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. John

    To black skinned christians who simply have at least stated this is now a christian teaching. Thank you. I understand fully your support for Obama. Myself I care not for choice evil A or choice evil B. Where are the men of character willing to serve? Democrats and Republicans both, please give us another party that is a choice of none of the above at least. President snoopy, you get my vote again.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  2. fish

    It's so ironic that black pastors are against gay marriage based on their literal interpretation of the Old Testament (primarily Leviticus) but have no problems ignoring / dismissing the Curse of Ham in Genesis, in which the black race was created as punishment for a boy who looked at his father when he was naked. This was the justification for slavery 2 centuries ago. But the literal translation has changed to a much broader, figurative translation today.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  3. Td

    Blacks hate gays. But love gun violence. Democrats were right on slavery. Thanks republicans!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  4. lrgoines

    To be honest the president is a president for all of the people. He does not have the option to pick and choose.
    People want him to be just for them alone but, I'm proud to be an American, and to know my president stands for
    fairness for all.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • 40acres

      Thank you Irgoines, someone who finally gets it.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Casey


      May 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  5. Woody

    Straight marriage contains abortions, adoptions, domestic violence . Yep straight marriage is the answer at least for pastors and lawyers that rely on funds from people going through hard times and as lawyers and pastors are aware you never bight the hands of those that keep you well fed . The debate is all about money and not humanity because last time I went to church one of the ten commandments said to love thy neighbor . But somehow the pastors have added another commandment . Thou shall take from the poor in order to live in luxury . Its not about God !

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

      Bite sorry .

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  6. Sagebrush Shorty

    CNN, please don't put Sharpton's image on your web-site.We see enough racists there already.

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

    Whats funny is 3 weeks ago, the Black Pastors were against it ......... Now Obama says he thinks its OK the whole black community is for it. I saw the switch at work, he is the messiah for them.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      The anointed and chosen one is infallible in some eyes.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  8. nolimits3333

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

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

      I love that –

      May 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Did you just think that up by yourself. Your mom must be so proud of you.

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

      "Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." – JFK ... I guess religion took us to the moon, too.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • beezers

      It's pretty well recognized that Americans were religious in public and private life, at least until the 1970's. So, ask yourself, what have we done as a country before the 1970's and since.

      In terms of being a great nation, America had a lot more going for it when it was religious.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  9. A Serpent's Thought

    @ 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?"

    Modern day definition of marriage? Its' purpose? Since you brought it up please do tell us Your version of such propoganda since you are the one with the supposed answeer! Just exactly how does modernism portray marriage of yesteryears? Whose take on "modern day" marriage are we to trust? Yours? Mine? What are the precepts for portraying the definitions and purposes of "modern day marriage"?

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

      "Traditional" marriage to you is defined by some period in early American history? I'll go all the way back to Genesis for my definition, thank you very much.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • 40acres

      Oh please beezers, tell us where Genesis said anytrhing about marriage. Who performed the ceremony and who gave them a license?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  10. SillyAtheists

    Ahh... The majority of black people voted for Obama in 2008 simply because of the color of his skin. Now, they realize their mistake, and will take corrective action. Too bad the "hope" of the African people turned out to be the worst representative he could have been. To bad Condolezza Rice didn't run, she would have had my vote.

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

      ME TOO!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • works4me

      Wrong... they voted for him because he was the best choice. Can you imagine this Country being healed by the likes of McCain/Palin or... God forbid, Romney?
      Since this is the "best" the GOP can come up with, I'll stick to what we have. I'm certainly not sorry for my vote in 2008!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • 40acres

      Ahh sillyatheist, maybe you should change your name to sillyracist. Do you really think that all blacks voted for Obama because he was black?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:22 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 7:53 pm |
    • SillyAtheists

      Trying to push your beliefs of why people believe is immoral too...

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

      Shut up igmo....naa...go ahead and talk, continue to say the same things when you lift up your eyes in hell one day.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • n8263

      I do not impose my beliefs on anyone.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  12. Livin' the good life

    If just one,...just one person who lived through the civil rights era gets this message then, my work is done. I STOOD BY YOU WHEN YOU, YES YOU, WANTED CIVIL RIGHTS! Now, they turn their backs to US! Instead of whites versus black, it is now blacks versus gays. I am ASHAMED that I covered their backs and now they will not return the humanity...

