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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. Jack

    Doesn't this prove that blacks are incredibly hypocritical and only vote for Obama because of skin color?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      No, it means that they are arguably hypocritical on this one issue, but stick with Obama because this isn't the most burning of issues for them and they like a lot of his other policies.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Madaam T

      Doesn't prove Jack!
      Maybe if you would stop looking at his skin color you would note that this man is a great President. Believe the republicans make your complaint based on facts...ones you know of course.

      Madaam T

      May 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Karma6338

      I beg to differ....I have been a Democrat since 1972 and I vote for Obama because he is a Democrat. sure some Blacks voted for him because he is Black but a lot of Whites did not vote for him because he is Black...in the end, it all a wash.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  2. Everett Wallace

    I'm with Obama on this gay marriage: Marriage between a man and woman should be "gay" meaning happy, enjoying each other always.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Synergies

      🙂

      May 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • reality check

      Dick Cheney said the same words but years earlier regarding "gay marriage."

      May 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Dick Cheney said it well on the issue of gay and lesbian marriage: "I always felt that freedom meant freedom for everyone." Something like that. I'm no Cheney fan. But he was way ahead of the curve on this one.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  3. reality check

    I am amused by the credit for the words Obama said regarding gay marriage. Dick Cheney spoke those very words years ago.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  4. Dane Beasley

    This is not a matter of who is right, and who is wrong. This is not a matter of white or black. This is a matter of what is the best way that our actions can glorify God with our bodies. The Bible and its principles was the blueprint to which the United States of America was built and founded upon. With that being said, the Bible provides the necessary answers we should should behoove to.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Except not everybody shares your view. The Bible and it's assorted nonsense is just hate propaganda to those outside your cult.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      WTH???? The buybull is 2000 years old. Bronze age sheep herders wrote that fairy tale and had no grasp on anything, least of all gays!! The laws you MUST adhere to are the laws of the land, not the buybull. The buybull can't be used legally, so it means nothing outside of your home and church.
      Are you wearing something made of two materials? Best go burn it, you are not following your buybull and according to your pathetic logic, those are the rules one must follow.
      Btw: The USA was founded on Secular values not christard values (thus the reason for separation of church and state)

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • captain america

      Note to dane : this steve pos is pretending to be an American, in truth it is no more than a qu-eer bait, butt in foreigner here to undermine American values and morals. Give no thought to it, it is nothing more than a vicious germ attempting to sicken what we know as a healthy body. There's your sign

      May 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • captain america

      That goes double for its qu-eer bait partner, who has the brass to use truth in its ti tle. There's your sign.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Glorify god with our bodies? I'm staying away from THAT party!

      May 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  5. JJ

    Your god has already demonstrated it prefers moral atheists over hateful khristians.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  6. Ricke1949

    Next step polygamy . If three consenting adults want to form a family and are responsible and loving. Why should the state not sanction it? This should be declared a civil right. If someone has the money and can afford it why not!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      or, we just take government out of marriage altogether

      May 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Polygamy exploits women. How many polygamous marriages involve one woman and multiple men? If one is acceptable then the reverse should always be true also.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      The state won't be quick to sanction polygamy for the same reason it will end up sanctioning gay marriage. Many legal rights depend on marital status. There will be no enthusiasm to extend rights and benefits to multiple spouses. I'm not saying that this is a good thing, but it will be a serious impediment to legalizing polygamy.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. talbet

    What a bunch of hypocrites. They want civil rights but don't care about trampling the rights of others. If there is a God, he thinks these people are mental.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      How so? Was your right to marry taken away?

      May 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • captain america

      We don't give a crap what you do in your country, leave ours to US. You have no legitimate voice here and it is apparent your own do not want to hear from you either. There's your sign

      May 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  8. SHAIARRA a

    LEVITICUS CHP 17-27 WERE ADDED IN 6BC, YHVH MOSES LIVED IN 16BC, A 1001 YRS DIFFERENCE OF TIME AND PLACE, SO IT'S A LIE BEING PREACHED

    May 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • reality check

      I believe you mean: 538-332 BC

      May 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  9. dc

    Many black people will complain, then go vote for Obama anyway – NO MATTER WHAT!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Madaam T

      You are so right my man...So what if you are white you have been doing that all your life.

      If you are not employed the one question I have is do you want to eat next year? If your answer is yes then you have no allegiance to Romney, except for the fact he is white...in this instance white ain't right...go for it...

      Madaam T

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  10. Congratulations!

    To the newly weds- my neighbor and his new wife Nicole.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Congratulations!

      This is for you Ryan, you need this to train Nicole!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwiRTznR7gg&feature=player_detailpage

      May 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  11. World watcher

    Humankind needs tolerance. Judge less and love more, then we can focus upon taking care of our earth and it's inhabinents.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • total nonsense

      FOr this to happen, RELIGION MUST BE BAN FROM EARTH

      May 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Madaam T

      To the fool who stated the Presidents comments were Gay, the site must have crashed because I cannot get through.

      The world is evolving...The Republicans are fighting the change because it does mean a change in the power base, not because of President Obama but because of changes in our demographics.

      This is the Republicans re-introduction to the movie Custers Last Stand. No matter who you vote for, The Republicans represent the reason for America to become a third world nation. Do not be fooled by his foolishness.

