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. Whome

    Fact is when your from Africa you have different belief systems.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  2. Lol

    Damn Sharpton got skinny............
    Lol nukka got the AIDS!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  3. danabashed

    Just what is he waving his finger at???

    May 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Bob

      That's not Al. I think its Eddy Murphy in "Coming to America"

      May 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  4. Bobby

    Really?? All this comes down to is a racial issue... Will enough African Americans be upset enough to not vote for him becaujse of this? Or will they still give him a vote just because he's black like in 2008?

    May 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • danabashed

      the verdict has always been in on these apes!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  5. danabashed

    That black man in the photo is as FOS as a Christmas turkey!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  6. Raul

    Sounds like these pastors are using their pulpit for political purposes...Himmm bet the IRS doesnt even care. Now if it was a "white church" saying Hey Ho – Baraks got to GO! Then hello audit and loss of tax exempt status...SICK OF IT

    May 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Sounds like these pastors are using their pulpit for political purposes."
      You just realized this? Or do you object because some may be encouraging their sheep to vote for the guy you don't like?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • SherryF

      Ummmm.....white churches are just as guilty as politicizing from the pulpit, as are hispanic churches, greek orthodox, etc etc. They all need to lose their ta.x-exempt status

      May 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  7. Hah

    TL;DR Version:

    We will continue to vote for Obama just because he is black like us.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Eric

    Carlton Pearson didn't lose his building and congregation over his espousing this issue. Nice spin, Carlton. What he did was throw away his orthodox doctrine in exchange for universalism, and his congregation voted with their feet and their pocketbooks.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  9. Lisam

    Wondered how they would spin that in his favor!

    May 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  10. Az

    Love Obama or love God? The scriptures condem such acts and the pastors need to decide. This should be the downfall of Obama who made a shrewd but misculated move.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • JWT

      Yet oObama was 100% right in what he said. Not all christians are against gay marriage and many embrace it. They are valid christians also. Obama has to care for all Americans not just some of the religious.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ JWT

      So, opening the gates of sodomy for one and all to become sodomizers of sensual Acts will make things better for a society that has been spiraling downward and soon to reach its' bottom?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      edit: Agree with Obama or agree with the voice in your head...I'll go with the former thank you.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • JWT

      They are sure not going to hurt anyone or anything. Remember your religious rules do not apply to people who do not follow your particular brand of religion.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ AtheistSteve

      So then, you don;t believe in sodomy and its' blunt Acts meant to demean sensualism being but an animalistic banter? People like you tend to speak with their p.r.i.c.k.s and care not to see the Acts of any marriage ring being of sensualism between a man and a woman! You probably watch X or MA rated shows on dish don't you? Perversionisms runs rampant nowadays and many folks are not too bright a bulb to see the harm being done to the social rifts and the individualists' minds! The dumbness of dimly lit societies are predicated and/or found in the nurseries of social decadence becoming the ever widening road of Hell and sodomies are the wheels of the prevalent minds who dare to share their souls of the sodomizers' staffs!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      @A Serpent's Thought

      It must be so terribly frightening to exist in your brain. Poor tortured creature...get help!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  11. Georgia in NW

    The President knew this would cost him politically in some quarters, but he bravely took a stand nevertheless. Some of you preach against him and against gay people, but if you do not support him in November, you will be sending us all back to the Dark Ages. I am so sick of of so-called "Christians" being among the most judgmental people here. Does anyone remember "judge not . . . ." ? Or how about that part about not casting stones? Y'all pretend to worship a God of Love, but you are really more alligned with a God of Vengence. You folks are all scared to death that someone different from you might actually be allowed to be happy in the world. Remember the cartoon character Pogo saying "we have met the enemy and he is us."? Your mean God is not going to come after us in the end, because we are doing a good enough job of finding way to make each other miserable without his help.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  12. Joe Pinworm

    Hypocrisy at its best. Black pastors are accepting of Barrack Hussein Obama's acceptance of gay marriage because he is black. If it would have been a white president making such remarks, the black pastors would have condemed the president and all hell would broke loose. However, because he is a black president with a horrific liberal and disastrous agenda, the black pastors are simply saying standing behind their muslim president. Black Pastors and the black church = the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  13. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    FORWARD to Total Depravity !!!
    Worked great for Rome...

    May 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • gary barba

      the black population should be more concerned with the 27% unemployment rate in the black community rather than who wants to marry who? this President jets into LA grabs the money form the 1%ers in Hollywood with out a mention of the problems in South Central LA!!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • JWT

      Gayness is not depravity – discriminating against gays is on the other hand.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  14. cosprons

    No Black who is against gay marriage has the right to ever complain abour racial discrimination. Either everyone is equal before the law or there is equality for no one. Religious points of view are irrelevant. The separation of church and state is statuatory. Further, not everyone believes in such a thing as a so called supreme being. Prove it! Start reading Darwin and Stefen Hawking for a start. Study science and physics. This planet is not 6000 years old. Like all creation myths, yours is no different. I don't want to hear anymore about racial bigotry while you yourselves are bigots.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • LOL!!!