    May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  13. judgeone

    Al Sharpton is a false preacher. The Bible warns us about his kind.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm |

    Obama should not have opened Pandora's box. He - now that he as acquired over $15,000,000 in contributions since making his evolved pronouncement - has elected NOT TO PUT THIS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM, even after Harry Reid indicated that it would be included. Obama apparently is STILL EVOLVING, but back to May 6, 2012. Trust him at your own peril!

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

      Lost my vote.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • 40acres

      So judgeone, you feel they shouldn't even have civil union rights....because that's what Romney thinks....Ok to be honest, he thinks they should have certain rights that he decides are OK but not all of them. How can you support a man that thinks that some Americans should not have certain rights that all others have? Seriously....explain that to me.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  15. Jubril

    I have a lot of Gay friends , A lot, I don't judge them but i know what they are doing is wrong, I am not the religious type, But our creator has given us the ability to know what is right or wrong without reading any religious book. You don't put food through your nose. Why would you now use an organ that was meant to pass waste out of the body and use that for pleasure. ITS WRONG. This is not love , its lust. If you call it love then its the same as what a Pedophile has for a kid. And we don't allow pedophiles to marry children because its wrong

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

      Actually what you said has some strong truth to it. Now for people who do not believe in GOD, how and why do we know this is right from wrong?? Whether you are religious or not you know that being gay is wrong. Open your eyes and realize that God is real !!

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

      Clearly you do judge them. And you're supporting your judgement using spurious arguments that have kept groups down for centuries."God did not intend..." "It's obvious what they do is wrong..." etc.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • 40acres

      Jubril and Blake, what makes you think that you understand or need to interfere with God's plan? If God had not wanted people to be gay why were they created that way? Where in the bible does it give YOU the right to judge God's plan? Perhaps God is using them to find out if YOU are truely following the word of Christ to love thy neighbor. Perhaps you are the ones who are failing the test.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  16. Suvali

    I have been worrying about all of the blacks,especially in the Southrn States, whose voting rights have been severely affected by the new voting rules in various States,ruls made and changed by Republicans. Since the black population no longer seems interested in equal and civil rights for anyone but themselves and since they cannot tell the difference between religious and civil rights, I think I will stop worrying about what happens to their votes. How quickly they have forgotten the struggles of the past. If they cannot handle President Obama's views about equality, let's see what they do when the Mormons take over.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  17. Tom in San Diego

    Of course Sharpton is for Gay marriage! How does the Black Church define the consumation of marriage? Ut oh, huh! Sharpton is not Dr. King, he is a fair weather friend....

    May 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  18. steve

    How come blacks don't judge people by the content of their character, but everyone else is supposed to do so?

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

      Start by not luming up all blacks under one bucket because a segment of them have particular ideological views. I am black, I support gay rights, I am an atheist, I don't go to these churches. So stop your ignorance please.

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

      I second what Cas said.

      I am also Black and support gay rights. I'm sick of these posts lecturing us about the Civil Rights Movement. Not ALL Blacks think the same, thank you! We are a diverse group of people with many different viewpoints on many different things.

      Quit lumping us all together!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • 40acres

      cas and Antonia, they can't help it....they don't see people as individuals. Only as units in a large block....you can tell by the way they all vote as a block, even against policies they themselves have sponsored. Romney is the epitomy of that type of thinking. He looks at workers as cost units to be minimalized as much as possible for the health of the company (that thing he thinks is a person). Kinda the opposite of what he would need to do as President (God forbid).

      May 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  19. Just a bunch of noise

    History will show that of all the words that ever came out of the mouths of "activists" such as Sharpton, those that had any intelligent value will be few to none. Just tune the sorry misfit out.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  20. judgeone

    Back in 2008, Obama CLAIMED he was not a sell-out...here's evidence that he IS indeed a sell-out...a sell-out to getting re-elected no matter the cost.

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

      That's just ignorant.....it will COST him votes

      May 13, 2012 at 8:08 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.