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. DrDoITT

    There was a man called Mark Foley

    who sent lewd messages to young boys

    and when he was caught, said 'oh, im sorry. did this coz im gay',

    so what do you think of gays now?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      I can tell you what I think of you now – you're up late on a school night and need to really improve your writing skills. Now, go brush your teeth and go to sleep!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      It doesn't change my opinion about gays.

      He is a pedophile. would just would have been confusing if that was his excuse but the messages were sent to girls.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire


      and your example would be like what would I think of all black people if one used the excuse the he robbed a store for money or a Christian man beating his wife because his religion tells him its okay. The black man, in my example, is really just a robber and the Christian is just a violent abusive criminal.

      Bottom line, My opinion about a group does not change because of one so called representative. I change an opinion when the vast majority of that group does.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  2. God hates Gays

    I am a die hard christians so I can't vote for Gays and/or Mormon.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • me

      well I guess you are safe...Obama is neither...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  3. Witakers

    the church and religion is a bunch of crock. .im neither pro or anti gay, im anti-dumbazz. . religion is a tool to manipulate week minds and lost souls. . .you can never go wrong with science. . .explains everything.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  4. Baldwin4884

    Since Al was so very wrong with his opinion of the Duke Lacrosse team, they had done nothing wrong, even thought Al wanted to see all the white guys go to jail for something that never happened, and did not pointing the finger at the person that was really at fault, never said he made a big mistake and was wrong.
    I have absolutely no respect for him. I would never listen to him. He has been wrong so many times and it too quick to prejudge with out listening to or waiting for all the facts to be presented.
    He is just a publicity hound and does nothing for the cause, he just wants the camera on himself.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      ya don't think we will see an apology about calling Zimmerman a racist when his grandmother is black. Al never apologizes for his rush to judgment. Everything is Racial when something happens to a black person by a non-full black person.

      Where is this DEDICATION on black on black violence. Where's Al to bring forth justice to those innocent black people destroyed by a black menace of society. That wouldn't get him TV time and that is all he wants. He doesn't care for the black peoples rights, only his personal agenda.

      Race card is so overused

      May 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  5. ton

    The article seems to be saying blacks don't want gay marriage but vote for Obama anyway.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Ya think?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      Both Blacks and christians are hateful and brainless.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Patricksday

      What if Americans voted on the rights of a black person to marry out of their race, would it of passed in the 1960's? You cant vote on civil rights for a minority of people and the Supreme Court will have to rule in favor of Gay Marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  6. Ivellise

    If all you do is watch NBC, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS...you alredy in a lot of trouble...your are not getting d right info...Please look and read somewhere else...Is a scary Media out there...

    May 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • me

      you mean like we should just watch Fox? Really? Heck even al qaeda knew Fox was cr#p!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  7. Woody

    How much longer will it be before America is educated enough to know God is actually spelled Gold . They just left out the L.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  8. God hates Gays

    Christians are all freaking BS, thanks to the Holy Pastor Long and Haggart.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Moses43

      So all Christians are terrible and Christianity is a foolish thing all because of two bad apples in the barrel?? are all politicians terrible because of Obama? I think not; is the sun terrible because of a hurricane or tornado? your logic is very illogical

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      Most christians believe these GAY Pastors tho.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  9. Arizona Yankee

    Black pulpit and showing Sharpton ???? What a travesty, remember Tiwana Brawley ???? He is no Rev. he is nothing but a black trouble maker that has set back race relations in this country for years. Just like the other fraud, Jessie Jackson. give us a break with this garbage....

    May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • harlemsoul

      Your statements have nothing to do with the issue at hand Madam or Sir. Just for one instance leave your bigotry in your other room. Enter this room with an educational dialogue or debate. The article didn't include the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev Sharpton has a right to voice his support for the issue at hand of which I do not support..... Thanks and have a great evening...

      May 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire


      thank goodness for the rights to free speech. Someone back in the day fought for your rights to have that. Now moving back on to the topic in hand.

      Al is a bigot with a personal agenda that doesn't really do anything positive for the black community.

      Blacks need better spokespeople.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  10. bored already

    "Black Culture" (hehehe). Al Sharpton (hahahaha) NAACP (Bwahahahahahahahahaha!)

    May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  11. Woody

    You can not rely on anyone that is not around anymore .

    May 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • fred ca

      How does it feel to be sad, ignorant and blissful all at the same time?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  12. God hates Gays

    The Holy Pastor Long said gay people will go to hell. You all should HATE gay people!

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

      Seriously? Hate? YOU are what's wrong with humanity...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Emily K

      Come on out of the closet...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Moses43

      why do equate hell with hate? I can tell you that a certain sin like stealing and lying will send a person to hell, but does that mean I hate all liars and thieves? your logic is illogical; God hates all sin but still loves the sinner; since he loves the sinner He sent Christ to die for all of them; http://www.parchmentministries.com

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      sorry who is he again? oh ya nobody. NEXT!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  13. uncle tommy

    Blacks are still not as smart as whites. they admit it by holding on to Affirmative Action. ax them if they are equal they will say no we need Affirmative Action because we are not as smart nor can we compete with a white male or female.
    .............bless their hearts we should pray for the ignorant, reminds me of Radio....... i know you dream in white.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  14. Wayne

    We get to see who's in it for the money

    May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  15. tee


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

      You are a religious fanatic-just like bin laden.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Jesus doesn't believe in caps lock....

      May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      Wendy- true, he doesn't believe in Capt Spock. It's Mister Spock! Get it right!!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      oh boy another bible thumper

      Religion is the root of all evil.

      Party is hell I guess.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  16. tee


    May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Tired

      Shut your uneducated, unemployed mouth up.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      Or instead of taking 2 Bible chapters out of context, you could read the entire Left Behind series, one of the top ten bestselling book series in the new millenium, on amazon .com.

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

      Wow.....I think I heard that tirade somewhere before......Oh yeah.....it was when inter-racial marriage was being passed.....or did I read it somewhere when they were trying to pass the right for women to vote......hmmm...can't remember right now.....it is all blurring together.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      *Praying to God* – Please do not let me get saved. Based on the postings of those who claim to be your followers, I prefer to not be "saved". Thanks in advance.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  17. Woody

    It was not long ago black people were slaves and women were not even allowed to vote so I guess God hated black people and women back then ?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • me

      Best said statement...you speak truth Mr. Woody!

      May 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • fred ca

      No. People are people and sometimes they suck. But look at the history...it was the churches that paved the way.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  18. Leroy Jones

    It's so cold in the d. How the f do we sposed to find peace?

    May 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  19. smb

    If African Americans believe they will be better served by Romney then they should vote for him.

    But if they vote against Obama because of this one issue then they deserve whatever happens during a Romney presidency.

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

      Hopefully they won't be cursed by God, like the book of Moron says:

      "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 9:46 pm |
    • Brandon

      Leroy, stop, that is about native americans, and yes, that happened.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      You know what Brandon, you're right, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend black people by lumping them together with native americans. I'll just move my comment and (accurate) quotation to the comment board about the Native American pastors who don't support gay marriage but are considering supporting Obama.


      May 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Brandon

      Leroy, seriously, stop. I know it's true because I've had the burning in my bosoms.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Brandon – pics please.....

      May 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  20. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    I think what is said about this article is the fact that it's now being proven that these so called "followers" of Obama only did so because he was black.

    Racist Bigots

    May 13, 2012 at 9:44 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.