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. Mike R

    The more abuse and oppression of women that exists in this world; the more "gays" nature will produce to balance our species. Golden Rule people!!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      Women, gays, and minorities are all marginalized in Bishop Romney's Mormon religion. Cool beans.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  2. Flip

    http://www.ofwforum.com .This online community brings together Filipinos from different places around to globe to talk about topics which are relevant and meaningful to them.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      okay? thanks for the spam?! Kind of a bit off topic don't you think?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  3. tiredofthepandering

    another picture from the zoo,,,,when is cnn going to write about something substantive

    May 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      ...another Republican getting their racist fix tonight

      May 13, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  4. Jeff Ridout

    This whole issue is moot. The opinions of priests, men and women in the street and presidents up high are worthless in the face of freedom.
    If a man and a man love each other, that is non of your business. if a woman and a woman wish to marry, ti is non of your business. It isn't. Prove me wrong.
    What people do in the privacy of their home or share affection with someone they care for, is their own business. Not yours. Not black preachers or white mullahs. Not brown rabbis or green coloured Scientologists. It is their right as a citizen to choose a path which allows them the pursuit of lie liberty and happiness. If you are willing to legislate what people think and feel to suit your personal agenda, then you are in the wrong. the rights we have fought hard for, hard won by blood sweat and tears, give us the right to be a bigot or a saint. To rise to the occasion or slink away. It does not give us the right to be enforce crimethought, to punish those who are born a certain way, and to then leverage "love" into so much hate. Religion does that. Brings hate into our hearts, falsifying the word love. Love means letting people choose their path and stepping aside. Your opinions are moot people. Leave these men an women alone to be happy and live and get sick, feel heartache and joy, grow old and die, on their terms, not yours.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Rob

      Well said.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • william ashton

      All society is based on the family, the families in our society are corrupt and we see this corruption in our society. SO yes, it does concern us when the family gets further corrupted by gay marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Jeff Ridout

      will, you have it so wrong. is your family so weak that the choices of strangers will affect you personally? Get your head out of your ass pal. The nuclear family is a myth. a global myth, an idea that sounds nice and cozy but doesnt always work.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Peter

      Thank you for expressing what many others fail to take into account. We each have personal beliefs, but we do not have the right to take away other people's liberty as many people are trying to do under the cover of religion. I pray that people soon realize what a double standard it is to persecute gay people for trying to lead happy lives.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • DeTamble

      *** william ashton

      All society is based on the family, the families in our society are corrupt and we see this corruption in our society. SO yes, it does concern us when the family gets further corrupted by gay marriage.

      I am gay.
      I have a mother and father.
      They have six children.
      1 is oldest and married. No children.
      Second, me, took my partner (gay) for life (33 years ago)
      The rest are married (straight partners) and all have thier own children.
      We are a family.
      The family reuinions are great.

      Get it ?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  5. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Does Sharpton play bass guitar?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm |


    May 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Donn Wallace

      As an African American and Christian, I am conflicted.

      While i am uncomfortable with the idea that people cannot be with the ones they choose, I am put off by the notion that black people. in particular, should abandon fundamental articles of faith on pursuit of the earthly notion of marriage equality.

      I have no doubt that the laws will ultimately change; however, should I be expected to renounce my faith in the process?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  7. ALiberalMind

    Clinton = first black President.
    Obama = first gay President.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Observer

      Not very bright.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Lincoln – first gay president

      May 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Loyal Nothern Democrat

      Excellent point.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      racists are digging deep to get their hate fix on a Sunday night

      May 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  8. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Sharpton was so ugly when he was born that his momma thought she was being punked.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  9. TeaPatriot


    May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  10. Scholar

    Marriage is first a civil contract. Religious rites are not necessary. Civil licenses are required.

    The marriage contract is a most powerful one that not even Congress and the President can overturn through special laws, as seen during the case of Terry Schiavo. This protection of each other is why couples want to marry, among other reasons.

    There is no other mechanism available to same gender couples to choose one's next of kin in the way that the single marriage contract can do.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  11. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS–---->>>>>>>>>>

    "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions are supposed to obey the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-s-ex unions not same-s-ex marriages.

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay se-xual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex se-xual differences. Some differences are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male.


    May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Scholar

      Marriage is the single best way to choose your next of kin. A spouse immediately becomes the next of kin by virtue of the marriage contract, supplanting all others.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  12. JB

    Al Sharpton? Pastor? And I'm a astronaut!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      i agree. seems anyone can call themselves anything nowadays with out it really meaning anything of value

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  13. JAA

    SIDE NOTE: Why did Americans have to wait until the completion of his term in office to find out what his beliefs were on such a controversial issue? I question why we wouldn't know this and why this information hasn't been shared already. Why elect someone if you don't know what they do or do not stand for morally?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  14. Jim

    Sounds like the good ole Pastors are doing a lot of judging.....Hmmmm God says...do not judge. Hypocrites!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • False

      Sounds like an expression of opinions to me.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Murf

      Blacks are all hypocrites anyways

      May 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Reality

      We judge all the time since without said judgement, we would have no legal/justice system !!

      JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  15. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    If Sharpton had a son he would look like Obama.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      ...better rest up for middle school tomorrow

      May 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Loyal Nothern Democrat

      You must be a Tea Bagger.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  16. Bob

    So vote against what you believe as long as he keeps the checks coming. That's just great.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  17. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Racist garbage.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  18. zencart

    Reliable and professional China wholesale accessories,Wholesale ipad accessories,ipod accessories,iphone accessories and the new ipad accessories

    May 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  19. zaphod

    Oh no one commented. I will, I agree with rev Sharpton. Obama to the end. I will never vote for a republican ever.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Loyal Nothern Democrat

      Get back out on that street corner and make me some more money!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  20. John Smith

    If people really wish to "re-define" the way our Culture and Marriage is in the United States why not include Polygamy as another alternate Life Style for our Culture to accept.?

    For some people they can also make the argument based on their own Social Idealogical Interpretation of How "Marriage" should be re-defined in the United States where Polygamy is considered as their own interpretation of Marriage.

    If our Vice President , Biden may believe that "Love" is in the air and we as a Society should perhaps consider all different Life Style alternatives and re-definitions of what "Marriage" is about..

    How far do we go as a Society to accept "all" different alternative Life Styles in our Culture,? Do we also include Polygamy in our interpretation of what Marriage should be like in the 21st Century.?

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

      you forgot

      infinite other deviancies

      May 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Scholar

      If you want to really send the Bible thumpers howling, read them Genesis 19:34 and following and ask if they should do this also since it was mentioned favorably in the Bible.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:24 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.