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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. skyle

    I wonder how many white preachers stood up near the end of segregation and railed against interracial marriage. I bet there were more than a handful... I wonder where those men of the cloth are now.

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

      They moved to a warmer climate.....they heard it would be good for their arthritis.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  2. xx4zu1

    It's amazing to me that black people would support discrimination against any group. If you're not willing to stop all forms of discrimination don't complain when someone turns a blind eye to your own struggles because that is the definition of hypocrisy.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • me

      Can I get an "AMEN"?!

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

      i am thing the same thing? whats up with the double stranded

      May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Paul

      Why don't you go through 400 years of oppression and comment again.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Lib

      As a Black, I do not consider the plight of the gay community the same as our plight. It's not the same.Gay people have never gone through what Blacks went through or what Blacks go through now. The plights are totally different. I can't understand why people continue to compare the two. There is strong discrimination against Blacks even today. You only have to see how whites continue to disrespect this president to see racism is still alive. Never do you see Blacks commit the racist actions that whites have done this past Obama Administration.It is not only about his policies, it;'s pure racism

      May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  3. kevin

    now i hope the who disagree with the President on this issue will vote against him.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Lib

      These hypocrits were going to vote against him anyway

      May 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  4. Mike in SA

    Really? There's a black pulpit and a white pulpit? Huh? Here, I thought the message of Jesus Christ was pretty clear/

    May 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Printerpete

      "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.

      Not sure how the obama's practice falls inline with Jesus? Matt. 19:4-6

      May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • be

      Apparently it's not all that clear.....there seems to be Christians on both side of this argument.

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

      Seems pretty clear when I read it.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • be

      But not so clear when Biblical Scholars read it.....funny how that works.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Printerpete

      I would hardly call someone who believes something totality opposite of what Jesus taught and believed a scholar.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • be

      I would hardly call somebody who believes they infallibly know the mind of God a Christian.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Printerpete

      Not sure what your trying to say but the point of the Bible is for us to know who God is and His plan for us. God made His plan for us pretty clear. For the Obama's to say they are christains and knowingly go againt His precepts is a very dangerous place to be for a "christian". I don't know, maybe they don't know what His word says?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • be

      I am pretty sure they know what his Word says and are adhering to it closer than the people on here who believe they know that the Bible condemns ho mo se x u a lity. It doesn't. Indeed if studies through literary, historical, redactive and cultural criticism it is fairly clear that it does not condemn it and that Jesus probably even supported it. You, of course, will think this to be blasphemy because it does not conform to your preconceived cultural biases and prejudices. Exactly like those who were so sure that the bible condoned slavery, and condemned inter-racial marriage, desegregation and the vote for women....not to mention Galileo.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  5. Veritas

    I don't know why a group that has been historically marginalized would support the continued marginalization of another group that has historically marginalized.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  6. Ronnie Harper

    Until charlatans and their 'churches' are taxed like other businesses, fight on! Religion is a pox on humanity; a disease of the mind. I would just add that the DNC will adopt a platform this summer, and the black caucus can form it's own political party if they don't like – no hard feelings.

    "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."

    May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Boogy

      I guess that's why when certain churches have a lay clergy, it makes that much more sense.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  7. billythebigbone

    In the 60’s African-Americans where screaming for equal right. The white man was waving his bible and quoting it; Blacks are not equal to us white folks. Now the Blacks and everyone are screaming the GLBT are not equal and should not have the same rights as everyone has. How that work?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • billybob

      They are not African American, unless they hold a dual citizenship. Don't worry, it says that more blacks attend church than whites, probably from all the ones being converted in prisons after commiting all their crimes they love to do to prove they are hard.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  8. maestra730

    This President has absolutely no morals whatsoever. He will say whatever he has to say to get votes,in hopes of staying in the good graces of dipwads like George Clooney and Barbra Streisand, and he means none of it. Obama enjoys the fame and the power; he is NOT a public servant. A thoroughly disgusting excuse for a man and a complete failure as President.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • billythebigbone

      you have a lot of hate going on there dude

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • me

      if what you say is true–he would have kissed azz and not committed to either side....you id!o#t!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Lib

      The lack of morals and RESPECT For this country and the president comes from the WHITE sector of this country

      May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  9. tony

    Marriages usually bring extra donations to the church they are performed in.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  10. goingfast

    Who is al sharptom?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  11. Suppo

    I don't care what that racist black has to say.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ryan

      You have it wrong, it was never meant as separation of state and church. It is separation of state from church. America was founded by pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, and feared it would happen again. To stop that they made sure the state could not infringe on their freedoms again.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  12. Woody

    If I vote Republican I vote for Hate and If I vote Democrat I vote for the America we should all know . That place that is supposed to be free and have separation of church and state .

    May 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • remorse2

      and foodstamp

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • me

      Yeah...Separation of church and state–whatever happened to that? ...And you would think if anyone was sensitive to discrimination it would be African Americans!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  13. Jay

    Obama? Romney? that's it? That's the best this country can produce for leaders?????? I'm not judging or condeming these men...but it just seems to me that we should be having a hard time selecting a leader because of their righteous qualities...and not the other way around.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:02 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 8:01 pm |
    • Printerpete

      Maybe you should come up with a new comment instead of the "cut, copy and paste"

      May 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • mslisac363

      Christians are not the only who think it should be man and woman... There are countries that would kill the gay people... So don't know why you people are stuck on Christians.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Name

      The poster never once mentions Christianity, they merely state that religion is the cause of many problems. You automatically assumed it had to do solely with Christianity.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  15. Lib

