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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. WhyreligionNow

    this is same like muslims donot criticize muslim terrorist in open.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I've never eaten a Muslim doughnut.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  2. Rev. Joseph J. Johnson

    Jesus tells us: That we should love one another as He has loved us. He did not specify who we should or should not love, he just said love ye one another as I have loved you. He sacrificed for all of us; Gay, Straight, Black, White, Latino, Asian, or any other ethnicity that, lives, move, and have their place on this earth for whatever reason. We must also remember that many people felt the same way during the Civil Rights Movement, and yes, there were many African-Americans who felt the same way during the Civil Rights movement just accepting the status quo...We must stop "just accepting" and start standing on our convictions...stop letting society dictate what, and how we should feel.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Presuming you're black, why prosletyze for a religion which was forced on your people?

      May 14, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Cyn

      lRational LIbertarian, we could use that argument with all people, if the truth be known. That is why we were given free will. We can either accept or reject anything we have been taught. That argument really does not hold water.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • kendallpeak

      Rev., How did He love us? He taught and corrected us and pointed out our sins. He didn't say we should do anything we want. The way to love the gay is to kindly try to guide him away from his destructive lifestyle.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      You are not a reverend, only your screen name is. No one that has taken classes on theology would make this comment in this way. You have no clue who Jesus is if that is the case.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Cynt

      I wasn't making an argument, I was asking a question. It's called comprehension.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Cyn

      Rational Libertarian... again, they are prostelyzing because they accepted Christianity, through their own free will and feel the need to speak out on their beliefs. They are free to do so as are the rest of us, no matter where or how we came to believe the way we do.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  3. Rachel

    When you have people like Al Sharpton commenting on an issue, it just loses all credibility. But when you have pastors now siding with Obama on gay marriage, I'd call that racist and hypocritical.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • momoya

      How is it racist? How is it hypocritical? Anybody can make accusations.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      Momoya...it would be hypocritical to claim a career built on telling the world about Jesus, which was against all sins, and at the same time, claim gay marriage should be fine. The NT explains clearly that the church (the Christian world) is the bride of Christ. Marriage is a HUGE HUGE portion of the NT!

      May 14, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • momoya

      Gauis, try to understand this.. The christian church is hypocritical when it doesn't demonize divorce but just picks on ho.mo.se. xuality.. You want to retain rights that you want to refuse to others.. How arrogant, prideful, and sh!tty.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  4. DEG

    I give up on this nation. This partisan bickering and unwillingness to work for the greater good will be the death of this nation. The Democrats and Republicans are becoming the modern day Hatfields and McCoys. The nation is killing itself from the inside out. The terrorists do not have to do anything...we're doing it to ourselves. It will take another catastrophic event (like 9/11) to bring us back together. But why does it have to get to that point? This is a cold, cruel nation we live in these days, and I do not like it.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Cyn

      I will NEVER give up on this country, but I agree totally with your comment, otherwise. Unfortunately, the man who sold himself on being the great uniter seems to have become the great divider. I see no way this country will ever be same again. Even in our arguments with one another, personal attacks are levied rather than civilized disagreements. It saddens me and gives me little hope for the future. Ours has become a nation of hatred for anyone opposing our particular opinion. Our founding fathers must be turning in their graves.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      Review the issue. Traditionalists have been attacked by progressives for almost 100 years now. Some issues have been good, and others have been against the bedrock of some of the traditionalists ways of life. Progressives don't care about bedrock, they only care about their ideals. They do not allow for compromise.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  5. bcinwi

    of course there gonna still back Obama, just like in prisons races stick together

    May 14, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  6. Drew

    I have nothing against Gays and believe that should have all the rights everyone else has except....... they will destroy MY marriage directly.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Rev. Joseph J. Johnson

      @Drew: No one can destroy your marriage, unless "you" do something that causes your marriage to be destroyed, don't blame your short comings on anyone else. If your marriage is destroyed, then, take a look in the mirror and ask the question, What did I do...

      May 14, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Primewonk

      Why?

      Will your wife leave you and magically become a lesbian?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  7. Archie Chestnut

    Romney, said one man-one women but his church said one man -many women. And he is a Mormon...
    He will say anything for a vote. Flip Fop and lie

    May 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Mike1

      Obama said all people need to be treated equal, but his church (Rev Wright), says that white people are evil and need to be eradicated......

