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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. God hates Gays

    Are christians more or less gullible than Muslims?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      All religions are gullible.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  2. God

    Why is it that ignorance and religion go so well together?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      ignorance is one of the pillars of christianity and all religions. the others are fear and guilt.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Because when they reproduce they bear themselves over and over again.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      cause they can read the Holy Bible/Quran only.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  3. SkepticRina

    I still don't understand how a population of people (African Americans) who fought so hard to obtain the same rights as everyone else can be so against other people who have the same blood flow as they do, are deserving of the same rights they obtained, and who should be recognized as equals as well. I just don't get how an oppressed group of people can support to oppress another group of people.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      they have been brainwashed by their captors.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      because they are hypocrites

      May 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  4. Jeff

    And Obama and his followers are and will always be idiots.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      get an education.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Observer

      Jeff,

      President Obama graduated with honors from Harvard.

      Please list your educational background for comparison to an "idiot".

      May 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      That's rocking it, Jeff. Obama and the libs are goofy. We conservatives know that having lots of wives–like Solomon, Abraham, and other cool dudes from the Bible–makes for good religion and strong support of traditional marriage. We need Bristol Palin to give Obama more advice on being moral and stuff because she knows. I love Romney because his great grandfather had a bunch of wives and Mitt said marriage is between a man and a woman. It's cool to be able to do that.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Michael

      Funny, that's what I was gonna say about the mindless members of the religious GOP – they're too stupid to think for themselves.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • yoogli

      Blacks are invariably black first. O will get a pass.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      and this education calculations came from the idea that you think you are Smart and don't like Obama or what he represents so automatically his followers are idiots?

      No Jeff

      Idiots are you who make ridiculous and uneducated comments. Wash that mirror because then you can see for yourself what a TRUE IDIOT looks like

      May 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • DeTamble

      Jeff has repeated fifth grade twice.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

    "I love the president, but I cannot support what he has done," Burns said at the church.
    Yeah, having his own opinion is just awful!!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  6. Truth Squad

    Why is CNN promoting an anchor from MSNBC?

    A "Reverend" who never talks about Jesus and rarely ever even mentions God when speaking in public.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      That has to be a sin, right? Ridiculous.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  7. God hates Gays

    The Holy Jesus will burn your arsh is you support Gays.

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

      and santa claus won't bring any toys!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      no that would be the crematorium

      May 13, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • JOHN 8:7

      LUKE,11:2-4 LUKE:46-7 JOHN GENDER7: READ ALL VERSE WE ARE ALL STILL CHILDREN OF GOD LET HIM JUDGE ONLY..............................................................................

      May 13, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • DeTamble

      Jesus is here with me now.
      We are sharing a bong.
      wanna hit ?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  8. ElectionTime

    So, this goes for plural marriages too...right? hypocrites...lmao

    May 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  9. God hates Gays

    The easiest way to get rich is to start a Black Mega-church.
    There are billions of gullible christians out there.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      are you insane? white megachurches have many many times the members and make way more money. you prejudice turd.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  10. Jay

    I find it absurd the amount of support the gay community is receiving. If you're gay or support it, you need Jesus and a bible asap. This country is regressing into Sodom and Gommorah. What's next? Incest? All the "real" christians should search up what the wiki definition of sodom is. nuff said

    May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      You rock, Jay. Only heteros should have lots of wives, like Solomon and Abraham, plus some tasty waves on the side. America was more moral back in the good old days with slavery and stuff. It's really bad now.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Why in the world would anyone need jesus and the bible? How about a good education in science?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Jan

      Hey friend, look around. Every famiy has one.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Mike

      Do that and they'll leave in droves.

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

      ya it means getting the pole in the back hole. Big deal. If you don't like it don't do it.