    President Obama is one of the greatest presidents this country has EVER had. The most embarassing people in this country are those from the white culture who continously disrespect this president with yout ignorant remarks. It is due to the administrations of white presidents that has destroyed this country. I cringe to think what would have happened to this country had McCain and Palin won. Thank God for this man and May he win a second term. I cringe to think what would happen to the US if Mitt the insane wins As for not being experienced enough to run this country,,.,,, on whose account? You people elected Bush twice and let his steal the election the second time, Drunk Bush. Your whining has become disgusting. THis president would have accomplished more had it not been for the redneck GOP. Everybody knows that. If you believe Romney knows how to do better,.....Got a bridge for you. Romney looks like a psycho. Most of you should be ashamed to belong to the white culture with all the evil comments and doings that many of you have done to this president

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

      Lib, You are on some good drugs. You don't actually believe what you just wrote do you? I don't know if I should laugh or be concerned about you..lol

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • shut_up

      may his first term end quickley as this is the worst and most disgraceful person to hold the high office. blacks wouldnt care if he was a pedofile they are just voting for the half black person as they cant find one that is all black. sharpton looks gay so let him marry obozo. just so they cant breed....................

      May 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • tony

      This presidency has been sabotaged continuously by the party which doesn't care how much damage it does to America or it's 99% of people, while doing it. Our country's worst enemy is within.

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

      Pure unadulterated racism. Your first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the garbage presented in your argument.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • dontdow

      hmmmm sounds just like the dems on Bush for how many years. hipocrit.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Lib

      Looks like I hit a sore point. Great! Some of you whites are the most racist idiots ever! How anyone could believe that Reagan was qualified to be president is beyond me. Not to mention duh Bush. I would rather have president Obama over all of the last four presidents of this country who have all been complete idiots. I would seek mental help to vote in another Republican. ANd this from a hardworking democrat who has sense enough to know that all people getting government help are not all Dems.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • P-Daddy

      please let me know what president obama has done to improve ANY aspect of this country.....just one.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Lib

      First of all P daddy,I feel a lot safer. Also, I don't depend on the government to survive. All you idiots continue to cry about the deficit but then you condemn those who lost jobs and need government help. Most people collecting foodstamps and other benefits were a few years ago, hardworking taxpayers. President Obama has done a lot more for true Americans than any other president. Our military can come home and expect a better chance for jobs because of this president. McCain has been in Washington for years and did nothing for military people. I feel very comfortable with this president more than any other warmongers we have had., Crazy Mitt will get us all killed. Cutting off people's hair. He should have been kicked out of school. A crazy nut job!

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

      I'm sorry but his skin color did not make him a good or bad president. Obviously you only see the surface (like most racists) and think just because he is black that is the reason he is a good president. Quit waving your race card around you bigot. His skin color does not determine anything at all. I'm guessing all those other white presidents all sucked as well? Whatever...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  16. master

    If your're a true Christian than u know how a marriage should be between a man and a woman that what the bible said so chew on that gay people freaks

    May 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • tony

      Does the biblical hand-maid go on top or underneath?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Joe

      And the bible was written by man not god. It is not the word of god in the bible but what man thinks god wants. so if man thinks it is man's word not that of god.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Gay art

      ya the hell with your religion. Clearly it's all made up crap. Evolution clearly runs the show not your bull crap beliefs of a book that's passed down from generations. Ever heard of a game called telephone? Insure your a Midwest fattie living the American dream,eh? Would you like more ranch on your fried chicken?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Lib

      WHo made you Judge and Jury. I am not gay, I consider myself a Christian but I am the last person who feels I can judge anyone. None of us do everything the Bible teaches us to do.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • 40acres

      I doubt you know what a true Christian is.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • JayNYC

      And if one is not a Christian, tell me why one should give a rat's a55 about what you think or what your obviously fictional guidebook says?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • FlyontheWall

      Freedom of religions AND Freedom from religion. Our country was founded on those ideas.

      Seperation of Church and State is a must.

      When the Churches start paying taxes I will start caring about what these so called Christian Bigots say.

      Dont be on the wrong side of history. It is sad to see how these black preachers have already forgotten about what civil rights are.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Wrong, I am a born again Christian that reads the bible nearly every day and the Bible does not make this distinction and Christ NEVER said anything about hom ose xuality.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      Not everyone believes in the Bible and those who do, pick and choose the parts to follow. Personally, I like this the best:

      Matthew 25: 37-40: 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

      The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

      May 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Keven

      The bible also says you should be put to death for wearing clothes made of two different fabrics, working on sundays, or touching the skin of a dead pig (football fans anyone?). You are so clearly ignorant and full of hate it's disgusting. Furthermore, how african americans, many of who lived through the 1960s, can be opposed to gay marriage is beyond me. It's the basest form of hypocrisy.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Bob58

      If you're a true Christian you love all of God's children.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  17. mslisac363

    Most of the world could care less about what Sharpton thinks...

    May 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  18. enricorosan

    Sharpton is an opportunist and a traitor to the Black people. What has he ever done for Blacks except complain even when he is wrong?

    May 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • 40acres

      So who ar you a traitor to Enrico?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  19. Livin' the good life

    @jubril> Just what makes you think that ALL gay ppl put things up their a$$!? Common misnomer...Get educated! Just because one is gay does not mean they do what you think they do. Love is a gray area and not all ppl engage in the s-e-x acts you think they would. Just shows ppls ignorance. What is it with the ppl who think that one "plays" the women and one the guy? Get an edumacation >intentional pun/sic< ...

    May 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  20. Jack

    what a hypocrite the Rev. Al is...A phony .. maybe when he goes home at night he takes his mask off but US taxpayers can see threw him..

    May 13, 2012 at 7:58 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.