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. J

    So basically what I'm getting is "we may not agree with his views but we're going to vote for him anyways."

    May 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Labrat

      Of course!

      You didn't think that racism was contained to just the white race did you?

      May 14, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Donnie

      Let me say this first. Why did CNN go to Bishop Carlton Pearson on this. He has been found to be in heresy and labeled a heretic. His views are in consequential as far as Christianity is concerned. Main stream Christianity does not even consider him acceptable voice . I watch CNN, FOX and all the others with open mind as a religious leader. But CNN this comes across to me as slanted. CNN if you are going to get religious leaders to comment, at least get someone reputable. Now as a religious leader I will say it will cost the President more than he anticipates. Possibly the election. I will say your talk with Pastor Tony Evans was much more in line with legitimate dialogue using those who are speaking for the religious sector as having respectability.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  2. DPGW

    "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."

    May 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Law Abiding Citzen

      Church is business, well said.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  3. MetheBLKman

    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.................................When I last checked I found GOD to be LOVE. Human's on the other are def NOT LOVE they are HATE first then move up from their. SAD how anyone can really sit-by and accept DISCRIMINATION............WHY should you? Discrimination of anyone has a hugh price to be paid.....................HUGH PRICE!

    May 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  4. Law Abiding Citzen

    Separation of the Church and State.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  5. mcskadittle

    I think the actual answer is to make all marriages civil unions in the eyes of the Government and keep marriage for the churches.
    If marriage is a religious event the government shouldn't be involved in it.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "If marriage is a religious event the government shouldn't be involved in it."
      If it were, but it isn't. Marriage predates all currently dominant religions. The religious don't own the term.

      You said, "I think the actual answer is to make all marriages civil unions in the eyes of the Government and keep marriage for the churches."
      If the believers don't want to participate they can form their own religious unions. Civil marriage should be open to all consenting adults.

      As far as I'm concerned, churches can set up their own rules for who can enter into their form of religious union. They are free to keep calling it "marriage", as long as it is understood that they don't have exclusive use of the term.

      The only involvement that the government has to have is in their role as protector of those that can't protect themselves. Restrictions on the religious union should include minors, animals and mentally handicapped people, as they can't provide informed consent. Close relatives should be excluded because of the high medical risks associated with such relationships. But, as long as the relationship isn't abusive, and all concerned enter into it of their own free will, even polygamy should be allowed.

      The government need not care if these religious unions are restricted to opposite sex couples, or same race couples, or even if they allow people to join their mail box, or other inanimate objects, in holy matrimony.

      If the union meets the requirements under the law, they can be eligible for recognition as a civil marriage. That should be the only way these unions are eligible for the rights and protections provided to civil marriages.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  6. joe12

    To the Christian church that Obama is considered a member of, that church should be placing Mr. Obama under church discipline, since Obama is in open and unrepentant sin.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Big_D

      Sure, to heck with all that "judge not" garbage. You got some judging to do right now!

      May 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • steve in texas

      Then forgive him

      May 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Primewonk

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

      Oh...Wait... Not that long ago other religious funies said that being left-handed was a sign of the devil, and being black was the mark of Cain.

      Sorry, but this is just one more, in a long line of things, your god got completely wrong.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  7. Big_D

    Quick good and evil test: Is is evil to deny entry to a loved one when somebody is dying in the hospital? This is a standard problem for gay couples. Who is evil now?

    May 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  8. chirac

    gay abominations tell them to go soddom&gomora they can marry all they won am not going with them

    May 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • YeahRight

      "gay abominations tell them to go soddom&gomora"

      Yo idiot look to Ezekiel and find out what the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was, you've been brainwashed.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  9. Big_D

    They talk about this but what are they saying about greed? How about slanderers, FOX? Gossips? What about those notes that are spoken about by Paul with all the same vitriol?

