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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. AL IS RACIST

    This guy is one of the worst advocates of reverse racism that exists on the planet.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Taxed Citizen

      The top 3 rasists are Al, Jessie and Barry.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Karen

      I agree, we are all pink inside and bleed the same, but green is where the money is; inside your pocket....GO NAACP-originally created by the white folks in this country...

      May 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Karen

      Old school....too many other cultures in the world that hate us too, can't blame them....why black and white...too obvious in this country...I will not support or vote for OBAMA!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  2. ualv

    If you hate you are not a Christian.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      Most American christians are gullible rednecks and brainless Blacks.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      If you hate sin you are a Christian. If you dislike people calling sin acceptable in God's eyes and stand for truth you probably will be a persecuted Christian.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Karen

      sound like a hater yourself.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  3. God hates Gays

    God hates Gays, but God loves GOP and gullible Black christians.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Karen

      the pair of shoes look the same, but fit on the opposite feet...just saying. you cannot breed donkeys with horses; nor breed monkeys with humans, so how the Hell can you breed two bleeding women, or sperm providing men the same way. Scientist know and they don't believe in God

      May 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Joe

      this 'God hates gays' guy and the 'egz' person are offensive and hateful to the blacks. They are a throw back to the clan days. This only creates violence in our country and not generating healthy and civil discussion. CNN should not have comments that hvae racism on this post!!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  4. ezg437

    For all blacks who oppose equal rights for gay or any other people, I say re-net them (like their own people did back when) and sell them all. It'll be good for the economy and be in line with the bible they quote when condeming gay and withholding their rights. Fair is fair and the bible is the bible afterall. No?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  5. Taxed Citizen

    Seems that Al, Jessie and barry will do anything to get their face in front of a camera. Wjhn I see Al all I can think of is Tawanna Brawley and the number of lives the great Rev Al ruined. He has no credibility.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  6. Joe

    There should not be hate from the church on the issue. Black americans are just like any americans who base sin on the bible, not by what the president say. Don't take the word of a man, look at the word in black and white. Romans 1:26-27. Like one pastor said we want to have a place for everyone in the church and he's President of the U.S. not Pastor of the U.S.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  7. Woody

    If men are of God than why are women still treated as second class citizens with lower pay in America . Why are women in 2012 still not created equal under the eyes of the wealth mens God .

    May 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • fred ca

      Studies show young women make more than young men on a profession to profession basis. More women work part-time then men. Men work more overtime than women (even more now that single parent moms grow in numbers). And in the current White House the percentage difference is greater than in private industry. Any questions?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      That's completely inaccurate! Women are making more money than men currently. You are listening to the left again, always full of misrepresentations and half-truths.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  8. finkster

    Of all the people to picture with this article you had to put the biggest racists of all...Al Sharpton?
    What an idiot

    May 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  9. annieL

    Proof again that those who have been persecuted will persecute others. Sad.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  10. God hates Gays

    Americans christians are gullible and hateful.
    The other christians are more peaceful and educated.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • fred ca

      Blissful...and we know how you got that way.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. Tom

    Obama is the WORST president ever. He may never be labeled that (because he's black) though. Jimmy Carter can finally sleep good at night knowing this fact. The only thing Obama has done for America is destroy economic hope, and oppress the citizens. I think that the Americans need to drop the race issue, stop being ignorant, and elect a president; not re-elect Obama.

    goonNplenty-– You obviously have no idea what you're talking about. Ronald Reagan is the best president that anyone living has every had. He may be the best president that America has ever had. You need to reconsider your view.....this time without the blinders of the democratic haze. Only a pure democrat, or someone with zero knowledge would make the assumption that Reagan was anything less that an awesome president.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • TeaPatriot

      Amen, Brother.

      President HUSSEIN, part of the Obama Bin Biden team SUX.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Meme

      Obama continues to divide Americans. I m so sick and tired of his political strategies.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  12. Yepyep

    Most gays are atheist

    May 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • ezg437

      Actually, you are wrong. Gays have been rejected by the church, and in some cases by their own family. Many gays do believe in G-d, just not the one the haters quote. Where did you get this silly non-existing statistic? Fox, church, where?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Tired

      As a gay man who know MANY gay people. You are wrong. You are an idiot.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      The gay lifestyle is rejected by churches who reject sin. It is no different than rejecting any other sin humans commit. If one repents and gives up the sin they have been committing they should be forgiven and accepted.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Karen

      Tired: is this an invitation? So you are gay!!!!! And what else? No sympathy

      May 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I@ Yepyep

      'm confused with your statement

      was it meant to be offensive?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  13. WolfJack

    Al not so Sharpton....always exploiting his own race to his benefit. What a racist.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Karen

      Is Vitiligo a black sin or from sinning? I would say we are all white under the surface..truth of the matter of fact....should that be a hate issue?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  14. AR

    people are people. let them love who they want, where they want, when they want – and most importantly, how they want.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      Ummm...and would you draw the line anywhere?
      You know, that kind of thinking should not be promoted in a country that is already going down the tubes because of a lack of morality.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Karen

      @this comes down to this: I mostly agree. Look a the crime rate among race....And then what happens when the opposite race has a problem and takes action; only in America

      May 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  15. GauisCaesar

    American system= You get a vote
    Liberal Mindset= We should all be accepted for who we are
    Liberal Mindset for Voting on social issues= You should not be accepted for your vote, and you shouldn't really get to vote based on how you really feel about an issue...unless it is leftist.

