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. Kindness

    Some thoughts to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Let go and let god".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome .

    May 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  2. allens

    hell will be full, with all of the pastors, reverends, priests and other hateful religious leaders. if they truly believed in god, they would not be as hateful as they are. they know nothing of what they preach.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  3. Cler

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    May 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  4. Sydoney

    I agree that our god is a loving God......And in the end we are mere human beings with a temporary stay on this earth. We will all have to answer for our sins if we do not repent.....Therefore, let God be the judge and determine what is right from what is wrong....Human beings forget that there is a limit to what we can do and what we can comprehend.

    May 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  5. Ron B

    If the blacks turn their back on Obama then they will enjoy the agenda the republicans have planned...... start with stopping school lunches for the poor..... cutting welfare..... cutting food stamps..... cutting medical care for the poor..... ending women's health clincs for the poor......

    May 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  6. Travis Stone


    May 17, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • sam stone

      pray? to which god?

      May 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Imblack

    I'm a black man and I'm gay and I'm sick and tired of how the black community treats me. They have more shame for me than they do the era of civil rights and that's just sad! Who would love a god that hates people? Who would love a god that white men forced upon them???????????????????

    May 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  8. intel

    If Blacks say that gays are wrong then they deserve to be thrown back into the 40's and 50's of their precious country so they can find out what it's like to be discriminated against!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • sam stone

      how do you proposed "throwing them back" to the 40's and 50's?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  9. WastedFact

    Of course they will not. Many of them will place men and Obama above God.
    ""We may disagree with our president on this one issue," We? What do you mean We. Why do so many religious leaders think of themselves as board members of God's company? There is no we. You do and teach what the bible says or you don't. Obeying God's laws is not a matter of disagreement or voting. Religious leaders do not have the authority to override or take on what part of the bible they want to apply or conveniently teach. As matter of fact since everything we know about God (at least Christians) come from the bible no priest have any business telling people what to do or not to do if it's from the bible. If a priest hand pick which part of the bible are to be follow that individual has no place in preaching. Who determines whats part of the bible should be taken seriously and which one shouldn't... men? Gee.. I am sure some priests who like to molest kids probably though that God did not mind skipping that part of the bible as long as they follow at least 1-2 parts. My point is not about if the bible is the true word of God, not about wherever God exist or not... but how can you trust half of the bible when you do not believe in the other half? Also, what is it with people and God must accept and do what I want or there is no God or.. he is not loving. God does not owe you nothing and therefore you can demand from him to simply change his laws or will. You can go and talk to your priest and he can tell you his opinion.. but if it's not in the bible what he says does not represent God. Because all he knows comes from there; God does not speak to him person to person. So, it does not matter how many priests take Obama's side over God; it does not change a thing. God's word is the only thing that gives them authority and if they go outside of the bible's teaching they are the same as those who do not believe in God. The bibles says for people to not be followers of men. Great examples these priest are giving here.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • momoya

      the bible is mythical bullsh!t.. Shove it.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  10. mrguder

    Then with the black church's thinking...let's go back to slavery...It was justified in the Bible!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  11. CODreamin

    What I don't get is why there is such a difference in the treatment of worship vs. gay marriage. Church leaders will preach all day long about Jesus is Lord and worship only the one true God (which they absolutely should), but are ok with America allowing its citizens the freedom to engage in the sin of worshipping Satan or Buddha or whomever if they choose. Yet church leaders can't seem to do the same with gay marriage- preach against the sin (which they absolutely should), but be ok with America allowing its citizens the freedom to engage in the sin of gay marriage if they choose. Why the difference?

    May 16, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  12. hans

    in all americans are not so much concerned about gay marriage per se, what americans are really interested is if Kim Kardashian is getting married again and for how long,......

    May 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • ciroc2323

      Because Kim Kardashian is a flake means we need to redefine marriage for everyone?

      Are you sober?

      May 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  13. Rev Damian Scott

    The bible tells us that we should LOVE. Right is right and wrong is wrong. God will have the last word. But I say this to all, he who has not sinned let him cast the first stone!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • blessed


      May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • WastedFact

      Jesus said Love your enemy. It also say you must hate evil and wrong doing. I can hate what you do and not hate you as a person. Some say that how can God be loving if he does not love Gay people. Who says he does not? Let me put it on perspective. You may have a close relative that is in jail for a terrible crime. Do you hate him? no. Do you reason that in other for you to love your relative you have to embrace and love what he did or does? how is that related? The two are not interchangeable. Putting aside politically correctness the same can be said about any practice. Child marriage, bestiality, murder, etc. So, loving God and people have to love those acts or one is not loving or prejudice? the way people painted is that a loving God is someone who has no rules and love everyone and accept anything.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • momoya

      But how does god treat his enemies in the end?? Not very compassionately.. Pretty much like an evil torturer.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Ummmm

      "Putting aside politically correctness the same can be said about any practice. Child marriage, bestiality, murder, etc"

      The argument you are trying to use with Child marriage, etc... actually harm other people, plus children and animals can't consent. A loving respectful consensual gay long term relationship isn't harming anyone. The experts have shown that being gay isn't a choice, it's not a mental illness and it can't be voluntarily changed. They deserve the same civil rights as straights.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Rev Damian Scott

    It is not our right to judge others. That position belongs to God. What we should be doing is praying for our president that he will seek God first and not man. God never makes mistakes!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Mary Beck

      Rev. Scott: Did you forget - God did not write Leviticus in the Old Testament...?

