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. roman1descent

    Oh well, new name for USA : SodomGamora = gotzengoole so dont be surprised when USA meets a similar fate.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • JWT

      One person's religious book does not apply to other people.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • sam stone

      roman: i agree with the other poster. your book only applies to those who accept it

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • sam stone

      also, roman.....your god is an impotent little punk. now, get back on your knees

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  2. brainwashed

    how bout everyone joins reality and stops going to church to play make-believe-time, lets give political credibility to the biggest scam artist on the planet.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      This is the 3rd time I'm posting and was blocked. You non-believers are the ultimate scam artists.


      May 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • RepZen

      HeavenScent: Can you please explain why me not believing in your god or the INTERPRETATIONS of what someone said 2000 years ago makes me a scam artist? cause as far as I can tell the only thing happening here is that comment you made making you a closed minded bigot. Don;t try to tell me what to believe, your GOD wouldn't have given me the ability of reason and independent thought his he didn't want me to use them to see through the fraud that is modern day religion. your welcome to your beliefs, just don't start calling me names when I disagree with you.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  3. Will

    How very sad that black pastors are the ones teling gays to sit in the back of the bus

    May 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Christians don't have a color. We are all united in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The categories that you place us in is carnal that comes from the spiritual dead heads so you can continue to play others.


      May 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Elise Dunzo

    My fundamental issue/question with the polling regarding African American's and Gay Marriage is that of the 49% that are opposed to Gay Marriage, does that always equate to how they will vote?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Will

      Yes it is, in Californa it was the black church support of Prop 8 that denied gay and lesbians the right to marry after it was upheld by the state Supreme Court. Blacks in large numbers voted to take away the rights of a minority....you can imagine what they would do if that was to happen to them....but they had no problem throwing gays and lesbians under the bus

      May 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  5. dubrats

    while i agree with obama on this one...gays should have the same rights to marriage......i still will NEVER vote for obama.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  6. Chass

    Peeps including Christains forget the ruleing.. of seperation of church and state. Let them get married how is it going to hurt? Show me how its going to destroy marrige? Can it do more harm than Snookies and Brittany's 1 to 2 day marriges? I feel they have the same right to get married as the rest of us... If only christains could embrace the philosophy of universal love and acceptance.. instead of jumping on the comden and judgement band wagon.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The day you non-believers understand what the division of church and state is, is the day any Christian will think about listening to any of you. Don't hold your breath though.


      May 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • JWT

      The division of church and state means that the state does the state does not entirely control the religions and the religions do not dictate to the state what the laws will be. The statte much consider ALL the people whereas the religions often consider only their own people. No religion speaks for any people other than its own members.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  7. Rico

    Someone please tell me where in the bible does it support Slavery I've never seen this.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Jeff

      Unfrotunately, it's true. For example: "Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, SINCE THE SLAVE IS THEIR PROPERTY." Exodus 21:20-21

      May 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Global Traveler

      Ephesians 6:5
      New International Version (©1984)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
      New Living Translation (©2007)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.

      English Standard Version (©2001)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,

      New American Standard Bible (©1995)
      Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

      King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
      Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

      International Standard Version (©2008)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear, trembling, and sincerity, as when you obey the Messiah.

      Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
      Servants, obey your Masters who are in the flesh with reverence and trembling and with simplicity of heart, as unto The Messiah,

      GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with proper respect. Be as sincere as you are when you obey Christ.

      King James 2000 Bible (©2003)
      Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

      American King James Version
      Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ;

      American Standard Version
      Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

      Douay-Rheims Bible
      Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ:

      Darby Bible Translation
      Bondmen, obey masters according to flesh, with fear and trembling, in simplicity of your heart as to the Christ;

      English Revised Version
      Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

      Webster's Bible Translation
      Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ;

      Weymouth New Testament
      Slaves, be obedient to your earthly masters, with respect and eager anxiety to please and with simplicity of motive as if you were obeying Christ.

      World English Bible
      Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ;

      Young's Literal Translation
      The servants! obey the masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to the Christ

      May 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      How about this one for just a sample.