    May 14, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  10. webitgrl

    Typical religion; we'll take whatever stance serves us best. To heck with what the Bible says. Thank goodness I never bought into any of that malarkey to begin with.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  11. donny

    no one is talking bout getting this country back on track. why? people want to see jobs coming back no one wants to hear bout the gay life. people to busy bragin on what they got or what they make each year. try liven on 12 thousend a year then u got something to talk about.. the rich cares less bout jobs they dont need money.. people need jobs dont need people bragen on what they got or what they made last year.. get off the things of the world talk bout jobs dont just talk bout it. do it... the money they waste sending to other countrys. they could send it to the poor people in this country. strange country we have

    May 14, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  12. st

    When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property. (Exod. 21:20-21)

    Why do blacks not follow everything in the bible?

    May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • JWR

      @st, Those verses do not apply to blacks!! They apply to the servants of Jews during those times. Exodus 21:2 states "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing". Understand before you quote.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ JWR – so I can still buy a Hebrew slave, right? But I want to buy a girl Hebrew slave, because your sick twisted putz of a god said I don't have to set the girl slaves free. I can keep them and then give them to my sons to keep ràping when I'm done with them.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  13. ouy

    Married couples get to pay "HIGHER TAXES" and the perverts are to stupid to figure out what is going on. they are being used. isn't that special.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • YeahRight

      "the perverts "

      You're prejudice is showing. Gays aren't perverts. Duh! The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      May 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  14. annebeth

    Yesterday Mothers Day, my silly pastor said that we would not be having a Mothers Day sermon and proceeded to preach an anti-gay sermon. I was so MAD I was ready to get up and leave but my Mother would have been horrified if I stomped out of church. The funny thing is that our church is full of woman that have never been married and would like to be, but so few men are available for marriage. In the Black community 70% of black children are born out of wedlock, so it seemed really stupid that our pastor would have preached on gay marriage and not the REAL issues in the Black community.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  15. yalesouth

    Randy, it about fair treatment. There is a clear distinction between polygamous marriages. The common law of england prohibited such arrangments because it complicates the distribution of property and rights over children produced under such a union. We should not prevent people from being together, on the other hand, just because it makes you uncomfortable. At the end of the day two men being married hurts noone, and in fact is positive for society. You religious wack jobs do not seem to get it. Gays have always existed and will always, but telling them that they cannot lead a stable life with a partner contributes to behavior that promotes diseases, so you would rather deny them the chance to live in safe monogomous relationship.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Gary

      I believe it is purely a political decision to come out with this now, and not as a last minute decision. It gives people time to cool off and analyze their own feelings. Subsequently softening the blow to the President's campaign. If he had waited to the last minute, it could easily backfire on him when voters would still be reeling with their emotions.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I believe it is purely a political decision to come out with this now, and not as a last minute decision. It gives people time to cool off and analyze their own feelings. Subsequently softening the blow to the President's campaign. If he had waited to the last minute, it could easily backfire on him when voters would still be reeling with their emotions."
      If his position is so detrimental to his reelection, then why come out at all? There is very little to be gained for the President to change his position on this subject now. I doubt he'll convince a lot of people to vote for him with it.

      Most people that agree with the President on this subject probably suspected he has held this position all along. Not in the least because he's even stated so in the past. He "changed" his stance before running for President.

      Had Biden not come out in favor, I doubt Mr. Obama would have. Not before the election, anyway.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  16. JIM

    Finally, We have a President that is smarter than Mother Nature. Hail to the great one!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Primewonk

      This, of course, is another fundiot lie. Being born gay is perfectly natural. The fact that you don't understand this, shows just how scientifically illiterate you are.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  17. Salty Bob

    Wow another religion aginst whats right, well the track record is secure if its a positive for us its no go for them. Lets keep god or gods out of the government its a better way and the law.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  18. RiadaKram

    OT: "If a man is found lying with a man, he shall be put ot death." NT: "Those who do such things deserve death."

    May 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Church of Suicidal

      "And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you."

