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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. Ruff Locks

    And so on.....and so forth.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Ruff Locks

      This one was just a test to confirm that I am being censored. pity.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  2. crbe1519

    God took a rib from man to a make a woman,not another man.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • pvt stuffy bra

      i believe the fossile record shows that god made us though evolution and that the garden is a symbol of how we are all sinners. it wouldnt make since to you unless it was in the form of a dr sues book. pardon my spelling ima little buzzed

      May 14, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Observer

      Yep. Man was unique, woman was just part of him.

      Guess that's why it must have taken another man to start the parallel civilization of Nod. We can call him Steve.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • pvt stuffy bra

      maybe being a gay is the result of an over populated species to help care for those who were not fortunate enough to have parents....

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • TribalDance

      And Jonah spent three days and nights inside a whale (or fish depending on which version you read).....ahhhhhh, yeah...ok.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ crbe1519

      Don't let these social perverts get you down! Evolution cannot explain away as to just how the very first to beings of man and woman came into existence at the right time let alone in the right place for humans to flourish!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Jake

      And you took a rib from Denny's and made you 400 lbs. Who are you to judge, fat man?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Mr. Serious

      You really think a rib made a man? Than the sperm inside of another man's anus must make a whole new solar system. Unfortunately, you probably think the earth is square, right? If Jesus was omnipotent, than why did cast demons, which he could have killed, into innocent pigs and run them off of a cliff? Chances are, people as ignorant as you, haven't read the whole bible. Even if you have, you clearly don't realize that it is metaphorical and not the actual word of "DOG."

      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Oh here we go again. Really, another bible quote?

      *yawns*

      May 14, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  3. morpunkt

    Obama is going DOWN.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Mr Dalloway

      Sych

      May 14, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      yah downnnnn IN HISTORY

      GO OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  4. Mike from Calgary

    Is the issue one of equality, since any person has the same right to marry? Seems to me that the issue is whether husband and wives are to be given special status or protection to foster the raising of children, or is such foundation of the family and the nation to be treated like any other union. I never realized that relations based on sharing another's rectal e-coli or other risky conduct was to be fostered and supported by society.

    Also, what accounts for the recent up-tick in the HIV cases?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      republican convention in town ?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Mike from Calgary

      Uptick in HIV? One gender in particular or an even split?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Observer

      The best way to decrease promiscuity is marriage.

      Another good argument for gay marriage. Well done.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • b4bigbang

      @Mike from Calgary: Good point. I always figured that at least the lesbians would be clean, seeing as how their behavior is supposedly more monogamous than male g a y s, but i read somewhere that even the female g a y s have a higher incidence of va ginosis than the het ero female population.
      Amazing! Bible teaching wins again!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  5. Dave

    I always knew Obama was a truck driver, always ready to back up and take a load. Knee pads are the newest White House Craze.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • pvt stuffy bra

      lmao you are an ignorant fool. look we all pretended we were something let em pretend they are married some may say well hey you ignorant to. well i say lets procreate with gays.....aint gonna happen.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Mr Dalloway

      Don't you realize you've just described you mother instead?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  6. Mike R

    Golden Rule is key!! The more abuse and oppression of women that exists in this world; the more "gays" nature will produce to balance our species.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  7. ogre12

    funny that sharpton should show up as a pic for this story. sharpton is a false preacher and anybody following him is led astray PERIOD. what has this fool ever done for anybody but fill his pockets with money I challenge anybody on this.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      sounds like alot of religious leaders on t.v.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  8. Eric

    “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

    May 14, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • HIM

      Amen 🙂

      May 14, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • Observer

      Amen.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  9. Mr. Serious

    How long have they had the right to vote? A group of people that were held back by their skin color for so long should think twice before denying others the same privileges that they were, in slow hand of history, just granted. These are HUMAN rights not RELIGIOUS privileges.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • TribalDance

