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. AREACODE612

    Hey gays, this is not a civil rights issue. Don't try to entangle yourself with real civil rights issues.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  2. Dude Love

    Who really cares what his stance is? He isn't changing any laws, just stirring controversy to get more votes. Who gives a crap?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  3. fred ca

    Also truthprevails, did your 'education' show you that dickens, austin, freud, jung, marx, freidman, etc., were also written by men? So that makes them invalid?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Anything that can not be backed by other evidence is fiction. There is nothing to state that the buybull was inspired by a god, just mans word and that is not evidence. As for something you previously said, you are no more honest in your alias than anyone else here...hyper-linking your alias to this page, proves nothing. So your hypocrisy is evident.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  4. fred ca

    Jthomasin...if gay marriage is the start and end of youth enthusiasm for voting then young people are more shallow and ignorant then I feared. To sit up and grunt and clap like a baby seal for the most shallow, most corrupt and most intellectually deficient president ever just because he says he supports something, at the same time he says there is nothing he can do about it, shows what a shallow issue this is. And those who are so gleeful for that non-effective 'endorsement show us that they are both ignorant and shallow.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • T. Lee

      If there is someone shallow and intellectually deficient and politically-partisan-STUPID – you have it in "fred ca"

      May 14, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  5. MJ Taylor

    Black who are anti-gay are quite ignorant and hypocritical and have clearly lost sight of our history of legislated second class citizenship.They need to remember how the Bible was used to justify the colonization of African and ultimately slavery and the subsequent segregationist practices.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Flamespeak

      Not liking something doesn't mean you are ignorant of it. I really wish people would quit jumping to that conclusion.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • MJ Taylor

      It has nothing to do with "liking". Ignorance comes from the inability to see the commonalities between the two groups' historical and present civil right struggles and second class citizenship. Ignorance comes from the conclusion that only one struggle was (and is) noble and worthy of undertaking. I would expect more from a group who has been treated in a similar fashion; perhaps my mistake. We cannot even take care of business in our own communities, so why would we thus have the ability to see another perspective clearly.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • areacode612

      How many times have you been pulled over by the police for being gay? Do you get it? Do you understand?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  6. drinnc

    Step back as minute and ask yourself why the federal or state government should be allowed to define marriage? They did not invent it, societies invent it to acknowledge a bond between tow people. In our society this is usually done by a religious organization, or a justice of the piece, or a ship captain at sea. Where in all of that does the government have the right to say what marriage is?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      A marriage is not legal anywhere without a piece of paper issued by the government.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  7. fred ca

    Wow truthprevails...you went to church. I think we all can assume you also went to school. Just as your attendance in church was pointless because your mind-set was bliss over knowledge so too the lack of intellectual capacity showed in your failure to take basic knowledge from the time you spent in school.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Wow Fred, your complete lack of comprehension of the reality of the world fails you horribly. My education and my time is church are what made me an Atheist. The fact you think a god exists and therefore, use that as an excuse to dismiss factual evidence, proves your complete lack of intelligence and ability to think for yourself. Your buybull was written by man, inspired by man...these are facts that you can't dispute. It does not belong in government or the public. You dolts are the ones using it to deny equal rights to others...how is that moral, especially when you can't provide evidence for your god?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • fred ca

      Great assumptions truthprevails. You assume I believe in god. I am sure you also presume I am 'straight'. And that I am white. I, unlike most of the gutless wonders here, use my name. I am easy to check on. But, being shallow, you prefer to assume.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Well Fred, considering you assume I lack an education and that you back what is in the buybull, it is safe to assume that you are a believer of some form. Ever heard of judge not lest ye be judged?? It seems to fall short on those who accept that book as truth in anyway. Who are you to judge my opinion of fact? It is you that has the issue, not me. I only stand for equal rights for everyone...can you say the same?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  8. Ben

    Wait, first we saw an article that black churches were all against it and this was yet another profil in courage. Now, its not so cut and dried. Its seems that black churches are evolving. Obama really is magic. He has already changed hearts and minds, now he can change faith.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Louisiana Man

      the rethugs were salivating and foaming at th4 mouth that Obam's stance would alienate black voters from their support..

      they are lusting for a repeat in '04 when black pastors rallied against John Kerry and pounced him in the polls for the same transgression..

      AINT GONNA HAPPEN..this go round..

