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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. cybercmdr

    I understand where the black churches are coming from. The gays are not like us, so we should keep them separate but equal. Wait a minute....

    May 14, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • GB

      Well said!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • tallulah13

      Thank you, cyber. I have been thinking this all along.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  2. bitXbit

    On election day we shall see if the christian black community votes based on the content of Barack's poor character, or the color of his skin. We shall see if King's dream has come true.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  3. Hendrix1

    ..America is not and should not be dictated by religion...YOU can pray about it, but everyone being equal and having equal rights is not something to pray or vote about...

    May 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  4. Jim

    I knew this day would come. Blacks would have to chose between moral values and the racial agenda. Most will prefer to burn in hell than going against “the black guy in the white house”. Thank you Al Sharpton and co. for showing your true colors.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • GrowUp

      Is that you Jim Crow?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Observer

      Moral values like slavery and discrimination in the Bible?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • dwech

      ... and thank you Rand Paul for showing yours. Marriage not a civil rights issue? Time this whole thing came to be what it is - one set of people telling others how to live. Thinking they make the rules for all to live by, rules that are one's own to make. Obama said what needed to be said, his truth, and that's more than we've received from other nut cases wanting his job.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  5. mikola

    Finally! We now have a president who advocates for the gays in this country. Only the Democrats have the moral fiber to accept gay, lesbian and transgender people into their party.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  6. joesa

    I totally disagree with the president but do I have to vote for a mormon who believes that Jesus is a brother of a lucifer? Is there another candidate? Is Eli manning running for a president ?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Newsraider

      Yes, you will have to vote for the Mormon if you want to get rid of Obama.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Ya really, is there someone I can vote for that DOESN'T HAVE ANY RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

      Please someone come out of the Non-Religious Closet and save us from all this nonsense.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  7. Skoolz

    I'll have to agree with obummer on this one... good call, Mr Entertainer/Clown. Now, can you make another decision/declaration that will benefit this country? We're all waiting. Nothing to do with the UN taking over here, or bigger gov't, or signing Exec orders via backdoor methods, or stopping any sort of natural resource development, or forcing people to get health care, or giving illegal aliens (yes, aliens) more rights than citizens.... shall I go on? And before any of you lib yokels call me a teabagger or repub... I have upgraded to the Libertarian/Independent party, thank you very much. Both major parties are stupid and a waste of time. Ron Paul 2012 .. our only hope.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Dude, I was with you 1000% until you said Ron Paul. Mitt Romney is awesome.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  8. really

    Marriage is a religious thing if they want same benefits as man and wife if they are together give them that, but its a mockery of marriage to say there is such a thing as gay marriage.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • John

      Marriage is not a religious thing. In many cultures and time periods (ancient egypt) it's simply a social/legal contract with no God or priests or other nonsense

      May 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • GrowUp

      Marriage is a legal thing. Get a clue.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • tallulah13

      @really

      So two people who love each other, who want to pledge their lives and fidelity to each other is a mockery to you? I believe you are the one who doesn't understand marriage.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  9. mandarax

    How religion poisons everything.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Jon M

      This "Sharptoung" is like something you keep flushing down the toliet- but keeps comming back up!
      Better name for him is "ROUCH", always appears when it get's dark!!!!!!!!!
      Rev. my backside!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • honest joe

      sure go ahead and blame religion...man ruins everything. Earth, health u name it man destroyed it!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • GrowUp

      And guess who came up with religion:man.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  10. Newsraider

    It does not matter whether or not black Americans oppose Obama's views on anything. They'll still vote for him just because he is black. That's all that matters to them.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Skoolz

      That is a true statement, sir. As much as closed-minded folk don't want to admit it.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • 3vilmonkey

      True. Almost like how millions of white people would never in a billion years vote for Obama – no matter what his accomplishments – because he's black. Right?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Newsraider

      3vilmonkey. No, you dummy. I'm white. I voted for him. I certainly will not again. But blacks will vote for him no matter what.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Barbara Freejean

      Well isn't that the reason a lot of whites are voting against him. Racism works both ways. Don't forget that.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Newsraider

      Barbara ... Why does a white vote for the other candidate have to be "against" Obama? Why do you vilify it?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'll vote for Obama, not because of the color of his skin, or even because I agree with all of his decisions, but because I believe he cares more about this nation and it's people, and seems more grounded in reality than the other candidate(s).