      Right? Seriously, this has nothing to do with politics. If the outcome of the presidency is determined by this "issue" then we as a country have truly lost. So sad the bible beaters need to force their will onto others. So ready to go to war for their God and go against the biggest thing Jesus preached....Love. I feel like we're going backwards in evolution to a time where people believed the world was flat.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      because a silly dinosaur book tells them so.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Joe

      Seriously Disagree, since you don't point to human history to say this began under man. Marriage is a biblical standard for relationships in the religious ceremony

      May 14, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  10. Joe

    The President admitted to drug use and pushing some little girl degrading her way back in the whatever. The past defines us. A bully or a person using controlled substance. What choices. Leave the past in the past.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • TribalDance

      The past doesn't define us. We all make mistakes and we all have something that we've done in our past that we regret or wish we handled differently. These experiences give us the opportunity to learn, change and grow as we get older. How can you define something that is ever changing? Every candidate regardless of party affiliation, has some incident in their past that can be exploited to make them look like a bad person.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  11. AML

    All i can say is WOW!! The world doesnt believe the truth. No wounder GODS word says not everyone who says O LORD will enter the kindom of heaven but those who do the will of my father. The wrath of GOD has already begun on this nation. Look at the U S we are nothing anymore. We are n debt over our heads & now gay marriage is a way of life now. 10 or 15 yrs ago u would have never believed this would b us. For those out there who mock me your time will come when you to will stand b 4 him as so will i. I no 4 sure JESUS is real not cuz i was raised that way but becuz he showed me he was real.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      and when that time comes I'll tell him you made some stupid people. I wouldn't wait for his mouth to open, I'll catch the first train to hell by my damn self. Let the idiots have their damn heaven

      May 14, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      he "showed you he was real"?????????????

      ***Confused Look*****

      WOW! LOOOONEY

      May 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Observer

      The end of the world is coming shortly

      – News flash from 2,000 years ago.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      AML

      give me what you are sniffing or smoking because that must be some good stuff LOL

      man I cant get enough of this persons statement

      next he will tell me aliens abducted him and sodomized him and told him they were God and to go tell the sheep that God is REAL

      I'm dying over here lmaooooooo

      May 14, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • brandon

      Stand before who? After you die, that's it. Your self awareness will no longer exist. God... LOL!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  12. Mr. Serious

    African American's are lucky to vote! Who are they to take away the rights of others?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      hey rights haven't been taken away...they were never given in the first place. They wanted something and fought for it through rallies and had non-blacks agree with them and had the law changed. NOW, it's someone else's turn and now turn their back on them. Ungrateful Idiots.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  13. Seksi Vitez

    Why does CNN insist on putting that race baiting jerk at the top of Black spiritual leaders? He is nothing more than a prop for political public relations in media companies.

    You sure can tell that government schools have totally stopped teaching the pitfalls of believing everything you see and hear on TV/Internet.

    News channels are all a sham now. No different than state news agencies.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Because he's the poster child of these idiots

      May 14, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  14. yearightwwjd

    How many moms did rommney have ?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Wiley Thruster

      How are things at Obama Reelection Religious Defamation HQ? You guys working up some stuff in case Romney picks a Jew or Catholic as VP?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • ogre12

      you suck up good air from people much better than you. please hold your breath indefinitely. that is the most kindest i can put it how i feel about twits (as mildly as i can put it) like you.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      can you answer the question or not?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  15. Erik W

    Have we not learned anything from the thousands of years of war's, blood, hatred, predjudice, and suffering ect... And, the majority of it in the name of religion, their God, and their holy book(s). It is not God's fault, or books that have been written whith his message's. It is the false prophet's who continue to get us all into a frenzy, while telling everyone it's "GOD'S LAW"! Well... I can tell you that the only words that have ever come from any loving God, have been in the name of love, respect, equality, service, helpfulness, kindness, compassion, listening, feeling, and on and on and on... Our America is the land of the FREE, and the home of the BRAVE! Now Im not that religous, I am certainly not perfect, but I do have respect for my fellow citizen's. Civil Right's for ALL! And, the only thing out of "The Good Book" that make's any since right now... "BEWARE of FALSE PROPHET'S"! I can see them everywhere. Can you?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      NO because then they would know the truth that all those years of practicing their religion was all a lie. People can't handle that truth.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • Erik W

      WOW! It's obvious your not a christian... Hey, that's OK! Like I said... It's a FREE country...

