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. James Bond

    I'm Black and not a puppet.. I will vote for Mitt Romney..period. who says I cant? race issue is nonsense..

    May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • That's Rayciss

      You'll be ostracized by the black community.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Rational

      They'll treat you the same way they treat me: with hate.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Blasphemy


      I can see the hand wiggling.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Freethinking Tom

      There are groups for people like us online. Do not let the white and black Democrats bully you into voting against your conscience. We shall overcome!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  2. 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 8:49 pm |
    • clinky

      Wow, thanks for clearing up all the questions of the ages. Deep.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  3. be

    People seem to keep bringing up morality here. So let's see....the gays are fighting for marriage, family, and the right to serve their country. The religious right are fighting for control of a woman's reproductive rights,,,,,keeping their clergy out of jail for se x ual misconduct.....and raking in enough funds to keep their pastors in the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed. It doesn't take a lot of common sense to see the moral high road here.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Well said.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  4. clinky

    Resistance to marriage equality amounts to intolerance. There's a portrayal in the media which makes gays and lesbians look "funny" and "different" from "normal people." Similarly, whites have resisted treating blacks as equal because black cultures are "funny" and "different" to them. There's nothing fundamentally different in the discrimination between the two.

    The first trick to adopting tolerance is recognizing you need to respect, but you don't have to adopt the behavior of minorities if you're not interested. If you are white, you don't have to "act black" (whatever that could mean). You don't have to intermarry, if you don't want to (but great, if you fall in love with someone of a different race). If you are straight, you don't have to try anything you think is gay behavior. The second step to adopting tolerance is learning to appreciate your fellow citizens' contributions to society, in spite of having a different culture of your own.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  5. Randy Marsh


    May 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • B n.

      That's what he shoulda said.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  6. Brandon

    Those claiming that marriage was created by God since the story of Adam and Eve as a proof-text. Advocates of this position should note, that Adam and Eve would still need to purchase a civil marriage license if they sought to get married today.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  7. n8263

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

    What you described is the same experience people of contradictory religions all over 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 Buddhism or 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 a lot of evidence suggesting she exists. Do you also believe in the Tooth Fairy because technically you can not prove she does not exist?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Islam is the Answer

    If they're this willing to cave on gay marriage, just wait till we teach them about the teachings of Muhammad.

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

      Actually, Islam is fairly oppressive of women.....I think Christianity is actually a step up in tolerance over Islam.....we probably won' regress.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • And No Religion Too

      Sorry, but we already know about the "teachings" of your Mohammed, and we have long since rejected them as farce. But hey, that must have been some sight to see; when he died, both Mohammed AND his horse sailed off into the sky, since everyone knows that's where "heaven" is located.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  9. kentuckyscience.com

    Bush Sr. learned that it was the economy.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  10. fred ca

    Wendy Jane. Those hateful times produced the enfranchisement of blacks (it took too long but the churches led the anti-slavery and the Civil Rights crusades). That hateful time was also the only reason that some Jewish people survived WW II. That hateful time created and built this country which, until recently, was based on competency and achievement (now it based on the 'intellectual elite'). Bring back the hateful times.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Seriously Fred? The hateful times are the reason blacks were enslaved and the jews were gassed and burned. Just because some managed to survived the hateful times doesn't mean we should go back to those times. Nice try though!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Al is a fake

    Al Sharpton is a preacher like my butt is your face.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  12. Austin

    It is amazing to me to see a group of people (African Americans) who were so badly discriminated against only 60 years ago, apparently forget how awful their own segregation was and decide to push against equal rights for all people.

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

      But you see, God is against Slavery, at the same time, he is very much against gay marriage.

      "what profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but lose his soul" JC

      May 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  13. James Bond


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


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


    May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  16. t3chn0ph0b3

    Virtually no black people will vote for Romney. This is a non-issue.

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

      NO Blacks will vote for Romney.. all based on race in the black community

      May 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Partisan Nonsense

      No kidding. I cannot fathom an African-American voting for someone with a different skin color.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  17. Liberal Democrat

    It's amazing how malleable black peoples' minds are!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  18. jimmy d

    I'm all for gay marriage. The quicker that gene pool gets diluted, the better.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ jimmy d,

      Keep a good eye on one's kids and hope they are not recruited by the young fruits of sodomies' tree of Godly treason!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  19. JNEUH

    Whites will vote for Obama but not one black will vote for Romney.. Racism is alive and will.... Blacks are racist

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

      The reason black people wont vote for romney is the same is why most latino's and elderly wouldnt vote for him. Mitt Romney is out of touch with the common person and cant relate to them. it is asid to say that black people are racist because we are voting for a black person . I guess all those years when we had a white president we didnt vote for them either.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  20. Thom

    The black stand opposed to discrimination but yet they are willing to discriminate. Amazing that they so easily forget all they went through. Makes me wonder if they even understand what it means to be human.

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

      Now that wasn't racist at all.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:52 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.