      May 14, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Martin

      No, that's not all that matters to them, but it does matter a whole lot, and understandably so, given the history of race relations in this country and the history of discrimination and the war of terrorism waged on blacks.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  11. Odd mothers day topic

    Kind of an odd topic for Mother's Day.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      would there be a topic more to your liking? I did the whole Happy Mother's Day stuff. What else is there?
      HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to All you Mothers Out There buy the way.

      Okay back to the topic at hand

      May 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Rina

      Why? My gay son called me today to wish me Happy Mother's as well as my 3 other hetero kids.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  12. Newsraider

    I support gay marriage if both chicks are hot.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • John

      Nice of you to join us from 2002

      May 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      LOL @john

      May 14, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  13. yearightwwjd

    Oh I get it now, forget freedom for all, as long as I have mine. Stay classy america.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Marcus

      Let the gays marry. Just don't call it marriage. Before you know it, the gays will want to marry thier pets, their relatives....where does it stop!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      some sates ALREADY allow you to marry your relative..first cousin.....How about, marriage is between two people..oh wait what, about mormons. should they have the right to marry multiple partners? Guess thats why you move to mexico. How many MOMS did rommney have?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • tallulah13

      Hey Marcus, until you can understand the concept of consenting adults, you should just stay away from other people (and pets).

      May 14, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      @Marcus

      I agree Straight people made the word "Marriage" worthless of any importance of Value

      Lets unite to bring together a word that actually holds so honor with it

      May 14, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  14. Gary Wolf

    Let's see....either vote for a guy who is OK with everyone having the same legal rights or a guy who, with his rich-kid gang, jumps a kid they suspect is gay, in front of the high school, pin him down to the ground, and cut his Beatle haircut. Hmmmmm.

    But, Romney does not remember....gee, all the guys who did it with him remember. Gosh.

    So, he is a bully, a person who attacks others, so long as his friends are there, and either has a terrible memory or is a liar.

    Romney, what a man!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • honest joe

      You have got to be kidding me! If you gonna make an argument make an even sided one. Obama was a druggie he stated that! Plenty of kids were picked on when I grew up in high school did that mean they were gay. No. Just meant there were bullies in school. We all played pranks on or picked on someone at some point in our lives because they looked different in some shape form or fashion. Did Obama grow out of his likeness for drugs sure maybe. Did Romney learn from his bullying days in high school. Probably so. Point is my days in high school should have no impact on what job I qualify for now. We all were young and naive then. How about we talk about the issues like the ECONOMY!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  15. Candice

    Pregnant fat women should be given wide birth ...

    May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      ???? smoke much?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  16. Joe

    1 Cor 6:9-10 Romans 1:27-29, Eph 5:3, Gal 6:17-20. It's not read,but it's plain in Black and white. You don't receive then read roman 8:7.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      put the bible away already

      it proves nothing

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Observer

      Corinthians (11:6) also says “For if a woman does not cover her head (while praying), let her also have her hair cut off”.

      So what is your point?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      What do you mean? I read that stuff. Plus I love killing everyone we fight with and keeping the virgins for fun. Which book and verse is that? It's cool what ever it is.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • mickey1313

      Nice cherry picking from your man made fairy tale

      May 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • mikeohhh

      Do you follow ALL of the Old Testament Law? Or, do you just cherry pick the ones you agree with?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • GrowUp

      Hahaha. What a joke.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  17. whocares

    Why do people care so much what other people do? I have enough to worry about with my own life; I don't have the time or energy to care about what two dudes or two chicks are going to do with each other. If it doesn't directly affect you, why does it matter?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      because these simple minded people actually think it does

      May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • b4bigbang

      @whocares – exactly, and it is because of your stated reason that i refuse to join in the fight for g a y marriage.
      Why should i spend time, money and energy involving myself in something that doesn't affect me?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Observer

      SOME people actually care about others having EQUAL rights. Sadly, they OFTEN aren't Christians.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • b4bigbang

      So 1/2 of the entire adult population of the US is immoral according to the g a y activists and their sympathizers.
      Talk about mega-JUDGING!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • tallulah13

      bang, I don't know about anyone else, but I sure think that it's immoral to deprive people their equal rights on the basis of a middle-eastern fairy tale.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • b4bigbang

      tallulah, what if the g a y s are denied the right based on something else?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  18. Mary