      "We may disagree with our president on this one issue."

      HA! So, you're OK with his stance on butchering babies just moments before they are full-term and ready to slide down the baby canal chute into the warm and loving arms of their mother??????? Just too funny. I suppose they are also OK with his stance on robbing the Treasury and bankrupting Amerika? LOL!

      Worst President in history - bar none.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  15. clare

    Jesus said to love god as the first commandment. and to love your neighbor as yourself. he did not say you can't love your neighbor if he is gay. follow these two commandments & leave our gay brothers & sisters up to god.judge not. clare

    May 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Loving a bank robber is not standing by while he commits a crime. Loving a ho mo se xual is not standing by while it commits a crime either. True love warns the sinner of its sin and shows the sinner the way to God. Love does not grant unreasonable demand to accept both sinner and sin as they are. Repent of the sin, don't call on God to accept it. The current opinion of our President on this mater is insanity.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • JWT

      gays who are not of your church are not sinners. That much is certain.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Hitchens

      what planet are you on?Ho mo se xuality is unnatural, unacceptable and as deadly a sin as any other sin, perhaps more deadly.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Unnatural how? Gay behavior is apparent in 1500 species of the planets animals....naturally. Gotta comeback for that fact smartypants?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • JWT

      How wrong of you. Your book does nto apply to non-believers. They are sinners in your eyes but so what. They are not sinners in the eyes of others. Nor should they be. Your book is not the last word about anythign in this world.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Rina

      This is to Hitchens but I couldn't figure out a way to directly reply to him/her


      "Loving a bank robber is not standing by while he commits a crime. Loving a ho mo se xual is not standing by while it commits a crime either."
      Standing by? What are you going to do about a gay or lesbian lusting/loving one another regardless if they marry or not except to "stand by". Pray for their salvation? You can pray all you desire but don't tread on the civil/human rights of a fellow American citizen.

      At the root of all these debates is the mistaken belief that gays and lesbians choose to be gay for willy nilly sinful reasons, and not because this is who they are at the get go. There is no use debating any of this with that mindset. I see people who work.pay taxes, etc. and you just see SINNERS. Obama's announcement was a long time in coming and this storming will become norming eventually with God's help.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Thank you for that reasoned reply. Common ground is unlikely as you say with that mindset. But continuing to raise the issue is helpful to sway the fence sitters who haven't fully explored the concept.from both sides.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • LOL!!!

      We may disagree with our president on this one issue."

      HA! So, you're OK with his stance on butchering babies just moments before they are full-term and ready to slide down the baby canal chute into the warm and loving arms of their mother??????? Just too funny. I suppose they are also OK with his stance on robbing the Treasury and bankrupting Amerika? LOL!

      Worst President in history – bar none.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Hitchens

      who are you replying to or are you mad?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  17. Bonnie

    Praise be to the Pastors who are strongly faithful to what GOD wants, not ignorant mankind. 2nd Peter 3:17 & 18, “You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advanced knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.”

    May 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • JWT

      Pass. Not my god.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  18. Amadea

    The sin of the New Age is intolerance. If you don't like what I am saying, you can just yell the word 'intolerance' and away goes my freedom to speak. This is NOT how a democratic system is supposed to work. You and I can disagree on any number of things. We do not all have to believe exactly as the other believes in order to get along. However, when the majority agree on something, in a true democratic state, the majority is supposed to rule. Sadly, that's long gone. Now it's the very vocal minority who are making the rules. Now ... you people who pontificate about what Jesus Christ said or taught or believed about any issue ... first read the Bible - cover to cover, study it, read a portion of it every day for say 10-15 years ... and then maybe, just maybe you might have something to say about Jesus. Otherwise, you're just blowin' wind.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Jeff

      We are not a democratic state. We are a Democratic Republic. This allows minorities to be heard and the Black population had to deal with the EXACT same issues with interracial marriage. It too was an abomination and today isz seen as more of a norm. Hate and intolerance are supported when a majority rules, we need to focus on the real issues at hand and take the government out of personal issues that affect no one else!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "The sin of the New Age is intolerance."
      Intolerance isn't "New Age". It's been used and perfected by the religious over centuries.

      You said, "If you don't like what I am saying, you can just yell the word 'intolerance' and away goes my freedom to speak."
      Not so much anymore. Luckily we live in a country that has a constitution that allows you to say pretty much whatever you want, no matter how imbecile it is. But just because you have the right to say it, doesn't mean that it is the right thing to say.

