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. Plush

    Just lip service from these pastors. It makes no difference they will vote for him for the fact that he is black whether or not they stand against him on this issue. Those that are in the church are some of the biggest hypocrites when it comes to things like this, abortion, taxes, immigration, the courts. They just vote for the color of a person's skin, whether black or white. It runs on both sides of the aisle.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  2. dieselbug

    All African American churchgoers should stop, and take stock. Less than 50 years ago they gained myriad human and civil rights, including the legal right to marry people of other races. Noe they want to bar others from those very same rights? Hypocrites. Pure and simple. Religion DOES NOT AND SHOULD NOT ENTER INTO IT.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • yalesouth

      I am black and I have to agree, pure hypocrisy.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      So, you consider interracial marriage as the same as gay marriage? Okay?????

      May 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • dieselbug

      GC – twist the words what ever way you want. I don't believe that the African American community should be so hasty in restricting the rights of other minorities given their own history. I'm not equating any form of marriage with any other (although I do believe there should be no differentiation) so you can try and pull me into some pseudo racist argument but I'm not buying it.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • StupidPeople

      dieselbug, I couldnt agree more! I am sick and tired of seeing religion being pushed and forced into every asset of life. Freedom of religion is good, but I want freedom FROM religion.
      Life, liberty and the persuit of happiness.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  3. you2

    Blacks are so conflicted on this. They generally hate gays. The younger ones beat them up, saving the worst beatings for gay blacks. But ask any gay guy who has the biggest bloc of closeted gays, or the most gays per capita. It's blacks. And is the hatred bible-based, or do they feel the need to hate a group that is more reviled and vulnerable than they are?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  4. sss

    Romney?? Really..pipe dream with crack in it.

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

      And I'm certain that you know a lot about that. Do you think your brain will survive the week?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  5. DarrellSF

    So, as a Gay Caucasian, when I have a Racist thought, I am supposed to avoid saying anything or taking any action, as well as internalize a solution as to why I feel someone is "less than" I, and do my best to ensure equality among the races.

    BUT, Blacks don't have to do the same when it comes to Me being Gay?

    Just exactly HOW is this fair, and why should I be expected to change, but others not be expected to change? Don't you see the hypocrisy?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      They will never see it, that's the sad part. How we forget the past so quickly

      May 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  6. mickey1313

    Anyone who believes in equality, can not dismiss gay marriage. It was not that long ago that mixed couples could not mary, because it was " against gods will". Blacks against gay marriage are hypocrites. Maybe Lincoln was wrong and they shouldn't have been freed.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • Red

      Finally. A real liberal and a real democrat showing his/her/it's real beliefs. True prejudice in a bottle.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Red, how was my comment racist or prejudiced. It is in fact the opposite. When a group that has had to fight tooth and nail for rights, wishes to deny another group equal rights, that is hypocrisy. And if they can see there hypocrisy then ma
      ybe they don't deserve the rights they would clearly deny others. You are only mad because there is no logical argument against equal rights.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  7. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Al is better than Monica as he does not spit. Our Democrat President and Clinton must be happy.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Observer

      Grow up.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  8. fou Chin

    Christian brother, sister black and white or yellow in US must choose between God or Obama, Choose God blessing or Obama blessing.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      No, chose between Joseph Smith or God. Bishop Romney worships a false God.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Red

      You better check with Obama. I'm pretty sure he thinks he is god.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • yalesouth

      what kind of crap are you spewing?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Hey Christian

      keep your damn sorry excuse for a moral system out of my politics

      May 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  9. Nobland

    Is should be apparent what unsteady guidance the Bible is on this subject and most others. Amazing to me that the supposed "word of God" creates more dissension than anything else. In all other things the creator speaks quite clearly.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  10. parkmore

    I am democrat but not that far

    May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • GOPTrollsAreLameAndNasty

      No, your primal rhetoric reveals your true GOP alignment

      May 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  11. Ron

    If what you want in America is Hate and Prejudice, then what you need is a Liberal. A Democrat. They have always been the true source of both in this country.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Good job spreading hate and lies.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Red

      Little Mickey - On the contrary little man, it's the great lie of Liberalism. And the Democxrats spread it like cool aid. And you people drink it up.