      Madaam T

      May 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  12. Who Cares

    Who cares if they are black, white, red, or foreign pastor's? Why does this article reference "Black Pastors"? Jesus Christ, you all got a black president, what more do you people wantg?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  13. Bob R., Lanham, Maryland

    Gay marriage is only about power and money! Married for 52+ years, I have had it with Obama! This is absolutely NOT a civil rights issue.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Mavent

      Dear ldiot: please tell me how gay marriage effects you in any way, shape, or form.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Derek

      It is a Civil Rights issue, and it is an issue of tolerance. It's both. The first part to understanding and participating in an argument is to understand the opposition's viewpoint and rationale. If you don't understand the opposing viewpoint, I would listen to them and try to understand why they don't use the Bible as their sole moral compass. Who knows, you may learn something. Being closed-minded helps nobody, including yourself.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Dinosaur speaks...Oh wait...you don't believe in evolution.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • dc

      I don't dislike gays NEAR as much as I dislike Democrats who call others idiots!

      May 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      52 years? How does one put up with bigot for that long unless of course she is your sister or she has a grade 2 education?

      May 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • reality check

      It isn't a rights issue to you because you were able to marry the legally consenting person you loved. Imagine if you were legally forbidden from that marriage.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      you are denying people equal rights. of course, it is a civil rights issue

      May 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Leo

      Yes sir it is. Marriage equality ensures all citizens enjoy equal civil rights under Law. Granting marriage equality in no way harms you or anyone; not financially, not economically, not the personal safety of you and your family. There is no harm sir. Marriage equality will not end marriage for straight people, it will not cause straight people to stop marrying, nor will it cause them to divorce. Why anyone would seek to deny their neighbor happiness is beyond me. We are better with more, not less people living in committed loving relationships. Throughout time gay folks have celebrated and danced at straight weddings and we will continue to do so! It is time for reciprocity. In closing, America has become a better and more just country in EVERY instance where it granted equal rights under law to minority citizens. This will be no different.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  14. Bob R., Lanham, Maryland

    You pray – I'll help vote him out!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Derek

      And I will be there to counter you in my state of Maryland to keep him in. Not like you have much chance to get a Republican victory in our state of Maryland anyway, lol. I hear Kentucky, Tennessee, and Nebraska may be good states for people with your viewpoints.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bill

      I'll pray for you Bob...You sound the one who needs it!

      May 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Korsot

      Obama shld repent of his stance 4 gay sopot. Less what happened 2 sodom n gomorrah wil happen in AMERICA

      May 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Bill: Bob needs people to think for him not pray for him.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Darryl

    God never picked up a pen an wrote in the bible, Marriage is for a man & a woman only! This is all about control with religion and it has to stop.Gay people getting married doesn't have anything to do with straight people getting married.People are so full of hatred and disrespect it isn't funny.I'm glad this has come out now, because it really shows how evil people really are.But these people who are so into GOD,the Bible,Church,and the only way of life they live 4 god, by god are the 1s who prmote going around the world starting WARS, killing innocent women,men,children and families because Jesus guides them in everything they do.That is a crock of B.S. if I ever heard it.They will continus to use GOD and continue their EVIL ways to get whatever they want and CONTROL who ever they can.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  16. chris matthews

    See this is why I will never step foot into another black church ever again. we as african americans should know that this is a rights issue not a theological issue. We should know that the bible was used to promote slavery and to promote why black and white men and women should not marry. So who are we to say that the LGBT community cannot get married? WAKE UP MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Darryl

      You're exactly right Chris....

      May 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • isolate

      When Jesus said, "Love one another," he didn't specify genders....

      May 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    May 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • total nonsense

      Name me a single instances in of hukan history where a prayer has change a thing? NEVER. Because god does not exist PERIOD.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • reality check

      Religious zealots that blow themselves up clearly are superior examples of well-being thanks to religious upbringing.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  18. chirac

    let mother marry there son father marry dorther abominations .let connect the battery cables opposite let see what gonna happened fire right. that's was gonna happened to all us is matter of times .two men can not marry each other also as well wrong direction always .left and right

    May 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • chris matthews

      Huh?! You really need to go back to school and learn how to write a sentence properly. No grammar at all, I couldn't understand one thing you wrote in your comment.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      I'm sure you intended that comment to make some kind of sense. Too bad for you that it missed the mark.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • captain america

      Too bad for you, you are butting into the wrong F'n country. canadian opinion in America is worth less than day old dog crap but smells about the same. Try looking out for your own country stevie we don't need you here.(guess they don't need you there either) There's your sign

      May 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • sam stone

      if government is granting a license, then two men (or two women) can certainly marry each other

      May 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • reality check

      Just say no to crack....crack is whack and you are its proof

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  19. JC in Western U.S.

    The arguments against gay marriage are largely religious ones. That puts black religious leaders in a tough spot. Their political history tells them one thing, their religion tells them another. I am glad to see that they are at least able to say that they disagree with the President without wanting him to lose the election. That's more integrity and critical thinking than most people against gay marriage demonstrate.

    But I do think that black religious leaders have a responsibility, if they can not support gay marriage, to at least support and fight for the secular rights of gay people. Gay people should be able to choose whomever they want to make end of life decisions for them. Gay people should have the right to inherit property as easily as a spouse does. Gay people are human beings and they have secular rights equal to other people. Black religious leaders must be in the forefront of the fight for secular rights to be acknowledged and protected.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Dyna Hog

    The Divider in Chief has spoken.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • JM

      Did Bush say something?

      May 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • DAVE

      so apparently the golden rule is divisive now? So you treat others as you would not wanted to be treated? actually, that explains a lot...

      May 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Derek

      You can't please everyone ... nor be everything to everyone. But respect the man for taking a controversial viewpoint.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
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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.