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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. creative36

    The problem with christians is that there are very few who are christ-like. None at all in fact. They act the opposite of what christ was like. If he even ever existed at all. And that is a BIG IF.

    Love Mary Jane.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      None huh? Interesting view. Tell me, define your Christ like.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Thomas

      I'd imagine he'd look like a middle eastern man, he'd have a smile, be a little dirty, love his neighbors, wouldn't cast the first stone even though he could.

      He'd probably be a-ok with people being gay. He wouldn't approve of people of hate and intolerance. He'd probably also have frank and open discussions with people he didn't necessarily agree with but be open to change.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • f. carter

      your silly!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • f. carter

      Thomas..............nice article but your still a very silly person, lacking common sense

      May 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Shovel Ready

    It really doesn't matter what Obama does or says, because 97% of blacks are going to vote for him not matter what. He could shoot pit bulls on the white house front lawn for fun and they would still vote or him. As would 90% of PETA members just because of their liberal leanings

    May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  3. Thomas

    I guess his link to ga-ys are ped-os dot com aren't going to be able to give us their unbiased opinion.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  4. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Sorry N8, folks of Faith do not fear their mortality. You might want to address your statement to those who have Pascal screaming in their ears, especially later in life.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • LivingRock

      Preaching to others about how or what their own faith is, is just as unproductive as religious folks preaching their own beliefs. Spirituality is a depply personal journey. Respect and compassion, regardless of personal faith and spirituality.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • alan

      I always love to hear arguments from people who don't even believe what they're selling themselves. There's no such thing as an atheist. Even humans aren't that stupid.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Thomas

      Most people who are religious don't understand what the teachings actually are. They can easily be lead by the church by the nose.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • momoya

      Alan, don't be a fvcking retarded imbecile.. Of course atheists exist.. Many of them were christians for decades or the better part of a century..

      May 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • n8263

      LivingRock, that is not true. People are turning away from religion in record numbers.
      It is very productive to point out the glaring problems religion poses.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • f. carter

      N8263, why not 007...has anybody ever said to you that you are a very savvy person when it comes to religion?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  5. Sadened

    It's unfortunate that these particulair blacks only care about their own civil rights. It's the braves white folk who stood up to be counted in support of blacks when it was not popular who were the true heros back then. Let's see how many black heros there will be when they ave a chance to stand up and be counted. President Obama has curage.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  6. THE truth

    gays came ou of closets, walked to their bedrooms to perform abominations among themselves and they liked it so much they went to the streets to demmand their twisted gay rights, and if they dont repent of their sins will arrive to be judged to be cast in to the lake of fire.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Talmonis

      They should come for your churches. You deserve it for your hatred.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "gays came ou of closets, walked to their bedrooms to perform abominations among themselves"

      There many things in the bible that are listed as abominations: Unclean things (Lev. 7:21) ; Cheating (Mic. 6:10) ; A proud look (Pro. 6:16-17) ; A lying tongue (Pro. 6:17; 12:22) ; Hands that shed innocent blood ((Pro. 6:17) ; A wicked scheming heart (Pro. 6:18) ; A false witness that speaks lies (Pro. 6:19) ; A sower of discord (Pro. 6:19) ; A false balance or scale (Pro. 11:1) ; The proud of heart (Pro. 16:5) ; Justifying the wicked (Pro. 17:15) ; Condemning the just (Pro. 17:15) ; Refusing to hear the law (Pro. 28:9) ; Wearing clothes of the opposite sex (Dt. 22:5) Re-marriage of former companions (Dt. 24:1-4) ; Cheating others (Dt. 25:13-16) ; Making images/idols (Dt. 27:15) ; Eating unclean things (Isa. 66:17) ; Robbery (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Murder (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Adultery (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Oppression of others, particularly the poor or vulnerable (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Violence (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Breaking vows (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Lending with interest to a brother (Ezek. 18: 6-13) ; Lying with a menstruous woman (Ezek. 18: 6-13).

