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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. Big D

    I really dont think that it is a issue of blacks being racist. They base their beliefs on what the bible says. I dont think it's an issue of civil liberties, its an issue of man with man, and women with women. Its not natural, and no life can come from it. Gays should be able to put each other as beneficiaries on their pensions, or be able to see each other in the hospital if the other is hurt without any questions asked, but being able to be married-a unity between a man, a women, and God--that shouldn't be allowed.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Mario

      Your religion and your bible are not allowed (and should not be allowed) to dictate every waking moments of everyones life.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Doug

      What God. You don't mean the fairy tale one do you?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Ron

      I find liberals and their penchant for using the fed gov as their bully boy to be much greater threats to personal freedom than religious nuts.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  2. JT

    He need to concentrate on stopping black people in committing most of the crime in this country. Almost every violent crime of all kinds is committed by blacks. Just a stereotype, I don't think so.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Ron

      They commit about half of all murders, and a seriously disproportionate share of other violent crimes.

      No need to exaggerate, as the awful truth is bad enough.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Doug

      What makes you think that?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      The "National Youth Gang Survey Analysis" (2009) state that of gang members, 49% are Hispanic/Latino, 35% are African-American/black, 9% are white, and 7% are other race/ethnicity

      May 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Lib

      I seriously doubt that since everyweekthere are a large number of whites killing their families and committing crimes. People insist on believing on statistics. Every most wanted criminal on the FBI list are mostly white. The only problem Blacks have are with young Black thugs. On a whole Blacks are very decent and patriotic americans.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      For men in their early thirties, African-Americans are about 7 times more likely to have a prison record than whites. However, more blacks are enrolled in college than in prison. According to the US Census Bureau as of the year 2000 there were 2,224,181 blacks enrolled in college. In that same year there were only 610,300 black inmates in prison according to the Bureau of Justice.12.5 percent have a bachelor’s degree.The results are highly dependent on education. 30 percent of those without college education and nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts had prison records.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  3. Jim Jones.

    Nothing wrong with a Gay black President, just get the woman out of the Pink House and bring in your true love, be true to yourself. Quit pandering to them kids also, they have no place in the Pink House.

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

    Typical christians "God told me to HATE you!!!!" Stop using your religion to justify pure undiluted unjustified HATRED.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  5. Doug

    What God would not speak soley for themselves?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  6. kinglywarrior

    Why are politics in the pulpit? Why is religion an election issue? Americans overall are not very smart and are easily distracted.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  7. Al Sharpton is an asshoIe

    !

    May 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Mario

      If you want to see one look in the mirror.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  8. Harry Knowles

    Hey folks... Harry here! I just wanted to say that you should all get off the race card and go watch the Avengers! It's like the most f* & king awesome lo ad of...well suffice it to say that it's great! Check it out! and check out Ainti tcool. com.

    p.s. I really need the bl a ck readership here, folks, so get out the vote!

    Cheers!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Sue Conn It

      Harry Knowles is the world's one and only talking test icle with (red) hair.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  9. Fake god

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

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

    Why is it socialy acceptable for african americans to support biggotry in all forms, except when their race is the victem? Are gay rights less important than black rights?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Joe

      Looking at the bible, God says that if you love your father, mother, sister or brother more than his word and him, then you can not be apart of the kingdom. But when forsake all that is before God then you will have everlasting life Matthew 19:29. That not biggoitry, that biblical righteousness. That's just the way it is no matter what race or gender you are. Just Follow the word or fall into the way everyone else does business Romans 8:7. Your choice.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  11. Voice of Reason

    The term IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, generally describes a score on a test that rates the subject's cognitive ability as compared to the general population. IQ tests use a standardized scale with 100 as the median score. On most tests, a score between 90 and 110, or the median plus or minus 10, indicates average intelligence. A score above 130 indicates exceptional intelligence and a score below 70 may indicate mental retardation.

    United States Average IQ = 98

    Hong Kong Average IQ = 107

    Ethiopia Average IQ = 63

    IQ and jobs

    140 Top Civil Servants; Professors and Research Scientists.

    130 Physicians and Surgeons; Lawyers; Engineers (Civil and Mechanical)

    120 School Teachers; Pharmacists; Accountants; Nurses; Stenographers; Managers.

    110 Foremen; Clerks; Telephone Operators; Salesmen; Policemen; Electricians.

    100+ Machine Operators; Shopkeepers; Butchers; Welders; Sheet Metal Workers.

    100- Warehousemen; Carpenters; Cooks and Bakers; Small Farmers; Truck and Van Drivers.

    90 Laborers; Gardeners; Upholsterers; Farmhands; Miners; Factory Packers and Sorters.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Ron

      Now let's have the racial breakdown.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Oh, I almost forgot!

