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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. Shawn

    I dare at least 3 black people to tell me what a mutual fund. What is the difference between a traditional 401K and a Roth 401K. Some of you can't. But you sure as hell can tell me all the latest gossip in the church. Whatever!!!!! Your hypocrite pastor does not speak for me.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • failing

      you succeeded at it

      May 14, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      i don't think the education of a finance system is proof that it makes this particular pastor a hypocrite. There are many races who don't know the answers

      I don't know the answers because I'm NOT American. Got a different financial system over here

      May 14, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  2. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Vote for hope and change! Al Sharpton and Marion Barry in 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Oxymoron at it's finest

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  3. yearightwwjd

    To even have a conversation about liberty, with a religious objection involved, means we've already lost our objectivity. At what point in america did this become acceptable? Its supposed to be a TWO way street (the state cant tell the church what to do , but the opposite is ok?) I am white,male, married, southern, father of two, and I am NOT ok with religious objections to equality.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I second that

      May 14, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  4. Alfonds

    I had thoughts that Romney could beat Obama ,however, had slight doubts. The decision that Obama made concerning Gay Marriage, is the straw that broke the Camel's back.I no longer have doubts. Romney2012–Thanks Joe.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      As blacks felt in 2008 is how gays will feel about Obama this year

      We need real change

      Obama all the way, break those silly barriers

      May 14, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Frank Cardenas

      never happen ... OBAMA 2012 in a landslide!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  5. Moe Vee

    I guess that hate is not only a Republican value but African Americans have as much hate in their hearts as the people who hated them. Hate under the guise of religion is still hate. Each of you should be ashamed.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Both are of no surprise for me.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  6. Shawn

    Black have no room to talk about prejudice. NO ROOM.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • mariska adler

      black people are more racist than ANYONE!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I co-sign that mariska adler

      May 14, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Shawn

      The Black Church HA! Give me a freaking break. There is a black church every 5 feet in black neighborhoods where crime is just running rampant!!!!! You have the nerve to talk about gays!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Mean Spirited

      African Americans learned about racism from their masters and it has trickled down from gerneration to generation. People learn from people good or bad.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  7. Profound

    Great to see the African American community through religion- is much more aligned with conservative principle and therefor the republicans. But again, if you read your history it was the republican party that was spawn from the committment to end slavery, and the democrats that fought it every step of the way (read your history). And as far as Black Americans, there aren't other sector of the population, that is more fundamental to what the US is- black america is a key corner stone of what we are- maybe to most significant of all.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • mariska adler

      drop that slavery nonsense! that was LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG ago. get over it!
      What you are ......... you are a virus we just can't get rid of. You destroy and ruin every thing you come in contact with.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Matt

      He's right though. Hugo Black who in the 60s voted for seperation of church and state was a member of the KKK and so was Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Shawn

      Mariska for mother is freaking virus. Blacks are here to stay. The issue is the brainwashing that is going on in the black church. So why don't you just STFU!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  8. Matt

    Whatever distracts from the economy. Worst small business start up rate in over 200 years. Good job.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • mariska adler

      tell 'em what the want to hear, the lemmings shall follow. even tho he has no intention of keeping any promises he has made.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Observer

      Stock market UP 60% since Bush left it PLUMMETING. GOOD JOB!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Matt

      i guess that is the republicans fault even though dems had control of the house and senate from 2008 – 2010.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • mariska adler

      Matt- yup

      May 13, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Matt

      Stock is not up 60 percent but Obama is funded by Wall Street which is good for the big corporations. Not small business. Nice try.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Observer

      Matt,

      Thanks for pointing out that Democrats were in control during the end of the Bush years and after when the ecomonic messes of Bush started to recover.

      Only difference: Bush administration was gone.

      Good job.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Matt

      Observer national debt from founding to 1995 under $5 trillion. 3 years under Obama increased by $5 trillion to under $16 trillion. I don't support Bush. I support Ron Paul. I voted for Obama and won't make the same mistake.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Observer

      Matt,

      You are correct. As of Friday, the Dow Jones was not up 60% but only UP 55% since Bush left.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Matt

      Observer – Obama brought Iraq troops home on the date GW chose. Obama resigned the Patriot Act & signed the NDAA on New Year's eve allowing him the ability to arrest anyone anytime without trial. On his command bombs were dropped in Libya without Congress approval & troops still in Afghan. What's the difference between GW & Obama. Both also used tax payer dollars to bail out big corporations. The stock market would have rebounded on it's own no matter what.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Observer

      Matt,

      Bush said he'd keep the troops there 50 years if he wanted. The man the Republicans wanted to be president said he'd keep the troops there for 100 years or more.

