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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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"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. Vp

    Why doesn't someone poll the residents of sodom and Gomorrah or Pompey on gay marriage?

    Marriage, like the seventh day Sabbath was defined by God in the beginning, not by man and cannot be changed by man and his corrupt governments. please read the end of the book of Revelation to find out what happens to those who add to or take from the Words of this book, meaning the Bible. Your day in court has come.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Robert Shaw

      good example, good example. maybe all us straight fathers should offer our virgin daughters up to gay men to get said gay men to let our straight male friends alone.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • be

      Actually Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with hom o se x uality according to most reputable biblical scholars.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      I don't think Soddom and Gomorrah cared much about marriage at all, much less gay marriage. You need a more relevant example.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Also, Pompey was destroyed by pyroclastic vulcanism, not God. And how exactly was it like Soddom?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Patricksday

      Slavery was legal according to the Bible. And its sad that Gays need to be attacked by such HATEFUL and FEARFUL people on the planet. 3% of the population is Gay and 100% of Gays WILL not choose to marry. Gays who would are ALREADY LIVING TOGETHER, what are you going to do next have a vote on who can be Gay or be murdered in the name of your Hateful Vengeful God.? Let God deal with Gays if its a sin, he does a much better job at it then a mere mortal of Hate and Fear.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      First, you'll come for the gays. Then you'll come for the Muslims. Then you'll come for the blacks. Then the asians. Then there will be no one left to support a variagated society. Your path leads to death.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Bellatrix

      Nothing about gay marriage or same gender love in the 10 Commandments. 'Nuf said.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Separation of church and state......this country was founded on the freedom to practice whichever religion you wanted. It also was founded on the ideal of the separation of church and state so others could not force their religious views on others. We really need to get back to that fundamental core belief. Do not pass laws based on "what the bible says is wrong".

      May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  2. John

    What he said: "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."

    What he meant: "We may disagree with our president on this one issue," Smith said from the pulpit of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. "But since he is black, we will keep him lifted up in prayer. ... Pray for President Barack Obama."

    May 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  3. underwater

    remember, this is the same group of people who cheered when OJ Simpson was found not guilty. They're only "moral" when it suits them

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      It makes them just like the vast majority of Americans.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Dana

      I cheered when he was sentenced to 15-33 years in a Nevada Prison. I lived in Vegas at the time.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Rudolph

      how "moral" i it to deny people the same insurance and benefits others have, just because they love someone you do agree with? your morality is highly questionable as well, bigot.

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

    Al Sharpton?!?!?!?!?!?! nuff said!!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Rudolph

      you didn't "say" anything.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  5. michael

    Back up. The University of Florida found it was NOT religion but one's education level that was the main factor on how someone voted for gay marriage. Using God as your excuse for ignorance is obnoxious.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • frank

      Michael, the most religious tend to be the least educated. They put faith into an imaginary air guardian.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Rudolph

      Faith and education level are inversely proportional.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  6. Bellatrix

    "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."

    OMG. It's all about the racial vote. To heck with God. IE...if the black president doesn't quite go along with what we believe....we'll forgive him and pray he gets it right. The Hypocrisy of Racism!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Rudolph

      Church and politics are separate, and some people acknowledge that. zealot

      May 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  7. lawsrus

    I was trying to be open minded, still am, but this over-the-top flip, clearly on the basis of race, is sending me in a different direction. I wanted to vote for President Obama, now I'm not so sure...no job doesn't help either! Seem's like everything is "evolving", except my life, which is "dissolving"...fast!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Then don't worry about gay marriage. Whether gays marry will not have any effect on how much food you can put on your table.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Rudolph

      yeah your right, his stance on equality sure makes me want to vote for an out of touch bully who thinks holding people down and cutting off their hair is "just a prank" ,., think much?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Patricksday

      Vote for Romney if your a very wealthy person, other wise your screwed. The Rich will be Okay no matter who wins.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • lawsrus

      That's a good point, our government is racking up debt faster than locust on a wheat field, and we're arguing about gay-marriage, race and still abortion issues. I get this is all important but at this stage it feels like making an issue about were your sitting on the plane, if its going down what's the point? We need jobs!! I guess in 1st class you get to die first!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  8. James Bond

    Just imagine Al Shapie marrying Jesse Jacko... what a wonderful freaking world it would be...lol

    May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  9. Surthurfurd

    Americans seem to still prefer mythology over science. No wonder our students score so bad on international Science tests.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Rudolph

      Bravo!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      agree

      May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  10. fred ca

    My goodness dd. You sound like a totally blissful person. And we know you get/got there.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. A Serpent's Thought

    If ever the USA had a perverted preident it's Obama! His stand upon sodomizers getting married has been diluted by his narrowminded stance that the gay and lesbian crowds are nothing but liberal minded sodomizers that are doing nothing wrong! Here's the puke about such idolizers of sodomies vile and wicked usurptions!

    1. Gays and lesbians are the fruits of sodomy
    2. Sodomy is a wicked and vile Act of unrighteousness!
    3. Anyone who sees no harm in sodomy are fooling themselves!
    4. Sodomizers recruit the weak in vile and wicked sensualisms' ways!
    5. The weak recruits of sodomy are brainwashed with repetativity in vile Acts of animalistic wickedness!
    6. Sodmoizers are not truthful with their recruits and they lie about many things regarding sodomy!
    7. Recruits of sodomy are from many branches of society
    8.The new recruits are easy marks and willing to be led by their sodomite peers!
    9. Sodomite vanities are in their actions portraying the religious to be the fools in order to break down the new recruits God given fences in their minds eyes!
    10. Any sodomite will protray the godly of God to be the social misfits when the real misfits are the sodomizers!
    12 Sodomy cannot grow without new recruits!
    13. Do not give in to any sodomizer who tests your God given fence of rationalism to veer away from sensualistic acts and actions of the sodomites' kinds!

