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. Holly in CA

    I'm impressed by the ability of some of these so-called Christian leaders' attempts to rationalize their support for Obama and/or his positions despite Biblical teachings. It's simply diabolical.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Dana

      Holly the sick part is someone will marry them. Other than maybe a justice of the peace any Reverend, preacher or priest ought to be excommunicated by the church.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  2. Chuck Wufundu

    someday dey'll put up a exhibit about black pastors opposing gay marriage in da Smifsonian. Sheeit...dat'll be da day.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  3. rikers

    Al Sharpton is not a very good example to give in this article.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  4. ron

    The above Black pastors should be ashmaed of themselves, after all the years spent fighting for African american equality alll we are looking for is a bit of equality ourselves. shame shame

    May 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • enoch100

      You should be ashamed forcing the comparison. THEY ARE NOT STUPID!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Chuck Wufundu

      enoch100: you're right, they're not stupid. They're doing what any rational person would do who wanted something but couldn't get it- won't let anybody else have it either. Dey're just jealous they can't have gay slaves.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Luna

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      July 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  5. Dan Green

    95% of black people will support Obama regardless of what he says or does.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  6. Dana

    I keep getting censored.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  7. 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 8:40 pm |
    • enoch100

      Please...move to Europe

      May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • JWT

      Well put.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  8. t3chn0ph0b3

    CNN – I'm disappointed you didn't leave any place on Disqus to run this topic on instant replies.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Wait a minute. You changed this format. I take it back. Sorry, CNN.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  9. mooncricket1


    May 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Dana

      Sharpton will say and do anything black. I think Obama and his monkey wife are closet racists.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • enoch100

      on his best day

      May 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  10. mooncricket1


    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  11. fred ca

    Uh...gay art...I did 3 tours overseas and then carried the flag for American companies to 4 continents and 10 countries. But when the gov't took over GM and Chrysler part of their demand was that 'minority' companies had 1st call on bids. And then they decided that those companies had to have smiley minorities in 'positions of authority'. So now I work part-time, behind the scenes, fixing others mistakes. So you could not get married? BFD...I can not make a living.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Gay art

      bfd sucks you have no education. Your fault. I'll enjoy my government job and benefits with your hard earned part time job.thanks friend!! 🙂

      May 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Gay art

      Don't like guys marrying guys? Get over it unless your paying our rent

      May 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      You hate gays because you're convinced it's their fault you can't find work? Wow, sounds just the German's blaming Jews during the depression. It's all part of the conspiracy.....

      May 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  12. Meme

    Obama has stepped away from God!
    What does a man profit if he gains the world but lose his soul?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Being president of the US is pretty far from gaining the world.

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

      Judge much?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      Maybe Obama knows something you don't.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  13. n8263

    John I notice you continue to comment but have not answered any of the questions posed to you.

    What you described is the same type of experience people of conflicting religions all around the world claim. Why is your claim more valid than theirs? I would submit you changed by deciding to love your neighbors and if you had explored Humanism instead you would have had the same result.

    Why did you choose Christianity verses Islam or any other religion? Technically you can not prove them wrong either, and there is just as much personal testimony and evidence supporting them as Christianity.

    Also technically you can not disprove the Tooth Fairy, and as many children will testify there is an awful lot of evidence suggesting she exists. Do you also believe in the Tooth Fairy since technically you can not prove she does not exist?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • enoch100

      Even the Tooth Fairy hurls over gay marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Jose Soto

      This subject remind me of the NY gobernor elections. Hispanic pastors and Black pastors said first democrat then christian, I hope thisis not the case.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      How ignorant! Guess you don't know the Tooth Fairy leaves double money for the teeth of gay kids (why do you think he's called a fairy?)

      May 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  14. Fred Smif

    I see an agenda here- an insidious agenda. Statistics show that black men are getting dissatisfied wif what they call the "Thunder Thighs" phenomenon- when their black ladies start gettin a little heavy round the posterior region, soes dat dey starts to resemble none other than...Dumbo. Since non-black ladies already know the domestic violence and crime statistics, the community of colour had little to worry about black men running off wit dem uppity white women...but now that da black man is startin to get a taste for the DARK OAK...the community is getting hit hard...the ONLY way to presevere and keep the dark ladies from dyin' virgins is to condemn to hel l any black man who dares to dream (realistically of course) of coming home to anything but Thunder Thighs.

