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. rudix

    2012....the confusion begin....what you do with a leader you like but you dont like his view? allat WWWTheDimensionMachineCOM

    May 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  2. Gay art

    Oh god I har when a mans belly is the size of a pregnant woman. It's hard for me to give oral

    May 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  3. dscon

    And...........the "white pulpit" is racist..........

    May 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  4. Stella

    Why do they frame this question as though it would make a difference to black voters? They would vote for Obama no matter what he said or did.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  5. Name*DJ

    Why would you let this man and his supporters (even those that call themselves Christians) and his followers lead you into evil.

    The color of his skin means nothing, rather what is in his heart?

    To endorse gay marriage, abortion and distruction of innocent human life, no matter what color of that child is unnatural and evil. There is no justification for this.

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

      The problem is no political side is able to properly claim to be following Jesus.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • JWT

      nor should they.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Surthurfurd

      All are found guilty and none can attone for their vileness and wickedry! As in the days of old, the fruits of sodomy will flourish and become like it once was! The vile will take pleasures in subverting the vileless and the unrighteous will take pleasures in devouring the righteous! Men living with men and women with women! Such are the fruits of sodomy to be and soon become! (I am so grateful and thankful that I have no children for they would have been living within a world where the lusts of the flesh does devour all!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  6. Gay art

    Lets start discriminating against fat people! I'm tired of sitting next to someone on a airplane or when I'm walking by them. I feel I'm getting sucked into an orbit.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  7. John Houston

    Rev Al Sharpton carrying Obama's water???? No....... If God himself came down from heaven to see the Reverend on this issue he would back Obama because he gets paid by the liberal agenda. He is no man of God, just a pimp.

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

      If God came down, he certainly would have little respect for the way the US treats people and the planet.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  8. Surthurfurd

    What most people claim is a decision on morals is a decision based on how similar someone else is to them.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  9. lol

    Blacks supported Mike Tyson despite his quite dubious lisp..........

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

    they don't care what Obama does.. They will vote for him because he is black...

    May 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      A large percentage of the electorate will vote for or against Obama for reasons other than how effective he has been. All those who vote for or against him will convince themselves that they are voting on the issues.

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

      Like many Southerners typically vote for Republicans no matter what they do.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • mdvet

      Just as some white folks voted for McCain (and will vote for Romney) because he was white. Your point?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  11. lou50

    guess everyone is a waffler now! An IHOP is missing a bunch of waffle flippers.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  12. RamseKfoury

    I don't understand how one group whatsoever that has been repeatedly discriminated against throughout the history of our nation can condone the discrimination of another. Quite frankly, it's hypocrisy of the highest level. You can't be only anti-prejudice to your own views. Either prejudice is right or it is not, there is NO divide on the issue, no exceptions. Because if you ever truly read the Bible, there are passages that actually condone slavery, however as a civilized society, most of us with an endearment to our fellow human being decide that slavery is wrong, regardless or religious endorsement of any kind.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • 13directors

      Just look at Israel and its behavior toward the Palestinians.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • ImpishLisa


      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  13. Nathan Newman

    If you think the President will lose one AA or Latino vote because of this I have some Florida swampland to sell you

    May 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  14. Peterpan

    Obama is a political genius.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • justanotherguy60

      nice tongue in cheek skippy

      May 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • DC Observer


      May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  15. Religious Scholar

    If Black pastors are selling gay marriage then black churches are NOT Christian Churches – no way, no how.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • edwardo

      Selling gay marriage? You're not much of a scholar are you?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  16. racegirl1

    You may not agree with President Obama, however the other person is much worse. Obama will not seek any type of legislation on this matter, it is just his opinion but Mittens everyone will be out of social security, no medicare, medicaid, no planned parenthood, no abortions, no social programs, cut the amount of unemployment you can receive, give bigger tax breaks for the rich, give companies even more incentives to ship jobs out of the country and the list goes on. So stay away from the polls in November, but you will surely pay a high price if President Obama does not win re-election.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • DC Observer

      Moe democratic BS. Mitt Romnay's Presidential political position on this matter is the same as Obama - this is an issue for the individual states to decide. Romney will not do anything on this issue and neither will Obama .. For any black pastors or Democrats to say otherwise is either ignorant or lying

      May 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • justanotherguy60

      Why use fear tactics there dint a ling? Talk about unfounded and not true. Wow, if you really believe that, you probably believe the moon is made out of cheese.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  17. Gay art

    I did three tours overseas in the navy and served my country and yet I can't get gay married? Well at least I can get a government job and I have contributed to CoUNTRY. And yet your lazy American ass has a say for my rights. I'm ashamed to tell people I served my country full of idiots

    May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • justanotherguy60

      I, like many others, thank for your service, but. You're the one that rose your right hand to serve and protect, no one put a gun to your head or threatened you in any other manner. You should have given more thought about signing up in the first place. Cut the whining and complaining and deal with it.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • edwardo

      I hear ya! Your service is appreciated. People are afraid of change. Religion has polluted their thoughts. I apologize for our fellow countrymen.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • edwardo

      @justanother... That was some "heart felf thanks". You are an ingrate !!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  18. greg90814

    and the sheeple have spoken...

    May 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  19. Leroy Jones

    The response of the black community to Obama's revelation varied from "dayum" to "sheeit" to "aww yeeeuh" to "mufuwka."

    May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Billy Madison

      lmao that was funny as sheeeeit!

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

      The response of comedy critics to your post varied from "not funny" to "really not funny" to "really just not funny"

      May 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      @ uh: the reponse of rational people to you (note: not your post- to you directly) was: WT F?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • nope

      nopesy nope

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  20. patandfritz

    I have one question. How much were these pastors paid by Obama to at least keep their people in line when election day comes? As the statement was made that Obama's decision goes against their church they must continue to support him. Can't have it both ways I keep hearing from the Liberals in regards to Republicans. Can't have it both ways with this current resident of the White House either.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • fiscal2020

      Liberals and even some conservatives like fiscal conservatives or even libertarians believe in separation of church and state.

      That means it's not "having it both ways" if you hate gay marriage but don't allow it to enter politics. Only a moron would vote for or not vote for a President based on one issue.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • adam

      You realize no party follows Christian teachings? The democrat platform breaks on issues of gay marriage/ civil unions and on abortion. The GOP breaks when it comes to capital punishment, taking care of the sick (Medicaid), the poor (welfare) and others who need help (get rid of all programs that help those less fortunate to save the wealthy their tax money). The GOP is also more military inclined and have many more hawks. Hawks are also anti-Christian values. How can you say that because Obama takes one stance that doesn't match Christian values, the church congregation must vote for others? Particularly when the alternative has fewer Christian values. It is my religious upbringing that has me a left voting independent. I've only voted for independents and democrats, because the GOP never puts forth a candidate that meets more of my values.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • to

      obama is not the president of christians but America

      May 13, 2012 at 8:46 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.