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. Lib

    It never ceases to amaze me how most whites throw out a bunch of baseless nonsense. Truly unbelievable.

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

    Wasn't there an old Morton Downey show where a very fat and young Al Sharpton called someone a "f@@ot" ?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      Yeah, that's what he called Fred ca

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Moroni

    Joseph Smith said that he was greater than Jesus. He had several wives and claimed that God wanted Mormons to have multiple wives. How is this in any way Christian?


    May 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      apart from the greater than God bit, it's a. pretty cool, and b. pretty much in line with the Old and New Testament. Abraham, David, Solomon, etc. had multiple wives, and Paul sure didn't protest against them. Everything checks out, except that Joe was a Mormon.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  4. helpinghoustonshomeless

    Rev Sharpston is a racial bigot The Rev Sharpston & Jackson will not reley on morrals they are strickly in it for the black vote no matter what Obama may advocate they will and would follow him off the bridge. It is a real shame they have full time jobs stiring the racial pot. #Diginity #Respect out of breath!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Lib

      It's dum mies like you and the rest of them on here who want to believe that Sharpton and Jackson are leaders of the Black community. I respect the work of Sharpton and Jackson but unlike most of you who feel that Limbaugh's word is gospel most of us Blacks are quite capable of thinking on our own. We did not vote for either Jackson or sharpton when they ran for president. So THERE!!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  5. Sue On

    the nice thing about posting on an article about black and gay people is that CNN turns off most of their automatic word censors, since both black AND gay are usually considered offensive.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  6. Guest

    Obama has lost touch with the people. He panders to whomever will give him the vote. That shows a shallowness that even surprises his supporters, of which I am not one.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  7. Your Panties in Texas

    Rev? Al Sharpton should go back to Africa and intercourse himself. Does everyone agree with me?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Grant

      I can think of several *leaders* that should go with him.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  8. be

    So the Christians are trying to say that the Bible condemns ho mo se x u a lity? Is this the same Bible that says that John was the disciple that Jesus loved? What....like he hated the rest maybe? Is this the same Bible that Jesus praised the faith of the Roman Soldier who asked for his "servant" to be healed. Interestingly they did not use the traditional word for "servant" but rather used the word that referred to a male servant with whom the master had a "special relationship." I am thinking Jesus would be pretty hip to gay marriage.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  9. Patricksday

    What if Slavery was put on the Ballot for a Vote, state by state would it of passed???? You can vote on civil rights, and the Supreme Court will finally have to legalize it, just like they did when Blacks could not marry out of their race as recent as 1971 in some states.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  10. dallastexas75205

    James 4:12 – "There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?"


    May 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  11. azreal

    It's a dicey topic any which way you cut it....... I see Obama for what he is....... 2008 he says he believes marriage is between a man and a woman...... Now his views have quote unquote evolved........ All it is.... is a political gambit for votes........ This should be a wake up call for a America that the way we elect are officials needs to change....... Because all either side of the party line does is gives us trash..........

    May 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  12. Julius Raynor

    Every person deserves the righ to be treated equally as long as they are a law abiding legal citizen!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  13. Bleckin Meyer

    Most people never have to face the facts that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of ... anything.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • fred ca

      Maybe you chump. Most of us lead honest lifes. But, then again, I don't live in my (single) parent's basement.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Bleckin Meyer

      No...you're probably the single-parent owner of the basement, you dumb "chump." HAR HAR HAR he said "chump" like it's an insult. hu hu hu.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  14. edvhou812

    Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton tell an entire segment of our population how to think. No wonder we're so screwed up.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  15. dallastexas75205

    Luke 6:37 – “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 9:12 pm |
  16. I have a dream!

    To live in one house with my 17 wives without any hormonal imbalances!
    Is it possible??????

    May 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  17. Patricksday

    Christians wont be happy until we have the American Taliban hijacking our American Freedoms, instead of keeping their own porch swept off, they worry about others and try to police them.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  18. blake

    Al Sharpton. One of the biggest racists in the U.S. CNN, stop covering the man.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I agree he is a racist

      May 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Lib

      I haven't heard Mr. Sharpton say anything racist, BUT I have heard a lot or racist comments made by whites weekly about our current president. One just rightly so got released from the military with a somewhat dishonorable discharge. Everyweek the sick pathetic racist whites crawl out of the wall. Should be lots of shame within the white culture

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  19. vstewart5

    i really dont give a crap about gay's or lezbo's but what i have a problem with is why the US Government is getting involved with this issue..where i work starting in 2013 i will have to pay a extra $150 a month to keep my wife on my insurance..now on the other hand if your gay and live with a partner then they will cover them at no extra cost..the question was asked about this issue and our company told us that this was under the new government policy ..i am sick and tired of special treatment for gay's,black's and illigals from our government to say the least..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      As a Black, You think we aren't fed up too!! Join the party and stop whining. Be glad you HAVE A JOB!!

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

      Well you need to go to the State Labor Board, because if thats true they are discriminating, but it sounds like your lying to stir up more hate. I have a partner and I can assure you he gets NOTHING for free because of our relationship.

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

      Sorry...... I missed the part of the plan where it says that gays, illegal aliens, and others dont have to pay for insurance for their partners coverage. Would you point that out for me..... Thanks.... Grant

      May 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  20. Fake god

    Most black christians are gullible and low-educated followers who would believe anything.
    But this is the only one with brain and heart.

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

      Yeah what ever you pedophile

      May 13, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Lib

      Another racist remark made by another Obama hater and racist who knows NOTHING about the Black culture. Stop watching negative news. I just witnessed over 2000 ethnic graduats from a university this weekend. That's what's wrong with most racist redneck whites, you believe what you want to believe about other cultures just to cover up your own shortcomings. Bunch of hypocrits

      May 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Fake god

      I wonder why you all believe Pastor Long Dong.
      Even my dogs knew he is a GAY pedo.

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

      You will answer to our creator Jehovah God for your words. You sound completely uneducated. You can repent now and ask for forgiveness and intellect, or spend an eternity in Hell! I do hope that you choose the former.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:28 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.