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May 13th, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Across country, black pastors weigh in on Obama's same-sex marriage support

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Washington (CNN) - Addressing his large, mostly black congregation on Sunday morning, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith did not mince words about where he stood on President Barack Obama's newly announced support for same-sex marriage: The church is against it, he said, prompting shouts of "Amen!" from the pews.

And yet Smith hardly issued a full condemnation of the president.

"We may disagree with our president on this one issue," Smith said from the pulpit of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. "But we will keep him lifted up in prayer. ... Pray for President Barack Obama."

And Smith said there were much bigger challenges facing the black community - "larger challenges that we have to struggle with" - bringing his full congregation to its feet, with many more amens.

Days after Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, pastors across the country offered their Sunday-morning opinions on the development, with the words of black pastors - a key base of support for Obama in 2008, that is also largely opposed to gay marriage - carrying special weight in a presidential election year.But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks.

In Baltimore, Emmett Burns, a politically well-connected black minister who said he supported Obama in 2008, held an event at Rising Sun Baptist Church to publicly withdraw support from the president over Obama's same-sex marriage support.

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"I love the president, but I cannot support what he has done," Burns said at the church.

In an interview with CNN, Burns predicted that Obama's support for legalized same-sex marriage would lead to his defeat in November.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, an influential black pastor in New York City, did not endorse Obama's views but denounced those who are ready to "watch others be discriminated against, marginalized, and literally hated in the name of God."

"Our God is love," he said.

And like Smith in Washington, plenty of black ministers talked about distinguishing between opposition to same-sex marriage and views about Obama.

"I don't see how you cannot talk about it," the Rev. Tim McDonald, based in Atlanta, said earlier this week. "I have to. You can say I'm opposed to it (same-sex marriage), but that doesn't mean I'm against the president."

Though African-Americans provided Obama with record support in 2008, they are also significantly more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are whites. That may be because black Americans are more likely to frequently attend church than white Americans.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in April found that 49% of African-Americans oppose legalized same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who support it. Among whites, by contrast, Pew found that 47% supported gay marriage, while 43% opposed it.

African-American pastors have been prominent in the movement to ban same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, black leaders helped lead the successful campaign for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and domestic partnerships.

In California, 70% of African-Americans supported Prop 8, the 2008 state gay marriage ban, even though 94% of black voters in California backed Obama.

McDonald, who founded a group called the African-American Ministers Leadership Council, says he opposes same-sex marriage, but that he is more concerned about issues such as health care, education and jobs.

But he says more black pastors are talking about same-sex marriage than ever before. "Three years ago, there was not even a conversation about this issue," McDoland says. "There wasn't even an entertainment of a conversation about this."

In Atlanta, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church - where Martin Luther King Jr. got his start - the Rev. Ralph Warnock addressed the president's remarks near the end of his sermon.

"The president is entitled to his opinion," Warnock said. "He is the president of the United States, not the pastor of the United States."

Warnock said that there is a place for gays in the church, and that "we don't have to solve this today."

Black churchgoers on Sunday appeared split on same-sex marriage, though many of those opposed to it said they still supported Obama.

"It's a human rights issue, not a gay issue. All people that pay taxes should get ... the same privileges and rights," said Terence Johnson, a congregant at Salem Bible Church in Atlanta.

At Shiloh Baptist in Washington, Shauna King said she does not support same-sex marriage, but that she respects the president's decision on it.

"I think he was very honest in what he was saying and personally he decided to do that," said the 38-year-old mother of two. "As individuals, we all have to make that decision for ourselves."

"I believe it speaks to what America is," she said. "That we all have different views and are respected for our views individually."

Black opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2008, Pew found that 63% of African-Americans opposed gay marriage, 14 percentage points higher than the proportion who expressed opposition this year.

On Friday, a handful of black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and former NAACP leader Julian Bond, released a letter supporting Obama's position on same-sex marriage but expressing respect for those who disagree.

"The president made clear that his support is for civil marriage for same-sex couples, and he is fully committed to protecting the ability of religious institutions to make their own decisions about their own sacraments," the letter said.

"There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community," it continued. "As a people, we cannot afford such division."