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

      Ron – what are you smoking? The RIGHT are the ones who want to enforce prejudices on many Americans, not least the Black and Gay communities.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Ron

      Nonsense DieselBug. Pay attention. You will discover just the opposite.

      Republicans want to lift up everyone. Democrats only want to lift those that will support them. And Democrats hold down those that are on the dole. They keep them on the dole for generations. Democrats represent waste. And that's all they represent.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  12. Jeff Ridout

    william ashton, why does family get corrupted by gay marriage? what sort of ridiculous doublespeak is this?
    the nuclear family is a myth. your perception of family is of a singular unit which is not the global norm. Don't pretend you know what you're talking about.
    If your family is so easily breakable due to the choices of strangers and their personal lives, than i pity how weak and pathetic your family is. If, like a good family ,is strong, it would be irrelevant whether someone was gay or not. again, your logic is .... confounding.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Nuclear family is a myth? Wow, after thousands of years of the nuclear family, you claim it is a myth.At least when you say Jesus is a myth, I can have a comment of yours to compare that to.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  13. Big Ron

    Getting married is not actually a religious issue.So all the people out there that say it is a sin for two gay people to marry need to keep their beliefs to themselves.That is their right to do so among their congregations.But it's not fair to try and make everyone else live by their religious convictions.Equals rights are not a religious issue.But polygamy is not right.Marriage should be only one partner at a time.(hopefully forever,like it's intended to be) Having several spouses is just plain ridiculous and should never be allowed legally.Besides,how can you ever file a tax return with several spouses?(lol)

    May 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Christians could keep their beliefs to themselves, but this is not your issue. Your issue is that you think they shouldn't vote based on their beliefs, which is hypocritical.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  14. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Next week Al is going to have a rally at his local Church's Chicken joint.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      okay that was rascist

      Sit down bigot

      May 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      okay that was racist

      Sit down bigot

      May 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  15. pilotom

    It's ironic and sad that despite having a history in this country of SO much struggle to gain civil rights, African-Americans would be among those most strongly denying these to gays. During the years of slavery, African-American embraced religion as something that gave them hope but really – it was simply something that kept them under control of the racist powers then and continues to keep them under control now. Obama has shown incredible courage in taking on this issue head-on AND has also shown that he can think on his own and has a moral center that is not held hostage by the agenda of religious interests. Other African-American would do well to follow his example, look into their soul, forget what others are telling them they SHOULD feel and decide what is right and wrong on their own.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Christians don't do that! We don't choose our own beliefs, we are not God. That is called human secularism and isn't Christianity. Also, slavery cannot be compared to gay marriage, nor can the civil rights movement of the 60's.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • sam stone

      Gau: You didn't choose to be Christian?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  16. Larry L

    It's sad that we haven't evolved beyond a "Black Pulpit" or for that matter... religion.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed, Americans are sheep

      May 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  17. n00p

    Don't read your history, doomed to repeat it.

    Only this time, you might be the oppressors.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  18. DragonPat1

    It is hard to say what political side Biden is on, there was a time I thought he was a pretty sharp guy but that was before I saw and read more about him, it’s a shame his mouth isn’t connected to his brain. Will this cause O to lose? It could. For me it's funny reading how blacks are still in a slave mindset. So blacks are religious but they don't bother to read or understand Jesus by reading the bible. In my view blacks really should stop listening to the silliness blathered from some on the pulpit; but heck, it is a lot easier to listen to some guy on a soapbox, er, pulpit than to actually read and research their Lord Jesus but that is just my opinion...

    May 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Larry L

      A really, really stupid and pointless comment.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Same could be said for whites, there's a reason why a congregation is called a flock.
      Just a bunch of sheep being led around;

      May 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  19. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Note that Al is recreating the opening scenes from the movie 2001.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  20. kevhar12

    This election will be a tricky one for many people. There are supporters of both Romney and Obama that feel as though they have no choice. Some evangelicals aren`t so keen on Romney because of the LDS faith that many consider to be a cult.There are many black churches who will stick by Obama because Romney is a member of a church(LDS) that only since 1978 allowed blacks to participate fully in religious activities. Now I can go on and on but the point is between the poor,evangelicals,advocates for gay rights,corporate america this election will be more than about the economy.

    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.