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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.

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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. Meme

    So what is Holy Matrimony?

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

      We can break it down. Holy means absolutely clean,incorruptible, and blessed by God. Matrimony means marriage. God created a perfect design for a lifelong bond between a man and a woman; this union is blessed by God. See Genesis chapter 2, verses 20-24. Our reproductive organs bear witness to this.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  2. reasonableone

    I wonder how people of the same faith can have such radically different views. I guess it just shows how much of religion is interpretation.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Bonnie

      People of the same so-called "failth" are delving into FALSE religion instead of adhering to the very word of Almighty God. The same ones who are ok with flaunting disobedience to God, are the same ones who worship a false trinity, (there isn't one) and who believe that Jesus is God, Himself. The reason they differ is because they are not observing closely the word of God, and therfore do not know the truth. If they were all observing the truth, they would be in perfect harmony.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  3. Rev. Mookie Blackwell

    As a proud black brother, I do not support Obama on the Gay Marrige issue. It seems, the only ones support him who want a hadout, Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is not only a fraud and a race pimp but a know liar and instigator of hatred toward whites and others. I voted for Obama, but if he hangs his hat with the likes of Sharpton, he better think twice and quick, because November is upon us and he is looking for a job.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  4. mlynjs

    I wish some folk would stop thinking that African-Americans vote for President Obama and other politicians based solely on race. That is so condescending and tells us how you really feel about us.

    We vote the same way that you do: ON THE ISSUES.

    If you haven't noticed, we can read. We can research and think for ourselves. And if by the end of the day that person with the best plan happens to be black, so be it.

    In this issue, for the most part, we don't care what consenting adults do. Marriage should be for all that wants to do it. My survival doesn't depend on whether Steve and Bob or Joan and Louise get married, no more if Steve and Joan or Bob and Louise get married. Put it this way, IT DOESN'T PAY BILLS which is what counts.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ mlynjs, "We vote the same way that you do: ON THE ISSUES."

      I am a lowly christian and I am against those that stand for the fruits of sodomy to be married for such a civil action will never wash away all the fruits of sodomy but may just lower the number of recruits the fruits of sodmoy does pander toward! Nay I will never vote for anyone who will give the fruited vessels of sodomy their rights for civil unions!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  5. Peick

    Black church in America: Stand for God, not Obama. Let the power go. Do what's right and not what will help your cause.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Bonnie

      Thank you Peick. And here's the word of God on that. 2nd Peter 3:17 & 18, “You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advanced knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.”

      May 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  6. 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!

    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 11:07 pm |
    • reasonableone

      So you're just a hypocrite. It's OK to boff someone other than your wife (or at least you won't speak against it), but it destroys marriage for two men or two women to be married.

      You (and your religion) make no sense. No sense whatsoever. Didn't your god give you a brain?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ reasonableone

      Yes, I am against a married man or woman to have a sensual relationship outside their marriages! I detest such Acts against matrimonies and so should all! But my now time is to be said against the fruits of sodomy and their vile and wicked admonishments against their bodies templed being, the very buildings built by God Almighty Himself! The Acts of the sodomizers do foresake their templed bodies just for a few moments of pleasure turning into many years of guilt-ridden Life! Yes, the same can be said for adulterers of marriage! God sees no differences between adulterers and the fruits of sodomies!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn

      Nut case.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  7. John

    It's just Obama's opinion. Doesn't make it policy.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Paulie

      Its too late for him to take back what he said. The mans a clown.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  8. Rick Springfield

    Hypocrisy pure and simple. An example of why after 600 years of Apartheid and Black Slavery they still suffer from Day #1 of the same. Blacks are enslaved to Satan almighty. After 600 years of white men enslaving them, they now have a Black satan as as leader taking them down the road to hell.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  9. Ralph M

    When will this racist just die for christ's sake?

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

    Obama is apparently stronger than the Bible! No one really thinks that if he changes any view, that it will change the Black vote. California had a 94%? This is a non issue, and as someone that was directly affected by the oil moratorium in the gulf...Lets get back to jobs!

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

      Non issue? Then just legalize it and it will go away. We could move on to cleaning up the mess made by BP (a major gulf employer, but what does that matter?).

      May 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  11. Jake

    Please. This might lose him a few votes, but in the end, when it comes down to it, the Blacks will vote their race in this election, just like they did last election.

    And folks say it's the WHITES that are racist. Ha!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  12. tmart488

    Leave it to CNN to make every story about race.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  13. tmart488

    Leave it to CNN to make it about race.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  14. JD3

    I dont see why an issue that really has no affect on someone other than gay people, should make them change their vote. It is not their business to decide whether gays should be married or not, its a free country. And republicans do not give any care in the world about religion and the bible, they only use it to get votes, so get a grip people.

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

      well said,JD3

      May 13, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  15. Paulie

    Any religious person or pastor who backs Obama after what he said risks being branded a total hypocrite. Obama would give handies to 2 gay guys at the same time if he thought it would win him a vote. There is no lie the man wont tell – no low that he wont stoop to – to try to retain the democrats power grab stranglehold on our government and the slot machine jackpot that Obamacare is about to pay off into his cronies pockets.

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

      Paulie,

      Get serious. He's not the flip-flopper that Romney is.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Paulie

      Evolve, flip flop call it whatever you want the man's a liar and a manipulator.

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

      And Christian Republicans are SOOOOO clean and sweet, aren't they? Not an adulterer, thief or liar among them. Nope, not a one.

      {end sarcasm, in case you missed it}

      May 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  16. hey

    jesus was gay..

    May 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • JFK57

      and you, sir, are an idiot!

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

      it's in the bible,, he and john slept together for a night,

      May 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  17. edmundburkeson

    Hey DNC!! What are you going to do now with your hero?

    May 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • edwardo

      Welcome him to another 4 yrs in ofc!

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

      I am going to enjoy the look on all your faces when President Obama gets re-elected.
      The doom and gloom will be out of control.
      The anti-christ, the four horsemen and satan all in one......chuckle.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  18. Joe

    'Observer' ALL Sin is what is talked about . Man is in the world not God doing thing like slavery, treating women unequally and discrimnation. Never pick and chose. All have sin and fallen short. The standard is set. it's your belief and your life.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Observer

      Joe,

      Christians who ACTUALLY care about sinners would be dealing with the far greater number of Christian ADULTERERS who divorce and remarry according to the Bible.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  19. dd

    Nothing like supporting the things your religion finds uncivilized, immoral, and unethical. Obama does not support freedom of religion. Obama creates laws to stop religious freedom. The US has become the USSR! Our children are being denied the parenting of a mother and a father. Divorce is bad enough. Now a group of unusual people want to create yet another way to hurt child development.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • edwardo

      Did you just crawl out from under a rock?

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

      Idiot. YOUR children are only being denied intelligent parents.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • DeTamble

      *** Obama creates laws to stop religious freedom.
      ----------------------
      So if you pray or go to church we can send you to jail ?
      I must have missed that one.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  20. edmundburkeson

    I don't know how anyone could believe Obama when he says he supports gay marriage. Nevertheless, if he doesn't do a 180 on this issue ... Obama's legacy will be that he killed Usama and gay marriage. I think we will see a clarification from him on Monday. You silly people! You didn't understand what I meant by that gay marriage thing. Just like the pre-67 border issue.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • DeTamble

      I hired a guy to cut my lawn.
      His name was Ron.
      I told him to MOW RON.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
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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.