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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. fred ca

    Bleckin meyer. You are one smf. That is probably why you are sitting in your (single) parent's basement, typing with one hand.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      better than sitting in your (single) dad's armchair doing something nasty to him with ONE of your hands.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Just -In

      Obama is Not a Christian. Neither is al sharpton. He would endorse the devil if there was something in it for him.All these black pastors that they say suddenly support gay marriages dont exist. No Christian of ANY COLOR is going to stand with gay marriage. Its a hoax. They are Not supporting the pres or al sharpton. This is a totally fabricated story like the poll that said the magority of american support gay marriage. Really? 38 whole states do not . Another fabricated story. GET RID OF QBAMA AND BIDEN

      May 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  2. dallastexas75205

    It is WILDLY Hypocritical for any black person to not support freedom of marriage.

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

      I agree.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      they discovered a 'drink' gene. so its wildly hypocritical for anyone to support DUI / DWI laws.. they cant help it its not their choice

      May 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  3. Mick

    Well, I personally don't see how we can make an intelligent decision on the gay marriage issue without consulting a book that contains a story of a talking donkey.

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

      I always consult invisible men who live in the sky about important decisions. Especially on Sunday.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • n8263

      That is a good idea. We might as well consult Santa Claus too.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Just -In

      You will be held accountable for every careless word,,remember that!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • JWT

      What is in the book is not relevant.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      "You will be held accountable for every careless word,,remember that!"

      Oh honey, you do realize those in power have always used some book written by men thousands of years ago (revised countless times depending on their own views) to control the masses? Bless your heart for not realizing it! Santa (oh, I mean God) really doesn't know when you've been bad or good; you do. Everyone has an internal compass on what is good – use it.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  4. Al

    I guess that the word of GOD is no longer accepted, at least by this administration, if I recall correctly, the bible states what a marriage is defined as. There will be many that will follow Obama and his lack of belief for the bible and the word of GOD, and many will follow him just on the basis of his color, not on principle. Everyone has a right to live their lives as they wish, but the bible is still the bible, unless it's basis words are to be turned into some crazy belief that everyone is allowed to do as they wish without there being any reprisal. I don't wish to impose my life of being married as the bible states on anyone but don't ask for what is spoken against in the bible.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • dallastexas75205

      Al, Gays don't come to your house and tell you how to live your life in the eyes of God, good or bad, do they?? Then stop judging.

      Luke 6:37 ESV “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

      May 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Just -In

      AMEN! AMEN!!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Al

      You said, "I guess that the word of GOD is no longer accepted, at least by this administration, if I recall correctly, the bible states what a marriage is defined as."
      Does freedom of religion mean anything to you?

      Your god has no place, whatsoever, in our government. Sane people are not beholden to you imaginary friend.

      You said, "There will be many that will follow Obama and his lack of belief for the bible and the word of GOD, and many will follow him just on the basis of his color, not on principle."
      I will vote for him on principle. He is your only choice if you wish to live in a free country. If you prefer the Taliban, please vote for a Republican.

      You said, "Everyone has a right to live their lives as they wish"
      Might I suggest to stay out of their lives then?

      You said, "but the bible is still the bible, unless it's basis words are to be turned into some crazy belief that everyone is allowed to do as they wish without there being any reprisal."
      You are free to live your life according to that fairy tale. The grown-ups in this country should be able to make their life decisions based on reason and logic.

      You said, "I don't wish to impose my life of being married as the bible states on anyone but don't ask for what is spoken against in the bible."
      You are free to not do what you think the bible tells you not to do. Everyone else if free to decide for them self.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  5. jerry

    the true meaning of marriage was defined by GOD at is was for a man and a woman to be together GEN#5:2 GOD createdmale and female, blessed them andcalled THEIR name adam

    May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Was it God's actual handwriting? Bless your heart!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  6. Matt

    This is no different than the OJ trial. Black people willl overlook a LOT of things when the person in question is black. Obama could pretty much do anything short of murder and the black community will still vote for him. that is a no brainer.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  7. TDiddy

    Where are all the white women????

    May 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      The accurate quote, Mr. Double DTiddy, is: "where is all the white ladies at." Blazing Saddles speaks clearer to our time than Al Sharpton.

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

      makin babies

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

      Sorry....Skuuuuuse me while I whip this out!!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  8. Crambone Jones

    Evil always triumphs. All the hypocrite Christians were just put to the test. Blacks or whites they just failed. The destruction of the family is one of the devil's biggest programs.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • plbogle

      Amen,

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  9. Gay art

    Gays are the chosen ones when it comes to the end of the world ;to be FABULOUS !

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

      absolutely with all those colorful clothes and the bling bling they are fabulicious!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  10. fred ca

    Bleckin Meyer...obama is 1 generation removed from polygamy (his daddy who he idolized). Romney is 3 – 4 generations removed.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      Fred ca: and you, why, you're still sayin: "my sister- my daughter- she's my sister AND my daughter!"