But the letter itself was an implicit acknowledgement of discord within the African-American church community on gay marriage.

Black pastors who preach in favor of same-sex marriage know they may pay a price if they take Obama's position, says Bishop Carlton Pearson.

The Chicago-based black minister says he lost his church building and about 6,000 members when he began preaching that gays and lesbians were accepted by God.

"That's the risk that people take," he told CNN. "A lot of preachers actually don't have a theological issue. It's a business decision. They can't afford to lose their parishioners and their parsonages and salaries."

Pearson navigates the tension between the Bible's calls for holiness and justice this way: "I take the Bible seriously, just not literally," he says. "It's more important what Jesus said about God than what the church says about Jesus."

In Obama's interview with ABC this week, in which he announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, the president talked about squaring his decision with his personal religious faith.

"We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others," Obama said, referring to his wife, Michelle.

"But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule," he said. "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."

- CNN’s John Blake, Chris Boyette, Meridith Edwards, Dan Merica and Stephanie Siek contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Gay marriage • Politics

soundoff (3,700 Responses)
  1. news

    Why put that fool sharpton on your page. He and jessie only speak for the press coverage. Put some legitimate black pastor on.

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

    Vote for hope and change! Al Sarpton and Boy George in 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  3. ron

    I just saw a pole done by CNN that says 51% of people agree with obama,I guess they took the pole in the 18 states that chose to accept gay marriage,as the other 32 states simply oppose it...All government is loosing touch with America both republican and democrat....Way to go obama

    May 14, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Observer

      The problem is that your source is just a pole, where others use a poll for information.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      maybe your losing touch with america if you think you have a right to deny others equality, and based on what?????

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  4. Rationalized

    One Guru was approached by one journalist. Journalist asked him, sir why do you not support gays and lesbians. Guru answered, if your parents were gays and lesbians, you wouldn't be standing here today.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      Yea cause we're running low on people in this country.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      What we have to figure out is how to stop straight parents from having gay kids, like Dick Cheney. He must have done something wrong. Luckily Liz Cheney is making up for it.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  5. atheist

    Biggest racist in America is "reverend" Al Sharpton. 'Racism': A Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief. That is Al Sharpton

    May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  6. Brian

    Who cares what pastors think.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  7. Observer

    These are tough times for all the dim bulb Republicans who insisted President Obama was a Muslim and now have to try to trash him for not following a Muslim belief.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • ron

      I love how everything is republican and democrats...Du you even realize in all the states that voted for amendment 1 that it was both dems and republicans who passed it

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  8. yearightwwjd

    Oh please, these "black" voters gonna vote for rommney and against their own economic self interest,,,,,,what are they , republican ??????

    May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  9. dante

    Is this Black America or is it AMERICA

    May 14, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      This is Christian America, dude, with a little Mormon on the side.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  10. Peikovianyi

    Anyone killed after Al Sharpton spoke, or is he now in his "statesman" phase?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  11. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Vote for hope and change! Al Sharpton and Larry Flint in 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  12. jumpincats

    End the world.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  13. Shawn

    My mom is a minister. I am her daughter and I am gay. I can't wait to ask who she's voting for. LOL!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Shawn, is your mother a paid professional minister?
      If so, in what capacity? Pastor, Chaplain, etc?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • mind your own business, troll boy

      yep

      May 14, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Jesus was a paid professional minister. I think he was Lutheran. Even cooler, Mitt was a Bishop. Drink that, libs.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  14. Lenny Pincus

    Mitt Romney has always stood for traditional marriage which is why he rocks. So what his great grandfather had ten wives or something like that. So what Solomon had 700 wives and 300 girlfriends. Bible dudes rock the world and they needed lots of wives because of it. It's too bad we can't go full bore Utah-style, but Jesus firing off in Upstate New York is good enough for me. Vote Romney!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  15. Gomer@gomer.com

    I shouldn't be, but I'm amazed at how much slack these black preachers who are supposedly Christian's give Obama. He's pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and yet he can do no wrong. Simply amazing.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Being Black trumps them all. How Nice!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • paulm5545

