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. Church of Suicidal

    And they didn't ask Bishop Eddie Long for his views?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  2. 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 1:38 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The fear of death is not present in those that are of Faith. Maybe you should speak to those that have Pascal screaming in their ears, especially later in life.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • momoya

      I've known a lot of faithful people who have died and I can't think of a single one who wasn't fearful at least in part.. I've known a fewer number of atheists who have died, but in almost every case they were more peaceful overall and had no fear of death.. The religious know that deep down they have no proof at all–that knowledge is what scares them about dying.. Religion is based on the fear of death as the stupid attempt at Pascal's Wager proves.. People who aren't afraid of death don't see the sense in Pascal's wager–obviously.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  3. DeeNYC

    Pubs just starting a war on gays to distract the feebled minded and trick them into voting conservative.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      ...and was it not the Gay and Lesbian Republicans who pushed through the over turn of Don't Ask, don't tell?

      Remember, what did Obama do for the Gay and Lesbian community except Flip Flop before fund raisers. Obama had a Democratic controlled congress for two years and did nothing for the Gay or African American community.

      In many ways, the Republicans have done more for the Gay and Lesbian community than Obama and the Democrats on the federal level.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • momoya

      LOL!!! I knew it was only a matter of time before mark my piddle river started with his stupid sh!t.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Mark, you're able to keep a straight face saying that? Maybe you're new to the language. If by "many ways" you mean "zero ways," then you're correct.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      At the "Federal Level", can you give me an example of something that Obama has done to advance the Gay and Lesbians in society? The Republicans have the over turn of Don't Ask Don't tell, and they did that with a mixed Congress. With a Democratic House and Senate what did Obama do for them. What did they do for the African American community. Some of the radicals in the African American community are more upset with him for compromising with the Republicans than they are of the Republicans.

      I may be wrong, but at his Federal Level what has he done except for talk?

      Remember up until Romney polled even with him, Obama was against Gay Marriage.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • momoya

      Mark, that's only part of the issue.. Your other claim was that repubs have done a lot for gays..

      Besides, you have absolutely no clue how to debate correctly, so this discussion will go exactly like all the others in your history.. You will focus on stupid rabbit trails that don't have anything to do with anything while you claim to be 'winning' the more you ignore your own stated position..

      May 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Sad but true. President romney, the thought makes my skin crawl. A buly and a cult member, sickening.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  4. MAFV

    Think about this in November......President Romney!!!!!!!!!!! Would it be worth it.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Chris

      Are you asking if it is worth fighting for the rights of a portion of the voting public? Last I remember our President does not/should not act based on their religious beliefs. They run the ENTIRE country and that means representing EVERYONE. I am not gay but I would be a lot more "ok" with people who oppose gays getting married so long as gays/lesbians weren't required to pay taxes. If they are not given the same rights as others who pay the same taxes then, IMO, they shouldn't have to pay taxes if they are not full citizens. If you feel that strongly about people's rights to get married then you should also propose that they not have to pay taxes. I haven't heard one repub or religious crazy bring that part up.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  5. DeeNYC

    Whatever the black pastors said about this subject I'm sure they'ah said it-ah very'ah LOUD'ah. can I get an Amen-AH!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • No


      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  6. Percy Jones

    move on america, were in war right now.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  7. Paul

    Black pastors are partly to blame for Obama's remarks to begin with. They helped elect him in 2008. They knew his liberal beliefs. But they let the color of his (and their) skin cloud their minds to what is morally right in God's eyes. They (and all of us) are reaping what they sowed.

    But getting Obama out in one term through their help would be a good start at cleaning up the moral mess he has created.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      "Black pastors are partly to blame for Obama's remarks to begin with."

      No, religion is all the blame, period.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  8. davidson

    – Disclaimer- I am in the Army and a student at CGSC class 12-002 and my views are my own, they should not be inferred as the official view of the Army.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  9. SimpleMechanics

    I just can figure out why people are still debating about this. I am yet to find one plumber who connects a 'male part' to a 'male part'. A male part always goes to a female part. It's is both simple physics and mechanics and it cannot be changed. Whether gay marriage is eventually legalized or not, it is simply unnatural for a man to be married to a man and a woman to be married to a woman. This fact can never be changed regardless of what Obama or the LGBT community and its supporters says. That is why people in 31 states have voted against it. Even California, one of the most liberal states has voted against.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Mike in WI

      SimpleMechanics? Should be SimpleBrain!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • J.W

      If those elections were held today most of those laws would be repealed. Plus among 18-34 year olds support of gay marriage is over 70%.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      And who made you the authority on marriage?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • ME II

      First, there are more "female connectors" on the male body than there are "male connectors".