      Average IQ for the religious = 30

      May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Ron

      Blacks are the most "spiritual" folks, so that'll bring down the religious average a few notches.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  12. Dean

    Let's call it for what it is...black Americans will still vote for Obama irregardless of whether or not gay marriage is even an issue. There's no way that they will stand by and let the first black President be a one-termer. It's just not going to happen.

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

      Blacks are standing still at a bit less than 13% of the population, so their opinions will matter less as time goes by and Hispanics zoom ahead.

      The latter will decide things in the future. "God help us" still applies.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • ron

      Preach it my brother of blacken faith and blackend Chicken

      May 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  13. Moroni

    Mormonism teaches that black people are cursed with the "Mark of Cain."

    May 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  14. fred ca

    Bleckin meyer is off-line. His mama is, uh, lending a hand.

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

      That's the way YOUR mother likes it, Fred Ca.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • fred ca

      My momma is dead AH. And she never had patience for fools like you. So go ahead, type with one hand, and use the other for your mamma. By the way...does she have a clue as to who your daddy is? Can she at least get it down to triple digits?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Joe Shcom

      how far can you get three of your digits up your dad again?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:33 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 9:20 pm |
    • Joel

      Amen.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Don Metzger

      OK ...Tawana Brawdley. Need I say more. Obviously YES. How can the Media ( Liberal or Conservative) give this self confessed LIAR a pulpit.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Lib

      Tawana Brawley. THat's the ONLY thing you have to hang on the Pastor. Well let me shake my list out on you people who have many character problems and mistakes. Atleast the reverend Shapton has a job and knows his mistakes and has admited them. More than I can say about the numerous whites who continue to make azz ho es out of themselves weekly especially in congress

      May 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  16. I am a gay American

    I am a gay man, and I can see right through this political move by Obama. Next, he will be hanging out a senior citizen communities. And promising them the world. This president has done more to erode civil rights, particularly with the NDAA, than any other president. I have never voted for a Republican. I am voting against Obama this election. And. I hope that he eventually ends up in jail for selling out this country.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You're as gay as a kkk parade.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • I too am a gay American

      For the reasons you succinctly spelled out– and also for his authorization of the murders of American citizens– I will not be voting for Obama come November. I asked for RuPaul; I will settle for Ron Paul.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • The other guy man

      your comments could not be any gayer. If you are really gay, just remember all Republican members wish all people like you were dead. Damn ass.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Lib

      YEAH RIGHT pretty convincing. No gay in their right mind will vote for Mitt Romney.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • The other gay man

      To the other guy:

      Is this "All Republicans want you dead" thing some new so-called liberals' forced meme? I have been reading quite a bit of it around the internet of late. It smacks of the "FIGHT TERRORISM: VOTE REPUBLICAN" campaign of 2004. Like that nonsense, your talking points are totally asinine and self-contradictory. I for one will not be threatened into supporting your choice of empty suit.

      Our incessant need to be dissatisfied with either a Republican or a Democrat every four years is what is destroying this country. And if this was "real life" and not just a comment board, trust and believe I would issue you the "Frenchman's wave."

      May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Steve

    Looks like those always-maligned whites are the most "tolerant" ones, again.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  18. Dana

    Obama will go in the history books as the worst President in our history second only to Carter.

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

      I think Reagon did a lot more long-term damage to the country (and less good) than Carter did.

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

      He's not the worst.

      He's been good for polarization, which is reason enough to keep him around. It "clarifies" things.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Eddie Hurley

      he should

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

      @goodnplenty good thing we still have the right to our opinions.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Lib

      I seriously doubt that since Reagan and Bush jr have that spot

      May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  19. Kanageloa

    I'm an American minority. I work over forty hours a week. I pay taxes. I'm not in any debt and I own my home free and clear. Never had a student loan. I don't do drugs. I eat beef and pork. I'm not overweight My two cars are over 10 years old. I don't belong to any party. I voted for Clinton, Bush and Obama. This year I'm voting for Romney.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Eddie Hurley

      you are a true american work and not crying for a hand out God will bless you for that

      May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • El Flaco

      There are two kinds of Conservatives:

      1. Liars

      2. Dupes

      May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Lib

      If you are Black and voting for Romney, then you are a big jerk. I will never vote for anyone who looks at Blacks as animals and not humans. I will never vote for anybody who does not represent every American. I also don't like Blacks that Brag since I know a large number of Blacks including my family who have their own businesses and own homes and are not on any government aid. What a a zz hole You are

      May 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Don't worry.....eventually they'll come for you.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  20. 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 a ignorant iron age cultures? Sorry, I will stay with rational thought.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:18 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.