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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. Mr Chihuahua

    Elvis was a hero to most but motherfuck him and John Wayne lol!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  2. God hates Gays

    Christians are the lowest of the lowest. They are the gullible ones who voted for the corrupted GOP and Bush.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Ron

      That's entirely inaccurate "GHG". I'm pretty sure that YOU are the lowest common denominator in this world and when you voted for Obama to destroy America you proved it. Sorry if that hurts. But it's accurate.

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

      Ron,

      Accurate? lol.

      It was Republicans who started the trillion-dollar war for false reasons. That's helping destroy America.

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

      Blind Observer - No, it was Islamic Terrorism that started it. Try to pay attention.

      And note that it is Obama that is continuing to play the Bush Trumpet. Obama has done nothing but pay off insurance companies and Hollywood for getting him into the White House. Everything about the war is using the infrastructure that Bush put into place and keeping terrorists and their work out of the United States.

      How blind can you be.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  3. Lenny Pincus

    The Bible is very specific. Man and a woman. Or a man and a bunch of women. Or a man and his dead brother's wife if she couldn't give him a boy. Or a man and a woman and any slaves she might own. Or a man and a virgin (no virgin, no marriage–which is total rock and roll). Or a man and the remaining virgins after you kill everyone you're in a war with. So, liberals, just shut up and rock it Utah-style.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • God hates Gays

      You all gullible christians should beat the gay kids up and pray the gays away because the freaking Bible say so!

      May 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      MY bible says I'm supposed to flatten the tires of Mormon's on bicycles. I'll give you the exact quote from my bible: From the book of Jakofmie, verse 4:44, "If thou shalt happen to see a Mormon cult member riding his bicycle down thine lane, thou shalt flatten both tires of the Mormon's bicycle for his Mormon bicycle is an abomination unto Me, thus sayeth the Lord ! "

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

      Who would give a rotten turd for what the Bible says? If you want to subscribe to that compendium of absurdities as your moral compass, go ahead. But be warned: you've got a lot of killing to do. But all that aside, the Bible is the foundation of YOUR religion, not mine. Unless you're willing to live by my religious and moral dictates and by my holy book, how dare you insist that anyone obverse yours.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  4. Bootyfunk

    if you were black and looked in the history books, you might notice that 42 presidents in a row have been white. could make you want to vote for a black, yes.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      In ‘true’ history, what color was the 1st U.S. President….if you know?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      The very first U.S. president in 1781, chosen unanimously by Congress, was black named John Hanson. Duhhhh!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  5. Ron

    These ministers will say whatever they have to say to get money. It's as simple as that. They are as removed from morality as slime in a pond 20 million years ago.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  6. hamler

    It is nobody"s business who marries who. Keep your nose in your own business and worry about yourselves. Get a life already!!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  7. Deez

    The Prez Needs prayer and slavation he is no better than anybody else in the world him and bin laden and all the other ppl in the world are judged by the same God and standards

    May 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      your nutz need prayer and salvation.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      You need to get out more often. There are all types of cultures and most people in the world don't their lives for the purpose of following your bible. Get over yourself and your bible and let others live their lives. Civil marriage in this country has nothing to do with what's in your bible or anyone else's.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  8. blah

    blacks vote black,period

    May 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  9. MontanaTrace

    Racism in your face! Al, Barry, Jesse, Wright............... deny it!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  10. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    I sure wish Al would change his name to Travon.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  11. God hates Gays

    You all gullible christians should beat up gay kids and pray the gay away because the Holy BIBLE says so!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • fred

      What the hell do you know. The Bible endorses slavery, too, buster, and abolition was opposed because of passages in the Bible that support it. Is that holy enough for you? My own grandmother opposed the civil rights amendment because of what she read in the Bible. The Bible is only as good as the person who reads it. Beyond that, my views aren't informed by illiterate desert nomads to lived 3,000 years ago and though diseases were caused by ethers and spirits and spells.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • LKife

      fred, now that you've brought your stupid mother into this, let me just say that I condemn her for having kids she had no business having. Just look how you turned out.
      The woman should be tarred and feathered and run out of the country. And on Mother's Day, too!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  12. Joe

    This is a biblical view not a civil rights view. Marriage was started by God so let the church sort out their own views of it. Not men. Take it up with God he hates sin but does love the sinner.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Observer

      God apparently started slavery and discrimination against women and the handicapped, too.

      Just pick the sins you want to trash and IGNOR the rest.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  13. eroteme

    It is fairly well established that predominent African-American churches are excused from the separation of church and state.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Sally Ann

    Yo!! President Obama is the most liberal president to ever serve. The church black or white needs to stop making excuses for a president based on his/her color. Quit comprimising and justifying the president's stand on issue like it's personal not political that's a bunch of bull. quit being so prideful church and stand up for the your convictions!!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Thaddeus

      Actually the first five presidents or so would be the most liberal...they committed treason to get what they wanted, and break from the status quo

      May 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn

      Obama is center left.
      You are an idiot.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  15. Dave

    Obama whispers in Biden's ear, "Bend over, I'll drive". Biden replies," Of course Mr president", as he backs up.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Observer

      Grow up. You are just demonstrating how juvenile many Republicans are.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Loyal Nothern Democrat

