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. toadears

    Is Al Sharpton still posing as a Christian? Why? This man lives for the world. He is in it and of it.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  2. Z

    Dear All, there is only one race, the "Human Race". But TWO spiritual race, a spirit "FOR God" or a spirit "Against God". One day every knee shall bow so let's pray for our leaders. That the one who leads this country will seek God's wisdom. For we all know man's wisdom and man's idea of freedom will lead to chaos. If we follow the Lord's commandment's, we will live a very discipline life. So, plz stop with the blacks, whites, etc..... God does not look in the outside but the inside, and so shall we..... remember ONE Human Race but 2 spiritual race. And TO the people that says religion is the cause of wars, plz stop it, how about all the wars from atheism? Marxism & Maoism is pure atheist, more people died for that cause. And remember, when a Christian starts a war in the name of Christ, it is against everything what Christ taught. Peace to all, and may the power of the Holy Spirit be with everyone, including the one's who do not see yet. Followers of Christ have no hatred against the people, we were taught to stay away from sin. (anything that is against God's will) And the one's who do not see, and dont see anything with your eyes. Maybe your eyes is the causing you to stumble?

    “We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right.”
    ― Ravi Zacharias

    May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Why do these Jesus freaks always sound like they're having a seizure and speaking in tongues?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Z

      just like u said, some people who claims their believes but does things not contradicting to scripture.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Z

      sorry I meant contradicting, forgive me for my quick typing

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Z

      tongues was a gift from God, but it happened at around 52-57 AD. It was when people of all languages attended some sermons. Because the sermons was given in a language not understandable to other people. God allowed some people to speak in a language not of their own. So, they can be helpful to interpret to a language that other people can understand. This is a confirmation by God. Everything is always confirmed by multiple people, and not by just one person's vision. Just because God spoke to you in a dream doesnt mean anything unless it is confirm by an exact account from another person(s). And this ex was given in scripture at the time of Jeremiah.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  3. jimmy d

    Would someone like to difine "sodomy".

    May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • plbogle


      May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Only if it's done right.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  4. Willy Brown

    Putting the r acist Al's picture on this is laughable.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  5. j williamsom

    Aw, so glad the former drug-dealing pimp, and now long-time race baitor, Al Sharpton, could weigh in. Really, dear Reverand, was it twelve or thirteen votes you received during your race for presidrnt in 2008? Please advise. Cheers! P.S. Also, please know, Rev Al, how much we breathlessly await any, or all, of your divinely sent thoughts.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  6. studdmuffins

    President Obama will not lose enough of the black vote to make any difference in the outcome.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  7. Alicia

    Yep there he is the black mamba himself.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  8. Gay art

    Dont like gays? Want to get rid of them? Then quit making gay babies!!
    Btw my mother always looks fierce. Thanks to her gay son. Love you mom. Happy mothers day!!!

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

      my hair was looking fierce

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Gay art


      May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  9. Patricksday

    My how quickly they forget their own issues of Rights. There was a time a Black person could not marry out of their race as late as 1970. What would THEY think if Americans and States had a Vote on if it was legal or not. You cant vote on Civil Rights, regardless of what your hateful religious beliefs are other wise we are the Taliban.

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

      Well said !!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Don't ever point out the similarities to black people; they get really worked up and insist their struggle for equality isn't like those of gays. It's rather amazing how hateful and bigoted black people can be, especially since they know (usually on a daily basis) how it feels to be treated as less than human because of the bigotry of others.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  10. AnneSD

    The question of gay marriage is one of CIVIL marriage - the legal contract that is marriage. This question has nothing to do with religion, nor should it since the religious views of any particular group may not be used to determine laws in this country. For all those whiners saying gay marriage is against their religion, why should YOUR religion be forced on me? Why don't MY religious views count?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Gay art

      Clearly they haven't say down with a drag queen for brunch 🙂

      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 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 8:32 pm |
    • KevinBowen

      Yeah, I'll let a person like you who doesn't respect others beliefs teach me about morality.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  12. Josh

    Huh...I thought Obama was raised by his white mother, and then white grandparents, in Hawaii and Indonesia. If that's not the typical African American experience, I don't know what is...

    It shocks me to this day that the black community still blindly consider Obama as one of theirs.

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

      Just like there is a majority of White people who think Obama is not one of them.

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

      Do you not realize that the majority of African Americans have white relatives due to the repeated raping of their women, and the fact that white women just black men? White people didn't bother to call those blacks "one of us", and they still don't.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  13. Surthurfurd

    Politics and Morals are words that can not be combined.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  14. Wilson BenWa

    God – Our Father, Christ – Our Redeemer, Man – Our Brother – not lover.

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

      Fine for you, but why should you be able to tell others what to do or how to live?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  15. Casey

    It completely baffles me that a group so discriminated against in our history is so against equal rights for any group of Americans. When I was growing up in the 60's my southern family, Martinsville, Va used the n word all the time and told us northerners that blacks were stupid and dirty. They hated civil rights and could not imagine a world worth living in that treated African-Americans as people. They used the bible and religion to bolster their views. Now American blacks are doing the same with gays, what an incredible situtation.

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

      All through US history groups have fought for their rights then turned their backs on the rest.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Most groups want to make themselves feel superior by looking down on others. Whites do it to blacks and then blacks do it to gays.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  16. Murf

    Who gives a (explicit) about what "BLACK" people think??? Why is this country being ran by what "BLACK" people think? Every (explicit) time you turn around, it seems we are changing laws, opinions, views, and America's history all because the "BLACKS" complain and demand (explicit) change to their liking! AMERICA, WAKE THE (explicit) UP!!!!

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

      Haha! That's funny!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Boston M.D.

      Why don't you work on syntax and grammar before getting all hot and bothered.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  17. daneste613

    Shouldn't fellow Americans be seriously discussing REAL financial end political issues in this time of crisis?? Why all this commotion when the real problems are almost not mentioned? Sad.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      It's a smoke screen to divert your attention to the real issues that effect your life. Look at all the people all worked up on an issue that literally is not about them and does not effect them. Wonder what Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohen are doing lately? *smirk*

      May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  18. Doobie Doobie Doo

    You can only decipher half of what Jesse mush mouth Jackson says, and Sharpton is nothing but a political stooge.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  19. areacode612

    For all of those out there saying this is there Civil rights and compare themselves to blacks, SHUT UP!

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


      May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • areacode612

      Don't be stupid. Think for yourself. You don't get pulled over by the police for being gay.

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

      NOPE !!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Gay art

      clearly your dumb and lack education. Ha

      May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • JWT

      No reason to be quiet since they are right.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • plbogle

      You're so correct, marriage wasn't issue! It was Slavery!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Thank you for giving me a perfect example of the black bigotry. The fact that most times people can't tell who's gay just makes people feel more paranoid and fearful (those gays are everywhere – it's all part of their conspiracy) so they're even more hateful.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  20. ajo1124

    I am African-American and detest when the Media uses the term "Black Church". Totally UnBiblical. As Christian, we are ONE family. - And NO one Black Pastor or Pastors speak for me. GOD through the Bible speak to/for me.

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


      May 13, 2012 at 8:35 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.