      May 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  11. Arthur Lee

    Looks like my comments no longer get posted. Well it was fun while it lasted!!! Bye!!... Art.

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

      please don't go we will miss ya real bad...please come back..

      May 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  12. Freethinking Tom

    I used the GI Bill to study Mech Engineering after 5 years in the USMC. Through education, I was able to escape the Democrat Plantation and fend for myself. These people only use you as a tool for furthering their own agendas, brothers and sisters. You are NOTHING to them.

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

      Thanks for spending my tax money.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Wilson BenWa

      You earned the GI Bill. Thank you for your service to our Nation. God bless you.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Religion

      What service was that? He was paid to do a job that most Americans didn't want.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    n8263: "It is immoral to impose your religious supersti tion on others."

    Immoral??? From which morality guide? You? If a person has no absolute authority for moral issues, how can he say *anything* is immoral?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • n8263

      Reason. Rational thought is the only way to realize objective morality.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • tnms16

      the bible is the standard that's all we have

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

      Because morality is always a personal choice. Justifying it behind a higher power doesn't make it more authoritative. The Church itself (whichever Church you follow) has changed it's definition of what is 'moral' as the centuries have gone past, the code it espouses is no different than any other devised by man (even if you believe it's original source to be holy).

      May 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      And all that fancy atheist-humanist-science talk about how 'logical' the 'proper' morality is, is a bunch of bunk.
      One reason is that humanistic morality was informed/inspired by religion.
      Another reason is that morality isn't quantifiable.
      Another reason is that your morals will never be the exact same as another person's – even between two atheists.
      Yet another reason is that your morals might interfere with the natural order of nature – quite unscientific!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • n8263

      @tnms16, we also have the Q'uran, the Torah and many religious scripture and fairytales.

      How do you propose we decide which one to use?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • n8263

      @b4bigbang, so because there is no one definitive source that provides all answers to all moral questions we should rely on our own subjective interpretations of the myths of ignorant iron age cultures? Sorry, I will stay with rational thought.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      n8263, even rational thought fails, as it is *your own personal* rational thought (see reason #3 in my post above).

      May 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  14. 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. So do you also believe in the Tooth Fairy?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  15. TDiddy

    CNN race baiting 101! Didn't read the article...if you can all it that...didn't need to...al sharpton...cnn...let the race wars begin...I love being called a racist....that is why I troll cnn...good for many laughs...and I get to be called names...

    May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  16. Moses43

    I hope that he keeps talking; rather tells what kind of nonsense these people really believe; how out of touch with God and the Bible teachings these people are; how out of touch with main stream America they are; Obama will be voted out in Nov and I hope that tons of money is cut from these people's pockets; http://www.parchmentministries.com

    May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      They apparently teach Bible Study in prison. No other explanation for the number of store front preachers.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      So, I have to assume that you are in touch with you god. How lovely.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  17. Jim Weix

    So is it racist if blacks won't vote for a black?
    OK, let them all vote for the white guy. Too funny.
    The Lord has answered my prayers.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  18. Iceaxedave

    Short of cannibalism, what would Obambi have to do to have a black pastor speak out against him?

    May 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      He might suggest not killing each other, getting a job, or being a father to their children. Those suggestions will cost Obama a big chuck of black votes.

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

      Obviously, the article was too long for your little brain to read.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  19. DrDoITT

    My blood boils when they equate or even compare these deviants' fight for recognition to that of my people in the last half century..

    Im not anti-gay or a bigot. Just that its a DIFFERENT issue. for the record, I "hate the sin, love the sinner"

    Once we allow this then incesters, pedoists, polygamists, animalists, I dont know whom else will be in line..

    May 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Robert Shaw

      Well, at least YOU'D be free to come out of the closet and start h ump ing vaccuum cleaners. I mean, free to "go back in" the closet.

      Deviant: what a loving word.
      Bigot: an accurate word for hate-mongers like you.

      Join the Klan like your granddaddy.

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

      Dude.....chill......

      May 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • dean morse

      My blood boils when I think how my freedoms can be decided upon the ignorance of my peers in the United States of America.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      God bless you DrDoITT.

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

      "incesters, pedoists, polygamists, animalists"

      Are you talking about the Catholic Church? They have lots of people like that in there.

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

      Oh honey, I love you but I hate your bigotry. Take some deep breathes and try to get over your jealously that another minority group is actually now more hated than you.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  20. Bleckin Meyer

    I'd vote for a colored man who's cool with gay marriage over sum white-a$s mufuwka who supports polygamy ANY DAY.

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

      Who you calling colored??????

      May 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      That would be "Obama."

      May 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • educated mind

      So if NoBama's daughters were gay, would he support them then? I bet he'd go off his rocker!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      I bet he'd get back ON his rocker if Al Sharpton was sitting there.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:07 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.