    One vote= We all should vote
    Majority votes against gay marriage= Religious people shouldn't be able to vote based on their value system

    May 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • ualv

      WHAT?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  16. It comes down to this...

    Hmmm....What about when Jesus said, "Go and sin no more."

    May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      My opinion is that he meant it.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      and yet, the opinion of most Bible scholars is that the woman caught in adultery passage was added somewhere in the range of 200 years later than the Gospel of John was written. Odd...

      May 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Notice he didn't ask the woman if she did consider it a sin.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Sam Mandal...which scholars say this????

      May 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Gaius: J.B. Lightfoot for one. Just google it- there is a huge debate over it.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      @GauisCaesar
      Exactly. It doesn't matter what we think is sin. It does matter what He says sin is.
      Anyone who really wants to know the truth about this issue first needs to know the Truth -Christ. Then, they will receive His Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Do your homework; read the New Testament. Christ said, "You must be born-again." That's the starting point.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • annieL

      Jesus knew that she would continue to sin as we all do. That's why he had to die, to cover all those future sins. Or maybe he meant that since he had forgiven her, nothing she did after would be considered a "sin." The evangelical bumper sticker theology is , "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." Forgiven again and again and again because we keep on sinning.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      Romans 6:1-3 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      @ annieL
      Romans 6:1-3 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  17. Mike

    For a people who fought so hard for equal rights, they sure are bigots.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      Bigots?! How dare you? We don't even know the meaning of the word...

      (no, seriously, we don't. what's it mean again?)

      May 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  18. Veritae

    I agree with Rep. Prebius;

    This is not a civil rights issue. African-Americans know this and ought to be insulted by the gay movement to jump onto the civil rights bandwagon. All civil rights issues were settled with the passage of the 14th Amendment. Appealing to civil rights or social justice on the gay issue is a woeful straw man argument and unfortunately looks to be the only card the gay movement can try to play without talking about what this is really about.

    It is about $$$$$. Period. Money from the fed which they are not qualified to receive under DOMA. The bottom line; if you're not qualified, you're not qualified. Changing the definition of marriage by legislation through the Supreme Court is not going to make any difference. The Supreme Court did not have to change the definition of a 'man' to make the African-American legitimate. Dr. King simply showed a nation its own conscience and the rest was inevitable.

    Not so with the gay issue and SSM....

    Good evening.

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

      You are an idiot. Civil = PEOPLE Rights = Rights. Rights of People. You friggen bigot.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Karen

      Its $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$, that's right and no doubt to pay for this one. Not happy, guess what John, this is a letter to tell you I was a man or I left you for another women because I found out yesterday I like hairy tacos

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      Paid for by the Republican National Convention.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  19. Wait a minute

    Ti-tus 1: "16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."

    May 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  20. b4bigbang

    I'm a fundamentalist Christian and i support Obama for the next 4 years as POTUS.

    I dont like his new g a y stance, but i realize he had to do it because he's a Dem (he cant out-conservative the Repub).
    The reason i as a Christian support him, is because he's done a better job than ANY OTHER PRES in keeping us safe from terrorists.

    Physical survival ALWAYS comes first over all other issues!

    May 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • It comes down to this...

      You can't be serious...Obamacare in itself is more than enough to ruin our country and you're worried about terrorists?

      May 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Leroy Jones

      So if don't like his new gay stance, how did you like his older gay position? He changes things up every once in a while you know. I'd recommend that you brace yourself, and keep an open mind (among other things).

      May 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Are YOU serious???
      How about a nice bio-attack while we're boo-hooing about economics?!
      If you understood the seriousness of modern weaponry you'd understand my point.
      Amazing how many Americans were *totally freaking out* on 9/11 and just a few short years later many act as though there is now no threat, in spite of the news showing otherwise.
      Study Maslow's pyramid – survival always comes 1st, even if you think it's already in the bag (it aint).

      May 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Tired

      As a gay man, I am voting for ROMNEY. I'm college educated, I work 60 hours a week and I AM TIRED OF GIVING MY MONEY AWAY TO LAZY MINORITIES who FEEL THAT THE GOVERNMENT OWES THEM SOMETHING. GET OFF YOUR LAZY ASS and WORK.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:12 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.