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. uncle tommy

    obama will lead the black sheeple off the edge. he will preach rich people in business need to pay morine taxes
    while not saying anything about movie stars like george clooney who gives him money. ?????
    how about a Black Basketball player who makes 30 Million on a signing contract. does he need to pay his fair share????
    ............ i say leave all of them alone, they invest and spend and help our economy but Hussein wants Hitler style Warfare.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  2. lovelove

    i believe in god. i'm gay. i'm sure if I weren't gay, I would be super judgmental about it too. but on this side of this, it's amazing to see how many christians behave the way they do. who did christ push away? he was happy to spread love and blessings to everyone. way to follow your savior people!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • uncle tommy

      and exactly where do gay men put their things?? was it because you're homely and no woman would have you.

      don't give me it's heriditary BS. you just want to play with a Hotdog instead of a bun.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • lovelove

      wow. so it's about you being grossed out about the details? really? LOL. that's the argument you'll use to damn people?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      "gay men put their things" Somewhere a parent doesn't know what their 3 year old is typing.....

      May 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • lovelove

      and of course it's not hereditary. it's because throughout all of time and every civilization, despite horrendous presecution, certain people are just stupid and said "yep, i want people to hate me". LOL

      May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  3. Jerry Pelletier

    Why do black people even give Al Sleazton the time of day......

    May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • IranDestroyed

      because the ones that listen to him are by far illiterate jack asses just like him. He is a manipulator that used the church his whole life to make himself rich at the expense of keeping his flock ignorant. he, like the others that represent the 'black church' are all rich demigods who suspend logic and reason whenever it suits them – which seems to be all the time. they know they have a gullible audience, they always use the race card and they are singularly the most racist race mongers of this era.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  4. God hates Gays

    Real christians can't support Gays and Obama because the holy Bible says so.
    You all gullible and brainless christians LISTEN!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Very true statement.
      Thank goodness I'm not religious and have the freedom to having my own thoughts and acting upon them instead of having something like the BIBLE telling me I can't do something.

      Go Obama

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • lovelove

      ya, God and Christ are such haters. exactly what comes to mind. right on man, you should run for president!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  5. Tricia

    If I were African-American, it would be an insult in the worse way to compare me and my rights, to that of the gay world where physical interaction was never intended by a Holy God who created us. May the Lord bless those who stand for morality of God first, family virtues, and keeping our country free and yes, even civil unions for those of the gay world, but not marriage.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      Yeah, you should really vote for Romney. The founder of his religion didn't even believe that God created blacks. The church was forced to recant their position later, but what you should really be asking yourself is: should you vote for someone who believes God created your people, or who believes your race was a divine punishment, but refuses to support gay rights.??? just saying...

      "And [God] had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God; I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities." (2 Nephi 5:21)

      May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      Sorry should have paid more attn to your post- you are NOT black. But the same question still applies, regardless.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  6. slaveworld

    Once you vote Black you never go back

    May 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      cause dey won't let you back in the voting booth. mufuwking grandfather clauses! and jim crow...sheeit.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  7. 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 9:36 pm |
  8. It's the season for reason!

    If you are ugly or have ugly habits, you invite rejection. That's just the way it works in nature – it's called selection of the fittest, and if you mess with that, you will have serious, negative consequences. It doesn't take religion to figure that out!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • fred ca

      So being a spinner at a frat house is not an ugly habit? Lucky for you, eh?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  9. God hates Gays

    Those Gay people will destroy family value; spread diseases; make your kids gay; and bankrupt our country.
    Let President Romney fix America! God hates Gays and diseases.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • slaveworld

      F U K your GOD

      May 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Reza T

      WHAT?!!!! god hates gays and diseases? are you serious? I don't even know ho to answer to the disease comment, that's a lot of people god would hate. and apply the same principle to gay persons as well. use that brain every once in a while

      May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Becca

      Oh it sounds like you are a good christian. These people who claim to be christians they have done something very bad them selfs. So they go find a place to get reborn and claim they are good christians now. Geezzzzzzzzz Most of us can understand you are only born once! So how can these people who call their selfs reborn do that ? Is it some kind of magic? I do not think so! They live in some kind of dream world I guess. I can just bet that there are just as many black gays as white gays so what is the problem with both black and white churchs? What I think is that the gays should make their own church and give your money to the god who believes in them and the god that shows no hate!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      HETR0S have already destroyed the family value structure. Gays will only improve it.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  10. Leroy Jones

    Imma aks y'all ta cut down on da racism now. Chill, y'all. Wa da ta to the tippie tie.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  11. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    Is it me or am I not the only one who wants to punch out this racist bigot every time I see him in the news. Everything about him makes me want to vomit

    May 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  12. Yepyep

    @johnfrichardson funny how you white demonic perverted liberals twist every issue at every turn, lets see the white man does for the whiteman when he gets in leadership position, the mexican helps the mexican, the asian helps the asian, and so on. But for some reason you white liberal think it's wrong for a blackman if that's what you want call him specifically provides help for people who look like him, you say it's wrong. I know you are white and that's why I take the statement with a grain of salt. Blacks are the only race on this earth when they get into position of power they forget. Barrack Insane in the Membrane is no different. So dont talk to me about raising up your people every other race does it. The white race has been doing it for 400 years.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • candiroo10

      White males have been lifting themselves up for centuries – stepping on others who got in their way or who they perceived as threats: women, blacks, hispanics. You name it and white males have used and abused others to get ahead and lift themselves up. When someone else does it, oh no, it's wrong, unfair. Duh.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  13. boyhowdy

    Politics, religion, and racial division all in one article.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Mr No It All

    There was a time during the last century when colored people wanted to be like George Washington, today we find young white people influenced by and wanting to be like Martin Luther King Jr.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  15. Joe Shcom

    A word for all you gay people out there: God hates you, God hates CNN for not hating gays. See you in church on Sunday, b itches.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Wow, God sure seems like a real hater; doesn't sound like anyone I want to know.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  16. JG

    who cares what blacks think?

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

      PS: we already know.

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

      no one cares how they think, only how they vote.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Fake god

      Cause there are tons of gullible and low-educated black voters out there.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  17. Reza T

    We as a nation need to grow up and be humans towards each other instead of constantly finding a group of people to have an issue with. Who are we to decide what goes on in other peoples lives?
    if you look into any religion one of the first things is not to judge other people, and yet some how it happens that most judging comes from super religious folks. when are we going to learn from our history? can't we look back to just a few decades ago? women had right issues, then people of color (whatever that even means) didn't have certain rights and now a gay person?
    it's also unbelievable to me that in one of the most advanced countries in the world (as we like to claim U.S. to be) in the 21st century there is still talk about racism.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  18. Fake god

    Those Gay people will destroy family value; spread diseases; make your kids gay; and bankrupt our country.
    This message is approved by all gullible and hateful American CHRISTIANS.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      """Those Gay people will destroy family value; spread diseases; make your kids gay; and bankrupt our country.
      This message is approved by all gullible and hateful American CHRISTIANS."""" – FakeGad

      Actual HETR0S have already done what for them. The destruction on the family values and spreading diseases come from cheating spouses. One parent households is because these so called family value critics forget that you don't even practice what you preach in the first place. If anything gay unions will only improve on the already cracked foundation of family values. We will actually start having some again.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  19. 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 9:30 pm |
  20. Holly in CA

    If Romney were to choose a Black VP, perhaps someone like Condoleezza Rice, Black Americans would be free to vote their conscience as opposed to voting based on race. I'm guessing the whole Obama supporting gay marriage thing would suddenly become a major issue.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:30 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.