      Go boycott a Red Lobster and STFU.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      so true @ Church of Suicidal

      May 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  19. rev john gibbs

    i guess we go against God word about gays and vote for obanna look for your self WHAT GOD SAID ABOUT ITS IN THE WORD

    May 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • John


      Some argue that since homosexual behavior is "unnatural" it is contrary to the order of creation. Behind this pronouncement are stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity that reflect rigid gender categories of patriarchal society. There is nothing unnatural about any shared love, even between two of the same gender, if that experience calls both partners to a fuller state of being. Contemporary research is uncovering new facts that are producing a rising conviction that homosexuality, far from being a sickness, sin, perversion or unnatural act, is a healthy, natural and affirming form of human sexuality for some people. Findings indicate that homosexuality is a given fact in the nature of a significant portion of people, and that it is unchangeable.

      Our prejudice rejects people or things outside our understanding. But the God of creation speaks and declares, "I have looked out on everything I have made and `behold it (is) very good'." . The word (Genesis 1:31) of God in Christ says that we are loved, valued, redeemed, and counted as precious no matter how we might be valued by a prejudiced world.

      There are few biblical references to homosexuality. The first, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, is often quoted to prove that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness of the city's men to observe the laws of hospitality. The intention was to insult the stranger by forcing him to take the female role in the sex act. The biblical narrative approves Lot's offer of his virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual demands of the mob. How many would say, "This is the word of the Lord"? When the Bible is quoted literally, it might be well for the one quoting to read the text in its entirety.

      Leviticus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, condemns homosexual behaviour, at least for males. Yet, "abomination", the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexuality, is the same word used to describe a menstruating woman. Paul is the most quoted source in the battle to condemn homosexuality ( 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and Romans 1: 26-27). But homosexual activity was regarded by Paul as a punishment visited upon idolaters by God because of their unfaithfulness. Homosexuality was not the sin but the punishment.

      1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gave a list of those who would not inherit the Kingdom of God. That list included the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and robbers. Sexual perverts is a translation of two words; it is possible that the juxtaposition of malakos, the soft, effeminate word, with arsenokoitus, or male prostitute, was meant to refer to the passive and active males in a homosexual liaison.

      Thus, it appears that Paul would not approve of homosexual behavior. But was Paul's opinion about homosexuality accurate, or was it limited by the lack of scientific knowledge in his day and infected by prejudice born of ignorance? An examination of some of Paul's other assumptions and conclusions will help answer this question. Who today would share Paul's anti-Semitic attitude, his belief that the authority of the state was not to be challenged, or that all women ought to be veiled? In these attitudes Paul's thinking has been challenged and transcended even by the church! Is Paul's commentary on homosexuality more absolute than some of his other antiquated, culturally conditioned ideas?

      Three other references in the New Testament (in Timothy, Jude and 2 Peter) appear to be limited to condemnation of male sex slaves in the first instance, and to showing examples (Sodom and Gomorrah) of God's destruction of unbelievers and heretics (in Jude and 2 Peter respectively).

      That is all that Scripture has to say about homosexuality. Even if one is a biblical literalist, these references do not build an ironclad case for condemnation. If one is not a biblical literalist there is no case at all, nothing but prejudice born of ignorance, that attacks people whose only crime is to be born with an unchangeable sexual predisposition toward those of their own sex.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • sam stone

      this is about equal rights, rev

      May 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  20. Big_D

    Why don't the preachers come out openly and say "Jesus hated gays!"? That is what they are dancing around. Saying who Jesus hated should be a fun thing for them to decide since the hatred and the hardened hearts were the real sins Jesus spoke of. The Churches should crucify Obama for this, see how that sits on your souls.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • wahoo

      You can't say Jesus hated gays because according to the Bible, Jesus didn't say anything on the subject. The closest he came was to say to not judge others and to love your neighbor. Guess which ones these supposed Christians aren't doing?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • CJ

      Jesus hated no one. He died for everyone; Even you.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:35 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.