      You are correct. That is what is sent out in our party's publications.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn

      I see its Sunday.
      The children are out of school.
      Too bad.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  16. Roberto

    Again, putting emphasis on a non-issue...Blacks make up 14% of the population; stop trying to pump up black pastors' importance in this matter...and when can we have the American experience? Stop this divisive language once and for all and stop pigeon-holing people into a compartment. Was my experience really any different from somebody of another race? Do they think differently? They think differently because they are an individual, not because they are of a certain race. For peope who think that they as black people think differently than other races, you are perpetrating segregation and racism for believing such ridiculous theories. Free yourselves from these bonds and start identifying yourselves as Americans...We are all Americans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    What is ironic is that these people still groan under the whip of slavery.
    I read their groans and complaints in the news and shake my head in disgust at their unwillingness to release themselves from this slavery.
    This slavery is mental slavery. They are chained, mentally and emotionally, to the bigoted cults of their religion.
    The exact same religion that was used by whip-wielding slave-owners to justify their hatred of dark skin, of a foreign people they had enslaved by force.
    Yet these descendants of those slaves never escaped the mental and emotional slavery of the slave-owner's religion.
    The chains are still there.
    They chafe and bruise and break their bones with hypocrisy and bigotry and racism, just like for those long-gone slave-owners who also were slaves in this way.
    Mental chains of bigotry and delusion. Emotional chains of group identlty, of hate, of false comfort, of having no ability to think for themselves because they were born into this slavery.

    It is slavery born of ignorance, of indoctrination, of the brutal emotional "beat-downs" of their own family members and neighbors.

    Born into this slavery, or caught and sold to the slave-owning churches from outside the group, these people have no hope for freedom.
    They have had their hope for freedom stolen from them, covered over with lies, fooled into thinking their chains are freedom, that their chains are made of hope.
    But chains are chains.
    They remain slaves who have been brainwashed to refuse freedom, brainwashed to refuse real hope, brainwashed to fight against anything that goes against their slavery!
    Religion has made them slaves that forge the chains of their own bondage, their own servitude to the bigoted delusions of their religion.
    How can I blame them in their ignorance and seeing the delusional strength of their mental chains?
    I do not hate them. I very much want them to be free and happy to the greatest extent possible.
    But I do not have anything but words like this to saw away frantically at those chains...those chains upon my brothers and sisters no matter who they are or what they look like.
    I attack their chains over and over with my words of truth, of honesty and compassion. I use much of my strength and love to attack the chains that destroy their lives and warp their minds. I spend hours of my life doing this for them.

    And no, they did not ask me for this. Such slaves as they have become would never ask for freedom because these are chains upon their minds and emotions. The chains are always disguised, always made of lies, and are almost unbreakable.

    Yet I try. I seek their freedom from the lies they cannot break, the lies they cannot and will not fight.
    I seek to release them from their mental slavery even as they attack me for daring to even touch their chains.
    It is very sad and horrifying to see the sheer scope of what I am attempting to do.
    I have shed tears more than once over the plight of those who are mental slaves to lies, to bigotry based on lies, to hate born of fear and ignorance.
    But I will keep hacking away at those chains. I can do nothing less if I want them to be free. And I do. Very much.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • WATCHER

      I understand what you are trying to say. If you instill an idea or ideal into a person or group of people, it can and most likely will pass down thru generations. It is sad to see how people who were subjected to inequality, hatred, abuse, and turmoil forget their past and their ancestor's past. Unfortunately, they have no problem pinning their hatred out of ignorance on others. I could never understand how people sit in a church that is supposed to represent love and compassion and find only the dark part of their hearts to give back to the world. God is love. Period.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Anonymous

      There is no god, therefore Love is just Love. No god needed to love someone or something.
      You hate my post. Where is your love? You are just full of shtt.

      Your god is yourself. You love your own bs. You worship the delusions you wallow in. Your mind is diseased.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  18. nolimits3333

    We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.....

    May 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  19. Jack

    Why not be able to marry your dog if it is a loving and committed relationship.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Go for it. Don't forget to send us a wedding picture. LOL

      May 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • eroteme

      And it should now be ok for a man to marry a male dog.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Hey

      "Why not be able to marry your dog if it is a loving and committed relationship."
      Why not? Your wife married a retard.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Chris Matthews

      Because you can't marry a dog, it is an animal. Marriage is between two humans. Your comment is way off track, nowhere in this article did it say people wanting to marry animals.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Observer

      So you don't know the difference? Wow.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Surviving the World

      I think there's that whole issue with having a consenting adult being able to sign thing, you know because as adults we understand the type of matrimony we're entering into before doing vs. a dog that has the brain the size of peanut.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn

      Will the puppies look like you ?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  20. katmoondaddy

    There should be a TOTAL condemnation from the black ministers. Gay marriage is forbidden according to the Bible. They just gloss over that minor detail and love him to pieces because he is black and that's ALL they know! Stupid hypocrites.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • whodacares

      I wouldn't be throwing out the word "stupid" as an insult if I were you.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Lots of things are forbidden in your "bible" and you still do them anyway. Besides, civil marriage isn't about what religion you or anyone else is or what is written in somebody's bible. Do you understand THAT?

      May 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • eroteme

      'he' is black? He is as much white as he is black.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:53 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.