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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. Richard

    I don't care what white clergy thinks about gay marriage, so why would I care what black clergy think about it? When they can explain why it is any of their business, I will listen to their clucking about it.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • fred ca

      After 2,618 posts some sense.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Chris MI

      You can all tell eachother that this decision / flop the president has made is going to be a net wash in the end, all you want. I think the people on the east and west coast are just too far out of touch with reality in the fly over states. Point 1: of the 30 some states that have had a vote on this issue, not a single one has lost. Point 2, the desire of most americans to want the term marriage to only refer to the union between a man and a woman is NOT an attack on anyone, let alone the LGBT community. Why is it always descrimination when the libs do not get their way? As for me I think everyone should have all the benifits and ALL the disadvantages of being married, just call it something else, you pick the term and go for it. But I can tell you this, I know many people that are not real political and would have most likely voted for Obama in the fall for no other reason than they simply felt that Romney is a cold fish, but now they will not only not vote for Obama, they are very supportive of Romney. Call them what you want, this will cost him the hartland.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • sam stone

      chris: how about this solution? government grants civil unions to both the straight and gay couples. churches can discriminate in any manner they feel is pleasing to their god. the church thing will be entirely ceremonial, holding NO legal status. that way, the government provides equal protection under the law and the churches can proceed according to their view of god

      May 14, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  2. DC Observer

    Al Sharpton is known to many to be RACIST and 110% politically motivated in all actions he takes in Church or out - Anti White - and sticks his nose in things for attention - For him to take to the pulpit is laughable - Nobody in their right mind takes him serioulsy -

    May 14, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  3. Woody

    Does anyone hear the screams of the child with cancer ?

    May 14, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Richard

      Apparently, God doesn't. Or, at least, it doesn't seem to bother him.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • mendacitysux

      Yet "He" claims to be a loving god.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      His follower will only justify this sad reality of the death of that child to be just something that was better that it happened. It was Gods will.

      Ya they nuts

      May 14, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • HotAirAce

      "He" makes no such claim. The silly superst!tious humans who invented and continue to be believe in their nonsense make the claim.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  4. Lola

    Marriage is about legal rights of inheritance and decision making in legal and financial matters. How about we all mind our own business and let others exercise their rights to this Legal protection and form of personal responsibility. No back of the bus for anyone, anymore. The black ministers need to stop discriminating as they would like to not be discriminated against.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  5. Woody

    Does anyone here the screams of the baby that is being aborted at this very moment ?

    May 14, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Blastocysts don't scream.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  6. fred ca

    Truthprevails...so you do not really support truth. Hiding behind an alias is both convenient and 'safe'. No opinions count, you can say what you want. I am happy you do have a partner. That is a key support in today's world.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Fred: Using your real name means nothing. It does not mean you support the truth or facts. You could use any name on here and it proves nothing more than it being a name/alias.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • fred ca

      Using your name shows you support what you say. True, it is nothing more than that. But it is the truth. Nothing more and, certainly, nothing less. A non-de-plum is great to hide behind. The key word there is hide.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @fred: No-one can tell you are using your real name. I know of one person on here who does and only because his alias when clicked on leads to his facebook page or at least did at one point.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • fred ca

      I can not control cnn (nor do I want to). All I can say is my name is my name (actually, if my folks were pretentious, it would be followed by a V). I do limit access because I have the ability to do so and because I can afford it. And no, the affording part is not inherited. It is due to hard, and honest, work.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  7. Allen

    Not possible for gays to have the same rights as I do because children are not created by placing sp3rm in the male c0lon. Evolution is removing these people from the gene pool and I for one think this is a problem to be solved, not a political agenda we should dress up in a weding gown and tuxedo and give it unwanted children so it can pretend not to be different while it slides into evolutionary oblivion. Wake up people!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      You are a bigot!! Not all hetero-couples can have children either...does that mean they do not get equal rights? Our planet is already over-populated and it will not get better.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Primewonk

      "Evolution is removing these people from the gene pool"

      Why do people who purposefully choose to be ignorant come onto these threads and demonstrate that ignorance?

      You obviously don't have a clue about anything to do with evolution in particular, or science in general.

