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. God hates Gays

    Blacks and gullible christians are perfect combination.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • fred ca

      Whereas since you do have hemeroids you are a perfect a-- .

      May 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  2. ton

    They don't want gay marriage. Just like a lot of other people. And this topic is a diversion from the real issues. Notice Mitt is talking about the economy. The debt. The jobs. Notice what Obama and the media is NOT talking about. This is a diversion, on purpose.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      mitt romney only knows how to fire people. he's never hired anyone.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  3. Colin

    10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

    01) Gay marriage will encourage straight people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make short people tall.

    02) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

    03) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

    04) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed. My parents in Texas ran screaming to the court to get a divorce, the minute they heard that a gay couple married in Vermont.

    05) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

    06) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets, because gays marrying will alter the fundamental $ex drive of others.

    07) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. We really want people who, in the 21st Century, still believe in sky-gods and evil ground-devils, based on 2,000 year old Palestinian mythology, setting social policy.

    08) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

    09) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms, just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

    10) It will lead to social disorder. I constantly hear of large groups of gays protesting against the rights of Christians to marry and committing acts of violence against Christians.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      In short, you all gullible christians should HATE gays.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Bootyfunk


      May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • ScaredForLife

      Look at the bright side. The world is almost over-populating. We need gays to stop the production of offsprings lol. We are doing you straight people a favor 🙂

      May 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire



      May 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  4. SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

    Funny how the gays have always lived and loved together for centuries before the president gave his views.
    So its just that little piece of paper and a ring that makes the "other people" so FN crazy!
    look how silly you all are... You let 3 thousand year old words on a piece of paper tell you how to be a human
    ....and you are failing miserably at it.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I so agree with you

      May 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  5. ScaredForLife

    Lol and they wonder why they are going through pure hell. They always depend on God to do it out of the blue. GOD gives you enough since to get your lazy ass out there and do it! This isn't Fairy Odd Parents.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      LOL. god is the very definition of "fairy tale".

      May 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  6. Wake up

    Damned republicans trying to divide and conquer. Do not fall for the lies. God, the real one LOVES ALL, gays included.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • William

      Liberals hate Jews.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Yepyep

      Not you, you nast FUK

      May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      liberals don't hate jews. you're dumb.

      there is no such thing as god. grow up.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  7. Carl

    I love hypocrites. They always seem to be on the side that they hate, so long as it is the side they say they love.

    Obama will lose in 2012, not because of this but because he is a know nothing do nothing piece of .......

    May 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  8. William

    It doesn't matter what Obama says or does. We know who the "black church" will vote for anyway. Will it be the white guy? I think not.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      if you weren't white, you might understand why.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  9. God hates Gays

    You all gullible christians should beat up gay kids and pray the GAY away. Amen!

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

      Dang you are ignorant.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      American christians are ignorance and gullible.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Yepyep

      @Bootyfunk is that how you smell when your boyfriend has you on his D**K just saying

      May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • DeTamble

      It would be sweet if a black lesbian beat the snot out of you.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  10. Robble

    How does someone else's love and marriage damage yours?
    Is your marriage so fragile that it can be harmed by people you don't even know?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  11. ScaredForLife

    I'm 17 & Gay, and I got a black baptist church. Honestly, I don't understand the "black" churches. One day they are holy, the next they contradict their selves. Church is just another high school full of adults and teenagers with mess. I do bileve in god, but the relgion so far. NEVER. It just brainwashes you and yo go crazy. I'm glad I have a strong mind. I'm not as naiive as them. Thank goodness I am turning 18 where i will decied my own fate.

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

      In a few years, these small minded Christians and their opinion of you will be completely irrelevant to your life.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i got news for you... white churches are no different.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • chip

      I wish I had your intelligence when I was 17. Hang in there kid! It gets better. In the mean time if you really want to put them in their place, tell them that they are heretics and that they don't have apostolic succession so they are as recognized by Christ as they think he recognizes gay marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Dear young person, being confused about 'god' and 'religion' is the least of your problems. For being 17 years old your grammar and spelling is horrific....you should take some remedial classes …and then read the Bible for yourself.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      People are praying for you. Sorry to say, You have a weak mind and are a slave to sin. You have been brainwashed by the father of lies.

      Satan rules the world, and the media is his major way of getting his propaganda out.

      You can overcome, as many have already. Sadly the only way you'll eve know or meet any overcomers is if you pray to find the truth and not think you already know it.

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

      Lol, you are speaking witchcraft. Instead of following your religion, honestly I rather burn in hell and kiss Satan's ass. I know where my heart is with God or anyone that is up there or down there or right beside me. If i need preaching I think I'll deal with that every miserable sunday that I go to church.

      Thank you sir.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Yepyep

      @Sacredforlife because Gods word doesnt fit your worldview you saying there must be something wrong with the chuch.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • ScaredForLife

      No, there is something wrong with that religion. Honestly, they need to get their selves together.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Blaze your own trail. Lose the church and practice the love for your God. People will just complicate it.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  12. Lewtwo

    The hypocrites have spoken ....