      However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

      May 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • readthebook

      You've obviously never read the Bible. Look up Colossians Chapter 3. Verses 22-24

      May 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • sumwunn

      Leviticus 25:44-46
      Exodus 21:2-6
      Exodus 21:7-11
      Exodus 21:20-21
      Ephesians 6:5
      Luke 12:47-48

      May 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Rico

      Your are clearly misreading sciptures that is not condoning slavery at all you ppl are something else on here

      May 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Rico, the non-believers are slaves to their negative thinking. Hence, negative outlooks about life.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Rico, you are either illiterate or delusional. SInce you're a religious Christian, probably the latter. The words are plain as day and taken from some of the same books used to denounce ho-mos-exualtiy.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Rico, the non-believers are slaves to their negative thinking. Hence, negative outlooks about life."

      Don't you just love hypocrites like this when they can't even follow one of the basic Ten Commandment, Lying is a sin. You obviously don't know or follow your own bible very well. LMAO!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  8. nick

    The bible is stupid. christianity is archaic, twisted, and definitively man-made. What does anybody care who wants to marry whom? Gay people are awesome and if they want to cohabitate, great. Let them suffer like the rest of us married saps.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Why do gays insists they need to marry since they hate Jesus Christ's truth? Your community needs to do some serious (can't say soul searching ... so, I'll opt for thinking) to devise your own legal binding to another contract.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      HS, I'll pretend for the moment that there is evidence that you yourself are able to think. The issue is that so many legal rights and responsibilities are defined in terms of marital status. We are way past the point where different groups can just set up their own legal arrangements and that is that. Perhaps it is regrettable that the gov't has intruded so deeply into familial affairs. But the fact is that is has, and that is a reality everyone has to deal with. The fairest solution given a status quo that isn't going to go away is to allow gays the same right to marry that non-gays have.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Don't worry about my gray matter johnfrichardson. Your community is too lazy to do the ground work of incorporating a new law for what you are seeking ... and to gather the political participants that will help you pass it is the problem.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • JWT

      There are no reasons why gays cannot marry. jesus has no say in it since the bible does not apply to all people.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      JWT, did anyone every tell you that everything you know is wrong?

      May 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      @HS Well, you don't have enough functioning gray matter to figure out that the people who support gay marriage aren't all gay, You've made that false assumption twice in this little subthread already. Think about how stupid you really are, HS. It's a true marvel of the universe that someone like you can survive in a world she so thoroughly misunderstands.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • JWT

      You have HS but then again considering the source. Your folly is that you mistakenly believe that your religious belief are better than other peoples and in that you are wrong.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Yepyep

      @nick awesome like how? What? one banged you are he banged you was that awesome.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      johnfrichardson, worry about your own gray matter. I understand you whiners hate Jesus' truth, refuse to live in harmony with society ... then found out without following His truth you were left in the dust.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  9. Bert BigDongler

    Black Pastors? They go under the bus just like Rev. Wright. Their votes are in the bag anyway, who cares what they think?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  10. Sam Houston

    NOWHERE in the Bible do you ever read of Jesus endorsing, or for that fact, giving his opinion of any world leaders or the politics of his day. That should be reason enough for true Christians not to be involved in such matters. John 6:15, John 17:16

    May 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Sam, you obviously don't read His truth in the Bible and never learned about the Pharisees.


      May 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  11. Rev. Siu Myung Hai

    Just remember , "what would Chicago Jesus™ do "?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  12. dmx01

    Obama chose inopportune time to come out as gay.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  13. person

    when the Son of God returns, everyone will realize and accept the truth when it is too late..