      Yet the Christian community aren't trying to deny the people that break these their civil rights. The divorce rate is at 50% and adultery is considered a great sin in your bible but you're not trying to stop their civil rights. Oh and by the way, straight couples have the same kind of sex as gays so based on your poor logic we should deny their civil rights too. What a bunch of hypocrites.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • THE truth

      ALL people are loved and welcomed into the Kindom of Heaven, but, BUT they must be born again to enter the kindom of God.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      You do know that gays don't do anything in the bedroom straights don't?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  7. THE truth

    well

    May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • f. carter

      Your silly Talmonis! ....tell me silly what is wrong with having several wives at one time............let us listen to your wise morality views?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Talmonis

      Absolutely nothing is wrong with multiple wives, so long as it's consentual and everyone is an adult. I care nothing for your religion.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  8. f. carter

    The president should have stayed neutral, where he knows it or not he has seal the death of many more people with HIV & Aids, now more then ever there is no reason not to be gay!....................the number one man in the country said it's okay to be Gay!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Talmonis

      And it is ok to be gay. I'm not, but there is nothing wrong with it. Especially if it's only because of your absurdly false religious beliefs.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      How has he done that? By promoting monogmay amongst gays? That seems to me counter to the spread of aids.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  9. Alicia

    Wow! I'm just overwhelmed by all the love being spewed forth from all these so-called Christians. Just makes me want to walk into a Church right now. NOT!!!! I left the church a long time ago because of the hypocrisy, lies, game playing, showmanship, etc.that permeates the modern-day churches. You are no different than the pharisees and sadducees of Jesus' day.

    Before all you so-called Christians preach to everyone else in the world, why don't you read the scriptures and practice what Jesus taught? "Love your neighbor as yourself", "Have a readiness to avenge all disobedience when YOUR obedience is fulfilled.", "First remove the LOG that is in your eye, before trying to remove the splinter in your brother's eye.", etc., etc., etc. I am so disappointed in all of you, and I'm certain Jesus is too. Shame on you!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • f. carter

      Some people are trying awful hard for Tom, Dick and Harry to marry each other...later we hope we can marry our pets?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • momoya

      @fcarter

      So you thing two consenting adults shouldn't do what you don't want people to do with animals?!?!?!? What kind of fvcked up logic is that?? Are you too stupid to realize when your logic isn't?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Ope

      Alicia, very well written. I could not have said it better myself. You wrote exactly what I feel in my heart. God bless you.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • f. carter

      apparently Momoya you are unable to red between the lines......silly!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  10. Jack

    "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" – what dose this prove? nothing in 2008 obama didnt support gay marriage either this artical is pointless.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • aces2jokers

      Well Jack for those of us who understand intersecting numbers it is made clear that by supporting gay marriage Obama stands to alienate a large portion of a community that supported him in California. I guess reading for meaning wasn't covered in your school.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep, he came out for gay marriage days before a multi million dollar fund raiser in California.

      Flip Fop.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • momoya

      @aces

      Do you think Obama should have lied to the public in order to gain political advantage?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Momo, he is like most politicians....on both sides, he will say anything to get elected.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • momoya

      @mark

      You're projecting again.. Just because you're a flip-flopper doesn't mean that all your opponents are.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  11. Big_D

    I have belonged to two churches in my life. Both split because of differences in opinion and pastors with huge egos. That is why I don't like a bunch of self centered judgmental jerks telling me how God is when all I have to do is believe and I know God is with me. You see, I have faith. Therefore I love my fellow man without having to control how they live. And, if I was in control, I would be a lot harsher on the greedy and the false profits than the gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • f. carter

      What is your point Big Dick?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  12. LivingRock

    Both sides of the argument envoke their own vision of religion and the Bible. Who are we to believe?

    May 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • n8263

      We should remove religion as a factor. Religion and politics do not mix.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • aces2jokers

      N8263 that would be too much like the "seperation of church and state" and nobody has ever thought that would be a good idea -____-.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • LivingRock

      Religion or none, I tend to question anybody who thinks their interpretation of the Bible is somehow more valid than others.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • LinCA

      @LivingRock

      You said, "Both sides of the argument envoke their own vision of religion and the Bible."
      Not really. The question isn't about what the bible says on the matter. The bible is entirely irrelevant.