    And that, ladies and gennlemen, is why the black church does NOT support gay marriage.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Leroy Jones


      May 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Jimmy Junn


      May 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Wanda Minster


      May 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Dale Roberts

      well played sir, well played.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  15. mooncricket1

    al the ape sharpton a trueracist

    May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  16. Blasphemy

    I would be happier if the Gays would form an alliance with the Heteros to get the Government out of the bedroom.

    But since they want to invite them in I guess I will support them.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  17. Randy Vernezze

    A new way of values now paving their way,based on OPINIONS,then truth has no say.A culture's illusion that truth matters not, relevance gone, asleep in their cot. So many a man and a women indeed, gave their lives for our freedoms need. A foundation once built with good morals it's blocks, truth then it's wall securing all locks. To admire our elders to honor and respect, heeding their wisdoms to never regret. Now a time where parents ramble, kids to day care a risky gamble,The devil eager to devour it's prey, weakened by sin we welcome his way. The master of deception he manipulates each clock, away from Scripture to weaken God's stock. As a Country it's time we pray, ignorance cured God's truth one way.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Sunny

    Obama supports gays only because he want the vote. I don't support his religion either, Islam is a cult and they treat their women and chikdren terribly. I don't know how Michelle can stand this jerk.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • reality check

      First, Obama isn't Muslim. You are delusional to state such. Second, Dick Cheney said the exact wording that Obama has regarding gay marriage, but YEARS ago.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  19. Ken

    This just shows you the hypocrisy of the so called black churches. If this was a white president, they would vilify and crucify him for going against the will of God. But for a black man, well, we'll pray for him but still support him. Here is a man who is going against our beliefs, against the religon we believe in .... but we'll give him a pass as his skin is black.

    If these people truly believed in their faith, they would have to question themselves. Can we support a man who goes against our faith? Can we support a man who support Gay marriage? Can we support a man who support abortions on demand? If they really, truly believe, they would answer "No, we cannot support such a departure from the word of God .. we believe in our faith and cannot support this man". But watch how they try to twist themselves in the wind so they can "disagree" with his stances and policies yet still support him as he understands the black problems in American. LOL - Their entire faith is a sham if for convienance they can ignore their own beliefs, just to support a man based on skin color.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • tnms16


      May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • truth1111

      Well said... You are dead on.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • C

      The majority of blacks in America may be religious but they have historically supported the Democratic Party and its causes and priorities. Blacks are not a monolithic group, but I believe the majority would support a qualified Democrat of any color over a black conservative such as Herman Cain. They didn't support Jesse Jackson for President despite his being both a Reverend and black. So it's not just about color but about who will fight for overiding issues and causes that the black population believe are priorities at this point in time.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • C

      He will lose some support from members of the black population over this issue. But my point is that it's not just an issue of skin color as you make it out to be.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  20. Wendy Jane

    Where's the separation of church and state? Can't believe they allow people to make laws against a minority group based on some book that was written by men thousands of years ago (and revised countless times). North Carolina voted to make domestic partnerships illegal. That's right; how would you like knowing that your loved one was in an accident but you can't visit them because you're not "family". These voters are taking us back to hateful times. What people don't realize is that you can't think "so what, I'm not gay" because eventually these people will decide you're doing something they don't like and they'll start passing laws that actually effect you.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • enoch100

      No hospital in 2012 keeps a loved one from visiting. Quit lying.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Don't be ignorant (may as well tell you to stop breathing). Hospitals only let family visit. Part of domestic partnerships is the right to visit your partner in the hospital; before domestic partnership people were routinely not allowed to visit their partner. Now that states (who previously said "No marriage for you, domestic partnership will give you the same rights") are making these partnerships illegal we will be going back to how it was.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      It's also up to the "real family" who's allowed to visit. It wouldn't matter if two men were together for 20 years; if the parent of one of them said "I don't want him to be allowed to visit" then that's all it took. Know history before you start spouting off.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:59 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.