      May 16, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • sam stone

      obama ain't there to be a preacher, rev

      May 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  15. blessed48

    As I see it if the black church leaders don't have a problem with it..... I worry about the flock he is leading... Just a thought the Bible teaches that a marriage is with a man @ woman. And the teaching from LDS the morman belief it way out left. Not much to choose from this election.....

    May 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  16. Welled

    I get tired of this farce. The religous one to. I am a semite. Not a Hebrew. These people need to back out of the Semetic world. Theres them and the white guys. Don't forget about us. Their prowess dosen't scare me either. Some people just give into it. A black minority in charge of a majority Barrack Hussien. What a coinciedence. For a people that never got anything except when they burned cities to the ground. Oh daisy mae its our day its here finally. I've had trouble trying to figure out this end of town anyway. But my end of town is filled with people that are in debt they are dumber than rocks anyway. I guess I'm doing it in the ole Semetic way of looking at every bad deal I can find till I can get myself a good one. Thing that kills me one day these guys will invade your end of town "africa" point back and say lookie there what we did. You will fall for it. Same thing with Libya. Your old friend. He's dead now. He always stuck up for you. Its henious of course. Then again you have the comfort and reality that someone else calls the shots obviously and not one of your own.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  17. No Truth, Just Claims

    "The true test of a man's character is how they treat their "enemies"."

    Now apply this reasoning to the christian god, how does he treat his enemies?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • TechGeekJim

      Just like one can't apply the character of man to the character of an insect, one can't apply the character of man to the character to God. Therein lies the fault in your argument.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • momoya

      In that case god shouldn't be so fvcking stupid and immoral.. He breaks every single one of his commandments, he allows continual and world-wide confusion over his nature and will, and he acts like a spoiled little brat 2-year-old.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  18. FedUpInSeattle

    There will be no backlash in the black community. I hate to say this but the Black community is the most racist when it comes to voting. It is shameful that the black community voted over 90% for Obama. If whites were to vote at over 90% for a white President, there would be riots in the street and rightly so. Really, I don't even blame the black community as much as I blame their leaders for the constant race baiting and failure to criticize this President. I once was VERY supportive of the people like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the like until it became clear they really did not want better for their people but to use the black community’s plight to better their own lives. The stories my half black niece tells of living in Chicago are scary. There is a reverse racism that exist in this country which alarming but no one wants to talk about, at least in the MSM.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Marcos in L.A

      I loved this fool saying that blacks are the most racist when it comes to voting and that if Whites would vote over 90% for a white President there would be riots.... lol and mas lol.....WE HAVE VOTED FOR WHITE PRESIDENTS ONLY for over two Hundred Years!!! I am in immigrant from Mexico and I pity the level of education that Americans have but I bet if I ask them about Kardashians or Family Guy or the Simpsons I would get all of the right answers....

      May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Gigi

      GMAB, if there had never been a white president in the history of the society where you lived, would you not support the first one of your race if he or she ALSO happened to be a member of the political party that you have supported for decades? Duh!! Blacks have been voting for white men and women since they got the right to vote. Give it a rest with the "blacks are racist" garbage. Yes, there are ignorant, unsophisticated knee jerk bigoted blacks just like there are similar members of every racial and social group - including yours whatever that might be.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Lupe

      Where you been all of your life, locked in a cave underground, or on the moon? Oh yeah, you must be one of those aliens that we have been hearing about. Did you just arrive on earth?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • jassi

      I couldn't agree more!

      May 16, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • jassi

      I agree.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:28 am |


    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      And prove it is the right answer....

      May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Salty Bob

      to nothing!

      May 16, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • sam stone

      rev: good for the bible. i do not see it's council

      May 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  20. Timber Joey

    In reading many of these posts, it is interesting how folks will bash the Faith. Interesting because bashing anything is not an attractive way to make a statement.

    I don't like when many folks who claim to be Christians do the same.

    The true test of a man's character is how they treat their "enemies". Even folks who serve Satan's cause like their friends.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • momoya

      Maybe that's because atheists would rather you actually get the statement than make it attractive for you.. Your faith is unattractive; your god is unattractive; I'm not surprised that you find arguments against your faith to be "bashing," but perhaps your viewpoint is skewed by your obvious bias.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      "The true test of a man's character is how they treat their "enemies"."

      Now apply this reasoning to the christian god, how does he treat his enemies?...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:13 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.