      You said, "This is NOT how a democratic system is supposed to work. You and I can disagree on any number of things. We do not all have to believe exactly as the other believes in order to get along. However, when the majority agree on something, in a true democratic state, the majority is supposed to rule."
      While in a democratic system the majority gets to set the rules, in a civilized society no minority is denied equal protection. Equal right protection trumps the majority's rights.

      You said, "Sadly, that's long gone. Now it's the very vocal minority who are making the rules."
      That's outright bullshit. The minority has equal right to the same protection under the law. The minority has no obligation to roll over and play dead if the majority wants to discriminate against them.

      You said, "Now ... you people who pontificate about what Jesus Christ said or taught or believed about any issue ... first read the Bible – cover to cover, study it, read a portion of it every day for say 10-15 years ... and then maybe, just maybe you might have something to say about Jesus. Otherwise, you're just blowin' wind."
      People who want to inject their fairy tales in the lives of other are the problem. You are free to believe that nonsense, but you should keep it to yourself. As it is much better to be thought an idiot, than to speak and remove all doubt. You certainly don't have a right to force that bullshit on anyone else.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Ex-Pastor B.

      I did that and can tell you that after 30 years of being blind to all the faults of people like you, I no longer have any willingness to let you spout such lies unchallenged.
      Your god does not exist. Your book of lies is not holy, not worth reading, and is definitely not worth following. I was a pastor for many years and it was always the nasty people like you who made me sick of your hateful fake god and all his followers.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Fand

      If the majority rule blacks would still in slavery. Be careful what you say.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  19. Td

    If Romney wins we will be taking it anally one way or another.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • gary barba

      i don't see Romney cavorting with the likes of Rev Wright and the american haters like bam does!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • splasher6

      like we're not now?

      May 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  20. John Stefanyszyn

    President Obama, Al Sharpton...universal values and civil rights above Christ.


    ref.: http://newsone.com/2015121/sharpton-...iage-equality/
    "Rev. Al Sharpton: Marriage Equality Shouldn’t Divide Black America", By Kirsten West Savali

    Quote from Mr. Sharpton… “This is not about mine or anyone’s personal or religious views. It is about equal rights for all. We cannot be selective with civil rights. We must support civil rights for everybody or we don’t support them for anyone. I am prepared to fight, as I have since 2003 in the faith community, about the rightness of the position that the President has now taken.”

    Quote from article…“Even then, Obama convincingly makes the point that faith has no place in politics and that because we do not share common spiritual eyesight, we can only share common laws. Most powerfully, he says that “religiously motivated [politicians] must translate their concerns into universal — not religious — values.”

    It is clear that for Al Sharpton, freedom of rights / civil rights takes precedence over the Truth of the One God.

    Mr. Sharpton is saying that the One and Only Creator and His Son the Christ are a “personal or religious view”. Therefore, on the other hand, he is also saying that the belief in freedom of self-rights is the primary true way of life….within which Christ is a “personal or religious view”.

    “Personal or religious views” do not have a place in politics, in ruling the nation, but The True God, His Word, does. King Nebuchadnezzar and other kings were clearly made aware of this. Christ said to give to caesar what is caesar’s and to give to the True and Only God what is His….that is to live by His Word, to follow the Way of Christ and Only His Way.

    President Obama instead “powerfully” states that the right way of life is that of living by “universal values” and not by what the Christ, Son of the One God, says (which he refers to as a generic religion).

    It is interesting to note that the Roman Empire also believed in “universal values” as dictated by the caesars. It is no surprise that the Emperor Constantine created the belief/church/ assembly of Roman peoples that embraced the “universal / καθολικη” values of the Roman Empire, a popular mix of “compromised Christian” and non Christian beliefs and traditions. It is Caesar who also powerfully gave direction for the motivation of concerns to be based on the worship of “universal values”.

    Mr. Sharpton has willingly received the mark of the beast on his forehead, worships its image, and embraces this “god of fortresses”….because he and many others believe that this way of life, a way which denies the Preeminence of the One True God and of Jesus Christ as the One and Only True Way of Life, is a way of man's righteousness and peace….powerful enough to deceive, dressed in the outward appearance of a lamb…but speaking as the dragon (blaspheming the One God and the One True Way).

    Man is placing his way above the Way of God.
    Man is saying that his way is right and that the Way of God is not right.

    But it is written that Christ, in the Name of the One True God, will rule.

    The tribulation / the testing is in place and the time is at hand.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • chosen2

      Sounds like you are a chosen sinner. Job 34:3 "For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat" check chosen2salvation.net you will find bread and water for your soul free.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:03 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.