      Please tell me that starting a $1 trillion war for false reasons didn't affect our economic situation today.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • Matt

      Observer – hired unoffiicial military guns are still in Iraq. The withdrawl date was established as December 2011. Under Obama Iraq oil was sold to the free market... aka American oil companies with no guarantee that money would end up in America. Obama has fought drilling in America yet set up deals with Venezualan oil companies.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  9. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    I cant wait for a Presidential Candidate to declare he/she is free from any religious affiliation and win. Time to get rid of the last know slavery to Man-Kind

    GET RID OF RELIGION

    May 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • mariska adler

      ^^

      May 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Matt

      Clearly DragonSlayer is a fan of Game of Thrones.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      actually I don't mind it but my handle was created long ago. Deeper meaning than a reference to some TV show.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • mickey1313

      I would love to see it, but I'm 30, and i doubt it will happen in my life time

      May 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Jesus

      Religion is just an excuse for y'all to kill each other.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  10. mickey1313

    This shouldn't be a religious argument. It is about equal rights for all American adults. It's sad a group that has had to fight hard for rights would deny others that freedom

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

      Sadder still that people compare se.xual perversion to skin color.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      And what freedom is that? Tell me please!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Observer

      A Serpent's Thought,

      You really don't know, do you?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      sadder is people thinking that there is a difference between Peoples preference of dating and skin color. Human rights comes in all shapes sizes and color.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  11. Loggan44

    Always amazes me how one group of society who were mistreat can not support another group of society who are mistreated. Black America, after hearing you cry foul over slavery for years you should be ashamed to degrade another segment of society. Shame on you.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • mariska adler

      those people are selfish and have no shame.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      How we forget history so fast

      May 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  12. mariska adler

    Al Sharpton is a attention junkie that loves the sound of his own voice. He's just like obama nothing but racially charged hot air.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  13. Alfonds

    This is how my African American brothers get respect. Amen. They need to tell it like it is–Dignity should come to them first before Obama]s actions. Well done. Now I'm back having the same respect that I have had for lots of them.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  14. HowdyDoo

    Some GOP trolls are just lame. Just sayin'

    May 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  15. Rhi

    So black pastors say they are against gay marriage. So does that mean they are against polyester? How about haircuts? Can't go to Red Lobster, either, because shellfish is a sin. Oh, and no red wings- women are unclean during their periods.
    The point is, just take the Bible metaphorically. In this day, if we followed every. Stupid. Little. Rule within its pages, we'd all be living in caves, and science and logic would be a pipe dream. Nobody would live past their 30's, and slavery would be legal. Nobody wants that.
    Get with the picture, Pastors of Black America.

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

      Hey do everyone favor and quit misrepresenting the Bible, specifically the old testament. – Jews (probably the most scientific, logical people on this planet) seem to understand it. I think we can agree, they have made some pretty good progress in comparison to the rest of the world. Maybe, maybe, maybe just maybe there is wisdom in there.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      okay you going to far

      sit down

      May 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • a person of the Name

      *sigh*

      May 14, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  16. whocares

    Has anyone noticed that the supposed word of god was intnended to unify us yet it has had the opposite effect.... more attrocities have been commited in the name of a god than anything else.....

    May 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Loggan44

      Unfortunately, when the first Catholic congress of cardinals invented the bible they didn't do much proofreading. Even Christians admit the Bible can't always be interpreted literally.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Thepacific

      Yeah, and so it seems the radical right wing just like to keep government small but big enough to be nosy about others' private life. In pursuit of happiness, people's right should always be respected, especially right to "marriage" regardless of gender, classes... The republican party has and always will divide this country in the name of their flying angel.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  17. sally

    It is so disheartening that the very place we should find tolerance, love, and acceptance is quite often the very place we encounter bickering, faultfinding, intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. Not only that, atrocities are committed in the name of God. It makes my teeth clench!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  18. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    Religious Blacks - OXYMORON at it's finest

    May 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • mariska adler

      ahahahahaaaa!
      so true!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  19. GB

    The black community is in no position to support prejudice and discrimination. People thought blacks were 2nd class citizens and segregation was the norm. It seemed fine and logical at the time, no attention was paid to the harm and hurt to blacks living their everyday life. Blacks need to understand the pain, hurt and discrimination they are supporting against gay people and how much it is hurting them. Black acceptance in our country took too long, don't be on the bigoted side of this issue given the discriminatory history of blacks in America.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • A.

      well said......blacks of all people should understand what it's like to be misunderstood. They are proving themselves again.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed my friend, hypocrisy at its finest ( or worst), one has to make the distinction themselves i guess.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Alfonds

      That is the reason man leaves his mother and father–to re-unite with a W-O-M-A-N. And the two(boy-girl–) will have relations and therefore, multiply. Boy vs boy can not create a human being. The same goes for girl vs girl can not create human beings either–. 1+1=2–The answer is not 1/2.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Not well said at all. Se.xual perversion and skin color are apples and oranges.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Observer

      Alfonds,

      Gays and lesbians can reproduce. Basic Biology 101.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  20. mendacitysux

    "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" – Seneca

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

      It depends on a person's capacity for rational thought.

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

      Well said, my friend.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Was it Seneca the Elder or Seneca the Younger that the quote comes from?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Jorge

      God is Truth,not Religion. Get it?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:13 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.