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. ron

    There should be an IQ test required before most of you lame brains are allowed to post here. I have never heard as much
    brainless chatter in my 72 years.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Joe

      Please add reason to this kaos going Sir.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:40 am |
  2. Neurotoxin

    What have you done, Mr. President? In a time when the other party is falling apart, you have managed to destroy your chances of capitalizing by splitting yours. The black pastors in question are NOT liberals – they are authoritarians as they want the government in BOTH people's personal lives and economics. You will NEVER win over the flip-side of this demographic – libertarians – because while we agree with you on gay marriage, we are all for Ron Paul and you KNOW he will run as an independent. The true liberals were already in your corner, and you have alienated a key center demographic. Whether or not Obama wins in November, there will be a major Democratic candidate in 2016 with a Southern Strategy – uniting the authoritarian center against the strange bedfellows of white supremacists, evangelicals, libertarians, and true liberals who have one crucial mantra in common – "LEAVE IT UP TO THE STATES!".

    May 14, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  3. Dakota2000

    I find it surprising in this day and age that CNN would presume that all people of color think alike. This is the root of the logic of prejudice. Let me demonstrate.

    Blacks have lower average IQ than Whites in this country. (It's a fact and you can argue many way why that is). If you meet a random white person and a random black person, can you make the deduction that that particular white person is smarter than that particular black person? No, that would be an incorrect inference. And that would be fundamentally a racist conclusion. Racist make this error in logic all the time.

    Likewise, for CNN to imagine that because Blacks tend to be anti gay marriage that all black pastors will be up an arms against obama is a kind of racist line of thinking.

    No, they will all think differently. They are all individuals. That should not be a surprise. What is a surprise is how racist the news media is in 2012.

    The thesis of the entire story above is stated:
    "But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks." It was so surprising to CNN that they wrote a whole article about it!

    Why does that take CNN by surprise?

    And now, I am hearing amazingly cogent remarks from Shep Smith at Fox making me think the world is turning upside down and FOX is going to make a great-leap-forward in thinking while CNN stays in the racist dark ages.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Athena

      That has to be one of the most inane and convoluted attempts at saying nothing I have seen in quite a while. White or black, you seem to be possessed of one of the lower IQ's you use to illustrate your fallacious quasi-reasoning. Tea Bagger aren't you? Also into eugenics?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  4. yalesouth

    church is often backwards

    May 14, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  5. postedbygeo

    2nd post. It appears that my comments are not being posted.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • postedbygeo

      What religion follows a 33 yr old man, no wife, no children, no girl friend? Happily communicated with men. This comes from the many revisions of writings. Gays are true followers of this 33 yr old happy man.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  6. Joe

    I'm a U.S. Vet of three wars and saw people die for the for people's right to speak their mind Jim Crow Obsever. U.S. is where I belong and where I'm proud to be. Stop hating blacks and other minorities as I see you are doing now for what they think

    May 14, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Mr. Serious

      Than let ANYONE get married! This ins't going to cause you to loose your seat at the right hand of the father. I am not saying that this should be done in a church. However, anyone in LOVE, should be able to get married in a court house and it should be recognized by the state.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:20 am |
  7. Jake

    I'm sorry to say that reading these posts today makes me sad to be an American. If you disagree with gay marriage then don't marry a gay person. Although, honestly, gay men are usually totally in shape and have money... and that's a lot more than the cows that you right wingers tend to marry... just saying. Maybe you could own a new pickup truck and get some action once in awhile. Drop your hard right, and pick up a hard left...

    May 14, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • RealityCheck

      The left can't count on the black, or gay, vote, but don't worry, the right is fragmented, too, what with Tea Party, libertarian, corporate welfare proponents, and others. Take a cue from the right, it's all in how you sell it. My opinion? Drop the "civil rights" label, since it's so inflammatory, and label it what it is: equal economic opportunity. A huge percentage of gay folks(maybe higher than straight folks) want what really are family values, and the ability to have stable, economically equal homes. That;'s the angle. Just an idea.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  8. yearightwwjd

    dont run red stay and answer the question.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Red

      What are you whining about?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      whinning huh, you must be great at debate. Let me guess, your wife left you didnt she.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  9. RealityCheck

    The American Left is so puzzled as to why blacks – and also hispanics, by the way – tend to oppose gay marriage. But plurality in itself does not make a unified vision. America's African-Americans are not immigrants, since most can lay claim to being in this hemisphere longer than teh Irish, Italian, German, and other whites have been. The Left is puzzled, because they feel that America's black population should be thankful for the rights they think they have "given" them, as thoughtful, helpful whites. That's not how it works, and Americas blacks aren't that simple. Quit being stupid and making it easy for the Right. Quit equating the gay struggle to the American Black Civil Rights struggle, it does no one any good. Start appealing to American black folks as actual people, and not a segment that should be in the bank, and the Right won't be able to drive a wedge as easily.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Clark1355

      People are not saying gays have it just as bad as the blacks. Its simple. This is a civil right issue. Everyone will agree blacks had it much worse but the fact remains; this is a civil rights issue. How do people not understand this? Everyone should be able to marry each other and be happy. Religion does not have a monopoly on marriage. 20 years from now does anyone this gays wont be able to marry? You people are on the wrong side of history lets get this behind us and focus on things that are important.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • RealityCheck