      May 14, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Murphdogz

      Err, Archie, your wrong. About 150 years behind the times buddy.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  8. Linda Mash

    There clearly is no longer a separation of church and state. A church should pay taxes on monies received from parishoners. There is no way of policing morals, that is between a person and his God. The pulpit in this country is being used to preach personal beliefs.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Gene

      Many of our laws are based on morals and are policed every day.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  9. James PDX

    People of the United States of America need to use their brains. One of the founding and most important tenets of our country is separation of church and state. Without this, we are a theocracy, as you often see in the Middle East. Do Christians love and want to live in America, the land of the free, or would they prefer a theocracy with religious laws? if you want religious law, then expect that adultery will be a serious crime and divorce will be all but illegal. Or you can love the USA and accept that we all have the same rights. You can't have it both ways. Hypocrisy is no foundation for a country.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      NO, no no! You are redefining what a theocracy is! The govt mandating religion, along with their persuasion. In a democracy, people get to vote for things.... Your point is they shouldn't be able to vote their consciences, which is really disenfranchisement. Say what you really mean!

      May 14, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • The start of theocracy

      A theocracy doesn't necessarily start all at once. Using the bible or any other religious text as a basis for laws is a start in the wrong direction. The American democracy protects people from using religion and majority rules from making laws through the supreme court. Once people are allowed to justify laws through religion we start down the wrong path.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  10. dave

    Politically, I only see this helping Obama on the Left. Of course, it might unite the Right behind Romney, but that would have happened anyway bc of their hate for Obama. But there are an awful lot of folks on the Left who have been disappointed that Obama hasn't been liberal enough, and they're the ones who are suddenly energized now. THEY are the target if there is one in this announcement. Black pastors will deal with gay marriage for a few weeks, but ultimately, Obama will still carry the black community by 85-90%. This news makes it real for Republicans if there were any on the sidelines, but NOW it's real for liberals, who were definitely on the sidelines before this.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  11. Bad

    If Obama was my dad I'd send him to The nut house! How can you have a family and not believe in God! God made man and a women!

    May 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • JoeG

      God made gay people too. Missing your point.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • dave

      Bad-you're an idiot. Obama does believe in God. He just doesn't believe in one who hates people like many Republicans do.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Primewonk

      There is no evidence for your version of a god. There are tons of evidence showing that modern humans have been here for 200,000 years.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • thinking clearly now

      Bad...where in the world did that come from? Obama is Christian and believes in God. He is however in a political office and can/should make decisions about civil liberties while being able to set his religious views aside.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  12. CharliJay

    A community of black "whatevas" can not speak for the entire black church. We certainly have more pressing issues then this. How about rallying to educate more of our youth,economy, healthcare. Try getting from behind the pews and the church walls adorned for the camera and become more proactive on issues that are REALLY facing the community.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • James PDX

      Our government, especially the GOP, has a vested interest in keeping us uneducated.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  13. Weiser

    All Obama's buddies and mentors are supporting him. Rev. Wright, Al Sharpton, and Lewis Farrycon. The who's who of society's leaches seem to support the EVOLVING Obama.

    Good to see there still is some level of moral righteous left in the Black Churches.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  14. Sandra Bumgarner

    CNN what happen to you as a news outlet its like tuning in to Fox news now. A constant issue about race. Your main purpose seems to be let's find someway to turn people against Obama. Why not mention that Mitt Romney and Mormons practice polygamy and up until 1978 black men could not hold priesthood or quotes from Briggman Young! Let me guess you can't think outside the box. Those of us who voted for Obama would have more respect if people would just come out and say he is a Blackman and that's why I dislike him. In due time a white man will be backing the white house and then you can go back to not saying anything negative about the President you know the way you did with George Bush.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      You obvious didn't read this article. CNN LOVES Obama. CNN is saying that if you are black, you are a racist for not wanting gay marriage. They use slavery as a comparision to gay rights.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Cyn