      Unless, of course, you can come up with valid science that supports your contention.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      who here thinks Allen has a superiority complex problem

      *raises hand*

      May 14, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • sam stone

      allen: evolution is not removing anyone from the gene pool, allen. so, shove your bigotry up your c0l0n

      May 14, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  8. CSX

    Their father the Devil is well pleased.
    Though a soul is more than the value of the world and cost the life of God's own Son, we sell it pretty cheap don't we?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • sam stone

      csx.....sure, and the preachers are all willing to take checks, cash or plastic

      May 14, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  9. Jim McDonald

    obama knows he is a one term President. He want's to be remembered for 'ciivil rights' and not the guy that doubled the National debt with nothing to show for it.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • T

      .....and I guess you are voting for Mitt? Question, what if you lose your job during a Romney term? Blame him?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • fred ca

      Where did he (or she) say they lost their job?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Aashen

      Just like I'm sure George Dubya wants to be remembered for something other than his codpiece flight suit. Unfortunately, he won't be. Luckily for Obama, that doofus set the bar so darn low that even Obama's first term was a relative success when compared to that mouth breathing twit we had for 8 years.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Me

      Yes T, we will blame Obama...You Dems seem so dead set on blaming everything on Bush.....

      May 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  10. really

    The true message of at least some of these pastors is "Yes, he is encouraging what we believe to be sin, but he is black so we will continue to support him. Race before religion or nation. Race above all."

    May 14, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Natalie Dandekar

      Please, note that the supporters find other issues far outweigh this one, and continue to support a President who cares about justice, health care and has not sold out to tea party policies.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  11. Mark Yelka

    What about separation of Church and State? So, it is okay to deny a minority group civil rights because of religion in America?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Revival2012

      Being gay is not a right........its a lifestyle choice!! sorry to burst your bubble...you have exchanged the truth of God for lies.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @Revival2012: No being gay is natural, it is not a choice. Science trumps your god delusion any day with facts and evidence.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Revival2012

      @TruthPrevails :-)And ya know God is so into letting you have free will that you can believe every word you just posted!!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Mirosal

      @ revival ,,, according to your "doctrine", your god is supposedly omniscient. The outcomes have already been decided, therefore free will is a moot point. And if someone's prayer does change this "god's" mind, then it isn't all-knowing, is it?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Aashen

      Psst hey Revival2012, Aren't interracial marriages a choice too? Weren't your parents generation screaming bloody murder that marrying someone with different colored skin was going to anger God and bring about the end of days and turn America into a communist cesspool? How'd that work out for the country, hm? Last I checked I don't have any pictures of Lenin and Marx up on the wall, and I'm pretty sure the Rapture hasn't happened, so I'm going to go ahead and say we got through that bit of marriage turmoil just fine. Just like we'll survive this change to marriage. Because, and this is going to take a while for you to process, the universe does not revolve around you. You are not a unique and special flower, the world does not bend to your will, nor will it ever. Gays will eventually get their rights, and there's not a darn thing a small-minded insignificant little bigot such as yourself can do about it.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Primewonk

      Revial wrote, "Being gay is not a right........its a lifestyle choice!!"

      Since the early 90's I've seen folks like you post on the internet that gays choose to be gay. Thousands and thousands of times. And, over this same time, I've asked folks like you to post the citations to peer-reviewed scientific research that supports your contention that gays choose to be gay.

      Sadly, after thousands and thousands of requests, not a single solitary one of you has ever posted a single solitary citation. Ever.

      So, Revival, are you the one? Will you be the one who finally posts the research showing gays choose to be gay, like you all claim? Or will you be just another run-od-the-mill fundy who refuses to do this?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Revival2012

      @Mirosal&@Aashen///You too have that free will to post what you just did////Jesus died and rose again just for you!!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Mirosal

      Of course I have free will in MY life, because I am not bound by your archaic laws, written for a society that no longer exists. Check your calendar, it was 2000 years ago. Times can and do change. Think for yourself, instead of what some long-dead sheep herder wants you to think.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • T

      .....As I always say, to Hell with Religion!!! If you are going to focus on Christ, then focus on Christ!!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Revival2012

      @Mirosal//Romans 1:25-For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal//when in fact you or we as a human race,barter or compromise what God has said in His word we begin a hardening of ones heart..there is 1 truth, 1 way ,sin has led human beings away from God..thats where free will comes in..reject what His word says or accept it..I have chosen to accept it..you have not..you will press on and want to further your beliefs just as I do mine..

      May 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • sam stone

      revival: orientation is not a choice. following jeebus is a choice, and a lifestyle. perhaps we should deny you civil rights. adultery is a choice, gluttony is a choice, lying is choice....when are you going to support denying adulterers or fat pigs, or liars their civil rights.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  12. Name*Chedar

    GOD us "bull*$hi ". perhaps the black pastor is blind for not notice that God condone slavery or they try to ignore and pick and choose what they read. Afraid that they don't get support from their congregation eh?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • really

      Is English your second language?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • fred ca

      Or third

      May 14, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Me

      Learn the language before you go off on an illiterate tirade, thanks!