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

      I am sure that you did not pay for anything today to engage in commerce since it is the Sabbath.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • n8263

      You are not very intelligent are you? Imposing your religion on others is wrong, even if you are stupid.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • be

      Actually, the Bible doesn't say any of that. So......pretty irrelevant. On the other hand, Jesus was known to have had a "special" relationship with John. I believe he was referred to as the "one Jesus loved' (like, maybe he hated the rest?).....hmmmm. Also, Jesus healed the "servant" of the Roman soldier and commented what great faith he had. If you look at the Greek word for "servant" that was used here, it was not the traditional term, but the term that referred to male servants with whom the master had a "special relationship."

      May 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • michael

      The true sin of Sodom had nothing to do with orientation but everything to do with inhospitality, a trait you're guilty of...

      May 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Bellatrix

      You're such a flipping loser! Even your Ten Commandments say nothing about same gender relationships. No one, and I repeat NO ONE, has the right to tell two adults who they can and cannot love. Even your god didn't address it to Moses. And you, fallible-arrogant-before-the-pride-laden-fall person can't write it into your religious law! Flippin' lying loser you are.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Just upon the case that I hate the fruits of sodomy and their recruitment issues for those weak in their growing sensualisms is no reason for your lots to Act in the fruits of sodomies defense unless you are of the fruits of sodomy! Are you?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • clinky

      Serpent's Thought, You sure sound very interested in sodomy. Why don't you try it out (doing and/or receiving) before hating so much? There, it's said. And, nope, I'm not GLBT.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Patricksday

      Its amazing how pridedful and ignorant Bible Thumpers are, there are lots of things in the Bible that are no longer observed by more people then Gays. No Tattoos, No Piercings, No Divorce, Wife Beatings are legal, submission of the woman to the man. Yeah the Bible is full of juicy things like that, even being okay to own slaves.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Wow, you're really obsessed with sodomy. You do realize straight people do it too, right? If I go to hell because of it.....better than spending eternity with people like you.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      so I guess that being said I'm going to the pit of fire. I'm straight and have engaged in the act of sodomy.

      Oh well Party in Hell then

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  12. ray

    Honorable Marriage is between a man and a woman. Anything outside that is…simply lust after flesh and unnatural. Sins against those people heads.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Nee How.

      Flankly, sir, all your tark of ho nolable marliage make you seem velly velly Ja panese.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Gay art

      Ha ha. Open your eyes fool. Those people who get divorced are also damned for eternity!! They don't value marriage at all. Gasp! But I mean of bill Clinton could get a blow Kay in the office and hesarried. Does that make it okay? After all he only wanted to bust a nut

      May 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Gay art

      Do you live in the Midwest? Does that marriage your talking about include marrying your cousin because it's legal in north Carolina!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • James Bond

      what happnd..? P*nis got stucked in your mouth? you sound funny...lol

      May 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Gay art

      Ya sorry it did! I mean I'm sure I give better oral than your tranny girlfriend closet queen

      May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Patricksday

      You should meet the "honorable man and woman" who live above me and the way they model being married to their 3 children with Hate, filthy mouths, and violence. But God shines down on their union.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • JWT

      They are not sinners except to you.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  13. Robert

    If Islam is the answer, then there must have been a very stupid question

    May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • budoowhackadoo.

      LOL. but seriously, how many bumper stickers have you seen that read "Islam is the Answer." You sure the hell don't see them holding an annual Jihad Crusade at Anaheim Stadium.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  14. James Bond

    You call them Pastors?? ......hahahaha..they sold their souls to the devil....

    May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  15. 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 8:52 pm |
  16. enoch100

    Hopefully Mr. Obama will have plenty of time after November to go on his gay honeymoon.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Orack Borama

      are you wearing the dress, or is he?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • James Bond

      I wouldnt be surprised if he will drop michelle for a real man...lol

      May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Exactly, because if someone supports gay rights then they must be gay. I support equal rights for black people but I'm still as white as ever – just get a sunburn and don't tan!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  17. Orack Borama

    Frankly, as long as Obama doesn't support BLACK gay marriage, I'm all for him.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  18. dd

    What is the real ignorance among African Americans is that the majority of their children are born out of wedlock, significant numbers of their men have taken a particular liking to prison, if white women have had to deal with the degree of lack of care and sympathy that black men have given to their responsibilities–they'd be angry too. A SIGNIFICANT number of your young men drop out of high school; your women because of the abuse they have endured often take the low-road–and GAYS are your number one concern. The same people behind the ANTI-GAY initiatives are looking to segregate you, AGAIN!!!

    By the way....all this talk about people burning in hell reminds me of Hitler burning people he didn't like, like gays, in ovens. You really want to say god is like Hitler?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  19. Did he get the final Rose???

    Was Rev. Sharpton on the Bachelorette show? he has a rose pinned on his lapel!

    May 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Orack Borama

      No, the rose is just to mask the smell. He ran out of toilet paper for his face.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Flavor Flave

      Yep, he got one from me!!! 😉

      May 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  20. chirac

    to gay art. let get the record straight pay my fair cheer till den .you are going pay my cell phone bill and my food stamp u not hiring any black out there to work. plus my grand dad say America and Europeans own us moneys .you gonna pay more in taxes u cheat on your tax return like mitt rom did my grand dad kunta kunte .

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

      Nice try, troll.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • petemg

      I am sorry but I do not get what you are trying to say. If you are African American, Black or whatever remember it was the African tribes that captured and sold their own African people to the White men. That is just the way it was there. it is also the way many peoples did in history.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:06 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.