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. LadyOcean

    What is that saying: Monkey see, monkey do. It doesn't say anything about monkey think for himself.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  2. dontdow

    talk about flip flop. This guy has no reason to criticize Romney on that now. lol

    May 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      So you have found one example of where Obama has changed his views even though his trajectory was in that direction all along, and you can ignore the vast number of things Romney has bounced back and forth on?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  3. Surthurfurd

    American Curse... before a group gets full rights they demand rights for all after the group gets full rights they demand the right to limit the rights of others.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Bob

      what is your point?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • CJ

      His point is, blacks fault for full rights for all people, now that they have full rights they want to oppress gays. Easy to understand.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  4. PaulC

    God save me from organized religion. The self-appointed spokesmen of God find it necessary to control our actions, beliefs and the bedroom. All religions say to love, forgive and not judge but the religious leaders find that impossible.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      There is often a vast gulf between the ideals that are fundamental to a religion and the Fundamentalist take on those ideas.

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

      Your right these fundamentalist are so anti-Christian is would be funny if they hadn't succeeded in brainwashing so many people. Here is what Christ is all about:

      6. And one came near and said to him, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” But he said to him, “Why do you call me good? There is none good except God alone. But if you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” But Yeshua(Jesus) said to him, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not testify falsely.” “Honor your father and your mother”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That young man said to him, “I have kept all these from my childhood; what am I lacking?” Yeshua (Jesus) said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven, and come after me.” But that young man heard this saying and he went away, as it was grievous to him, for he had many possessions.

      In the New Testament, Jesus summed up these commandments with just two. First was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind,... and the second was what we now refer to as the Golden Rule, to love others as yourself. That Golden rule would be the six commandments above and the last six of the old testament which are nearly identical to the six above.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  5. Meki60

    Sharpton is a race pimp, does not matter what his opinion is on this.

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

      The story isnt about "Sharpton" its about how Black Pastors feel about Gay Marriage
      im sure tis really scares the left.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  6. Fred Dekker

    And the reverend Al Sharpton had this to say: "Sheeit."

    May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Tom Smif

      And the reverend Jesse Jackson had this to say: "Mufuwka."

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  7. Randy

    Al Sharpton is a big hypocrite two faced and i do not see him as a man of God, how often do you hear Sharpton talk about Jesus Chirst think about it, what a fake he is.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Meki60

      I agree

      May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  8. nestor

    and some stupid people make the question of the year,? the black reverends and their churches will go to support the Mr. Obama words about the rainbow people, I said to myself yes they will go with their leaders , these people don't care if he is wrong or right they look the color , who believe to this reverend Mr. Hapom from n,y, city,hey Mr. Hampon pray first for yourself because these reverend are like the scribes and pharisees when the Yeshua said let them alone they are blind leaders of the blind both shall fall into the ditch.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Sheila M.

      are u on crack. what the hell was that?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • lol

      you talk good

      May 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  9. Sheila M.

    I am disgusted with this demographic. Do they forget that some of us have made it a point to stand up for their rights in our lifetime. That some of us who are not black were also shaped by the injustice of Jim Crow. Hypocrites. If you are so damn concerned with the bible, let's bring back slavery, 'cus it is damn OK in that book. This is ingorance, pure and simple. Do they even know what the hell was decided in Brown v. Board of Ed.? Separate (can't be "married" like a man and a woman), but equal (but let's let them have "civil unions"). Separate ("can't go to our schools, use our bathroom's and water foundtains"), but equal ("it is fair, you are still getting schools and water fountains"). Not even just ignorance. Ignorance and hypocracy. God, I could scream, it so ignorant. IN THE BIBLE, GOD CONDONES SLAVERY, you f-ing idiots!!! Let's turn the clock back, 'cus you obviously have forgotten a thing or two. This is identical to Jim Crow. I hereby give all the support for civil rights which I have reserved for the African American to Gays in the struggle for their rights!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • nestor

      hey moron idiot I am sure you and your immediate family don't want use the same toilet etc,etc the rainbow people used, regular people are afraid of the disease came from the rainbow people

      May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  10. JNEUH

    blacks will vote for a gay but not a white man.. Sad when they only vote based on race even when they disagree with Obama's issues

    May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Frost


      May 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Sheila M.