      May 14, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  13. Revival2012

    Please stop referring to Al Sharpton as reverend!!!He is the even farther away from that motiker as saying Obama is a christian!!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  14. TruthPrevails :-)

    @Fred CA: http://www.website.com/...this is gutless and so is linking your alias to CNN...you are a hypocrite. I do not use my name b/c I'm not an idiot...my privacy in the real world matters greatly to me.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • fred ca

      You do not use your real name because you do not want people to know you live in your (single) parent's basement typing with one hand. I use my real name.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      No, sorry own my house and live with the most wonderful man going (AtheistSteve). Many people on here do not use the real names...or are you too blind to realize this?? I have no time for your childish games...some of us have lives to live idiot. You're still wrong as long as you support hat book!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • really

      What is wrong with hat books? I am quite fond of hats, and if Fred likes them too, let him read as many hat books as he wishes.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @really: Thank you...should have read 'that book'

      May 14, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  15. M. Raymond Sheppard

    Throughout the course of history, Religion has been Division. I do not believe African Americans can afford the luxury of dismissing another African American for his/her opinion. Caucasians are setting back and once again hoping that the President's opinion divides, so they can come in and conquer. Equal Rights are Equal Rights, and equals rights should be afforded to all. The Bible is just a book of good stories, but for some it is to live by so be it.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Charlie

      Yes equal rights are equal rights. And the Government recognizing marriage discriminates against single people.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  16. Rockyone40

    I am totally amazed because President Obama states he supports gay marriage how pastors are reacted!! These same men who drive big cars and live in big houses condemn what the President says, yet I can't remember anywhere in the Bible it mentions live as a King as a Pastor.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • fred ca

      The pastors I know drive cars that are old and handed down from members of their church. For every rich pastor there are hundreds who are nowhere near rich.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Revival2012

      Well if ya know the bible doesnt say anything bout cars you should know it also says marriage is between a man and woman now shouldnt ya!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • sam stone

      revival: good, and your church can keep it that way. but, government is supposed to provide equal protection. so they cannot discriminate.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  17. Steven

    ' "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."

    Wait, wait wait...What are you saying? That if you're unemployed (hence, do not pay taxes) that you do not deserve an equal treatment of legal rights and privileges? Tell me it isn't so!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Me

      Don't be foolish.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  18. neil wolfe

    When sin is not preached from the pulpit it will multiply in the pew!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Lee

      What crap. Preacher can preach all he wants and that's not going to change one thing about the congregation. They're still going to "sin" (what an absurd word).

      May 14, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • JesusisGod

      AMEN Neil!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Primewonk

      Being born gay is no more a sin than being born left-handed, or black.

      Oh... Wait... It wasn't that long ago that religious folks claimed using your left hand was a sign of the devil, and being black was the mark of Cain.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  19. ReclaimMarriage

    I have an idea: the state gets out of all marriage stuff. They offer a "domestic partnership" kit that offers all the benefits (e.g. survivorship, hospital vistorship, whatever...) to a two people. Maybe more than 2 to accomodate polygamist but dont know how that will work.

    Marriage is only for churches etc., and is a purely religious term. We can have our marriage and g a y s can have their civil rights. Both groups not offended.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • matte

      My thoughts exactly

      May 14, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Lee

      And just what makes you think that my marriage should depend on whether my wife and I believe in some mythical beast. Had this argument been made years before when the state first started issuing licences to marry and had you fought for years to make marriage a religious thing only, then you'd might have an argument. Otherwise it is nothing more than bigotry which so many of you fail ro admit.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Mirosal

      Sorry to burst your bubble (ok I'm really not), but marriage has been around for thousands upon thousands of years, long before ANY religion reared its head. Even today, you do NOT need a church of ANY kind to get married. Churches will not marrry you until you have the CIVIL license. Civil law trumps religious "law" here, as it should be.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  20. nolongerarepublican

    I hardly ever agree with my right wing "friends" on CNN boards but there is one thing we do agree on.
    CNN loves to race bait everything, and never missies a chance to get people fighting over "black and white".
    I think CNN is one of the most racist corporations on the planet.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:27 am |
    • Aashen

      Then perhaps you need to be introduced to this thing known as the Fortune 500, as you have clearly not seen very many corporations.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:18 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.