCAMerican citizens are dumber than ever- brainwashed by a pharmaceutical industry that makes people thing that reaction is all that's needed – instead of being proactive about your health. The medical industry is a fraud. 99% of SCAMerican companies make inferior products and provide ZERO customer service. The IRS is an incompetent fraud. The SEC is a pathetic. Lawyers are only out for themselves despite tons of fraud based ads saying that they are "for the people" The legal system is a joke. SCAMericans are way to stupid and lazy to be progressive enough to do things on their own- where they need a socialist Kenyan to tell them what to do and how to live. And people are making an issue of this gay marriage crap? SCAMerica should be the 1st place destroyed when the world blows up. What a pathetic nation it has become.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  14. Gary

    Give Mormons equal rights and allow them to practice polygamy.

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

      Is this all that you're going to keep referring too?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  15. Maias

    We hear your confusing message pastors: Love your fellow man, but don't marry him.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • SciGuy

      That is not confusing at all. I love many people that I should not marry.

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

      How is that confusing??

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  16. Salem

    "There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community," it continued. "As a people, we cannot afford such division."

    This from a guy who THRIVES on division.

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

      I have never ever not one time heard or seen the president be divisive. But I do know the GOP are divisive and have been from day one of president Obama's term. For anyone to accuse the president of being divisive is just d u mb. This president has endured a lot from the racist rednecks in this country.. I would be ashamed to be white in this country at this time due to all the ignorant comments and actions from the white culture toward this president during his administration. This is one fo the best presidents this country has EVER had. The GOP ran this country in the ground and turned their back on the people whose jobs they stole and now criticize any help this president has done to help people who are the middleclass that made this country. May Mitt Romney slide down the hole Bush created.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. SciGuy

    If one believes that hom.ose.xuality is not a sin, then one believes the scriptures are wrong, and thus one is not a Christian.

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

      @SciGuy

      You said, "If one believes that hom.ose.xuality is not a sin, then one believes the scriptures are wrong, and thus one is not a Christian."
      No, being a christian is all about picking the scriptures that you like and ignoring the rest. How the hell do you think we got 38,000 different christian denominations, cults and sects?

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

      Nonsense, many Christians and Christian churches support gay people completely. It's not up to YOU to tell anyone they are a "real" Christian or anything else. After all, there are dozens of versions of the Bible and dozens of flavors of Christianity... there's a version of the fairy tale to suit everyone.

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

      No, linca, a biblical Christian (and there is no other kind) believes that God's word is given by his hand to us and is thus infallible.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • farleyjc

      Regardless of race or religion, Obama has proven to be financially irresponsible, continues to grow government and changes his stance for political reasons instead of steadfast beliefs. We don't need a wishy-washy president who tries to cower to the popular vote.

      Obama will go down as the worst president in the history of the country. By the way, I am black!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Curtis

      That is ridiculous. There are plenty of things in the scriptures that are prohibited and you'd still claim people breaking those rules are Christian.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      "'Of the animals that live in the sea or in a river, if the animal has fins and scales, you may eat it. But whatever lives in the sea or in a river and does not have fins and scales - including the things that fill the water and all other things that live in it - you should hate. You must not eat any meat from them or even touch their dead bodies, because you should hate them. You must hate any animal in the water that does not have fins and scales." (Leviticus 11:9-12 NCV)

      Have you ever eaten shellfish? If so, you are a sinner & not a true Christian

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Curtis, I didn't say a Christian doesn't sin; I said that he doesn't call righteous what God has plainly declared is sinful.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • SciGuy

      And in saying so, Daniel, you display that you haven't even a rudimentary understanding of the scriptures.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • LinCA

      @SciGuy

      You said, "a biblical Christian (and there is no other kind) believes that God's word is given by his hand to us and is thus infallible."
      Which version of the bible should one follow to be a "biblical christian"? Show me someone who claims to follow the bible in it's entirety, and I'll show you a liar.

      A single inconsistency in the bible will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you're an idiot for believing it in the first place.

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

      Linca, due to the plethora do textual evidence for both old and new testaments, the Hebrew and Greek versions that we have today are in essence the original autographs. The translation that one chooses to use is based on various criteria, none of which reflect on the internal consistency and marvelous harmony of this book composed of 66 books and written by 40 different people over a 1500 year period. You would do well to read it thoroughly several times, prayerfully, before pretending to stand in judgement over it.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • JWT

      Just remember that it is your bible and not mine. There is nothing in it that I need follow just because it is there. It's messages and teachign are fine for those that believe in the particular brand of christianity but they do not apply at al to other people.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • LinCA

      @SciGuy

      Any version of the bible is horrendously inconsistent. You'd do well to read it with an open and critical mind. It's the fastest way to become an atheist.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  18. Mary James

    I wish Sharpton would go away. He causes a lot of problems for some blacks. He is such a racist and opportunist.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  19. Sagebrush Shorty

    If Sharpton is a true believer then I am the new Pope.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  20. StupidPeople

    Why are religious people so hell bent on converting others or sticking their noses into other people's lives?
    This I will never understand.
    Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Nuff said.

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

      Yeah.. stay out of my Mormon religion and give me equal rights to my religion and polygamy!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 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.