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. just me

    Remember when blacks couldn't marry whites?


    May 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Timber Joey

      I do not believe anyone ever said, even in those days, that black-white marriages were wrong in biblical terms. Those were human terms.

      It is tough to live by biblical principles, I will give you that. If you want an easy life, go the bars, not the Bible.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      I don't think anyone is saying they want an 'easy life.' Simply not one that is restricted to one religious creed's life rules.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Timber Joey

      Our awesome nation and the Bible/God give you the choice to accept or not accept Him.

      Choice is a beautiful thing.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      One individual's interpretation of deity isn't everyone's.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      Apples and oranges.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • DrDoITT

      we are talking about natural vs unnatural here... also about something one is born with vs something that is CHOSEN.

      Prayer has been proven to take away the perversion. Give it a try.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Rina

      "Prayer has been proven to take away the perversion. Give it a try"

      Oh here we go. My son ain't perverted and is probably a kinder and more moral person than some of your kin. I know many good Christians and they don't go around being uncivil and nasty on discussion boards. My son doesn't need your prayers. But maybe I will ask him to pray for you.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Prayer has been proven to take away the perversion. Give it a try."

      The experts around the world have proven this statement wrong. 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 15, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @Timber Joey: EVERYTHING is human terms. There is no evidence for anything otherwise.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  2. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS––>>>>>>>>>>

    "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions are supposed to obey the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-s-ex unions not same-s-ex marriages.

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay se-xual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex se-xual differences. Some differences are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male.


    May 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  3. John

    Steve Jobs may have been right, Obama may be a one term President.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  4. fairplay

    If they allow two men to marry they should allow first cousins to marry by crackity! Not to mention the family dog!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Eli

      "If they allow two men to marry they should allow first cousins to marry by crackity! Not to mention the family dog!"

      Again. When looking at incest, it is quite clear that permitting consanguineous relationships will lead to power imbalances, psychological damage, sexual abuse, and a high rate of genetic diseases. Again, the basis for society's objection is not a religious one based on "family values" but one based on provable harm to society. The same cannot be said of two same-sex consenting adults getting married. Where is the evidence that children raised by gay parents are harmed? Where is the evidence that gay marriage will lead to the end of civilization? Show me one peer-reviewed, modern, mainstream study demonstrating the inherent dangers of gay marriage. You will not find it.

      Animals and humans are different species. You can't compare human-to-human relationships with human-to-animal relationships especially since the animal can't consent.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Inevitably, someone will compare gay marriage to incest or some other extreme taboo, when really, that's just a straw man.
      Gay marriage won't hurt straights. It will allow commited gay couples to live in a monogamous legally sanctioned relationship. I'm not sure why anyone would objec to that.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire


      May 16, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  5. Robert Hagedorn

    Google First Scandal.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Google image "male docking", it's cool.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  6. Alger Dave

    Wow! Unfortunately there really aren't larger issues than moral ones like this. The black community knows this better than most others. While young black men struggle to find their moral footings, their community suffers tremendously. Fixing the problems in the black community have almost nothing to do with money, except in the sense that money almost makes things worse. They need a return to a strong family ethic, selflessness and community. Throwing money at the situation will only prolong the issues and make them worse. I'm white and there's a lot of things I love about my African American brothers, but if anyone things that social experiments that we've been trying for the last 50 years in the poor black communities are going to fix the problems there, they are totally confused. Love, hard work and humility will fix those problems, and the rest is lies or confusion.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  7. Timber Joey

    I keep hearing about "equal rights" for women and the LG community. For the record, all humans are seen as sons and daughters of the Lord. Though, you have to accept Him to see Him forever.

    I keep hearing how Christians are hypocrites, which can be true in some cases. However, when living by His ideas of right and wrong and not our own, we will fail and get up to keep trying.

    What bothers me is; when you make your own rules (be true to yourself, being LG is normal etc..) the problem is, those are ones own rules. Therefore, how can you be labeled a hypocrite when you make your own rules?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      It really isn't much different than following rules made in the bible, which some percieve to be just as 'manmade'

      May 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Timber Joey


      "some believe is manmade"... I am not here to convert. But faith is what it is. If you have faith in your own ideas, good luck.