      I would normally reply to the obvious racists here, but I have decided the gays are now going to recieve all of that energy because the black people who are against gay marriage are no longer in need of support. They are now the oppressors.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Big D

      Your state is ridiculous.

      Close to 90% of the elected officials are white. Blacks had no choice but to vote for a white person or don't vote at all.

      That why the GOP has continued to press the issue of Photo ID requirements to have as few minorities and poor the right to vote.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  11. dee1030

    It's disappointing but not suprising that so many black leaders and members of the black community support discrimination against a segment of our population. I hear arguments about what the bible says, and just consider people who use such arguments as brainwashed, non thinkers, who are looking for a reason to hate and discriminate.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  12. Ed

    As a member of the African-American community, this article is pure hogwash.

    This condescending monolithic article make it appear us African-American are some sheepish followers of these pastors. No one of my age group can careless about these "pastors" or what they have to say. Our kids do not even know who they are.

    African-Americans have a 15% unemployment – gay marriage is the last thing on our minds when we are trying to save our homes and have something to eat..

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

      Well said.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  13. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Big Al was much better when he was on Amos and Andy.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  14. Randy

    If God says a man must cling to the woman and the woman to the man and become as one flesh then that's what we must do he didn't say anything about men with men and women with women in a marriage, you follow man he will send u straight to hell you have to listen to what God says, that is what wrong with the world today they are follow man instead of listening to what God says , you put your trust in man see wont he lead u to hell, u better listen to what God is saying if your smart.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • dee1030

      Good Lord, I will be glad when all you nuts are raptured and out of our hair.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  15. randy

    I think Obama has made a mistake. Christians are not going to support something God says is a sin and an abomination.
    Sharpton appears hypocritical. I would stop going to his church. We are not to hate but we are also not to accept sin for politcial expediency, or any other reason.

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

      God doesn't call it a sin or abomination.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Sheila M.

      Ever occur to you that Obama sees it as unjust to deny these people equal rights?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Freedom of Religion

      Then you might have missed the point of this country. There is suppose to be a separation of church and state and a freedom of religion. You have every right to think that being gay is morally wrong, but the government shouldn't be legislating morality based any religion. And if you are voting based on your religion hoping for someone to legislate morality, then you're just as bad. Hold strong to your views. Try to convert people all you like, but don't try to turn this country into a Christian Theocracy. I believe in Freedom.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  16. Meki60

    I would never vote for BO

    May 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |

    What is unfortunate here is Obama on his own can do nothing-it is a States and/or a SCOTUS issue. But he may pay the political price for trying to be inclusive of all people-unlike Romney that would shun LGBT's

    May 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  18. John

    Al Sharpton is a joke.You can't gauge what is being said behind pulpits of black American churches by Rev.Al.He would be a great host for Saturday Night Live though...just sayin

    May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  19. E. Brunson

    Obama is stirring the pot on this issue. Too late for him to get with the program. He is dividing the country for votes.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  20. KidIndigo

    Pretty sure the Bible also says that slavery is OK, and that polygamy is OK. Any Biblical folks care to take that on? If you're female, BTW, pretty sure the Bible says I can slap you down as being disobedient. Oh, gosh, those inconvenient "truths" in the Bible.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Gay art

      Ha! So great. So can I own some black slaves then? I mean we got a lot of them on welfare and btw their able to have cell phones in pa because of their low income. My taxes shouldn't have to pay for you lack of ambition of you trying to excel in life

      May 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Sheila M.

      Amen, brother!!! Let's just all go by the bible, it will be a hell of a time. Yipee. I get to oppress SOMEONE!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
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About this blog

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.