      May 14, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Erik W

      Dragon Slayer... You slay me. Such great dry witt. SWEET laughter. Thank you!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:21 am |
  16. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    Vote for hope and change! Amos and Andy in 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Jim F

      Thats pretty gay!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  17. Lowcountry_SC

    I wish people would understand that President Obama is not my pastor. Yes I believe Gay marriage is wrong because I am a Christian but there's a reason for separation of church and state. The Government is supposed to be for everyone regardless of religious affiliation. Isn't that why some of the first Americans came to this country, to flee religious persecution?

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

      and because they were losing their fight for power and needed to conquer someone elses land to feel superior. They were just greedy.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  18. palawan

    I am voted for obama in 2008 but not this year....He is not Christian as he said...

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

      Obama is not your pastor, nor should he be. He is the President for the people of the United States of America, a country based on freedom of choice and religion. Therefore no religious beliefs or rights should be opposed on any. BTW I'm a Christian and I do not condon Gay marriage in any way but I understand the reason for separation of church and state.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Observer

      The last Christian in the White House talked to God all the time. God apparently never bothered to warn him about 9/11 coming or to be concerned about Americans dying in New Orleans. And God apparently never told him that he was starting a trillion dollar war that would kill thousands of Americans for FALSE REASONS. We need more men like him.

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

      Who are you to judge if Barack Obama is a Christian or not?

      Please read (hopefully again) Matthew 7:1-5.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      so you vote based on religious beliefs and not really what can do for the rights of all it's citizens?

      No wonder the USA will never get better

      May 14, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • Jake

      "I am voted for Obama" huh? Just vote for him again, okay.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  19. Ed

    Really, CNN? Really? You're going to run an article on whether black ministers support Obama and you pick Al Sharpton as your example? Al Sharpton? Yeah, I'm sure you really thought you'd better check to see if there was a chance this left of left of left race baiter was going to come out in support of Romney, right?

    Not only is he so far left that there was never any hint of doubt who he'd support, but what makes you think this guy is a minister? Can you name any time, out of all of the times this guy has wormed his way into the news cycle, that he talked about his religious views or Christianity? This guy is as representative of religion as you are of America.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      what's the problem? He's the poster child of his extreme beliefs or his follower. Why not Al Not-So-Sharp Sharpton?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  20. Carol100

    Obama wants HOLLYWOOD PRINCIPLES to govern America.

    Obama Ridicules RIGHTEOUS RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES, the Very Foundations of what makes America Great.

    Protect Religion. Nobama 2012.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Steven Colo

      Carol100, Jesus spoke of tolerance and love. What religious principles are you referring to?

      Please reflect so that you do not speak untruthfully of God.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Observer

      He's never RIDICULED any religious principles. Get serious.

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

      Thank You Carol100 EXACTLY! As Obama once said as he poked fun of us poor God-fearing Christian American Good Decent Patriots during his campaign back in 2008! "THEY CLING TO THEIR GUN'S AND THEIR BIBLE'S" I remember back then he rightly told me smack dab square to my face that he Mr. Obama didn't want my vote!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Observer

      HarryPelham,

      In tough economic times where people are more afraid of crime than ever, do you cling to your gun for protection and turn to your Bible for support?

      YES or NO?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Separate state from Religion.

      Freedom from Religion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • TribalDance

      Wow – the Christians must be smoking some of that fine herb that God left to us when he created the earth.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Red

      Obama – America is the greatest country in the world. Let's change it!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Observer

      Red,

      He never said that. You don't bother much with research, do you?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:42 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.