      A different concept along the same lines...

      No one tells Hugh Heffner he is a hypocrite. This is because he has beliefs based on self.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      all religious text are also based on self interest.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Timber Joey

      Saying "all" or "every" or "always" statements imply you are God, which you are not.

      By the way, I am no better than anyone else, religious or not. I make mistakes all the time.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Not really. It simply implies that the men who wrote the bible may not be entirely selflessly motivated, just as any religious creed, written and dictated by man is doubtless influenced by him.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • momoya

      Just because you base YOUR morals on a book of myths does not mean that they are any better than other morals based on other factors.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm |

    EZEKIEL 3:21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous [man], that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul. (THIS TELLS US THAT THE RIGHTEOUS MUST BE CONSTANTLY WARNED,OR ELSE MANY,IF NOT MOST,RIGHTEOUS WILL BE TURNED ASIDE.THIS PUTS A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY ON THE PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL.GOD HELP US IF WE FAIL IN THAT RESPONSIBILITY!)

    May 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • SkepticOne


      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |


    May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • SkepticOne


      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  10. BICARO

    EZEKIEL 3:20 Again, When a righteous [man] doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (THIS PASSAGE LAYS TO REST THE UNSCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ETERNAL SECURITY.AS WELL,THE PREACHER IS NOT ONLY TO PREACH TO THE LOST,BUT he IS TO ALSO WARN THE RIGHTEOUS WHO TURNS FROM his RIGHTEOUSNESS.IF THE PREACHER DOESN'T DO SO,ONCE AGAIN,EVEN THOUGH THAT PERSON WILL BE LOST,THE LORD SAYS,"I WILL REQUIRE AT YOUR HAND" THAT INDIVIDUAL'S BLOOD.HOW MANY MODERN PREACHERS ARE FAITHFULLY WARNING THE WICKED?THE RIGHTEOUS?)

    May 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • SkepticOne


      May 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  11. JG

    black pastors are preaching to the quire,lol.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Leif

      No surprise that you agree with them.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  12. Maya

    Let's just hope he gets re-elected!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Pertnear

    I'm not sure this will hurt Obama's re-election chances. He will still get 90% of the black vote, just because of his race.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  14. DrDoITT

    after all, we are a democracy.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • ME II

      Not really.
      An amendment has to be proposed by 2/3 of each house of congress (or a Consti.tutional Convention, which would open a huge can of worms) and then ratified by 3/4 of the states I think.

      Article V of the US Consti.tution

      May 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      It would never pass.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Technically it is a Republic within a Democracy. It will never pass in the current opinion of the people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • SkepticOne

      That's why it's only being brought up at the state level; and even then, the Republican leaders that are passing these (look up SC's house leader) know that a younger generation that is more open minded will overturn the laws/amendments. If the Supreme Court doesn't do that first.

      Bigots are on the wrong side of history, again.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  15. DrDoITT

    when it passes it automatically becomes a c-o-n s-t-i t-u-t i-o-n a-l a-m-e n-d m-e-n t binding on all states

    May 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  16. DrDoITT

    national referendum on banning g-a-y marriage

    May 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "national referendum on banning g-a-y marriage"

      The experts have proven being gay is not a mental illness, it's not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed. They deserve the same equal rights as straights.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  17. DrDoITT

    I have an idea

    May 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  18. Tyatiana

    Why cant people be happy and it seems like everyone has a problem with somone else being happy like mind your business becaus eits none of yours

    May 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  19. One one

    We need more laws. Let's start with a new consumer protection law that imposes sanctions on religious organizations for making any claims in their public communications that are false or misleading.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm |

    I am a christian and I reserve the right to my own beliefs without juding others who not believe the way I do. With that said... You go Mr. President! He is the president of ALL. That means the Gay, Muslim,Christian, black, white, red, yellow, non-believers and ect...ect...
    He can't win for loosing! People scream about separation of church and state. Well????????????

    May 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
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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.