      Being Christian is beneath my intelligence so take that book or yours and shove it

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

      If the "real" christians actually read and understood the bible,
      we wouldnt even be having this conversation.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  11. God

    Republicans, stand strong against gay marriage. The Taliban are with you. Hatred under one God.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  12. great white pope

    This is about the most ridiculous topic espoused by idiots on both sides. And it has more posts than I've ever seen on these blogs. Get a grip people.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  13. SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

    HAHAHAHA ...After this I don't want to hear conservative evangelicals rag another Muslim for being ignorant throwbacks ...ever! Hahaha This is the pot calling the kettle black ...what a bunch of silly little primitives both black and white. How childish can you people be. maddening total madness.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  14. Adrian Blackwell

    There is a time for everything. Right now is the time for Americans to look inside themselves and drop them stones. As the pastor said, "If you do not stand with President Obama on gay marriage, stand with him on healthcare, jobs, and education. These are the issues that will affect everyone's future.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      And not discrimination?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  15. ReasonablePerson88

    Shame on church-going African-Americans. Don't they realize the same religion was used to justify slavery?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • chip

      Until they learned how profitable it was.

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

      sad when a people freed from slavery adopt the religion of their oppressor. they are just as confused and brain-washed as any other group of christians.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  16. Flex

    Justice and fairness, not so as he always claims, it's all about race with Al Sharpton.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  17. ScaredForLife

    @wisdom4u2 LOL!!!, oh you sour old puss you <3

    May 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  18. God hates Gays

    Christians HATE the others. We muslims bomb you all instead.

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

      could you be dumber?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  19. A Serpent's Thought

    Liberalists know not the infidelities of promiscuous parlorings in the Acts and actions of sodomies ever sinning ways! They think of sensualisms between a man and a woman should include man with man and woman with woman! Such Acts are as vileness and wickedry in the sights of God and God's godly! When the world does rebuke holy matrimonies of one man to one woman and does seek to be of the fruits of sodomy, then will the beginning of End Times come to mankinds' lots! What will it matter to men if they will to be with man and what will it mean if woman want be sleep with women? Perverted will all people become in the eyes of the Lord, Christ Jesus and to the Father God almighty!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      it's hard to understand you. stop making up words. you sound like don king. when you see a red squiggly line under a word as you're typing, it usually means it's not a word. get at least a basic education and then come back and post.

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

      OK....Adolph

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

      Now say that in the mirror and see how ridiculous you look! I think Christ hated people like you, scribes and pharasese, than he did the sinner. I am sure he would love the millions of dollars they spent on the poor, er sorry fighting to hurt people.

      Quit being a dork and get a girlfirend.

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

      1. there is no god.
      2. sodomy is awesome.
      3. shut the fuck up.

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

      @Hey

      well said

      May 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      This dude rocks. Yoda could learn from you. God is like, hey, make billions, pollute the world, fight forever wars, buy stuff, judge everyone, but doing the nasty is nasty. Right on. Be like Solomon and have 700 wives and 300 concubines (whatever that is) so that it isn't nasty anymore. Rock it, Utah-style.

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

      Didn't Samuel L. Jackson say this in Pulp Fiction?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Observer

      A Serpent's Thought,

      Why aren't you worried about the MUCH GREATER number of Christian adulterers? It's all hypocrisy.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      1Ki 14:24 And there were also sodomites in the land: [and] they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.

      1Ki 15:12 And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.

      1Ki 22:46 And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land.

      2Ki 23:7 And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that [were] by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Observer

      So no answer.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Observer

      I cannot speak for or against "Christian" adulturers for I have it in me to speak against the fruits of sodomy who have once defiled me in ages past! It is due for all sodomites to be washed in the blood of Christ and to never again sin unless they be damned to Hell and thrown into the fires of this world's pits! To you who know the ways of sodomy's recruitments, I say this, "Do not anymore recruit for your lots contenments' sakes yet for your sakes, be together with likeness and tempt no others of your wicked and vile Acts and actions! Be then content in your ways and recruit neverthemore!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      what confuses me about your statements is you categorize sodomy as being an act involving two men when it actual means to engage in anal intercourse. So married straights can engage in sodomy if they want to and they become sinners.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      Are you drooling over your keyboard ?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  20. jrock

    You mean al sharpton preaches. I thought he was just the offical spokesman of the african american race.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • chip

      You gotta admit he has cool hair.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Johnny5Alive

      There's got to be a special place in Hell for folks like him.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      well if people LIKE HIM are going to heaven, send me to hell PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEE

      May 13, 2012 at 11:32 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.