      Second, since when is marriage natural? se.x, reproduction, etc. sure, but marriage is a human custom, not natural. Unless there are robins and bumble bees registering at your court house for licenses?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      ...some one please explain Gay and Lesbian s'ex to this guy.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • momoya

      Actually there are special connectors that attach two "male" parts together.. Also, you're speaking of geometry, not s3x.. Ho.mos don't do anything in bed that straight couples don't do.. It's always a meeting of concave and convex, regardless of the genders involved.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Whether gay marriage is eventually legalized or not, it is simply unnatural for a man to be married to a man and a woman to be married to a woman."

      Being gay is natural, it's been documented in over 1500 other species. LOL!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"It's always a meeting of concave and convex, regardless of the genders involved."

      Good way to explain it Momo. 🙂

      May 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  10. Mike in WI

    Blacks want THEIR rights, but when it comes to others they turn their backs! I don't respect bigoted Blacks!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Say it like it is then, you hate religion. Bigotry is innately religious in nature.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  11. Raven76

    Every generation is given a set of tests. And they wouldn't be tests if they were easy and if there wasn't a struggle involved. Slavery was a test, equal rights were a test, interracial marriage was a test. A great many people pushed to keep these rights away from others, denouncing them from the pulpit. And here we are, another test. I'll give you a hint on how to pass this one. Any answer that doesn't involve love, acceptance, and understanding is the wrong one. You preach about God, and in the same breath you preach about oppression, hate, and harm to a group of people. I've got news for you. In the original writings, as far back as scripture goes, there was no reference to gays in any way. It was added later. And the reason people fought to overcome these obstacles and be free? Because in their hearts, they knew what the right answer was. I hope some of those that say they are faithful pass this test too.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • cwoods

      What you have stated here is so eloquently written and, indeed, a wise way to discuss this topic that for me, helped take the angst and even anger I am feeling at all the bigotry being spewed. After reading your post, I think I was able to step back and view what is happening as a lesson God has put before all of us. Thank you for such a positive and helpful lens.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  12. paul

    How in Gods name can a black person not support equal rights? Anyone who preaches the lords praise should focus on love and acceptance.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • ME II

      You must be new to Christianity...

      May 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  13. james

    This for sure shows that most black christian leaders will support obama only because of his skin color.They will obey man rather than God and will not be blessed by the Lord. THE WORD OF GOD TELLS OF THE FALLING AWAY FROM THE TRUTH IN THE END TIMES

    May 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • ME II

      "Ye there shall be much name-calling and gnashing o' teeth ere the end o' time draw nigh." ~ME II

      May 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Donate your brain to science for more exploration of the mentally retarded.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  14. Greg

    So African Americans showing what is really important to them, YOUR SKIN COLOR.

    As long as you're black, they support you...

    If you're white, you ain't right.

    That's what the Black churches are saying about this issue...."We love President Obama, blah blah blah.....just because he has a similar skin color."


    May 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • jevans

      What are you talking about? Did you read the article? Grown men and women are having a discussion on this board, go over to the kids table and stop typing. Bigoted, senseless comments like that say much more about your character than anything regarding black people. You're either a troll or you have no minority friends, but either way you're a nobody that is just dying for attention. Well, you got it. Now back to your cage.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  15. stjdsj

    “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!”
    “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
    “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
    “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1: 8-12)

    May 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • yeahalright

      "He or she who doth not have an original thought in hith own body will quote the supersti.tious musings of shepards from 2000 years ago ath ifth they haveth relevance today and believith him/herself to be wise" – yeahalright, book of grow up.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  16. Joe

    What can I say? Those who love the President will follow him blindly even though he may say something that is against his followers beliefs.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  17. Voice of Reason

    While we understand your sincerity in what you believe to be true and we know that you are truly sincere in what you do but we still have to say you are sincerely wrong. There was no god, there is no god and there will never be a god. Keep your god and your religion away from our children and our government.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • james

      Please repent andd turn to the Lord Jesus Christ before its too late. IF i am wrong i have nothing to lose,but if I am right,which i am,you have everything to lose

      May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Look up Pascal's Wager

      May 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Canopy

    Time for these churches to pay TAXES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Mike in WI

      I say Amen to that!

      May 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  19. carlyjanew6


    May 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Go away little mind.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  20. jmartin7

    So many comments, so much ignorance. Amazing what America still has to learn.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Canopy

      Ignorance is bliss for MANY

      May 14, 2012 at 1:13 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.