    Obama truly represents equality among all people. I have never admired a President more. Remember separation of church and state?? My God... put your small-minded religious views aside. He is a man of the people. ALL people.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      co-sign

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Jeff

      This has nothing to do with separation of church and state. I'm not religious but I oppose gay marriage. This article happens to focus on pastors' views of the issue, but your comment generalizes these pastors' religious views to anyone who opposes gay marriage. You're obviously confused about opposition to gay marriage.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Ruff Locks

      He does represent all americans, but need not support their deviant behaviors.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • GrowUp

      @ Ruff Locks: care to have voters decide whether what you do in the bedroom is "deviant" behavior?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Ruff Locks

      @growup: go for it!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  19. A Serpent's Thought

    Accordng to God sodomites should be sent to Hell's kitchens! With the problems of today's social malignancies in cultural disfigurementations how worse can the nation of the USA become? Today's adulterous marriages of one man and one woman are as sick as the fruits of sodomy! With ever younger children discovering their sensualisms, they are fast becoming the fruits of elder sodomites for their recruiting agendas giving rise to more and more numbers of aging sodomites not to mention children giving birth to children! Wake up you people of the USA and keep better watch over your children's ongoings! Trust no one when it comes to letting othes care for your children unless they are of your immediate family circles and yet that might not be too prudent due a families unknowns and unknowable thoughts of sinfulness! Therethen do one's best to raise your kids and pray, yes pray that those who babysit for you are worthy and righteous sitters!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • shut up

      just shut up, you molester

      May 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Observer

      According to God, we should support slavery.
      According to God, we should support the inferiority of women.
      According to God, we should support discrimination against the handicapped.

      READ the Bible sometime.

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

      You are totally Yoda, man.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • b4bigbang

      So observer was the US an immoral country before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?
      Also, do you support Christian George W Bush seeing as how it was he who signed the ADA into law?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Observer

      – Leviticus 21:16-23 “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron, saying, 'No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles."

      May 14, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Correction: Geo HW Bush, (Papa Bush – an Episcopalian i believe).

      May 14, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ shut up

      Get a life "shut up" and live it in righteousness sakes! Don't be like me with nothing but time on my hands to poke spears into the sides of fruity sodomites and one man and one woman married adulterers!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • b4bigbang

      I thought you would run from the question.
      Apparently you're nothing more than a cut and paste windbag......

      May 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      b4bigbang is rocking the libs tonight. America has always been moral, even when we had slavery. Big deal. Jesus told slaves to obey but we all forget that. I think Jesus felt the same when he lived in New York.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Observer

      b4bigbang,

      Embarassed by quotes from the Bible? You're the one apparently supporting it.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • john carlson

      To whom it may concern,
      You are from the wrong century. Please kindly return to the 6th century (the beginning of the dark ages) where you belong. Time travel is strictly prohibited due to the Grandfather paradox.
      If you are unemployed I'm sure the Church is accepting applications for entry level Inquisitors where I am sure you will find gainful employment. No doubt you will exceed all the Churches expectations. Torture away.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Observer

      Leviticus 21:22 He shall eat the bread of his God, [both] of the most holy, and of the holy. 23 Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them. 24 And Moses told [it] unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • GrowUp

      What a stunning display of ignorance. Go back to your cave.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Marcus

      The majority of child molesters are people closely realted to the victim...........so if I were you, I wouldn't trust anyone with my little girl!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ john carlson

      Guess you words don't concern me! I have an income and may never set foot in a manmade church when I know full well my body as are all bodies the temples of God Almighty!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • tallulah13

      @Serpent

      There is more evidence that se.xual orientation is decided in the womb than there is evidence to support the existence of any god. Set aside you prejudice and your mythology and live in reality - if you have the courage.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Marcus

      Mind well your wine/liquor and pass not your girl to others who may sodomize her! BTW, I have no children for this world to spoil with unrighteous acts of sodomy! Free I am from this world's ever increasing societal filth that grows ever more vile and wicked as the years go by!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ tallulah13

      Where can such "evidence" be found on the web? Also can you explain away why then there are Bi's running around?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  20. Larry

    I have thought for a longtime that Obama was gay.

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

      Bright.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • *frank*

      You've tried to think for a long time.
      Keep trying.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • GrowUp

      "Long time" is two words. Ever leave your trailer?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
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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.