      This is an issue of secular law. It is about equal protection under the law. It is about discrimination against a disliked minority.

      The bible is used as an argument to justify the the discrimination. If anything, it shows the bible is immoral.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  13. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • aces2jokers

      COSIGN X'S 9,000,000!!!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  14. Black Six

    Why doesn't anyone recognize what is really going on in this issue? First, this is a distraction away from the horribly failing economy. Who cares if gays want to marry if our country is about to go off a cliff economically. Second, this is another government intrusion on religious rights. If a church does not want to marry a gay couple, it is in the bill of rights that the church has the freedom to do that. As Government encroaches into our religious freedoms and other freedoms, what else are they doing? What other freedoms expressly stated in the bill of rights are they going to slowly try to erode? When does the marriage issue stop also? When are people going to start wanting to marry their cats and dogs? This is just another example of government imposition and Obama's favorite tactic of the ol' smokescreen. There is an imporant issue at hand, but look over there, it's a pretty birdie. When is the smokescreen going to stop and we get to the REAL issues that are facing our nation? No jobs poor economy. Why does Obama attack the rich during the day, yet is more than happy to rub elbows and take their money for his campaign by night? George Clooney was recently arrested for illegally protesting yet the President holds a fundraiser at his house? This garbage has just gotten out of hand.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • LivingRock

      Legalizing gay marriage forces nobody to do anything. A pastor or a church is free to marry whomever they want.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • LivingRock

      A pastor or a church is free to marry whomever they want...or don't want.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. Sarah D

    Ending discrimination is good, people! Embrace compassion, not hatred.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  16. George LeGrow

    Martin Luther King Jr. would be terribly dismayed at these "so-called" postors. It's interesting how the oppressed can easily become the oppressor. It shows with the Jews, who were oppressed by the Nazis, who now oppress the Palestinians, and now it shows with the blacks who were oppressed by the whites, now oppressing gay people. This is not spirituality, folks, is ignorance, pure and simple!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hmm... you mean also how we came over to North America and pushed out the native Americans?

      May 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • MIKE

      Agreed

      May 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • m

      MLK said..."Let freedom ring...from every village and every hamlet."

      May 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Real

    I see we're still perpetuating racism. Black pastors, black church, black this, black that. Shut up already with that crap.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • RocketJL

      Agree with that.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  18. SAD

    So whats the difference between white Christians and black Christians who believe the same thing about gays? Why are we any different Christians are Christians and what the Bible says is clear no matter what the color is. Your so quick to jump on people for there beliefs and shoot down Christianity but just as soon as you get in a situation you hollering for God and want to believe in him and trust his word. All yall hyprocites to whatever yall believe we voted no here in Florida to gay marriage so who cares what the President says. It was enough people that believed what I believed that marriage is between a man and a woman and it wasn't all black.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • MIKE

      Blacks in America had Christianity forced down their throats while they were all nearly beaten to death by you slave owners. It was always "bow unto me or die" .

      May 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • jw

      Black Christians have better music in their services

      May 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • RocketJL

      Thank God for all the white people that fought in the civil war and gave their lives to free the black people from slavery. Whoops, sorry they don't count.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  19. MIKE

    When people spew the word God everywhere in their arguement, replace the word God with "my people". You see the ignorance and the intolerance right away. Believe in God.. but to HELL with your bible.

    May 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  20. stjdsj

    “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
    “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:25-27)

    May 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • MIKE

      Romans killed their own people. and Soon we shall to in America

      May 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • momoya

      Why are you quoting from a book full of stupid myths?!?!? That book advocates slavery and multiple wives and genocide.. We should be very wary of anything it advocates.. And it's god is a disgusting terrorist!!! Yuck!!

      May 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • codnmeduchess

      There's a reason Christians use the analogy of the lord as a shepherd...

      Take the blue pill. Trust me. The world may appear to be a scarier place but at least you wont be living your life as a slave.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:13 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.