      But some DO say that the struggles are equal. And to be clear, as to "you people", I'm no right-winger. I'm just laying it out as I see it. Yes, someday, this will be a thing of the past. But to attempt a fait accompli, as the left wishes, is self-defeating. You have to sell it, like any policy, even the good ones.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  10. carl

    yearightwwjd Whats wrong with poligamy anyway?
    Sounds like fun, but on second thought I am not sure I could handle more than one!!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      I hear that ! I was just curious if poligamy was viewed the same as gay marriage. Seems like freedom ( as long as you dont infringe others rights) has gone out the window.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  11. Joe

    No oe=ne will force anything. Go to any of the states that allow gay marriage and live out your life. Go to a religion or civil sercve brance to get married and live your life. Stop thinking your way is the only way and compare this to slavery and the jim crow days. Millions of my people died due voilent denial of basic rights to be free. Now you can go to Mass. and get married without being hung on a tree. DON"T COMPARE THE TWO!!!! Blacks have had it WORST off than this. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for MLK. GAY RIGHTS means you can have a right to marry. Not a right to LIVE FREE>

    May 14, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Observer


      "If you don't like it here, go somewhere else"

      The motto of the segregationist states for decades. Thanks for bringing that back.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  12. Mickey

    Just a few years ago a dear friend who is very active in his church, black, and gay – was terrified to tell anyone in the church that he was gay.

    I thought then and continue to believe now that the church lost a beautiful human being – who continues to believe that G-d made him just the way he is.

    Shame on any house of worship that is not willing to help rather than hinder their flock. Let's not fleece the sheep – let's give them glory and respect for being good people – as would say the Jewish orthodox Jesus. Or have I got that wrong?

    President Obama did the right thing – as did President Lincoln – as did the people who helped win women the right to vote.

    We're still working on how to better treat the native Americans – the USA just can't seem to get that right, right?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  13. buffalo

    Because we all know there are no gay black people...right?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  14. b4bigbang

    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 1:35 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      how did the bible teach you anything other than ignorance can be taught and the truth is only seen by ones who seek it

      Sit down bible thumper

      May 14, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • b4bigbang

      It angers gays/atheists when medical science proves the wisdom of Biblical teaching on se xual behavior

      May 14, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Observer

      The wisdom of the Bible on s-xual behavior:

      Deut. 22:28 “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and r-apes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels (about 1¼ pounds) of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

      Why not CHOOSE the Golden Rule?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:51 am |
    • sam stone

      bible teaching wins again? how is jeebus's return coming? did he get stuck in traffic?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:20 am |
  15. Martin Walters Seattle

     President Obama is Episcopalian.  

    May 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • b4bigbang

      So is Papa (HW) Bush if memory serves.
      I wonder if they've ever attended the same Sunday service?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  16. Mr Dalloway

    I gays are left alone whose next?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • Mr Dalloway


      May 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire


      "if the gays are left alone then who's next?

      What exactly were you trying to say?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  17. Pete


    May 14, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  18. Kim


    May 14, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      LOL typical though process of these racist bigots

      choosing when it's only convenient for THEIR causes

      May 14, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • Joe

      21st century we have overcome slavery. The bible doesn't sanction slavbery. It is mentioned in the word because it was part of the living. But it was never sanctioned.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • sam stone

      right, joe....including the instructions on how to beat your slaves?

      May 14, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  19. yearightwwjd

    Whats wrong with poligamy anyway ?

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

      Yeah. Obama's dad = Polygamist. Obama's Grandfather = Polygamist. Obama's Great-Grandfather = Polygamist (4 wives! Three more than Romney's Great Grandfather.)

      May 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Martin Walters Seattle

      It is abusive for a man to have to go through that.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Red

      Correction – Obama's Great Grandfather had 4 wives which equals 1 more than Romney's Great Grandfather.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      I wasnt aware obamas father was american. How many moms did rommney have, and is that why they had to live in mexico despite u.s. citizenship?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      nothing really if you see it from the views of human rights

      it's just a lifestyle simple minded ones cant understand. they already find it hard to keep one person happy. How could they ever believe that more than one is ever possible, so to them it should shamed upon and outcast fast.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Red

      Romney had 1 mom and 1 dad. Don't recall or care if Obama's dad was an American or not. So what are you whining about?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  20. Jim Jones.

    The Black Sharpton like Obama would do or say anthing for a buck, even see his brothers down the drain...

    I made 15 million saying I Gay, it was easy to say, and with a bit of truth, it's squirt a guy or two...

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

      Why not try to act like a grown-up?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • Red

      Blind-Observer - Is there any chance you will make a meaningful argument at some time during this century? Instead of little meaningless quips?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • Observer


      Speaking of meaningless, did you bother to research the FALSE quote you used on the last page? ooops.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Red

      With Obama, what he says is less important than what he does. And he is changing America for the worse.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Observer


      Apparently you did look it up. Good. Now you won't have that FALSE story to spread.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:58 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.