    May 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      No true son of god would ever say it's too late. Yours are not the words of any god, but of bitter, angry men.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • The truth

      All of those who utilize God as a way of gaining votes ot approval will be punished the hardest by God.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • The truth

      God is love, but he is also rightious, don't think that because God is love He will put up with all of our incompetences

      May 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • OneFineBlonde

      To johnfrichardson,

      You are like so many people who claim to speak for God but have no knowledge of His will, as revealed in His Book. The truth is that when Jesus returns for the second time, there will be few if any humans left alive on earth who aren't enemies of God. Read the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah if you'd like to see exactly what the Second Coming will be like. The description there is very clear and vivid.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Fine, until then, can you keep it down.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      @OneFine Blonde – Wow, do you have things backwards. I don't presume to speak for god as I don't even believe your silly god even exists. I am just pointing out that IF there were a god with even sort of the resume Jehovah has been said to have, ie omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, and if this god somehow cranked out a human son, that son wouldn't act like the drunken alpha ape described in Revelations. It would serve no purpose that any such god could conceivably have, but such nonsensical fear mongering DOES serve the purpose of church leaders who want to herd everyone under them.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      @thetruth – What's described in Revelations isn't justice and righteousness. It's a sadistic revenge fantasy told by someone who witnessed the sadistic brutality of the Romans, a sick brutality that didn't end when the empire became Christian, btw .

      May 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      johnfrichardson, God is over every one. Also, the sadistic revenge is what you and every non-believers owns. You're doing it to Jesus and He will abide in your disrespectful wishes and ensure you don't spend eternity with Him and everyone that loves(d) Him and follows(ed) His truth. Simply put, repent for your arrogance of assuming you know best (which actually is you know nothing) which is sin, ask Jesus for forgiveness, then of course, sin no more.


      May 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Ya know, HS? It's people like you that make me wish that there WAS a personal god looking over everything. I'd love to watch while YOUR kind's knees were made to bend. It'd be a hoot.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • JWT

      Well HS one thing is abundantly clear and correct – your god is not my god and that is 100% the truth.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  14. FormerMarine

    Messages from your God and I quote. " Ok, here's an idea. You love them, like i loved you.
    Make sure you take care of them and don't judge them." But what if they're gay and or worship other Gods you ask? " Did I
    fcuking stutter?"

    May 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  15. ER

    Who Cares what any of these dudes (black pastors) think?
    For that matter, who cares what white pastors think.
    Youre just folks with opinion.
    We can take it or leave it.
    I left it a long time ago...

    May 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • OneFineBlonde

      Well, to answer your question as to who cares . . . Christian care. Or at least they should. The should read The Book and live their lives accordingly. R omans 1:27.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  16. j

    Government should not be involved.

    Stay out of our lives. Stay out of our bedrooms. Stay out of our decision on who to marry. It isn't your business.

    Collect taxes, build roads, train the military.

    Leave social engineering for the Nazis.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Brando

      That deserves an amen!

      May 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  17. Mike in SA

    The Black Church must be racist! After all, disagreeing with Obama's policies is all it took for the left to call the Tea Party racist.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Dan

      Sadly, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      I think some of the openly racist sign that certain TPers held up at rallies and the reluctance of the leadership to disown those people had more than a little to do with why those charges were leveled. It's not racist to oppose the Wall Street bail out. Far from it.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  18. horace

    I am sure that Obama's stance on gay marriage was carefully calculated. Whether he miscalculated or not, I dont' know. What I do know is that social change comes about by bold leaders taking a position that lights up the path for others.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  19. Donald in CA

    I learned my morals from my parents, not black ministers. I learned from my parents at a early age about being fair to people who where different then me. I passed that on to my kids. Some black ministers should go back in time and study up on issues of discrimination.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • sadie456

      Well said. Instilling respect and toleration of others should form part of any good parenting. Adults who continually judge need to ask themselves "why am I like this?". People do NOT change when they are criticized or ridiculed, so it is such a waste of time. Life's too short to spend it carping about things you can't change.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Max Powers

      These ministers don't need to "go back in time", they live there. 🙂

      May 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Sheepleherder

    I wonder why this issue is now inconsequential when Obama is completely in favor of it, yet when any other politician just questions the matter they are condemned as the Anti-Christ?? Just wondering.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • OneFineBlonde

      Some black ministers are staying faithful to the word of God - even though it is obviously painful to them to oppose Obama.

      Did you not read about Emmett Burns, the pastor from Baltimore? He withdrew his support of Obama.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Patrick Lewis

      The people who would think that way already think Obama is the anti-Christ. We now realize that the Anti-Christ would be more like a banker than a community organizer.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
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About this blog

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.