    May 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  13. God hates Gays

    What is the difference between a Pastor and a wh 0re politician?

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


      May 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • fred ca

      A pastor is not your mom.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • poop

      God hates gays, so lets ditch god.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  14. Gary Kuertzel

    What happened to the separation of Church and State? Just because our President supports something, I find it interesting that it makes the Pulpit Headlines.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  15. Robert

    "Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men" Isaiah 29:13

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


      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  16. ualv

    As long as we are regressing, we should stop blacks from voting.

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


      May 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • ualv


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

      AMEN! Let the TRUTH BE A LIGHT!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  17. Hank Tuesday

    I never heard of the "Black Church" I do not believe that is a religion. I know of the catholic Church and the broader Christian religions (protestants, Baptists, Evangeliicals, etc), and the Jewish religion and Church of Latter day Saints and of course the Mulsim religions and Buddhism.... But I do not beliebe there is a black religion –

    Now in the christian religion, gay marriage is a sin and not recognized – End of story. No amount of media stories and protests are going to change thousands of years of chriistian teaching – that is for God only – not political activists. Asking Christians to endorse gay marriage would be akin to asking Muslims to rewrite their Koran (sorry for misspelling). Neither is going to happen – the Koran is the Muslim sacred book, and the teaching of christ against gay behavior and gay marriage is a part of Christian teaching and belief – Christians can toleraste all other religions, and they do - but do NOT insult Christians or Muslims by asking them to change their fundamental beliefs...

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

      >> I never heard of the "Black Church" I do not believe that is a religion.<<
      Just a different interpretation of an outdated n\mythology.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Chip

      "Now in the christian religion, gay marriage is a sin and not recognized – End of story."

      Not true, there are christian churches that support gay marriage, just not the ones that are trying to ram their beliefs down everyone elses throat. In the US, the freedom of religion only applies to religions that agree with you? dou ch b- ag

      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Jean

      Not all Christian denominations believe this is a sin. Perhaps your denomination does, but others don't.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      Speaking of ramming things down people's throats.

      One group of people says "do whatever you want but don't involve me"

      the other group says, "shut up so I can get some of your tax money to fund my lifestye choice.

      Anyone can get married, sign a contract, speak to a hospital about who they want to visit them and who gets their stuff when they die. In some cases these are animals, like cats and dogs.

      People are free to go to any so-called church they want, but if they aren't following the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, because a Christian is a follower, and imitator of Jesus, how can they call themselves Christians?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I think the strain here is they voted for him because he was black. NOT because he was any good which should be the real deciding factor. But now that he's FOR gay marriage, they are torn.

      Vote because he's still black or vote for the white guy because he is religious

      I know it's a tough one for Al and his fellow minions

      May 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • DeTamble

      *** Hank Tuesday

      I never heard of the "Black Church" I do not believe that is a religion.

      Black church is a church attended by black people.
      Take a shower and get your teeth fixed.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  18. SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

    Judge not lest thee be judged Emmett Burns! God has warned you many times about this...a sin is unnecessary. Remember the golden rule and do unto others have you would have them do unto you. It is better to forgive then it is to condemn your brother... make amends sir.

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

      @sufism is different please read and study that verse in it's context stupid.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  19. You must listen to me

    God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Get a clue.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

      maybe so but why is it "your" burden?

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

      Yes, what a great idea. Let's base 21st Century social policy on discredited Bronze Age Palastinian mythology involving a 6,000 year old Universe and a talking snake.


      May 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • FormerMarine

      Oh you're so wise. NOT!!! Are you still using that same old 1950 line. STFU!!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • xmxm

      God does not exist. Humans are a result of evolution of species.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Chip

      Wow how original!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Mr. Correct

      You are so clever! Let me guess, you are one of god's chosen ones, right? You only judge others because the almighty loving lord approves? We should also restrict those who love the color red from getting married, right? You have to be from the Midwest, right? I'd be astounded if you didn't have one gay relative or friend. Oh wait, that's right, your ignorance probably has caused them to go into hiding. Loving the lord must feel great.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      god made us right after we made him.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Srini

      If God made Adam and Eve, how did we all happen? Did Adam and Eve have children who mated with each other, and are we product of such incest?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • DeTamble

      God made Adam & Eve.
      Adam and Eve had two male children.
      So, explain how the rest of humanity happened ?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  20. Paul

    Yay lets just jump on the black Gay Obama bandwagon. First he was against it but now his advisers told him he can improve his miserable polls by supporting it so now we have the pro-gay Obama and all his people like Sharpton want to catch the gay rights wave now that it's apparently OK with the gay black community. There may be some surprises next election. I don't think the majority of American voters that can take the time from their very busy schedules to spend 10 minutes at the polls are pro-gay. I have no problem with it lets just not make it a national priority to get votes for one groups agenda.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:06 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.