      Mitt Romney practiced polygamy? Now that is a stretch. It is amazing how nothing can be said against this president without liberals calling it a racist comment. I suppose, when a white man is president again, ( which btw , Obama is 1/2 white you must remember) then any black person who speaks against him will also be called racist. I disliked many things past presidents did, but never thought of it as being due to their color... or lack of it.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • momoya

      Gaius makes STUPID comments.. LOL.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  15. Gene

    I prefer that the president lets us know where he stands rather than keep us guessing. I don't know much about his real beliefs.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  16. GauisCaesar

    I think equal rights would be to allow men to marry boys as well, or girls if they want. As long as they love each other. How are you gonna discriminate against 2 people that love each other just because it isn't that common for this to happen. It isn't fair that everyone else gets to marry and not a older dude and a younger dude/girl. That is a civil rights issue!

    May 14, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • sam stone

      Gau: Really? Is that your argument? The issue is a consent. Children cannot consent under the law

      May 14, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • momoya

      Because there's an age factor involved.. That's why.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      Sam Stone...now that gay marriage is decided in NC, it is a law too. Therefore,you can't claim civil rights.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • momoya

      making something a law doesn't mean it's not a civil rights issue.. When slavery was legal, it was still an issue of civil rights.. You're just a fvcking moron, Gauis.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • James PDX

      Gaius, you should marry your straw man, however, I should warn you, I think my may be gay.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  17. It comes down to this...

    When will people understand this is not a civil rights issue?
    If it is then we all have the civil right to do anything we want.
    We can change the meaning of murder.
    We can change the meaning of stealing.
    We can change the meaning of lying.
    Get the drift?

    May 14, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • scott

      We get the drift that your comparisons are way off base, yes. Try making sense.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • John Jacobson

      I'm sorry, but I do not see the logic in your statement. It seems to be a purely religious argument that makes no sense to rational human beings. The fact that you can support gay marriage does not mean that we can now do anything. Please try to support your argument with fact and not with innnuendo.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • sam stone

      gosh, you have a f'ed set of ethics

      May 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • JoeG

      Civil rights means equal rights under civil law. Your argument is nonsensical and off base. Replace "gay" and "straight" with "black" and "white". If it sounds discriminatory, it is a civil rights issue.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • James PDX

      It Comes Down To This, the examples you listed are things that infringe on the rights of others, by depriving them of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Someone else's marriage dos not deprive you of any of these things, therefore it is a civil issue. I can show you how lying, theft and murder harm other people. Show me how two gay people marrying harms you.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • TJB01

      Discrimination is based on things people do not have control over. Behavior is something we all discriminate against. It is not like skin color or gender.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  18. cptpooppants

    gup

    May 14, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  19. ton

    Black people are not alone. Many people do not support this and like things the way they are and find this to be a diversion from the real issues

    May 14, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Cyn

      I agree, but it will make no difference in the long run. Like sheeple, they will flock to their messiah in the end. Obama can do no wrong , in their eyes. It is sad to see others compromising their morals and their beliefs for color alone.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • livingston

      Many people also liked the slavery and the segregation of blacks and denying the vote to women. Just because many people like something the way it is doesn't make it right.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • James PDX

      Many people liked the Old Testament, but then God completely changed the entire religion. I don't see you complaining that you can no longer be stoned to death for just about everything.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  20. mirrorview

    I can support the right to marriage but my issue is tax benefits and additional dependants on a companys health care program.
    When adding your spouse to a companys HC plan was created it was when most women stayed at home and raised children. Since gay couples cannot pro-create without (adoption or medical help) I can't support the free ride mentality.
    If HC is across the board equal (meaning we all pay the same and can upgrade if we choose) then I can support the right to marriage.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • livingston

      To follow that thought through you also need to deny coverage to infertile couples. They also can not procreate. What do you want now? Fertility tests before health care coverage?

      May 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • myweightinwords

      And if a gay couple does have children and one of them chooses to stay home and raise the kids? What then? They get coverage?

      Or the older couple well past their child bearing years, should the stay at home wife be dropped from her husband's coverage because she is no longer raising children? Or the infertile couple? Or those who chose to remain child free?

      And, you do realize that most company health plans require you to PAY for the spouse's coverage, right? I mean, where I work, I pay $50 every paycheck for MY health insurance. If I were to marry and put my spouse on my plan, that cost would rise significantly.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:47 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.