      May 14, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • Goodforall

      When people are so total vested in a persons skin color and resfuse to see the facts they lose all perception of reality. This Country is supposed to be for all of us-MLK's words to judge a person by their content of character have been forgotten. Sad times for America-and getting worse.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  9. jthomasin

    The amount of re-energized support from young people (on both sides even) for the president exponentially outweighs the loss in support from conservative dems. Plus with so many months out till the election they have time to come back around.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Flamespeak

      Most politically minded young people I know don't like the president or anyone in the repulican party (except for Ron Paul actually)

      May 14, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  10. Shimon Cleopas

    Good morning boys and girls!

    Happy Mother’s Day! Amid present battles, issues and debates, a PRESIDENT who is UNSURE where Jesus came from will fail.

    Because they are headed in the opposite direction, Vatican and the Evangelicals will never catch the big fish.

    Just like “earth is round not flat” a scientist must help Vatican and Evangelicals “when possible, make a legal v-turn” to the correct ocean.

    The sooner Vatican and Evangelicals can make that legal V-Turn, the better for America and mankind.

    Betrayal, mistrial and denial led to the crucifixion of the Messiah. A SCIENTIFIC RETRIAL will lead to the Resurrection and Rapture.

    For the RETRIAL of the Messiah to succeed the defense witness should present something phenomenal as the “big bang”.

    Any scientific evidence that triggers less than a big bang will neither resurrect Jesus Christ nor persuade Satan to go to hell.

    Best venue and date of the SCIENTIFIC RETRIAL: Capitol Hill, Washington DC on or before December 21, 2012.

    For guaranteed results, the defense witness in Jesus’ RETRIAL should be an ISA (Information Science Analyst) not a pope or evangelical.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  11. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    If the Bible is your bases to object the Gay lifestyle then you need a better book. It's a book of psychological logic from over 2000 year ago they say. In no way is it scientific. The sciences weren't even around then to be studied. But as evolution has brought to light, the sciences are disproving many things in that BOOK of YOURS. And psychology is ALWAYS changing.

    Enough with the Bible garbage seriously already. The horse is dead folks!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:55 am |
  12. Flamespeak

    I never really understood why there is such a fuss over g a y marriage anyway. On either side of the argument.

    Nothing says that g a y people cannot be together as a couple and nobody is really stopping it from happening. If you don't mind them being together then you shouldn't mind them getting married. And the other side of the argument is that recognized marriage offers little more than filing jointly on taxes in this day and age, you can still name benefactors for wills and the like without getting married to the other person, it gets tricky when dealing with health insurance though, so why is the ability to file taxes and have a sheet of paper more important to you than a simple and trusting vow with your loved one?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  13. Bad

    Shame on Obama for going wrong! It shows that Obama is weak! His values! Respect! I feel bad for his wife and children!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:30 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      So equal rights for all and upholding his oath of office is bad? He is required to uphold the consti.tution-separation of church and state!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:34 am |
    • Flamespeak

      Would marriage be considered a wholly religious service or a wholly governmental service?

      It seems like a mixture of the two to me and that is where a lot of the problems stem from.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:39 am |
    • Mirosal

      Even the churches cannot marry you unless you have a CIVIL marriage license. That should tell you the priority of who has authority. Marriage is, for all intents and purposes, a contract. That's civil law, not a religious one. Marriage has been around for thousands of years even BEFORE any modern mainstream religion reared its head.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Louisiana Man

      shame on you for that prejudicial remark. I feel sorry for you and your close mind.

      The bible..irregardless of whose..is a matter of faith and interpretation..mainly the beholders..

      from Bishop Romeny and his morman belief..to OB and his christian beliefs..to muslims, jews, allah, budda and so on..

      May 14, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  14. Bad

    I can not get over how Obama let evil take over! God made Adam and Eve! People are not to go and change God's words! May God's power strike thee evil from here! May God wash away all whom treat color people poorly! I hope that God will come and teach a lesson to those whom don't think that God does not have power! God is powerful and he will use it! God do his clean up! God does not have people for slaves nor people should have slaves!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • sam stone

      bad: they aren't god's words. they are words of iron age sheep lovers.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Sam: These are the same dolts who think and can't be convinced. They don't comprehend anything that is backed with fact...see Erik W.'s response to me saying the book is 2000 years old and has no pertinence is society outside of the home or church. Lazy lazy people! What sad lives they live!!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:32 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      oops, should have read 'who don't think'

      May 14, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Im still waiting. Yup, I'm still here. So much for your God

      May 14, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • synp

      Come back when you've stopped wearing mixed fibers and eating pork and cheeseburgers.

      Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill". Relaxing the requirements is not Jesus, just Paul and his followers.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  15. drjem

    ERIL W is sooooooo right. TruthPrevails knows so little about scripture!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      And obviously you know nothing about life!! That book was written by man, inspired by man...nothing more! There is no evidence to support a god outside of that book.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • Apprille

      My friend, you will find out the truth in the end. The bible was written by men who were inspired by Gods Holy Spirit. Proof is not needed, we believe by faith!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  16. Woody

    Just one more and I will go . Life's guarantees and no guarantees come in threes . There is no guarantee that your priest or minister is not gay , there is no guarantee the person you are about to marry even in a straight relationship is not gay , and there is no guarantee that you will not have a child that is gay . The three guarantees in life is we live, we love , we die ! So does it really matter ? In one hundred years or less from now we will all find out if there is a heaven or hell and if the 10 commandments were real ! One being , "Love thy neighbor as thy self" ! Have a good day because if God made you , than he made you that way ! And I think a man looks pretty gay when he likes to wear flowers you know the ones God made that way ! And gay can mean happy too !

    May 14, 2012 at 6:00 am |
  17. Woody

    Nothing like scaring people about gay marriage so that the poor will give more to their wealthy pastors . If you give most people a million dollars they will tell you what ever you want to here weather they believe it or not . The sad thing is there are plenty of gay priest and gay ministers out there to take the money and enough money can even turn your own against you . Money is the root of all evil . Go enjoy being married by your possible gay priest or pastor . Introduce your kids to them while you are at it ! They are no different than your straight priest or pastor in that they both live well on your donations while many of you can not even afford to send your own kids to college .

    May 14, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  18. Woody

    God had a new door bell installed and the pastors are using it . It goes ilk dis ! BLING BLING, BLING BLING, BLING BLING . Then when the pastor opens the door he says to God ! Hey God I be doin your work you know and I founds me dis private jet dat I could bye and fly around in da sky witcha . Do ya think you can gather me up some of dem poor peoples to make da payments few me ??

    May 14, 2012 at 4:54 am |
  19. Rusty

    Just another case of "Monkey see, monkey do"!!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  20. O'femi adedeji

    God's word can never be denied.In Romans:1:18-32, the Bible says"...as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting... He needs more prayer so that he will be an anti-christ.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:48 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      You do understand that those words you are quoting were written 2000 years ago and are not updated...right? We reside in the 21st century in case you missed it. Time to leave your imaginary friends in your childhood and grow up, be an adult and take responsibility for your actions. Your buybull no longer holds any pertinence in society outside of your church or home. There is a reason it can't be used in a court of law.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:04 am |
    • Erik W

      O! What a load of CRAP!!! Don't pontificate christian scripture when it is obvious that you don't know the first thing about the love of God! If you want to.... Learn about compassion! Stop your hate. You will only be hated in return.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Erik: Enjoying that bubble? I went to church idiot and I have dismissed it as the fallacy it is. You can't prove your god exists. I know compassion, it is not taught in your bubyull! That is why I do not judge people based on se.xual orientation or color or anything. What is taught in your buybull is hate...bigotry-you think that oppressing people is good. Your morals are skewed by that book-it was written by man, inspired by man. I will continue to speak out against your belief as long as your belief steps on the basic rights of other people. The reason most people are Atheists is because unlike you, we have read that book. Your god taught you not to judge...so now according to that, you have committed a 'sin'? It is your hell, you enjoy it!!! The fact that you are too blind to see that numerous studies prove that being gay is natural does not make the evidence go away...science trumps your book any day. It is time you grew up and stopped believing in such childish things that can't be proven with evidence to exist or have ever existed. Your laziness is not the problem of the rest of the world. Keep your beliefs out of the public and out of the government!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      what I seem to not understand is why the God believers use a book to defend their psychological programing of beliefs as being TRUE. If God exists as you say, why is it in a book that dates back so long ago and only supposedly to a few. If ANYONE started to talk out loud that God came to them and wanted them to do as those individuals did so long ago...you would be QUICK to put a straight jacket on them and throw them into a looney bin...just saying.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:49 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.