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. Foolish BLACKS!

    oh no, blacks are scrambling around not knowing what they stand for anymore since their black pres. came out of the closet.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  2. DrDoITT

    Kodie from TLC's 'sister wives', the polygamist serial was talking about filing court case for recognition of polygamous marriages coz gay ones are... just wait and see the incesters, pedoists, animalists, everyone will join in

    May 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  3. Yepyep

    @Max Power what did you mean by that statement are you saying that black pastors should be lynched? Since you are talking about going back in time. You Racist

    May 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm |

    I think your folks making a big mistakes when seeing Condoleeza Rice as a black. Rice is the smartest and noble lady I have known with fully respect. I am afraid that Romney is not that smart to convince Rice to be VP.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  5. Tired

    As a gay man, I'm voting Republican because I AM TIRED OF SUPPORTING THE BLACK COMMUNITY with my taxes. Church going????? PHOOEY! BLACK "CULTURE" is VIOLENCE, ABSENCE of A FATHER, RAP BULLCRAP and they GO TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY?????? I'll continue to work my ass off, better myself and they can ROT IN HELL.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • raheem luqman riley


      May 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  6. TruthSpkr

    Cut the Crap & go to work to care of important things !!!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  7. Rizzo

    Phuck Al sharpton , racist pig he is

    May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  8. Leroy Jones

    Mitt Romney read to me from the book of Mormon, in person last week. He's really desperate for votes. It said:

    "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 9:43 pm |
    • Brandon

      That is referencing the Native Americans...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      even better...if you believe that! Ouch.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  9. raheem luqman riley


    May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  10. DC

    "Rev" Wallace Charles Smith is a bigot, just like the old white segregationist Pastors of the Jim Crow south. Clergy don't get a free pass. Bigotry is bigotry.

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

      @DC so what are you saying you white liberals are sure talking about the past of Jim Crow you know that old Jimmy Crow was a Democract idea. I bet you all the average black dont know the history of the democratic party and JFK not signing the 1st Civil Rights Bill as a senator. Oops! I'm sorry I let that slip.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  11. BJust

    My advice to all normal folks, like it or not: study, work, love your kids, spauces & friends, don't pay any attention to self-serving politicians like Sharpton or Obama.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • fred ca


      May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  12. safetgard

    dont take much to get ole jessie and al out now a days ohhh... where is farrakon

    May 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    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 9:42 pm |
  14. alexnander1234

    This is sad in the church when people have adopted the standards and practice of the World.
    This is huge compromise. I will not go along with it for one second. The reason why all these Pastors are walking a fine line is because they were praising him like crazy four years ago. Now they have mud on their face. You deserve it..

    Repent.. because Judgement is coming.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  15. Woody

    The bible was actually written 300 years after Jesus possible birth if he was he was born on the continent of Asia at Asia minor he was not a european white guy , he did not wear 3.000.00 outfits with a limo out back like ministers do today . The church is all about bling bling and not fixing a darn thing . The diverse rate is still 50% without gay marriage . I think that speaks for itself and domestic violence is the thing that is out of control along with abortions , and adoptions .

    May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  16. DC

    "Rev" William Charles Smith is a bigot, just like the old white segregationist Pastors of the Jim Crow south. Clergy don't get a free pass. Bigotry is bigotry.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  17. God hates Gays

    Black people and christians shouldn't have right to vote because they all fail science and math.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Are you having fun?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      It is just simple statistics.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Brandon

      lol, you are funny...now, go tuck your mom in bed and close the door when you go back into the basement, mm k...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  18. slaveworld


    May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • enricorosan

      You are saying that "God is dead" then God must have been alive and well at one time. But since God is immortal and not subject to natural laws that govern all ephemeral living things according to Christians, Jews and Muslims then your information must be wrong and God is still alive and well.

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

      and you are still living.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  19. James

    I do not have to agree with everything our President believes to give him my vote...But this shows that Obama is not willing as a human, to stand for what he believes...Its about votes to him....Same for Al Sharpton and those people who thrive on hate and being in the press...Why hasn't the black community put together an organization in every community to help the ones who need help...To prevent gangs, drugs, and teach that education is importantat, and being responsible and taking care of your family and doing the right things...Al Sharptons life is not about helping, because that requires effort, he is about pointing fingers and what he thinks is wrong...But not willing to stay and find a solution to solve the problem...God will judge the Christian leaders for going along with an abomination of marriage....Obama, you lost my vote...

    May 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  20. raheem luqman riley


    May 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Septemberfrost

      Ok and you fail to mention how Lincoln wanted to have all blacks deported to Africa after the abolishment of slavery.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Yepyep

      @raheem luqman riley are you a punk ?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:54 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.