      Hmmmm...I wonder why that is?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Blacks should totally support Romney. Just because he believed blacks were inferior beings once is OK because he changed his mind completely. Same with women. Plus he doesn't believe that non-Mormon clergy consort with the Devil like he used to. Mitt Rocks.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • TravelSheryl

      Can help me but wonder if OJ would have had as much support from the Black community if he had publicly stated he was in favor of gay marriage.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • mfx3

      Probably because being a Christian means leaving moral judgment up to God...unfortunately too many "Christians" these days like to stick their own hands in that cookie jar.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Ruff Locks

      Shouldn't be surprising....all humans are illogical sometimes. Look at how the repubs voted against a plan that was designed to help them also, to the point of sacrificing the country, cause they are racists...Look at how we went after Iraq even after we knew there were no WMDs. Look at how we continue to slink away from calling up China on their human-rights abuses and still deficit trade witht them. Look at how whites ill-treated blacks for many years (and still continue to do so in many states). All illogical, right? And you understand it, right? Then why will you be surprised when ALL blacks will vote for Obama in November.

      Ok, maybe a few confused blacks won't vote for him.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  16. Wrong again CNN

    This is really irresponsible reporting. You take a handful ppl in a particular race and have them speak for an entire race. I don't remember giving up my voice for any pastor to speak on my behalf and it just shows the stupidity of others to believe this nonsense. I'm embarrassed for CNN wrong again. CNN continues to show the lowest and the most one-sided view when comes to my race they are worst then FOX news. I can not continue to read this nonsense if I want to be berated with half truth I would watch fox news . CNN has no clue how to do their job this report is pathetic

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

      okay speak your truth then and stop whining about what someone else did or didn't do. Own your own actions.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Jack

      Or the BBC or Al Jazeera is even less slanted, a lot less.

      CNN is an organization run by the N.W.O. when will people finally acknowledge this?. It's contrived news with the message they want out.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  17. Joan

    I happened to tune into program where black ministers were asked about Obama's flip floap on marriage.One said Jesus never mentioned it (the RED WORDS in Bible are what Jesus said. Ministers don't seem to know the Bible. Jesus referred to it in Mt. Mark Luke duh!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Yup. God painted Jesus' words red so we could see them better. And they are very accurate. I've heard the recordings. Go Romney.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • SciGuy

      Jesus never spoke regarding hom.ose.xuality is what he likely meant. And Jesus words aren't red in all bibles.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • atheist

      What verses again? Second, who really cares if Jesus did mention it. Everyone just cherry picks what they want to hear from the bible anyhow. The bible is just full of evil and hate. I can tell you in the bible where it mentions the rules on how to beat your slaves.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  18. JTFONG220

    Vote for Romney!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • fngac

      Bahhhhhh baaaaaaahhhhhh baaaaaaaahhhhh!
      Black sheeples!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  19. Hmm

    This election is turning into a joke. His position will change next week, as with all the other candidates.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • paulm5545

      Now, Mr. Obama's position won't actually change. No, you see, that would mean he flip-flops on any given position and that just is not acceptable. Mr. Obama is unique in that he doesn't change...he evolves.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  20. Izak Friend

    Black politics aren't about civil rights, and have not been since the death of MLK. Blacks are generally opposed to gay rights, want the Latinos deported, will never regard Asians or Catholics as real Americans, and want the Jews punished for their sins against Jesus. In short Alabama white trash = Alabama black trash, with some minor cosmetic differences.

    It ought to say something-shout something- that black political leaders in this country are 1)clergy, 2) pimps or 3)clergy-pimps.

    Here's a thought: maybe it isn't up to the president of the United States to decide if gay Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe, it's his job to protect those rights, whatever his private thoughts may be. We don't worship our presidents as gods,possessing any special divine knowledge.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • SciGuy

      Not true Izak. People worship Lincoln all the time.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Namedd

      Amen

      May 14, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • GLCarmine

      Well, I thank God that not all black people are from Alabama. Being that there are over 40 million black people in the country – the vast majority of whom aren't in Alabama – with 100s more religious leaders than the ones in the media spotlight, it's a high possibility that you might need to get out more often. Oh, and there are gay black people too, as well as black Catholics. But at least we agree on the duty of the President concerning rights ...

      May 14, 2012 at 12:33 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.